Friday, August 17, 2012

Writer's Splotch

I face the blank page at 11:18 Thursday morning. Except for two or three vacations a year I post at least 1000 words every Friday before I leave the office. In an interview, a writer I admire was talking about motivation. He said that he completed his first novel by setting a deadline and deciding he'd commit suicide if he hadn't finished the manuscript on schedule. Personally, I won't eat dinner until this piece is posted, which for me, is just about as extreme. Usually by Thursday morning the lightening bolt has hit with the topic for my week's musings. Now however I am forcing myself to write about not having anything to write about. It is hot and my office is not air conditioned or even ventilated. We are prone to blown fuses so I use only a tiny personal fan clipped to my desk that blows hot air in my face and causes the images on my computer screen to vibrate a bit. I have a heat rash, and despite frequent colloidal oatmeal treatments, the itch at times becomes unbearable. My body is a lattice work of red splotches and scratches. The only place I am comfortable is immersed in a cool bath with a thick paste of fine oatmeal slathered on my skin.

Because I correspond weekly with three prison inmates I feel obliged to appreciate how fortunate I am not to live my life behind bars. I slap myself around when I begin the descent into self pity. Often when I'm in the middle of a soul deadening task it occurs to me how many others would envy my drudgery. Now though even this sense of obligation can't lift me out of my morass. I have another uncontrollable fit of scratching and find tiny dots of blood seeping through my white top. I long to go home and take a much higher than recommended dose of Benadryl and crash but my colleague is on vacation so I'm stuck at the office. Unfortunately it seems that everyone who might need stock footage is on vacation too so there is nothing to distract me from writer's block and unbearable itchiness. Plus there are no witnesses around the office, except Rover, to prevent me from scratching and ruining a perfectly nice peasant blouse.

I haven't been a student or even a teacher for decades but I still get wistful and disappointed at summer's end. In childhood the anticipation of summer is so blown out of proportion that the fulfillment of expectation is nearly impossible. Now summer means only not making the boy breakfast, yet as I see kids return to the neighborhood schools I still sense the sad undercurrent of unrealized promise. Spuds still has two weeks off and is working on college applications and preparing to take the ACT test again. He's returned to his tutoring job and is co-writing a play. Joe College is in night owl mode, socializing with other home from college kids into the wee hours. He returns to school in a week. I resent his indolence now but when he goes I'll miss him something fierce.

Himself and I spent some time up north but neither kid has been anywhere this summer. The air conditioning in the house isn't worth a damn so I decide on a weekend escape. My criteria is cheap and well air conditioned and I find a great bargain in Palm Springs. We stay at a Holiday Inn that's done over in Pantone colors with retro desert flair. The air conditioning is great and there is a poolside d.j. The kids swim and Himself and I read in the room. We have a couple of good meals and no family drama. I slaughter the kids at Scattagories and number one son accepts his defeat rather ungraciously. “You just win because you're so old.”

L.A. is just as hot when we return as when we left. There is no maid to make my bed and leave fresh towels. There is no restaurant in the lobby. I itch like crazy and the oatmeal bath product I use leaves the tub gray and crusty. I spend two hours in the steaming kitchen preparing a casserole with salmon, kale, potatoes and onions. Himself gets a stricken look he gets when he tastes something he dislikes. He says he can't control this response but I'm skeptical. Number One son says, “You didn't actually think we would like this, did you?” Spuds is silent but takes one bite, silently rises and nukes for himself some leftover chili.

Joe College has been commanded to at least put an appearance at the office daily to help defray a bit the expense pertinent to his education, transportation and existence. This bores him although I do not take it personally, as this state reflects his summer experience as a whole and not just the being stuck at Mom's office part. He blows in and announces that his old Volvo has failed the smog test twice. He is irate at having to take it back to the mechanic and then for another smog check. I start to say that this is a small price to pay for having a car, such as it is, all expense paid. I stop myself. I wouldn't like going back to for a third smog check either. I don't want to have a fight. I just want him to get out so I can scratch in peace.

I am preparing to close the office and return home to my gritty bathtub when Spuds calls. He's on his way to his tutoring job and his car is acting up. He manages to make it to the mechanic around the corner from my office and takes my car to his job, stranding me at the office for another couple of hours. I try to force myself to write instead of scratch. I actually make some headway on a big manuscript I am struggling to revise. I come to a natural stopping point and text Spuds to find out when he's coming to fetch me. “Another hour,” he responds. I decide to comfort myself with a New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle but find they are no longer available free to subscribers of the paper. I switch to the L.A. Times puzzles which are still free but you have to watch a 30 second commercial for Ford Taurus before the crossword opens. The L.A. Times puzzle only takes about 5 minutes. A new spot of rash erupts on my back and I slide a ruler down my blouse.

Facebook seldom provides more than a minute or two of distraction but this week I've been logging on way more than usual. Writer Michael Santos was released, after 25 years in prison, on Monday. Miraculously he has mastered an iPhone and is posting pretty regularly from the free world. He's in a San Francisco halfway house. He describes the sensation of walking down the street as a man and not a prisoner for the first time. The wait at the DMV office is three hours but the office closes before he has time to take the driver's test. A Burger King Whopper is his first restaurant experience. I know Santos only from having read his writing but still I get a physical rush reading each of his postings.

The heatwave can't go on forever. I imagine my itchiness will subside in a day or two. And if not, it's the weekend so I'll have no compunction about altering my consciousness. Maybe if I'm real doped up the kids will play Scattagories with me again. If nothing else, Michael Santos is starting an office job today and I can't wait to hear about how that goes. Plus dithering around I've managed amass about 1314 words so I can eat dinner.
Shabbat Shalom


FionnchĂș said...

I liked going to Palm Springs, almost. The heat did stick my cotton shirts to my back in the car, but the New Yorker story-author pairs to hear aloud eased the inevitable Inland Empire traffic, even if every trip there disheartens me as more sprawl and less chaparral meets my careful eye, decades after I first saw it.

If you think my response to certain green textures is conscious, try feeding me salad and watch my face. The dinner at the hotel's restaurant, Tinto, was great, and I I anticipate you'll expound more on it or the breakfast family we watched. Another entry, perhaps?

Let's hope our sons have happy memories of the dinners and trips we shared, when they deal with smog checks, dental care, and paying the bills. Meanwhile, it was an unexpected jaunt that reminded me if I needed such of what sticking my head in an oven door feels like. And, as my review of my apropos novel in that hotel room, Ian McEwan's "Solar" reminded me, its protagonist marvels in the New Mexican desert about the weight of photons, the pressure of the heat on our frailty.

P.S. This may ease the burden of shoving a ruler down your peasant blouse. xxx me: In Texas, arguing that heat can be a death sentence for prisoners.

My own Damn Blog said...

Yes the soothing Aveeno baths are only offset by scraping the residue out of the bathtub. But ooh what soft skin!

We too have been enduring 100+ heat plus humidity and smoke from nearby forest fires up here in Yokelville. But the a/c has been on 24/7 which ameliorates the combination of my ABSOLUTE LEAST favorite weather conditions in the universe. Looking forward to tropical tradewinds and spectacular sunrises.

I remember my childhood vacations in Palm Springs. The seemingly endless desert, sandstorms so intense they pitted our windshield, looking for arrowheads and the majestic mountains. Haven't been back in a long time. Sad to think that the otherworldliness is gone.