Call Me Domino

The Apartment

A certain friend recently asked me to take care of her apartment while she sojourned at length in spicy India.  She mentioned she lived with someone, but she assured me that he wouldn’t be any bother.  So, of course, I readily accepted. 

We decided that Friday afternoon would be the time to get acquainted.  In the midst of the millenial-minded shopping center, her apartment felt friendly and familiar.  Inside, the compact space promised intimacy.  Bookcases framed the walls of the two rooms.  Books had even invaded the kitchen and laundry closet.  Ranged on a sloping shelf above the washer and dryer, portfolios with such titles as, “Dante,” “Shakespeare,” and “Medieval Lit” dwarfed the “Bounce” box. 

I peeked into the bedroom.  No sign of my co-tenant.  In the bathroom there was one vanity–for one woman.  I turned to my friend with a question forming on my lips, but she anticipated me. 

“Oh, Domino’s not out now,” she gestured in a direction that seemed to be toward the front door. 

Not out now?” I echoed.  “Don’t you mean he is out now?” 

No, no,” she said laughing jovially.  “Didn’t I tell you?  Domino’s my cat.”

 My Mysterious Co-Tenant

But day after day, he made no appearance, despite my cat calls.  Desperate, I put in my DVD of Guys and Dolls and played the number “Pet Me Poppa,” hoping the chorus of “Meooowmeooow!” would coax him out.  If this was a game of Domino’s, I was the loser. 

I’d heard of imaginary playmates.  Was it possible my friend had an imaginary pet?  Was she delusional?!

Nothing to Fear but Fear

Of course that couldn’t be because there was the ocular (and olfactory!) proof.  Mountains of food disappeared from the feeder…and, like magic, reappeared in the litter box.

But where was he?  No animal could hide under the couch.  I did a daily under-the-bed check, but he had never been there. I began to dread going to bed.  Eerie nightmares dominated my sleep.  Would he land on my head and suffocate me?  Would he pounce on me from around the corner?  When I went into the bathroom the next morning, would he spring on me through the shower curtain? 

Climbing the lonely stairs to the apartment one evening as darkness fell, the words of a nursery rhyme ran in my head:

 “Yesterday upon the stair,

I met a cat who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

I wish that cat would go away.”

The Hallway Meeting

was about to step into the bathroom. 

 AAAAH!” 

Suddenly there he was: big, black, blocking my way.  I backed up two steps, but he didn’t budge.  He just stared.  His eyes: green-rimmed black holes.  His tail: twitching. 

could retreat to the bedroom, but how would I ever get to work?  And if I didn’t, how would I explain it?

Then I heard it start.  The low rumble.  He took a step toward me and turned his cheek. ThenI reached out, too. 

*

Later, the words of a better poem crept into my consciousness: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”  To this day, I don’t know what wall Domino was behind or where he was hiding.  But he understood that walls don’t separate enemies; they create enemies, and he had taken Frost’s theme a paw further.  It is not only love thy neighborit’s love thy mammal!

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How I Write

I like to read and write, but have struggled to rekindle the passion and find the time for (more thoughtful) writing with my corporate, full-time job. I started this blog not only to encourage me to write at least weekly, but also as a home to express and articulate the observations and thoughts I’m always thinking to myself, scribbling down somewhere, or telling to my family and friends. With this blog, you’ll hear my thoughts about a range of topics, from politics to how to survive in the capitalist workplace to Shakespeare. So on to the writing: I’ve decided to start with a post on how I write.

Some write with pen and paper.  Others write with speed.  I write with difficulty.  I know that must sound strange coming from someone with a B.A. in literature and from someone who wants to be a professional storyteller (i.e. a journalist).  But it’s true. 

The experiences I have had as a student-writer for my undergraduate literature courses and the experiences I’ve had as a reporter for a couple of newspapers have taught me two lessons: good writingthat which is clear and easy to followis always a struggle. Great writingthat which hooks your reader and begins to put them in a conversation with youis rare.

I can say definitively that the best writing I have done has always been the product of deep thinking and brainstorming.  I like to immerse myself, or drown myself, in my thoughts so that they can become germs of ideas I can use.  This immersion happens at different points during my days, (emphasis on the “s”!) at different places, and with different people.  I brainstorm sporadically along the trail of my morning run, slowly in between shampoos, and dreamily at my desk in the afternoon.  And after each brainstorm, the minute I have access to my notepad, I pen the keywords or phrases that were in my head.  The journalist in me wants to document my own handwritten record.

However, as much as I am a recorder, I am also a talker.  After incubating my ideas, I have a hunger to verbally communicate them with a person I trust.  Talking is an essential element in my immersion process.  For me, having a dialogue with my mom, a close colleague, or friend lets me hear how my ideas sound.  If I can effectively translate my thoughts to someone else, then I have a confirmation that their construction and expression is going somewhere.  This dialogue helps because talking out loud immediately gives me a physical audience which keeps me conscious of my reader-audience.  So, I guess I find that my writing process is sensory via sight and sound.

 This pre-writing stage is probably the most fun period because it is the only time where I feel free-er in my thinking and less inhibited. The actual writing period is definitely the most difficult because as I write I critically (and some people have said unnecessarily) examine the choices I am making–from the order of my ideas down to word choice.  I do this because I am constantly thinking of my reader, my audience. So, as I write I continually ask myself a series of questions, both before and after I punch out an idea: “So what? Why is this idea so crucial to communicate to my reader? And why am I putting it in this particular paragraph?”  This repetitive series of questions is the reason why the writing process for me is more like encountering a bunch of dams rather than sailing down a rushing river.  The process I implement is to construct, deconstruct, and then reconstruct my ideas while I write them.  I am a lingerer!  As a result, my laptop’s “backspace” key is now very faded from all the abuse it has received over the last five years.

I’m not exactly sure where my revision process starts and where it stops because I am continuously re-writing and re-thinking as I journey through the work I produce.  Whenever I do decide I’m done with my first draft written and edited by me, I depend on having a reliable source to read through it with a fresh critical perspective that is different from my own.  I find that enlisting this kind of aid is the best way I have of stepping away from my work. 

I’m also unable to pinpoint which parts of a piece are the most difficult for me to compose.  Beginnings?  Endings?  The marshy middle?  It’s all of the above!

Polonius’ aphorism is the best way to describe my seemingly crazy writing process: “[t]hough this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”  Shakespeare, himself, must have had a pretty crazy process of his own.  But it workedreally worked.  And that’s the only reason I stick to this messy processit’s worked so far.

What’s your writing process like? How do you deal with the blank page? Got any tips? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.