Writing Triggers

            A very sweet new writer asked me to have coffee recently.  He shared with me some worries he was experiencing with his second book that were keeping him from getting “black on white.”  He said that one of the greatest motivators he has for writing is “the experience of being misunderstood.”  This provided enough angst to propel his fingers across the keyboard.  At the moment, he was angst-free, which would normally seem like an ideal state.  But the result for him—writer’s block.

            I have plenty of angst, and being misunderstood is surely one cause.  But there is no end of sources for my internal distress, fracking, the environment generally, the economy, the elections in November, the future for my kids and granddaughter, the repetition of 4 words by my agent re: my work, “Why should I care?”  The list goes on.  But one of the worst and most torturous trigger of angst comes from putting my size 10 foot in my mouth. 

            So here we are sipping coffee.  Another writer stops by to speak to this young man.  Add both their ages, and you still don’t reach mine.  Suddenly, my coffee partner’s conversation speeds to a higher gear.

            “Oh my gosh, how are you? You look great.”

            “you too. Wow.  How are things?  My life’s just crazy.”

            “Really?  What’s going on? How’s the new book?”

            “They’re sending me to ALA—going to do a reading with, can you believe it! I’m so nervous.”

            “That’s great.”

            “Yes, and they’re sending me to Texas—this will be the third time.”

            “Really? I was there once.  I’d love to go back.  I’ve sold the most books in Texas of any state.”

            “Really.  How’s the book going?”

            Throw in some awesomes!

            “Great.  Really. What about yours?”

            “It was selected, can you believe it, for the Junior Library Guild.”

            “Oh that’s crazy. By the way, this is the writer, Sally Alexander.”

            Meanwhile, I’ve been straining my hearing aids to their max.  My neck has a painful twinge from moving back and forth.  “Hi,” I say, “I remember you from the John Greene lecture.”

“Wasn’t he incredible?”

            “Amazing. Just awesome,” I think I say.  And then here it goes. “And, by the way, I’ve had some Junior Library Guild selections…” (I really don’t think I said 6.  I really think I restrained myself at least that much.  “and I think they definitely sell copies of your book, but also help in the next book sale.”

            Ouch. Fancy boot for the upcoming New York SCBWI Conference into mouth.

            Justification?  None.  I was just feeling old, I suppose.  But, actually, the walk to the coffee Shop had had an “event.”  I’d counted my steps and given Flossie her left command, then heard a rumbling growl under the table right outside the door.

            “Leave it,” I’d said.  And Flossie was uncharacteristically dutiful.  I pulled at the the door—it didn’t open.  I pulled again.  It must be locked.

            I turned to the person or persons who had to be accompanying the growler and asked, “Is it closed today for some reason?”

            No answer.

            “Excuse me,” I persisted.  “Is it closed today?”

            No answer again, but then the snarls began moving away from me.

            Sigh.  Was that dog owner afraid of me?  Afraid she’d catch blindness? Or was she/he or they concerned that their dog was worrying mine and took off to allow Flossie to do her duty?

            Of course, I assumed the worst—the dog owner was terrified of me.

            Then the door opened.  A male customer asked, “Hi, can I help?”

            “Oh, it’s open.”

            “Yeah.  Come on in?  May I get you your coffee?”

            “No thanks.  I’m meeting someone, “ if he doesn’t abandon me, too, from fright. “Maybe just tell me if this table is free on my right.”

            “Totally free.”

            I pull out the chair.

            Another male voice says, “I can help Sally.  I know exactly what she wants.”

            “Are you Andre?” I ask.

            “No, I’m the big Andre—named Brad.”

            Brad patted my shoulder and came back with a latté and two dog biscuits.  This is why I frequent only this coffee shop.


            So, I’d already had a little angst that morning.  And, of course, I’m old.  So, alas—foot in the mouth.

            And I’d like to think that little miseries during the day can translate into fiery, fluent prose.  But I don’t think they necessarily trigger my writing.   Truthfully, a long, hot bath seems to get my ideas flowing, and it’s sure a lot more fun.

About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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