Well-meaning people have asked me, “Why do you want to be a writer?”–as if a writer was this poor, unemployed, underfed person, suffering for her art and living in a bare attic room. I must admit I appeared too well-fed and content to look the part of a suffering writer. My other all-time favourite comment, “You’re a writer?” exclaimed in such a tone that I’m never sure if it’s a total revelation that I can write or that it’s inconceivable that I actually do write. Of course this comment has to be justified with a list of what has been written. “What did you write?” is a fair question but if it’s not on any Best Seller list, the New York Times or Globe and Mail Top 10 lists, then I’m not a Real Writer. I’ll bet you all have a tale or two to tell too.
The other day, I was sipping a cup of Timmy’s medium roast and savouring every bite of a ginormous blueberry scone–as I people watched and did my “character” research. The scone had already been reduced to a few tasty bites as my thoughts jumped from the smart marketing ploy of pairing coffee with baked goods to an elderly man, trying to navigate around several baby carriages to reach a vacant table with his coffee and donut. The young Moms were too busy conversing with each other to notice his difficulty in using his cane, balancing his tray and aiming for the nearby table. Quickly, a young man, wearing paint-stained clothes and dramatically visible snake tattoos curling up both muscular arms, leaped from his seat, steadied the frail man and set the tray on his table. Amazingly, the Moms were too focused on each other to notice a potential accident had been averted.
At another table, a father and his young son were enjoying their snacks when suddenly the 3-year old tossed his empty cookie bag on the floor and proceeded to have a full-blown tantrum. Aha, I though–either Dad has to get more cookies or he’s going to reason with his son. You know, when parents would say, “That is not acceptable behaviour. Big boys don’t litter. Blah, blah, blah. Instead Dad picked his son up, smacked him lightly on the bottom and pointed to the floor. The tantrum stopped in mid-cry; he looked at his Dad and slowly bent to pick up his litter–as well as someone’s under a neighboring table. Nodding his approval, Dad hugged his son, whispered a few words in his ear and both calmly walked out of the Food Court. I liked that. This was a well-placed smack that got the child’s attention. The little guy knew he was being naughty. I admired the Dad for dealing directly with the tantrum.
A few tables away, there were 8 men—retirees who appeared to be long-time friends, all wearing flamboyant Hawaiian shirts. Their table was a lively one of laughter, a rumble of voices and more laughter. They were sharing a large box of “Tim Horton” doughnuts along with their coffees. Finally, one of the men, wearing a shirt peppered with enormous pink hibiscus blooms, stood up to make a toast. Immediately, their corner became silent as their heads turned towards an empty chair at the head of the table. In a moment of rare Food Court silence, the man’s words were clearly heard. “This is for you, Benny. We can talk about you and remember all the funny things you did since you’re not here to defend yourself. The guys and I miss you like hell and wherever you are, we hope you’re having a Timmy’s and coffee too. Here’s to you, Benny!” The clink of coffee mugs and a chorus of voices echoing the toast was a very touching moment.
Now, I know you’re going to say–wait a sec–what happened to being a writer?
Well, Life is what happens. There is so much drama, comedy and things left to your imagination that happens each and every day. Being at the computer can leave you numb ’cause you sat too long or hungry ’cause nothing is happening—so taking a long walk or heading out for coffee or meeting with friends—are all potentials for building a story. After all, most stories start with the ordinary that somehow changes to something extraordinary. It’s hard work to keep up the pace and make it believable. It’s definitely a challenge to have your believable characters do unbelievable things. What better place to pick-up characters than at the mall or coffee bar or grocery store or hardware store or library or. . . . And the imagination supplies the rest of the story.