“Are you going to be long?’
“I think maybe so. I have a lot of work to do here. I can’t rush it”
“Okay, I’ll go downstairs then.”
This interchange has become something of a ritual between my wife and me. We’ve even performed it in our local bar, much to the laughing delight of some of the customers who know us well, and know about my strange writer’s sanctuary.
The Ritual Begins
The ritual had something of a strange beginning (as if the continuance of it is not strange enough in itself). I was sitting there, doing what you do there, but thinking of how, since I retired, the flow of my writing was just not happening. There was no reason for it that I could readily discern, but the flow had definitely stopped. It was blocked. I felt very uptight when I sat down to write, too tense for any ideas to emerge about what I should write about, and how I should write it.
Then I looked over to my right, and what I saw brought about a calm that I could barely believe. And with that came ideas for a story, a response to a prompt that previously I had no idea how to handle. I left the room as soon as I could, picked up paper and pen, and returned to the little room. I sat on the ledge of the bathtub, the object that had changed my state of mind, and the writing began. I had found a writer’s sanctuary.
Within a few minutes, my wife called out to me through the shut door. “When I heard the flush, I thought you had finished. Are you going to be long?”
After I explained what had happened, and was still going on, she laughed and said, “Okay, I’ll go downstairs then.” And so the ritual began.
The Flow Begins
My first ‘toilet tale’, as I called it, flushed into my brain from my sanctuary on that first day. It hardly needed any editing on my computer in my more respectable home office. I submitted it for publication in the weekly call for short stories to which I had regularly submitted when I was still working before I retired, and my ideas had gone. My expectations weren’t high, as they hadn’t ever published me before. But within a little over a week I received a ‘congratulations’ e-mail. I couldn’t have been more surprised. I had expected the “thank you” that begins every rejection to a submission that I had ever received from publishers.
I began to expand the publications to which I submitted my works, even writing my longest ever short story at 4,000 plus words. I met with success again and again, not every time but often enough to feel confident in my work.
Then I began to Wonder
Then I began to wonder why it was that the bathroom and not a more usual place had become my writing sanctuary. I had tried going to the local park. I made friends with a few squirrels with bribes of peanuts. Chickadees would land on my right hand to obtain the seeds that I would offer them. I got distracted, not inspired, although I loved the distraction. Still, no stories developed, not even anthropomorphized characterizations such as inter-species communication, ‘Thank you for the seeds’. There were no stories at all coming from the park.
Spending hours in our local library did not work either, although I could see other writers having it help them with their stories, but it did not help me at all. I did improve my basketball skills with my tossing of paper beginnings that had neither plots nor respectable endings.
I have a writer friend who goes to our local bar, sits by herself, and creates stories based on the characters that she sees there, particularly the guys who come on to her. I too readily and too quickly got involved with conversations with people I already knew and got to know. I started a story I had named ‘the Dartsman’ (it was a British bar), and thought to incorporate the story line from “The Devil Came Down to Georgia., with the heroic human player winning gold darts, but that didn’t work either.
A Call from My Sister – All is Revealed
A few days ago, I received a call from my younger sister, Barbara Ann. She said that she had a “wonderful surprise” for me. She had discovered in her car-less garage some old ‘home movies’. She loves cameras of all sorts, is the family photographer, and used to work in a camera shop when those still existed in our town. She had discovered in her garage cannisters of home movies that included our mother, who had died prematurely decades ago. One of those home movies had me in it with her, and Barbara Ann believed that I would love to have a look at it. I of course agreed with her. We were invited for Sunday dinner at her place for the ‘show’. I couldn’t wait.
I drove faster than usual (according to my wife) that Sunday to get to my sister’s place. I almost fell out of the car when I tried to get out in a big hurry. Barbara Ann led us to their ‘movie room’, which had a big old-time screen set up in front of one wall.
My sister has a deep sense of drama. She knew which home movie I had come to see, but she still first showed films that had the two of us playing in the backyard, one of her birthday parties, and my graduation from elementary school. Then came the dramatic event that I had come to witness.
Barbara Ann introduced this home movie by referring to the idea of the bathroom being my sanctuary, and then made a reference to the time that I “went all strange” when, in Ghost Busters Two, baby Oscar was in the bathtub and the slime came through the tap.
There in the home movie was the bathroom in the house that we grew up in. There was the bathtub I remember so well. I was barely a toddler and was being bathed by mom. I am laughing and smiling, as happy as I could be. It was my sanctuary then, as it is now. It all made sense to me now. And I felt a story coming on that would tell that tale.