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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Uses of Everyday Misery

For a writer, nothing has to go to waste. Any experience teaches you something useful for your writing. Even everyday misery has it uses.

A few days ago, I had to trade in my cable television box. I wanted one that had a built-in digital video recorder. Of course I had to stand in line to make the switch. A long line. For me, this qualifies as misery. Maybe that makes me a whiner, but standing in line is not pleasant.

However, you can learn a great deal standing in line. (Do you say "in line" or "on line?" I guess it depends on where you live.) My fellow line mates were an interesting conglomerate of individuals. We were young and old; black, white and brown; rich and poor. Well, maybe not rich. Some of us were hyper-fit, and some of us had let ourselves go.

I began to pay attention, looking at how people dressed and trying to understand their personal styles. Where had they bought their clothes? I tuned into the voices around me, paying attention to accents, vocabulary and personal twists of expression. Some people stood alone while others brought friends, lovers or kids.

Before long, I was itching to take out my index cards and begin making notes. However, we were all crowded in a little to close for me to get away with that. But I did begin to make up stories in my mind about some of the people in line. When I got home, I hurried to my writer's notebook and began to describe what I had observed and learned during my 20-minute wait to get a new cable TV box.

You are a writer. Everything is relevant to your calling. Waste nothing.

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