|Photo by Vinicius Wiesehofer on Unsplash|
I’m standing in line at the book store. There is a tickle in my throat that wants to manifest. I’ve been keeping it down there with Halls candies and the odd ‘ahem, ahem, ahem’. I need a drink but they don’t sell those here. At least, not right here. There is a Starbucks halfway down the store but you can’t pay for your book there. There are two people in front of me. I notice their coats. One is navy and quilted with a faux fur-lined hood while the other is a black parka smeared with dust from brushing up against a dirty car door. I don’t notice what books they are buying. Maybe they aren’t books at all. Maybe they carry ‘goods’ in their hands from the Lifestyle section of the store that has crowded out both the Fantasy and Sci-fi books so that they can offer teal scarves and little zippered pouches encouraging one to, ‘be brave’; or throw pillows with not-quite-clever sayings on them. The books are gone but fantasy is still on sale.
I attempt to clear my throat again and reach somewhat frantically into my purse for another candy; my fingers lost amid the familiar shapes of my wallet, cell phone, sunglasses case and keys. Restraining my cough makes me feel like I might choke and the unexpected sound of strangulation undoubtedly startles the woman standing in front of me, but she doesn’t turn around. We’re Canadian like that. She takes a step away and busies her interest with the last minute purchase options decorated with red and gold and hawking love for Valentine’s Day. The chocolates look expensive and waxy; while the coffee table books look like the kind of thing you’d be embarrassed for anyone to see in your house. At least, you should be embarrassed, I think primly as I stuff the once elusive candy into my mouth. I pay for my book and leave the store with the phoney sense of purpose that buying things always gives me.
Mall pet peeve number one: People who walk the wrong direction down the right side of the mall. Mall pet peeve number two: groups that fan three (or more) across the corridor and walk at a snails pace and block the rest of us who use speed as an indication of our importance. I walk through the mall like an assassin in a movie. I scan faces as though I am looking for my quarry. I don’t look in the windows. I don’t watch the floor. I am the biological equivalent of all that high tech scanning gear that you only see in movies. Except instead of weapons, I zero in on things like a Canada Goose logo on the pauldron of a jacket or an intense bug-eyed expression in a woman’s face.
I immediately feel bad for thinking of the adjective ‘bug-eyed’ to describe her. It’s not as though she picked that face but it is the one that she has to wear. It is one thing to judge someone’s bad clothing choices--like the teenage girl I just passed with novel-sized cutouts in the thighs of her jeans--but picking on the faults in someone’s face just makes you a jerk. (Unless of course they earned that face, in which case, fair game.) But I do penance for the bug-eyed observation as I walk along trying to think of a kinder descriptor for what was truly an interesting face. Protuberant? Bulging? It all sounded kind of mean. One could say that her eyes popped, but that would just be misleading. Maybe it was only an individual’s expectations that made bulging eyes sound like a flaw rather than an attribute. But then again, a lot of lovely things don’t sound that nice when you try to describe them. Blue cheese, for example.
I once plugged a paragraph of text I had written into one of those super reliable online “Which great writer most resembles you?” tests. Without even pausing to ponder the content, the answering algorithm came back with David Foster Wallace which is flattering since he’s lauded as this literary genius, but also too bad since I found a good portion of Infinite Jest incomprehensible. I liked his essay A supposedly fun thing that I’ll never do again, though. So that’s something.
My scanning of faces yields a hit of recognition and my brain instinctively reacts to the challenge, searching my own memory banks for where I have seen that face before. The young man with blond hair and beard is approaching from the opposite direction. Even his glasses and way of dressing is familiar. I light on the answer just as we pass one another. That drama class at the college. That’s where I know him from. He had a support person with him. Her name was Sarah. I think we’re still friends on Facebook. I knew his name too at one point, but it is long gone. I keep walking and wonder if I will see anyone else that I once knew. It happens more often than you would think in a city of a million; especially if you go to the trouble to look.
I don’t have anything else to do here. Truthfully, I didn’t even come to the mall to buy the book or anything else. I came because I wanted to park underground and melt all the accumulated snow that has built up in the wheel wells of my car. You have to stay awhile for that to happen. I keep walking in my long strides, dodging people, weaving around them like a motorcycle in traffic. It’s a pretence of importance, but it is gives me something to do nonetheless.
I almost bought a notebook so that I could stop somewhere and write, but I couldn’t bear to spend twenty five bucks on a Moleskin when I probably have twelve virgin notebooks at home. When I was a kid, I used to feel bad for my toys that didn’t get played with as often as the others. I would occasionally pick them up and say nice things to them, but they didn’t spark my imagination and so I would set them back down again. My notebooks at home are like that. Too small. Too lined. Too aggressive with their encouragements to “Write!”. Their covers are too fancy. Too busy. There is a reason the bookstore places them in the Lifestyle section with the scented candles and the cards. These aren’t tools of the trade. They are decorations. These fancy journals are like the pink hammers and screwdrivers marketed to women with feather boas glued onto the ends. Heaven and a man help you if you actually have something to fix. Those cutesy tools aren’t going to cut it. So it is with the sparkly journals filled with writing prompts. They too are a fantasy at writing. They aren’t writer’s notebooks. They won’t lie flat. They are uncomfortably thick so that your hand falls off the side like a house giving way to an eroding bank. Each page is a distraction of discomfort. Might as well throw in an inconsistent pen, too. You’ll hate writing before you come to the end of the first line of your (unwanted) lined page.
I like the black unlined Moleskins the best, but they are hard to find and even harder to justify when you’ve got twelve unsuitable notebooks pretending at usefulness at home. They fit in my purse and aren’t so loaded with pages that it feels like I’m carrying around a notebook. They open wide and welcomingly and don’t presume to bind your writing into twenty lines. Draw a diagram if you feel like it. Doodle something while you try and think of a kinder adjective than ‘bug-eyed’. The pages are creamy coloured and substantial without being rigid, welcoming to both pencil and ink. The bookstore closest to me only carries the lined or gridded ones; not the blank ones in my perfect Goldilocks size. But even though I found them today, I didn’t buy one.
I’m feeling introspectively brave as I head back toward the parkade, and I wonder whether I have this same perverse attitude of keeping the useless and neglecting to acquire the useful in other areas of my life as well. I already know the answer. Life is a game of catch and release. There are some things or seasons that you hold onto for a little while, others; longer. And sometimes, either the catching or releasing mechanism jams and you start piling up junk at high speeds like Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory. ‘Goods’ from the Lifestyle section are one thing, but bad ideas are the metastasizing cancer that spreads from one area to another with reckless abandon. Bad ideas attract other ones with magnetic capacity. They are the grime that smatters up a windshield and makes it impossible for us to see clearly. At least the useless crap fills up your rooms and you begin to wonder, unsettled-like, if you might have a nascent hoarding problem. But few us evaluate the ideas that we’re always accumulating for whether they are true and profitable and worth looking out at the world through. And, there is a world of difference between what ideas feel good in a moment and what is good.
The floor of the parkade runs with streams of dirty water; melting off a thousand cars in this perpetual underground Spring. I examine the wheel well by my driver’s door, and note--with the peculiar satisfaction of one raised in cold weather-- the sloshy clump on the pavement behind the tire melting into oblivion. I open the door and toss my purse across the console onto the empty passenger seat. The car is colder than the parkade and has the aura of an ice cube melting in a glass of tepid water. If only one could melt the accumulation of untruths and bad ideas that gum up the workings of her mind as easily as the frozen slop falls to splatter under the weight of its own inconsequence with a little heat. The ignition of my car springs to life with the magic of mechanics I do not understand. My seatbelt buckle gives a satisfying click and it occurs to me that maybe life provides the heat free of charge. The frustrations, the heartaches, the grievances that erupt like landmines are heat to the frozen accumulation of bad ideas. Turn up the heat and the hard-packed, crystallized foolishness must give way to clarity.
I emerge from beneath the ground into the brilliant blind of sunshine on snow. The roads are still covered and the snow quickly begins accumulating again on the underside of my car. I can feel it when I turn the corners, but I don’t worry about it. I can always come back.