The worst part of my day, on the days I run errands, is in the morning when I’m standing in the grocery store watching the clerk ring up my purchases and she asks, “What are you going to do today?” A part of me finds that question an invasion of my privacy, while at the same time I realize she is making small talk. Another part of me is curious—what am I going to do today? My mind scrambles about for my own benefit as well as a polite answer.
Do I say I’m going to write? Heck, no! She’ll have tricky follow-up questions like “What are you writing?” To which I’ll say a short story, or a novel, or an essay, to which she’ll reply “What’s it about?” a question I never have a ready answer for, and no verbal description does a piece of writing justice, the meaning is in the actual words, the piece needs to be read to be understood. Or she’ll ask the dreaded, “Are you published?” Published? Lady, do you know how hard it is just to write? Thinking of the business end of writing—publishing—squashes all of the creativity right out of me. I’d rather say I’m hoping to have a lunchtime tryst with my husband than mention my writing, but that is hardly appropriate and not at all what she meant in the asking.
What I’m doing today is what I do every day: living my life, that’s what I’m doing, but that seems a flippant thing to say. I can’t pin down the specifics in this moment, my days are full and I do many different things in one day. Which part of my day do you want to hear about? The part where I do what I want or what I ought? Clean the bathrooms or write? Pay bills or write? Pull weeds or write? My whole day is filled with the choice between writing and doing everything else my life entails.
And saying I’m going to write isn’t completely accurate—I’m going to attempt to write, or as someone else said, I will slit a vein and deposit its contents on a blank page. I will endeavor to flesh out a character, to construct a scene, to paint a setting, to see the irony in a situation. Today as every day I will struggle with various levels of success and failure. I will feel elated with my writing and I will feel despair; I will feel the value of it and I will feel the doubt like fog that rolls in and out, in and out.
I will vacillate between various projects. Do I revise my rambling novel of three lonely people each struggling with a personal tragedy, brought together by landscape, by trees, by a sprained ankle and collectively threatened by a proposed arterial road? What about the year and a half I spent researching and writing a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice only to come to a complete stop two-thirds of the way through? Or I could tell this nice clerk about the half-finished poems for April, the month I was supposed to write a poem a day. My impatience with that short form was amazing to me. Maybe today I’ll attempt an essay—a cross between a journal entry and a short story, for just as fiction can be based on fact, so can nonfiction be infused with imagination.
So what do I say to this poor clerk who is only being friendly? If I’m feeling particularly flustered with a great sigh I say, I don’t know. If I’m feeling particularly Zen, I say, with a smile: grocery shopping.