I went to Boston a few weeks ago with my two teenage sons and decided to write a short story. I was sitting on the bed in the hotel room, cozy with a robe and slippers and sipping on my perennial cup of tea. I was happy that the boys were in the gym and that I was alone.
Sitting on the bed with my laptop surrounded by three novels, a self help book, and the New York Times I was happy. To tell you the truth though, this seemingly passive activity was starting to seem like too much work and I was getting a headache. I couldn't decide on which novel to read. I had started all three at different times and was carting them all around with me, forgetting where I left off in each one. I also couldn't decide if I even liked any of them. It was at that moment, or one of those moments of mental fatigue that it hit me. If I didn't feel like reading, then maybe I ought to write something. Writing a book while the boys were at the gym was a daunting if not impossible feat, yet a short story seemed doable. Aside from the most obvious obstacle of having no topic or plot, there was the added obstacle that I was and never have been a fan of the short story. My reasoning is that by the time you get into the story it ends. Given my history of separation anxiety and the fear of change, this genre has never suited my needs nor temperament. I decided however, in that hotel room at that particular time to throw caution to the wind and begin as best I could.
My therapist always tells me that finding material is never the issue. The issue is getting it out on paper (or the computer) and accessing the unconscious. "Always remember that the unconscious is timeless and that it stores all of your thoughts and memories." I scratch my face out of nerves, bite the hotel pen and try to think of something to write about. I literally draw a blank.
Finally after about 20 minutes or so of sorting through the New York Times for inspiration, I start a story about a young girl who grows up with a double. I figure that the whole doppelgänger issue ought to keep me interested and busy for pages let alone years, especially with a protagonist I can identify with and a topic I am fascinated by. I write the story in bits and pieces. The girl meets her double one day in a mirror, and her double literally steps out of a full length mirror and they become friends. They are not quite symbiotic, but their boundaries are unclear and precarious. As the story progresses, it turns out that everyone on earth actually has a double. Personal identity has become a nostalgic piece of history, as mass production has eclipsed all idiosyncrasies and variation. The story is kind of a knock off from George Orwell, inspired by dystopian literature, and the product of Edgar Allen Poe's doppelgänger. But even with these influences and this variation of the Freudian romance, at least it's a story I wrote that has both personal meaning and is culturally relevant. I am happy with it I think and keep rereading it, But the doubt remains: "is it good?" I am thankful for the fact that the boys are still at the gym, but it does seem like an awfully long time they have been gone.
I decide that I need another pot of tea to keep going. I call room service and about 15 minutes later, a uniformed woman arrives with the tea on a platter with sugar, honey and lemon. "What do you take in your tea?" I tell her that the honey and lemon are fine. She can take the sugar. "Thank you." I size up the woman standing before me and think she is kind, smart, and reasonable. The gray uniform looks sophisticated and fits her well. As she is about to leave, I suddenly become very insecure about the story and start worrying that perhaps something has happened to the boys. I ask her what level the gym is on. I wonder if there is some connection between my fears. "Does the story make sense? "Where are the boys?"
The woman who has brought the tea smiles as she leaves and closes the door. She must be going back down for another room service request. I pour the new pot of water over the tea leaves looking for answers. I am startled when there is another knock at the door. "It must be the boys" I think with relief. But it is the same woman who brought the tea asking me if I would like anything and if I take honey, sugar, or lemon. I am confused as to why she has come back. Didn't I just tell her to take the sugar? "Would you like anything else?" she asks again.
As I look up to answer, I am happy and pleased to see the boys walking down the hall towards the room. But oddly enough, they don't glance my way and are immersed in conversation. Aside from wondering what they could be so ardently discussing, I am also curious as to what took them so long at the gym. I am about to ask them but they keep walking. They pass the room, take out a room key and enter another room. The woman hands me the tea (another cup) and smiles. "It was nice to meet." I am left staring at the outside of the door that the boys have just entered.