Real writers drink tea.
I want to be a real writer, not just someone who pens as a pastime. So I wake up at writer’s-time: 7:00am, when the sun is bruising a soft periwinkle. The birds are chiming on the utility power lines and I know my body will be destroyed by this change to my sleep schedule. However, we writers make sacrifices all the time.
I stay in my maroon sweatpants, overly large tank top, and mismatched socks. Fitting my glasses to my nose, I type “how to make tea” into the blinking Google search bar. Another note: real writers never capitalize unless it is completely necessary. I click on the first website and skim through. While I’m reading, I tie my hair into a messy bun and crack my knuckles. Each pop sound wakes me up and reminds me that today can’t be like any other day.
This website is formatted as a numbered list, something I should hate as a writer. Writers are complex and tangled and confused and chaotic—almost every minute of their lives. Writers are loose leaf tea, I think, and realize I’ve crafted my first metaphor of the day. I smile proudly and bound over to the kitchen.
A pot filled with half a gallon of babbling water is set on “high” above my old stove, and it takes a few minutes before all the flames click on and dance a slow, tangerine tango. I stoop over the pot for a few seconds, letting myself breathe in the steam and giggling when my glasses fog like a normal San Franciscan day. This moment is not only for the writer inside me but also the person, who wishes they were still asleep.
I hear a raucous bark before my French bulldog, Hamlet, comes bounding in. He wears a pink collar and a pissed-off expression, if that’s even possible for a four-year-old dog. He’s probably vexed that I woke him up before 9:30am. Writers must have pets, it’s one of the most important rules. Especially pets with quirky names that in some way match their personality: Hamlet is melancholy and cynical, just like . . . dog Hamlet. But he’s got some upsides, like when you feed him pancakes and when he kills his Uncle Claudius.
Another writer-rule: you’ve got to know your Shakespeare. And other authors, of course, and lines from great novels. Being a writer is more than writing.
Hamlet stomps over to his bowl and growls at it, his eyes narrowing into little doggy-slits. I sigh and pick up his bowl to fill it with disgusting coffee-colored kibble. Oh, coffee. I’d kill for a good cup of coffee right now. He gobbles down his food aggressively fast and I try to ignore him when he whines for more. After all, the water is almost boiling.
Almost boiling is what the tea website calls for so I collapse into my desk chair to re-read the directions. Scoop 3-4 tablespoons of loose leaf into the water. It sounds easy enough. I wrench open the little container I picked up at Whole Foods yesterday and take a whiff of the leaves inside. It’s Lemon Ginger Tea, and it smells citrus-y enough. Like fireplaces after the fires and 50¢ lemonade stands run by kids just trying to get by.
Additionally, writers think, speak, and write in their own certain rhythm. My rhythm seems to be run-on sentences and odd descriptions that make you question yourself, but I don’t mind it. It’s like having my voice transfer onto the page to make my pen-voice. It took me a while to master it, but every real writer must have one.
I carefully measure out four spoonfuls of tea leaves and pour them into the water. The next step calls for steeping. What’s steeping? I’ve already poured in the tea so I quickly open a new tab in Safari and type it in. Steeping means to soak, but I wish I hadn’t found the definition because part of being a writer is living on the edge.
While I wait the four minutes of steeping, I notice Hamlet has sunk onto my wooden floors, asleep, and demonstrating the deepest snoring, just as loud as my broken HVAC system that spits cold air into my apartment on winter nights.
I decide to, in this small break, try to write. I sit at my desk, shut my computer, and push it aside. Real writers always write by hand, and then transfer it into their device. My favorite pen sits regally in a plastic Solo cup on my desk, and I take it into my right hand. Writers should be ambidextrous, but I’m working on that right now. I take some lined, wisdom-tooth white paper from my desk drawer and put pen to paper.
My favorite pen is a sleek Pilot pen that produces a trail of royal purple ink. I got it at Office Depot for $7.99, not exactly a deal. However, it helps me write. Every writer has a favorite pen that guides them through the times of ’block.
I’m thinking: what should I write? Writers’ stories are meant to change the world—no pressure there. That’s why they get all the fancy degrees from fancy colleges and whatnot. But right now I can literally write anything . . . my mind can finally wander . . .
Something is not working. I’ve written Once upon a time three times now. In my cloud of boredom, I scribble little purple hearts and stars on my wrist and palm of my hand. Writers’ hands can never be clean. They’ve always got a to-do list or doodle somewhere, just waiting for someone to see it. When I fiddle with my pen, I see the 7:15am-kitten’s-nose-pink morning light reflecting off of it. There, I think, that’s it. Writers can only go on writing sprees when it’s completely dark and no one is bothering them. Writers must be hermits.
I stand quickly, hurrying over to the one big window that spies on the street below. I tug on the rope to drop the blinds, and suddenly my one-room apartment is blanketed in a thick, heavy graphite gray. It’s silent for a second. Then, I remember: tea, steeping. Oops—the four minutes are probably up. I stride back over to my desk and log into my computer. The screen flashes on and shows me those last two steps. It says to pour the tea through a strainer and into a jug. What jug? I know I have a strainer, but what jug?
Writers must ask lots of questions. I find a baking bowl and set my small metal strainer over it. The handle of the pot is warm but I grab it anyway and force the water and tea leaves through the strainer. What comes out is a brownish liquid, like caramel corn and young brunettes. I stare warily at the big bowl and go back to my computer.
Mix a few scoops of sugar if sweetness is desired. I do desire sweetness, like every real writer should, so I scoop just a little more than the recipe requires. I take a rusting spoon from the kitchen drawer and mix until my arm gets tired.
When I’m done, I take a step back and admire my handiwork. There’s intense water vapor coming from the bowl, which probably isn’t heat-safe, so I wrap my hands in towels and lift the tea into the refrigerator. Just to cool down for a minute, I think.
I head towards my computer and decide to browse through some possible literary contests I could enter. I make the filter “no submission fee,” because who really has that sort of money to burn? Not me, and not other writers. I know I’ve got to build up my name, so I continue scanning. Many contests have prize money, and oh, it’s so tempting. Writers don’t focus on the money, though. They focus on the writing.
It’s only the glow of my computer that illuminates my face and the objects around me. I glance up, distracted, my eyes landing on dozed-off Hamlet and the dishes from last night that I didn’t wash. All of the sudden, I feel so . . . lonely. That’s another sacrifice for becoming a real writer: being alone. Most of the time.
Slowly but surely, I make my way out of the chair and to the fridge. There, the Lemon Ginger tea waits, still reasonably hot with ghostly mist hovering above it. I remove it and retrieve a clean-ish mug from my tiny dishwasher. The tea smells nice as it cascades into the cup. I grip the handle tightly, maneuvering the tea over to my desk so it won’t spill.
I shut my computer and move it aside, making room for my favorite pen and some paper in case I have an epiphany after tasting the “holy” drink. All right, I think defeatedly, tea time.
The liquid slides over my lips and makes me inhale sharply from the temperature. I gulp it down real fast so I don’t have to taste it but it lingers in my mouth. I want to gag, it’s too sweet with lumps of sugar resurfacing in each sip and has a big kick from the ginger. And then the citrus mixed into it all—it’s like a bowl of pot-bellied burps and lemons on the supermarket floor. And lots of sugar. Yuck.
My face must be contorted into an insanely twisted expression because Hamlet’s eyes pop open and stare at me. I gurgle and dash over to the sink, not bothering to clean the tea I spill on the rug. The mug is emptied and I’m searching under the couch for my dog’s stupid little leash. C’mon, c’mon, I’m thinking, reaching my hand under all the furniture. Hamlet loves to hide his leash so we don’t have to go on walks. Every writer’s got to go through a bit of trouble, right?
When I find it, I clip it to his pink collar and shove my feet into my flip-flops. While I’m opening the door, I wonder if I’ll ever take this bad situation and laugh about it or write about it in the future like every writer should. Probably not, I tell myself.
Hamlet, a bit displeased, waddles out the door. C’mon, Hamlet, I think enthusiastically, hoping he can hear me, we’re going to Starbucks.