As a writer, or as an aspiring writer, you need to develop the ability to realize absurdity in the moment. Too frequently am I in the middle of a freak show, but blind to the fact. Too many times I've only realized the brilliance of a place after the fact.
"It was really weird, the other day, when that guy in the bar was staring at me. What did he mumble to himself, again?"
Too late asshole, you didn't hold on to what was so interesting about that moment, try again later.
I've tried for a long time to learn that lesson: be conscious. Be present.
I have a habit to get lost in thought very easily, almost like some cheesy movie where the main character can't stop day dreaming. Like A Christmas Story or every single episode of Doug.
There have been times where, when I'm in the car with my girlfriend, she'll ask me a question I can't answer:
"What'd they just say?"
Oh. She's referring to something on the radio. Unfortunately for her or me, I was a million miles deep in my own mind, thinking about the podcast or a story.
I don't live in the present, I perform actions in the present, thinking about their reach into the future:
How quickly can I finish my degree? Should I bring up this old story for the next Will and Bobby Know Everything? Here's a crazy fucking idea, could it work for a comic book? I need to remember it: don't forget, don't forget, don't forget. Keep it in the forefront of your mind until you can park the car and take a note!
To be fair, that's what you're supposed to do. I took a couple of sociology classes where it was stated that the poor live in the moment while the rich think about the future.
Strangely enough, I find myself basically poor (or not. I'm surrounded by crazy gizmos and gadgets in my beautiful apartment. But I've always had to worry about where the money will come from next), despite all the questioning of the future I do.
In the moment, here's this:
I'm currently sitting in a coffee shop (I'm trying to avoid saying that it's a Starbucks) in Red Bank, staring at everybody.
A kid, maybe he just hit 19 years old, walked into the shop, and immediately tapped a severely old man on the shoulder.
15 minutes ago, that same old man helped a couple find a seat. Not that they'd asked. He basically got their attention and thrust the favor upon them. He made people move by calling to them from across the room. I suppose it was technically a nice thing to do, though it was disruptive and unexpected.
So here's this kid getting the man's attention, and there's the response: a look of recognition and familiarity.
Years ago, Bobby and I used to sit in a cute little coffee shop (some independant place. I think it was called Starbucks) in New Brunswick, where we'd either write or waste time. Our favorite spot was sitting at a row of seats staring out the front window.
We were fascinated by the homeless people there. One of them was maybe 50 years old and always surrounded by bags. Plastic bags tied off at the top, old dirty backpacks, anything that could hold stuff, basically. In addition, she was smuggling...something. Who's to say, really? All I can do is tell you that she would wear the same pullover sweater inside of which hid numerous small boxes. Maybe they were even more bags. Her entire body looked like Santa's sack. It was distracting.
She wasn't on her own either.
Picture the crudest cartoon of a homeless man. And now I'll read your mind like David Copperfield:
Is he an old man with a long grey beard? Does he perhaps wear those fingerless gloves? And a beanie?
That's him! He's in there!
There was another person though. A kid. Not homeless, I don't think. But he was ever present. Being that we were just a few blocks away from the main campus of Rutgers, I always assumed that he was a college student, maybe just doing the same sightseeing Bobby and I were. However, he was also a spectacle for us. I don't really remember exactly what it was, now (because I don't pay attention in the present [how many things have I neglected to notice in this coffee shop by going on this tangent?]), but we paid attention to him, through the glass.
One day, those little independent worlds combined though, as the young kid walked up to the bag-lady and shook her hand. Not as an introduction. As a meeting between old friends.
We couldn't figure it out.
While it's not like we live in some bizarre hierarchical society where people of different classes are not meant to mingle, it was nonetheless peculiar.
How did they know each other? What made them friends?
They went on to share a cigarette together as they casually chatted. Do they just know each other from Starbucks?
Seeing something similar here today has finally made me wonder: maybe these young kids volunteer somewhere? That simple possibility never came to mind, because that was never something I did. To me, volunteering is something that I'm aware is done, but I don't know exactly where it's done or by who. Maybe by some sort of blonde-haired, blue-eyed boyscout?
Being selfish and lazy is not doing me any favors.
I'll close the door on this tangent now by observing that the old man here is writing in a notebook. Occasionally he pauses to look up at the room. I wonder if we're writing about each other at the exact same time:
"There is a fat person here, who I assume to be about 40 years old, though he's using one of those crazy tablet computers I've seen young people use. Maybe he's just a horrible looking twenty-something."
God I hope that's exactly what he's writing.
For the past hour, there's been a man nervously staring around the shop. One moment he's sitting by the window, then he's sitting across the room on a windowsill. Then he's sitting at a small table in yet another part of the room. Each movement has been quick and silent. I've only ever seen him sitting still. I've never caught his transition from one place to another. To be fair, as I've mentioned, I get lost in thought easily, but as far as I can tell, this is what just happened in the span of roughly five minutes:
1.) The man was sitting at a high table to my right. 2.) I glanced down to keep up with my typing. 3.) I looked up and straight ahead, through the front window. 4.) The man was across the street, walking out of my field of vision, to the left. 5.) I looked down again at my typing, to eliminate some of the red squiggly lines. 6.) I looked up and he was sitting at a low table facing me.
I swear to god, either he's travelling through time, or I am. Perhaps he can teleport. I half expect to look down and see that I'm sitting in his lap rather than my chair.
Maybe I'm actually living in the present too much right now. The original point of my writing is lost. Should I double back and edit down, or let this exist as not only an exploration but an example of my easily destabilized attention span?
I just looked up again and saw that the man is now across the street to the right digging through a garbage can.
And now he almost got hit by a car.
If these are the kinds of moments I've been missing, how should I feel? Are they the reason why I should live in the moment, or do they solidify the reason why I should let my mind wander?
I assume the answer will be obvious someday in the future.