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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tiny Anonymous Gifts

Picture this:

I’m sitting at my most-conquered Starbucks table, premium writing real estate because of its rare size and proximity to a wall plug. I’d scored the location five minutes ahead of a grumbling business type forced to huddle around a cramped rounder and dine on my second plug scraps of electricity. Behind me stands a stack of exorbitantly priced coffee pots (does anyone actually buy a $500 pot from Starbucks??) that teeters on occasion when I scramble away to recapture the time writing has snatched. Across the aisle, a woman in pea-green Crocs taps her foot to an i-pod tune while studying a textbook.

I feel guilt, so I justify the space by spreading out manuscript pages. I do this at home in deep edits so the highlighted colors tell a story. Totally unnecessary here, but to stave off the nasty glares from grumpy executive man. And there, something new creeps into my awareness.

This manuscript is two years old. I unearthed it that morning from my closet to enter it into a prestigious contest. The final version my agent had on file, one sent to two dozen publishing houses, had sprinklings of a mysterious maroon-colored penmanship on several pages. The handwriting, not of anyone in my critique group nor writing friends I sometimes send pages to, was quiet. Small and unassuming, but dead-accurate. The comments were like tiny gifts packaged into calligraphic bows.

In the cacophony of bean grinders and frothing machines and chirping cell phones, I waded through the mental rolodex of readers who’d had this manuscript in hand. The dinosaur method of handwriting should have provided hard evidence; most critiques I get now come via fattened emails loaded with track changes. Someone physically held these pages, and I can’t find him or her to thank.

The comments stop around page thirty-six. Does that firmly relegate the time period to the novel’s inception? Did the reader grow weary of the mistakes? Was that all I had to offer at the time? To whom did I entrust my raw words at the time that I no longer recognize the script?

I may never know, but it scarcely matters.

Those red marks are someone and everyone who’ll one day dive into our pages looking for an escape, a truth. Every fastidious cursive letter represents a bond, not with print runs or book clubs, but one anonymous reader who, through our stories, will become more intimate with us than almost anyone else. A thought both frightening and comforting.

We don’t write for many, we write for one. A full circle of writer to reader, complete.

And if anyone out there makes their “g”s like figure eights and crosses their “t”s only when inspired, don’t tell me. I love anonymous gifts.

Who do you write for?

10 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Great story. But how in the world do you write at a Starbucks? Man I couldn't handle the noise and bustle.

Vesper said...

Your story, told here, is also like a gift... Thank you!

Who do I write for?
Myself, a First Reader, maybe another one... I'm shy. Of the world I'm afraid.

Barbara Martin said...

If you really want to know who wrote those comments sit in a quiet place, clear your mind of thoughts and allow the answer to come. You have an innate ability to see things in the vortex with your writing, which will bring you sight in other areas.

As to whom I write for: firstly, myself and, secondly for readers in general. I require to be entertained with complex conflicts.

Miladysa said...

Like Charles I could never write anywhere that was not peaceful and private. BTW, never been in a Starbucks in my life!

Who do I write for? MOI and my darling blog readers :D

Pam said...

First of all, never feel bad about big-squatting a table at Starbucks. You're as much of a businessperson doing your business as the grumpy Gus in the wilted tie. Thems the breaks in the rough and tumble world of coffeehouses.

Regarding your manuscript--first is extreme excitement for you and rediscovering this forgotten gem. Second is not to worry about who made the comments, but that helpful comments were made. Enjoy the gift.

I write for myself, my friends, my family, the readers I have and the ones yet to come.

Marilyn Brant said...

I love Starbucks but can, in no way, write there. I associate it too much with chats with friends and mocha coffees with whipped cream.

I write for an alternate version of myself--she's not quite me but lives a life parallel to mine, one not so bogged down by the details I always try to juggle, which makes it easier for her to see the flaws in my books and, sometimes, the connections.

laughingwolf said...

i'm with charles and milady, cannot write under such circumstances

i agree with pam, them's the breaks

like you, i write for one... a solitary reader, me

my Gs are figure-8-like, the lowercase ones... but i do cross my Ts... accept the gifts... and if you really must know, barbara's way sounds perfect

Jen FitzGerald said...

Beautiful, L.A.

Sometimes those gifts are enjoyed best when we don't know who they're from--no baggage to mar the complete enjoyment.

Jen

Rick said...

What a wonderful posting, L.A. It's a story all by itself. I can write virtually anywhere, but my favorite place to write (other than home), is on a train!

L.A. Mitchell said...

Charles...it pales in comparison to the noise and bustle in my house sometimes. At least there, I am the anonymous person who doesn't know where everything is.

Vesper...thank you :)

miladysa...you're not missing much. The pretentiousness is palpable sometimes.

Pam...You're right. I shouldn't have worried about grumpy man and his agenda. It's hard, though. Everything seems to leave an imprint.

Marilyn...I completely get your alternate self. It's me, too.

laughingwolf and Jen...I love that they'll stay anonymous. I can envision they belong to someone who knows far more than I do.

rick...I could get into writing on the train...what a bounty of character inspiration :)