by Lillie Hannon
Please trust me when I say that I thought long and hard about how to answer “what writing means to me”. I came up with draft after draft about nonexistent schedules and favorite notebooks and my feral-like obsession with the perfect pen. (It’s out there. I swear it is.)
But all that would do is tell you, and all the world, how I write.
Which I could explain away with one sentence.
Probably not well and with a too-expensive pen.
I can already hear Judith yelling at me from the other end of the table: no negative prefacing!
Oops. My bad!
So after many a draft on the perfect pen, my very dangerous notebook hoarding problem (I can stop anytime, I swear.), and some serious consideration, I somehow ended up with the only way to describe my writing. And it is this:
I am a waiting room.
No one really likes waiting rooms. Most of them smell like fish tanks. Their walls are a breathtaking mixture of beige and beiger and beigist. All the chairs are from the 80’s. There are magazines about golf and home improvement on the tables. There’s always an old receptionist with giant hair who hates you for the sake of hating you. I’d like to think that she wears bright orange lipstick and is named Donna or Linda or Marge or Something.
She has a dental plan. Don’t worry.
But my mind is a waiting room.
And I suppose it always had been.
It used to work a little like this:
I had a small theoretical space I’d go to when I was thinking. A bare bones space. An isolating space. I sat in my swivel-y theoretical office chair and I wrote things. I wrote lots of things. All on my old theoretical iMac with an old, clacky, theoretical keyboard. Things that didn’t matter. Sometimes nonsense poems. Sometimes strings of words. Sometimes I twiddled my fingers.
There was definitely one of those old hoops stuck on the back of my door and I chucked paper at it. And somehow, even though it was my imaginary, theoretical office, I would never get it through.
I agonized. I word-vomited. I spewed meaningless short stories. I wrote as well as I could.
I didn’t care much. I was alone. I was without purpose. I didn’t need purpose. Purpose was just a buzzword used by people in berets. Life moved on around me.
And then, as it tends to, things happened.
My grandfather passed away when I was in middle school.
Describing the loss he’d left behind would be useless. I’d dealt with death before, but this felt personal. Cruel. Unjust. Writing changed. Life changed.
And life kept changing.
I lost my grandmother just before my college graduation.
My family began to crumble.
Things blew up everywhere.
And I didn’t know how to deal with any of it.
I floundered and knotted up. The world was so big, and the things that happened in the world were bigger. I was overwhelmed. Nothing made sense, and no matter what I read, or did, or wrote, it kept making less sense. And I kept getting burned.
So I stopped. I put down my writing. And I stopped.
I locked the door of my little office and closed the shades.
And I resolved to stay in the purposeless dark.
And then someone came into the waiting room.
I can’t tell you how long they’d been there. It could have been minutes. Days. Maybe years that they’d sat there in the terrible chairs, staring at the wall art. I don’t know. I’d kept the door closed for so long. It’s easier to keep doors closed, especially when you’re just beginning, and you only want to write terrible poetry and play Sudoku and forget about the nonsensical world beyond that door.
But my receptionist (Donna or Linda or Marge or Something) called my extension, and in her thick cigarette-coffee dialect, said, “Someone’s here to see you.”
I didn’t want to see anyone.
I’d never really seen anyone in my office before.
“Do what you want. But I’m not giving him the good coffee,” Donna or Linda or Marge or Something said, before slamming the phone down.
It took some time. But being raised on strict politeness rules, there was only so long before I could ignore them.
So I open that door again.
He was waiting in one of those awful Dayglo 80s fabric chairs.
And he was wearing yellow pants.
His name was Death, he told me, and he came into the office and sat across from me.
“I don’t want you here,” I told him, honestly.
“I know,” he said.
“Nothing really makes sense.”
“I know,” he said, leaning back, kicking his Vans up onto the desktop. “How about we try, though.”
The next week, an actual appointment was on the books, and a little boy had his face pressed against the fish-tank. “Hi,” he chirped, when I opened the door. “I’m Tobias and Death sent me.” He was tapping on the fish-tank, giving each of the fish a panic attack. The clown-fish glared at him.
“Are you here to tell me how to stop Death or something?” I asked him when he came into my office and stuck his entire fist into the M&M bowl.
He shoved the fistful into his mouth. “Nah,” he said. “We’re friends.”
In the real world, I went to The Writers Circle for the first time with a piece of writing I fondly titled Death Wears Yellow Pants. The subtitle was Making Sense of Things.
“I don’t think it’s any good,” I said.
“No negative prefacing!” the teacher yelled at me.
So I read it. A story about a boy dealing with Death, when Death suddenly arrives in his room to collect a goldfish.
And somehow that convoluted, strange, completely nonsensical beginning of a story made things make sense.
The young boy was grieving under the weight of the world.
Death was agonized and angry and wished to be seen.
They were finding themselves between their own struggles.
The knotted, ugly, scary thing began to settle and have purpose. And so did the little waiting area, filling up occasionally with characters who all had their own ideas about life. How it made sense to them. How I could make sense of it, too.
And that’s what writing began to do.
I tentatively opened up my appointment books after that and put a sign on the door that said “WALK INS ARE WELCOME”.
Donna or Linda or Marge or Something did not like that.
Characters flowed in at their own pace. There was a little girl named Belinda who accidentally killed a hamster with a basketball. There was the child of a lost artist. There was a puffed up mayor of a town whose entire economy was pumpkin-based.
On a bad day, when I didn’t feel like opening the door, there was a giant.
He was too tall for the waiting room, and he’d broken the roof. Donna or Linda or Marge or Something was mumbling about how she “wasn’t going to be the one to clean it up.”
While she called for a janitor, I looked up at the giant. He was all smoke and sinew and everything I was afraid of.
“I’m not okay,” I told the giant.
“That’s okay,” said the giant.
“I feel so lost,” I said. “I am so lost.”
“Ah,” he said, kindly. “How lucky for you.”
They all come through the waiting room.
I began writing behind a closed door. I began writing alone. I began writing, so many years ago, without purpose, in knots, and sinking.
And then I opened the door to a waiting room.
It has beige walls. The pictures are all stock photos and terrible bland landscapes. I have a fish-tank, an old carpet, and a receptionist named Donna or Linda or Marge or Something who has fake nails, a flask in her top drawer, and lopsided drawn-on eyebrows.
Characters come in and out. Death, boys, giants, mayors. They wait patiently in old, sagging 80s chairs. They talk to me. They try to make sense of the world in their own ways.
And the characters are always there. And always waiting. Always patiently, and always with their own answers.
I’ll admit, some days I keep my door closed.
Some days, I write nothing.
Some days, I give up and go through my hoards of pens and notebooks.
Some days, life knots you up and makes no sense.
But eventually, something raps on my closed door and forces me to confront them. Forces me to talk to giants and mayors and Death. Forces me to meet new stories.
Fortunately, that’s what I have a receptionist for.
Lillie Hannon joined The Writers Circle in 2019 after her mother found their booth next to a french fry cart at the Summit Street Fair. Since then she has listened to many stories, found many friends, and has fallen in love with writing again. Lillie is currently attempting to write her first novel under the incredible guidance of Judith Lindbergh. She is successfully failing at it every day. This blog post was written in celebration of the Writers Circle’s 10th anniversary.