I wasn't worried
I’m a deadline machine. As long as I know that a piece of writing had to be finished by a certain time I’m able to take the subject, the length the piece needs to be, and what else is on my plate, and my inner clock can calculate when I need to start writing.
It was a fool proof formula.
I’ve done this so many times that a 1000 word essay on "Unfinished Projects"should be easy. I spent some time thinking about it while doing the mundane activities of daily living like waiting on line at Dunkin Donuts, watching my clothes spin around in the dryer, and taking a shower. The shower always seems to trigger ideas. I once read something about water being a stimulus for new ways to think about things. I remember wondering if I should start writing in the bathroom. I dismissed that as disgusting so I organized my thoughts, and as usual, got my note cards that contained the big thoughts I’d incorporate into the essay. And placed them next to my laptop. I was ready to go.
This one was going to be easy. After all, I’m a walking advertisement for unfinished projects-the full length play I'd revisited countless times; the curriculum I'd been tweaking for the past two years; the essay collection I wanted to complete.
As I’m about to dive in, I thought, "just let me check my email and make sure nobody needs my immediate attention”. As I scanned the emails, I breezed by the ones I was always receiving and always ignoring, but never finding the time to unsubscribe: Book Baby, Groupon, Ticket Central, WedMD, IndieGoGo, The Container Store, Target. As I scanned the list, one email jumped out at me. Its title was, " How to Be a More Productive Writer". Well, never let it be said that I'm not open to new ideas. I read the article, and the only thing I could think of is, really that's it? Listen to music and take a walk? I couldn't resist scrolling to the comments, which were all positive. I couldn't believe that there were people for whom these ideas were groundbreaking.
Peaking underneath the last comment were a number of boxes under which were the titles of related articles. They were all variations on how to best be a professional writer and how to continue to make your own art and still make money working for other people.
Enough of this. I've gone down the rabbit hole and need to escape. Back to my word document. Okay here I go.
As if on cue, the phone rings.
This is an incredibly annoying sound and I've never been able to ignore a ringing phone. I pick up and in two seconds its clear this is a robo call and I immediately hang up. All right, back to it. I need an intriguing first sentence. Hmmm. Where was that "opening line formula" that would come in so handy right now.
OK I have it.
The doorbell rings.
This is weird. Who could possibly be ringing my bell in the middle of the day? It’s probably some grade schooler selling candy. The bell rings again, this time more insistently. Then it occurs to me, maybe they’re going to shut the water off again because the boiler is broken (again).
I run to the door and open it to see small woman I guess to be between 75-80.
"Hi", in the politest fake voice I can muster.
"Is my sister here"? she asks.
"No", I say. "Why do you think she's here"?
"She lives here", she declares defiantly. " Who are you"?
"I'm Dave, and I live in this apartment"
She looks around, and now seems unsure of herself. I’ve worked with enough older adults to recognize that this person is somewhere in the dementia spectrum.
"What's your name?"
"Ruth" she says.
"Ruth, do you know her apartment number"
Ruth has gone one floor to high and needs to be in the apartment directly below mine.
“Let’s go find her”. I beckon her to follow me to the elevator.
“Did you see my sister”
“Yes, I’ll take you to her”. I ring for the elevator. Ruth eyes the surroundings with a look that indicates she has some idea of where she is but she’s not sure. The elevator opens and I walk in.
“Come on, we’ll go find your sister” Ruth walks in tentatively as the elevator door shuts behind her. I lead her out after going down the one flight, and she follows me to the apartment door.
“Okay”, I say “I think your sister is here”. I ring the bell and a woman, somewhat younger than Ruth opens the door. She looks simultaneously relieved and embarrassed.
” Okay, Ruth here you go.”
“Oh there you are”. Ruth said, talking to her sister as if she was the one who was lost and walked into her apartment.
” Hello” I said to Ruth’s sister. “I’m just in the apartment downstairs. I just think she got a little confused”
“Thank you”. Before we could continue what could only be an awkward conversation, I added, “I’m sorry, I have to run” And I did, taking the one flight of stairs and plopping myself back down in my chair.
Now I have to get to work.
The phone rings.
This time I’m not going to wait and stew about what I know to be a robo call, and I pick up.
“Hello”, a little brusquer than my usual manner.
“Hi brother”. It’s my sister, who only calls me on my birthday or to give me bad news. I resisted the urge to say “Who died”. Instead I say “What’s up”? The reply I’m hoping for at this point is a vague “just checking in”, in which case it will be easy to say “I’m kinda busy, can I call you tomorrow?”
The reply, in a somber voice, was, “I need to talk to you. Are you very busy”. The tip off was that the question wasn’t “are you busy”? it was “are you very busy?
The tone was unmistakable. Valerie needed to talk, and as usual she had to talk about her boyfriend. I knew what was coming. Valerie was finally at that crossroads about her relationship and she didn’t know what to do Unfortunately I’ve heard variations of this many times, but I had to admit this time it seemed more serious. However, I knew what I had to do-be the good listener and validate her feelings. I also knew that this would be a long conversation.
I hunkered down and decided I’d be a good brother which I was for about an hour and a half later when Valerie ran out of steam, and tears, and probably no more sure of what she should do than when we started talking.
The day was rapidly slipping away and my deadline was approaching. I sat myself back down at my computer with a sense of urgency. Three sentences in, the rumbling in my stomach started. I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I know. I’ll write 300 words and then I’ll reward myself with some food. That’s usually a good idea but not this time. Nothing I was writing made sense. “Words” came out as “waffles”; “schedule” became “sandwich”. This wasn’t going to work. I had to eat something.
Hustling into the kitchen I vowed to make the fastest simplest sandwich possible. What could be simpler than PB&J? Nothing except there’s one element to this meal that is so taken for granted that it isn’t even assigned a letter-BREAD- and of course, there was none.
Okay, the universe was clearly telling me something. I just had to push through. I drank a large glass of water, sat back down at the computer, determined that this was not going to be another unfinished