Writer On The Road: Wichita Heat.
Greetings from Wichita, Kansas, where I'm writing from my beau's house. My office here looks like this:
I tend to write with my feet in the wading pool (a.k.a. The Wallow because once my black Lab, Woodrow, is done with it at the end of the day, it resembles a pool full of dirt pudding). One has to write with her feet in a pool in Wichita, really, because it's so danged hot here. Yes, I know it has been hot in the rest of the country too, including Minnesota (which when Woodrow and I left had just broken a humidity record with a dew point of 82, making it feel as though every time you went outside, you were standing in a giant mouth). And Boston, which from what I hear for the past week could accurately have been captioned "Hell." I'm not saying that Wichita has been any hotter, even though it is the third-hottest July on record here, with temperatures that routinely look like this:
That is, as one of my stormchaser friends called it on Facebook, the obligatory weather-geek triple-digit dashboard temp shot. I couldn't help but succumb to becoming a cliche, mesmerized by all those 111s. But my second morning in my Wichita office, while I was happily working--okay, while I was happily stalking people on Facebook--my laptop started acting strange. It began working very SSSSSSS...LLLLLLL....OOOO...WWWWWW....LLLLLL.....YYYYYY. And when I checked my iPhone, which provides the Internet signal in my Wichita office, I saw something I had never. Seen. Before.
Being the social media ho that I am, my first instinct was to post the Thing I'd Never Seen Before shot on Facebook.
But my iPhone didn't work. I couldn't upload the photo.
And my laptop had SSSLLLLOOOOWWWWWEEEEEDDDDDD to a stop. The touchpad no longer responded. I couldn't see the cursor on the screen.
I couldn't post on Facebook.
I couldn't tweet on Twitter.
I couldn't answer my email--the reason I had ostensibly signed on to begin with, to keep up with business and reader correspondence.
Thanks to the fact that I had inadvertently broiled my technology, I could not inform anyone about this phenomenon in any electronic way, shape, or form.
What had the world come to?
The first thing I did was run inside and put my iPhone and laptop in the kitchen freezer. Then I thought better of this idea. I took them out and put them in the refrigerator.
While my head was in the refrigerator, I decided to make more iced coffee.
When I had iced coffee in hand, I was ready to go back to work.
But my laptop and iPhone were still in meltdown. I shut the refrigerator and wandered into the living room, and there in my suitcase I spotted something I dimly remembered packing: my notebook.
Ever since childhood, I've had a notebook. In gradeschool, in my Harriet-The-Spy days, it was a marbled black-and-white composition book I used for spying on the neighbors. Now, when I'm charting out ideas, I use black clothbound sketchbooks from Borders. The reason I always write in these is they're plain and unassuming, meaning I can F up whatever I write. If I write in anything fancier, it feels as though I have to write for posterity, and then I freeze. I have a stockpile of the precious notebooks (it is safe to say I hoard them), and I'd brought one with me to Wichita. Because part of the idea of being in Wichita was for me to be in a safe, generative place where, once my daily social media ho-ing was done, I might grab at faint wisps of story ideas as they floated past, like dandelion seeds.
I took my notebook and the only pen I ever write with, a black Ultra-Fine Sharpie marker, and went out to the pool. Stuck my feet in. Opened the cover. And started writing.
What happened was what usually happened.
For about 12 pages I wrote all about myself: ME ME ME ME ME! How hot it was. Why I was in Wichita. What it was like to share a house with another writer. What it was like to write with my feet in a wading pool. Why I wasn't writing. Why I had no book ideas. Why I had no book ideas except one but I didn't really want to work on it right then. Why I didn't want to work on it. What I wanted to maybe write about instead.
And then three story ideas floated by. Just wisps of fluff, faint in the sunlight. I wrote them down, astonished and grateful, amazed at them. I am always, after decades of writing, so amazed when ideas float down to you out of the blue.
I wrote about the stories until my handwriting was big and loose and unreadable and I was out of juice and iced coffee. I shut the notebook and shook my hand. "That," I told Woodrow, who was wallowing in The Wallow, "was a good day's writing!"
My beau came out with a cigar and sat on one of the lawn chairs. He checked to see I was no longer working, then said, "Why are your laptop and iPhone in the fridge?"
"Crap," I said, and leaped up. By the time I'd retrieved them and thawed them out, I'd formulated the truest answer to his question:
So I could write.
If I hadn't fried my phone and laptop, I never would have seen and caught those story ideas.
Maybe we all need to broil our technology once in a while.
Jenna Blum is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels Those Who Save Us, The Stormchasers, and The Lost Family as well as the novella "The Lucky One" in anthology Grand Central. Jenna is also one of Oprah's Top 30 Women Writers. Jenna has taught for GrubStreet since 1997 ; she currently runs the master novel workshop and seminars focusing on craft and marketing.See other articles by Jenna Blum