When I’m working on a novel, everything is material …
It’s Back-to-School night, an annual ritual I must repeat three times this year in three different schools. (Bad planning, those birth dates.) High school, middle school, elementary, it’s all the same: green-tinted fluorescents buzzing faintly overhead, the slight whiff of disinfectant, at least one nervous teacher with a fistful of bullet points, several dozing parents.
Yet despite the surface sameness, each endless evening is endless in its own way. So I look around, and I pull out my writing pad. I note a bead of sweat on the new vice-principal’s brow. The inspirational bromides of the athletic director (and the whistle he wears around his neck, even in front of parents at 8 pm). The Julia Child-like guffaw of a frizzy haired bio teacher. (Did I just glimpse a flirtatious glance between the band leader and the pianist? Maybe not. But his wife is watching him like a hawk.)
And then there are the parents. Tired and bedraggled, restless and impatient, alert and engaged. Some, like me, are taking notes. (Other writers? No, probably just better parents than I’ll ever be, legitimately interested in keeping A days and B days straight.) Directly in front of me, a group of women wearing running shoes and windbreakers, all with similar gray-streaked layered haircuts, cluster together; across the room, a tall blonde MILF in a low-cut purple dress bites her frosted lower lip; half a dozen dads in suits surreptitiously check their I-Phones and Blackberries. Stay-at-home moms in tennis bracelets (and some in tennis whites) contrast with working moms in tailored dresses carrying stylish totes. Latecomers of all stripes stand wearily against the back wall.
Time flies, and before I know it I’m back in the parking lot with a page full of characters and an idea for a scene. See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?