There is a man who hangs out at the café/bar where my writers group meets. I don’t know very much about him at all. I know he reads and nurses a beer from his usual stool at the bar, while we writers, at our usual table, group and chatter about our lives, our loves and our precious pastime.
Last week, everyone else went home early and I was left with an hour of peace and quiet to finish my Trollinger and think up a #writersprompt or two. On a self-dare 1 I gathered my courage and asked the gentleman at the bar what he was reading. He was friendly and we small-talked about “Transgression: A Novel of Love and War”, the setting of the story, that he found it tense, exciting, that I would order it in English and what was the author’s name again? James W. Nichol.
I began to relax. A casual exchange of smiles or weather-based one-liners is easy for me but engaging in a meaningful conversation, (the only kind of conversation I really want to have) with a person I don’t know is, well, is damned scary. And just then, just as I discovered I could breathe again, with a gentle smile and what I interpreted to be an expression of honest interest he asked me: “So, how’s your novel going?”
Yes folks, yes, that’s me you see sitting there behind my usual table, with a half a glass of wine in my brain, frozen at the wrong end of a question and totally unable to formulate the first senseful sentence. Not even a senseful string of words freed from any requirement regarding the rules of sentence. No one (I didn’t know well) had ever asked me that question. 2
I think I blushed, I know I blathered around in my vocabulary, spitting out words one after the other, for a minute or two while his face maintained it’s original kind expression; the one that suggested we were talking about something of real value. I don’t remember what I said or how the the conversation ended but for the rest of the evening, until I fell asleep that night, the experience of that experience followed me around, pestering and poking at me. Trying to tell me something. What was it? 3
The next morning, when I woke up, I only wanted to work. To work, to work: sorting out characters and subplots, noting missing scenes. Spring cleaning strikes the Work In Progress folder, deletions were made, changes, additions too. I’ve been working all week and the progress is slow, but steady. It still feels different now than it did last week, still today, still somehow important. A casual bystander has done me a great favor.
Thank you, Martin. Thank you for asking.
A “self-dare” is when, lacking a challenger, you dare yourself to do something scary. Come on you do it too. You know you do.
2 Even people I do know well, after all these years, don’t ask The Question very often anymore.
3 I know. I should get out more often.