How to create space (and time) for creativity (in the bathroom) ‹ Literary Hub

My father taught me to write. No to writing, but how to create the space and time where a moment of inspiration can be captured and brought to life on the page through language.

It would sadden him to know that he had this effect on me. He never wanted me to write books; he wanted me to go work for him and write bills. He was tempting. He was a successful importer of things, a joyous world traveler, with a jet and many houses. Attractive, his life, but I decided to become a writer in his place, and the result of that decision, made in 1983, meant years of icy distance between us. We were just beginning to grow fond of each other again when he died, in 1997, a year before I sold my first book.

I think one of the prerequisites for becoming a writer is a love of language, of words, plain and simple. Each family has its own language, peculiar expressions that are not necessarily unique but feel unique, a linguistic identifier, and they can mark you.

I also inherited this from my father. He had many of those expressions.

That and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a bloodhound, you better stop kicking my dog..

Champagne flavor, beer wallet..

He doesn’t know his ass from deep center field.

These are all expressions that I attribute to my father, although he did not invent them, one in a million to use them. If he left the front door open, allowing the conditioned air from inside to flow into the hot, humid outside, I’d wonder if I was “born in a barn.” I love this expression now, and the idea that I could have been born in a barn, and that somehow being born there made me unable to close the door on a real house. It didn’t make any sense, but still.

Other: You could ruin a car funeral. This was one of his favorites and while I understand what it’s supposed to mean (I was so wrong, who didn’t), I could never understand how this really works, the significance of such a small funeral or in what way. It could possibly have something to do with one and what you could do to mess it up.

But surely his most beloved expression was this, the vulgar version of Cut fish or bait. Which one is this: Shit or get out of the pot.

There was no limit to the number of moments in life to which this expression could be applied. can mean to take action! What is the positive take on him. Or it could be read as more critical, which means take action or forget it move on give someone else a chance im sick of you doing nothing around here.

Here’s the thing: my father traveled a lot. The sad anonymity of hotel rooms blocked him. He missed the comfort of home, so when he returned, he went to the bathroom. This is where he went when he came home, and where he stayed, for a long time, until he left again on business. He had a real office a few miles away, but at home the bathroom was his office and, like Lyndon Johnson, had an open door policy for all of us; in fact, the door was rarely closed.

Anyone—me, my sisters, my mother, the maid—could, and did, stop by the bathroom and see him there, sitting on the toilet, his light blue boxer shorts collapsed around his ankles, hiding his top. of his feet, hairless and white. His back was hunched forward and his elbows rested on his knees. In his hands were six or seven squares of yellow toilet paper, which he folded, unfolded, and refolded, careful with the perforations.

Most of the time she would sit like this, looking at the handkerchief, with a thoughtful, sometimes anxious expression on her face. To one side was the bathroom sink, and on the tile next to the sink was a steaming cup of tea. She didn’t wear her wristwatch, but she kept it by the sink, and she glanced at the time now and then as she smoked her cigarettes, Benson & Hedges, cigarettes that left marks on the bathroom tile when they burned when balanced there for too long. time. long. The toilet was her ashtray. If the cigarette went out during a quiet moment, she could hear the red-hot ember, the rock, splashing and sizzling in the water.

The deep acoustic echo of my father’s voice shouting: I’ll never forget it.

On the floor near her feet was a yellow legal pad and a gold Cross pen. My father took notes to himself, drew pictures, added and subtracted three- and four-digit numbers, or made to-do lists. But these things, unless they could be accomplished from his toilet seat, were left undone. Odd jobs, housework, errands and family outings came a distant second. This, the time he spent here, was what was important.

Still, even under these bizarre circumstances, it was easy to gain an audience. If you had any specific needs or desires to talk to him, he would attend to you. He would listen to everything you had to say and respond accordingly. He was sometimes busy with something else, and at those times, understandably, conversations were kept to a minimum.

But if he hadn’t made any “progress,” as he put it, one could spend up to three or four minutes chatting with him. He sometimes he called: for the newspaper, cigarettes, another cup of tea. The deep acoustic echo of my father’s voice shouting: I’ll never forget it. It was also possible to just stop by the bathroom and take a look, see how he was doing. Sometimes he didn’t realize it, he was so absorbed in folding the handkerchief, thinking and taking notes. But other times he would smile, wave and ask what was wrong with him. Not much, you would say. And you? Not much, I might say. Not much at all.

And so was his day. When she received a phone call, the cable was stretched to the end of its length. Throughout the morning, my father talked on the phone, read the newspaper, took notes, scribbled, smoked, drank, and folded his soft yellow squares of toilet paper while he thought about something, possibly me; I mean, why not me? Until, finally, the day was over, he pressed the little metal handle there, and began the rumbling noise of churning water filled with all the garbage he could fill it with. You could hear it in the pipes.

“Made!” she proclaimed, standing up, taking a deep breath. Then she washed her hands under a stream of hot water, looking pleased at her reflection in the mirror. He was pleased that the work he had come here to do had been done. After a long, possibly arduous day, he could look at himself and say that he had achieved his goal.

The next day he would be there again, and the next, or possibly the next, he would be away on a journey, sometimes for weeks.

We don’t learn from people who tell us things. We learn by watching them. We learn from experience. Long before I even knew it was happening, I started becoming a writer, which is the way most things happen: we started long before we even knew we’d started, and only by looking back can we know when it really started. ..

Because I didn’t know for a long time that the only essential thing I learned about writing I learned from him. That all you need is a pen and a piece of paper, a cup of tea, a small room where you can have some privacy when you need it, and a comfortable place to sit. And then you don’t move. You sit there until what you came there to do is done. And then wake up the next day and do it all over again.


This is not going to end well

Of This is not going to end well. Used with permission of the publisher, Worker posting. Copyright © 2023 by Daniel Wallace.