My kitten contracted fleas from god knows where (she’s an indoor cat and has not been outside, nor has she had any kind of contact with other animals). At any rate, I had to take everything I own to the local laundromat.
I sat in the nondescript laundromat in a strip mall that boasts a Walgreens and an auto parts store, and read a Nicholas Sparks book. Around me were people of all socio-economic and racial stripe, black, white, Asian, Latino — college student, artist, overwhelmed mother of four, old scary man in orange overalls.
As I waited for the four massive loads of laundry to dry, someone turned on an overhead television. The movie Titanic happened to be playing. Suddenly, all these disparate peoples became one. One by one, we all turned to watch, enthralled.
In front of me leaning against the dryers, staring up at the TV, was a white man with a braided mullet and beard, who wore a Harley T-shirt and too loose Levis. Soon an Asian girl and her smaller sister wandered up to lean their bellies against nearby dryers. A large woman and her 10 year old son, who moments earlier had been trying to convince his mother he was not a boy but a man (I’m a man now, Mama. You ain’t no man. Yes, I am. Ha ha ha…son you aint no man) joined us, sitting across from me at a table with plastic attached stools.
The overwhelmingly noisy laundromat was now so quiet you could hear every word of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s conversation. The scene we were presented with was this: near the beginning, Rose (Winslet) runs wildly for the bow of the Titanic to throw herself overboard. Jack (DiCaprio) rushes up to save her. She slips; he holds on; they end up in a tangle of arms and legs on the Titanic’s deck. The ship’s crew rush forward, see the lower class Jack on top of the refined Rose and surmise incorrectly that he has been up to no good.
I watched as this group of people came together as one through the power of storytelling. You could say it was the addictive effect of television, but that wasn’t true; as soon as the commercials came on we all went back to our Nicholas Sparks books, whining pleas, screaming kiddie matches in various foreign languages, and spinning dryer watching.
What brought us together?
The power of story.
How did that film begin?
Within the mind of a writer. (Writer/director James Cameron, who incorporated a fictious love story into an historical event.)
Remember, almost all films begin within the imagination of the writers.
I was moved to tears, in that godawful laundromat on a beautiful Sunday morning. I was moved by both the scene in the film and how it brought us all together. Storytelling, I thought, the great equalizer.
The scene touched me even though I’m not a Titanic fan. How many of us have gone through phases where we want to throw ourselves from the bow of a ship. I know I do, more often than I’d care to admit. I wondered: what did that little boy who thought he was a man think when he saw DiCaprio running to save the damsel in distress. Was he thinking: ‘Mama, that’s me. Look up there, Mama. I’m a man. Like him, Mama.’?
Was the college student thinking of young romantic love? That first accidental embrace? Was the guy in the Harley t-shirt recognizing how the Titanic had different decks for different classes? Wasn’t that the whole metaphor for the laundromat? We were all of such different backgrounds, and contrary to our normal lives, at that moment, we were all on the same “deck”.
As all this unfolded, I brushed my hand lovingly over the hardback Sparks’ book I’d just bought at a yard sale for 50 cents. I felt such deep gratitude for the career I’d chosen as a fiction writer. Lately, I have not been feeling that gratitude. Lately, all I’ve been feeling is stress, over my own work and having taken on the huge responsibility of coaching other writers. It’s such hard work. It dredges up so much stuff. It takes so long to finish a novel. The book and other people demand so much from me and I’m just one person. (Mama, I don’t want to be grown up. I’m not a woman, Mama, I’m just a little girl. Just one little girl.) Which direction is the bow of that ship?
The career that I chose (yes, remember, dear writer, you did choose it) lately has been challenging my self esteem, my stress levels, my bank balance, my sanity and my humor. Especially my humor.
The deeper you get into your work, the closer you get to your voice, the more humbling it is, the less full of spit you feel, the more emotional you are. And as writers, damn it, we just need someone to pat us on the back and say: You’re doing a fine job! We’re so proud of you.
My cat had fleas. I got an opportunity to remember why I even started this whole fiction writing business in the first place. We writers are the great peacemakers; our work affects all people, everywhere, during all times. Our messages are universal and abiding; we speak to the housewife, the executive, the pauper and the billionaire. We tear down the walls between classes, we bring everyone onto the same deck. We speak to the heart, to the soul of everyone.
I’d just like to pat us all on the back. We’re doing a fine job, and I am so deeply proud.