I pick up a book I've never read before, one that's been sitting on the shelf for so long it crackles from the damage made by the water that used to flood from the potted plant on top of the bookcase but no longer does since I re-potted it in a decorative pot that looks nice but it not suited to the plant that is now wilted and pale.
I've never read anything by this very famous author, but what I read this morning reminds me of what I write, or rather what I write reminds me of a shallow attempt to do what she does exceedingly well, telling these vivid little stories. Where is she right now, this author, arched over a notebook? Is it snowing there, where ever there is, probably some quaint eastern town with street names like Thoreau and Hawthorne. How is it that she has so many different stories to tell that she has published dozens and dozens of books? And how is it, why is it, that I have never read any of them? Did someone I admire once make a flip comment about thinking her books mediocre? And did he make that comment because someone he admired said a similar thing? Did that someone read one of her books and find something lacking, or did he read something about this writer's personal life that was off-putting, or was he just having a bad day, a bad week, a bad year, discoloring everything he read? And if even a fraction of this were true, why did I listen and not find out for myself what I thought about this famous writer's work? Or have I read her work and just forgotten?
What am I more interested in: The story or the writing of the story?
It is snowing here. I have sat on the couch much of the morning trying to force myself to write a story, trying to write about the snow. I vow not to be distracted, not to answer the phone, but it rings, and I answer it, and it is my husband wanting to know if I want to go out for lunch. I say yes because it seems like the right thing to do even though I should say no because how am I ever going to write any story if I allow myself to be so easily distracted. My husband says great, pick up the car at the shop and come meet him at the salon where he's getting his hair cut. But the auto shop is more than a mile off. So I put on my ski goggles, my snow pants, my boots, my coat, my hat and scarf and gloves, and I walk, thinking the whole time that I should be home trying to write a story, though what story I don't even know, but some story, because when I write a story, it makes me feel good in a way that nothing else does, and I haven't felt that way in a while.
The walking is not easy because the wind is in my face and the sidewalks are not yet shoveled, and I keep thinking about how I shouldn't have let myself get distracted. But then I recall what the storyteller I listened to last night advised to a group of students: That the best way to tell a story is to go out and live one. So I convince myself that somewhere in this trek through the snow to get the car to meet my husband for lunch, there is a story.
The shop is small and the windows are fogged and the place smells like oil and dog, and the old man's hands are stained with grease and his smile is kind. He didn't replace the tires he tells me, even though they're worn, because they still have a little life left in them. He gives me the bill and as I'm paying, he gets a call and says, "Hi Ma," and he listens for a while and then talks about a radiator pump. He's still on the phone when our transaction is done, so he waves, and as I'm walking out the door I hear him say, "Sure Mom, sounds good," and I think here is a very nice man.
By the time I get downtown, cars are sliding, driving slow and single file with their lights on. The plows have come through, and there's no good place to park. But I have no choice, so I roll over the snow bank the plow made and hope I don't get stuck. I walk into the salon and the receptionist frowns at me, maybe because I'm wearing snow pants and ski goggles. I tell her I'm looking for my husband. She says he just left. I go to the coffee shop next door and the grocery across the street, and back to the coffee shop where I linger over the day's headlines.
I return to the car and spin the wheels forcing my way back into the street. I drive home where I eat some eggs and toast and sit back down on the couch and return to watching the snow fall and reading the little stories of a famous author who I've never read before wondering: Am I more interested in the story or the process of writing it?