two and five

The Best Advice So Far - two and five

My brain has been in a perpetual fog for the latter half of this week. Any semblance of a regular sleep schedule has been obliterated since Wednesday, when I made the choice to stay up all night. I had my reasons. They seemed good reasons at the time. But the result was that I wound up going about 36 hours without sleep. Since then, I’ve been wide awake when I should be sleeping — and tired only when I can’t be.

Being this off kilter when it comes to sleep makes me feel “buzzy,” like my skin has a low-level electrical current passing through it. It’s particularly annoying in my head and face. This is paired with the sensation that the world is what I call “slidey” — that things in my peripheral vision are sneaking around, dashing back to where they were only when I look directly at them.

Some people think writing — particularly writing a blog post — is easy. I can only say … it’s not. I would estimate that each blog post takes an average of three-and-a-half hours to complete, and that’s only from the time I start typing. It doesn’t account for all of the mental planning that goes on during the week about what to say and how, an ongoing process that takes considerable time and energy all on its own.

Last night was another largely sleepless night. I went to bed at 11:00 (quite early for me), with the hopes of getting at least a solid six hours. But not even three hours in, I woke up with a start and was wired. My mom admonished me to just stay in bed when this happens. I tried. I really did. But it was just not going to happen. So I got up, threw on some shorts and a tank, and headed to the gym for a workout.

I thought about what I would write today while I drove to the gym.

During my workout.

On the drive back.

I have had a lot happen in the last week — things that would make for interesting, fun and even sensational(istic?) blog posts. I had images created for three such ideas. But in my current state, I just couldn’t find the wellspring from which to write any of them.

My writer friends will understand what I’m about to say. But writing — particularly writing of the kind I do — requires being in a certain state of mind and creativity. It’s not like going to the gym and working out, which can generally be done with sheer discipline if need be. While there certainly is an element of discipline to writing, if you aren’t in the right brain space, you just can’t write. At least not anything good. Sure, discipline will get words on a page. But it’s flat. Lifeless. You don’t even want to publish it.

People have suggested that I consider starting a file with blog posts written ahead of schedule, when I do have plenty of energy and focus, and then drawing from those at times when I’m not feeling it. But this wouldn’t work very well for me. It could be all in my head, but I believe that I have to be connected in the moment to what I’m writing or it just won’t connect deeply with readers. If it’s not coming from a place of … urgency, for lack of a better word … I just don’t feel it would reach its goal.

These were the thoughts going round and round in my head as I drove away from the gym about 6:30 this morning. What to write … what to write … c’mon, man … THINK!

I rehashed the blog ideas I had started, but I just couldn’t “find that place” with them. Think of something you love to do and that you’re good at. Now consider how it might be trying to make yourself do it within a half hour of awaking from anesthesia. That’s the closest I can come to describing how I was feeling. I still knew what I knew. I had ideas and could think of words or phrases. I just couldn’t pull it all together into anything.

I decided to grab breakfast on my way home. I stopped at a place about 10 minutes from the gym. There was one other car in the lot, but the people were still inside the vehicle. I hopped out and checked the sign on the door for hours. Sure enough, they didn’t open until 7:00. It was 6:42.

Funny — even in my upside-down frame of mind, I found my own advice popping into my head, as it often does:

“You always have a choice.”

“Patience is still a virtue.”

“Cultivate silence.”

I’d just finished exercising my body. I figured this was a good time to exercise my patience, to keep it limber. And maybe, in this 20 minutes or so of silence, I’d find a meaningful and “alive” connection to a topic for this week’s post.

So I sat. I watched the sky change colors. I listened to the birds. It was really quite peaceful and enjoyable. But I was still hitting the wall as far as writing was concerned.

At 7:01, the lights came on inside the restaurant and a server came to unlock the door. I’d be the first customer of the morning.

I ordered an orange juice, an egg-white omelet with spinach, tomatoes and salsa, and a side of fruit. A healthy start to the day. But it wasn’t helping a lick with inspiration.

Soon, the older couple from the other vehicle that had been parked outside made their way in and were seated kitty-corner to me on the left. The same server I’d had took their order. I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I couldn’t help overhearing, seeing that we were the only people yet in the diner. The woman began to place her order first, holding up the “Specials” menu and pointing to the stack of blackberry pancakes that dominated the page. Before a word had ushered from her mouth, however, the server made an apologetic face and sucked air in through her teeth. “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have any blackberries …”

Though she continued to smile graciously, the elderly woman emitted a slow and mewling “Oooooh” of disappointment. Her husband patted her hand and then translated for the server: “That’s too bad. She was very excited. Blackberries are her favorite.”

The server offered other suggestions. “We have raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, peaches … can I interest you in any of those?”

The woman acquiesced, still visibly deflated. “I’ll just have … yes, blueberries will be fine, thank you.”

Her husband ordered and the server bustled around the corner to the kitchen, then back again to deliver my own spread.

I’d stopped thinking about what I would write for the blog. I was smiling despite myself. An idea for something else had taken over and I was working out the details of my plan.

At seventeen minutes past the hour, I was done eating and had paid my bill. The older couple’s plates were just being placed on their table. I wouldn’t have much time if I were going to be able to pull this off …

I thanked the server and walked out as quickly as I could without drawing attention. There was a supermarket just a stone’s throw away across the street. I hoped that they were open.

I hopped into my car, zigzagged over, and parked again. They were open. And wouldn’t you know it, the first thing I saw as I entered was a display, offering the very item I’d come for: blackberries. What’s more, they were on sale. Just $2.00 per container.

I snatched one up, adrenaline flowing and the adventure going swimmingly. There was no line at the register, and I was back in my car in no time.

At 7:22, I was parked back at the diner and making my way through the door. I smiled at the greeter, who didn’t stop me, most likely assuming I’d come to retrieve something I’d forgotten.

As I made my way over to the older couple’s table, they saw me coming and must’ve recognized me. Might’ve been the bright turquoise shirt. Both of them turned toward the booth I’d left five minutes earlier, eyes darting about to help me find whatever it was I’d left behind.

They looked a little confused when I stopped at their table. But a smile goes a long way to setting people at ease. And I was smiling. Big.

“Hi, I’m Erik,” I began. “I couldn’t help overhearing earlier when you ordered the blackberry pancake special and found that they didn’t have any. I love blackberries as well! And the thought of you not having some blackberries with your breakfast was just more than I could bear.” I brought my hand out from behind my back where I’d been holding it. “So I got you a little present.”

I placed the small container of blackberries on the table in front of her, as if I were a waiter in a five-star Parisian restaurant and she were the honored guest.

Both of their faces lit up. In that moment, they were both children again, wide-eyed and full of wonder.

“Oh!” the woman exclaimed, her eyes moist. She worked herself over to the edge of the bench and rose as quickly as she could, using the edge of the table for support. Then she spread her arms wide and give me a hug tight enough to surprise me, planting a big kiss on my cheek, as her husband patted my forearm affectionately, grinning.

“Thank you! Thank you so much! That is so sweet of you! Ohhh …” the woman gushed, as if I’d presented her with the winning lotto ticket rather than a two-dollar package of blackberries.

Goes to show you: Even the smallest of choices has the power to change the course of a day for the better.

The Best Advice So Far: Even the smallest of choices has the power to change the course of a day for the better.

I left with a bounce in my step, feeling wide awake. For the price of two dollars and five minutes of time, I’d taken part in a worthwhile and fun moment of human connection I won’t soon forget.

And … I had my next blog post.

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