Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lobster: A Life Lesson for Writers

My wife's birthday follows the holidays with breakneck speed.  We are usually so burnt from festivities that she often gets less than a stellar celebration, but this year I decided to surprise her with one of her favorite's:  Lobster dinner.

So, I cruised down to Big Y, bought four lobsters, some Idaho baking potatoes, salad fixings, ciabatta bread, and even some flowers for the table.  I was on a roll.  A lobster roll...hehehehe, sorry, couldn't resist.

Arrived home and within minutes the lobsters were stranded in a potted steam bath, potatoes hummed along on the microwave carousel, ciabbatta sliced and fanned out on a plate, salad tossed and adorned with Chatham Croutons.

I threw in a Peter Mulvey CD, dimmed the lights for ambiance. The room filled with laughter, smiles...everything working and perfect.  What a celebration!  What a time to be together!

I plated the meal for all in attendance.  The largest lobster, a mixture of fiery orange and dimpled brown, for my wife, a baked potato with sour cream, salad on the side.

What a birthday!

She smiled, I smiled, we all smiled.

And in my heart, I made a little check mark, right in the left ventricle.  "You done good on this one, Joe.  You done good!"

And then...

Yes, and then...

We all looked down at the orange crustaceans staring up at us.

The lobsters were laughing, you see.

They knew.  They understood.

Mine, in particular, leering up at me said, "Oh, yes, you had no problem throwing us in the steam bath, you putz, but guess what, the last laugh is on you!"

It was my very astute son who made the horrific realization first.  "Uh, Dad, how the heck are we supposed to eat these things?"

I looked at my wife, and sounding very much like my students in block six, uttered the word "Shiznit" or something to that effect.

We scrambled through the drawers, the garage, the utility room.  Through wayward picnic baskets and cardboard boxes, and all the while I could hear the mocking laughter of the crustaceans cooling on their plates.  "Creee, creee, creee, you moron.  You can cook us, but you can't eat us!"

Minutes ticked by, and finally we slumped down in front of our plates, exhausted from our search.  "They must be in storage," said my wife.

Sure enough, I could picture the box they were in...the lobster eating kits containing claw crackers, little pics, miles away, locked up safe and sound.

I stared down at the plate.  "Moron," the lobster said.  Then he winked at me.

"Oh yeah!"  I flew out of my chair, stomping to the garage.  "I'll be baaacccck!" I shouted in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice.

My son turned to my wife, "What's he doing?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

My son's mouth dropped open as I returned brandishing weapons of war.  I tossed my son a hammer and my wife a pair of pliers.  "Dig in."  It was like SpongeBob meets The Shining. 

As the minutes passed by we began to adapt and develop various techniques of eating lobster with Craftsman tools.  Direct smacks with the hammer tended to spray bits of lobster in a shotgun spread-like pattern against the wall.  Crossed that one off the list.  Needle-nose pliers worked best for retrieving meet from claws.  There was one scary moment when Adam launched part of a claw into mid-air, nearly blinding the birthday girl, but no damage was done. In the end, mankind triumphed over crustacean.  We were able to devour our meals (Thank you, Sears).  The birthday was saved.

         Adam, adapting and conquering his dinner with pliers.

Days later, it dawned on me that this little mishap in planning the perfect dinner mirrored my recent struggles with writing.  We go in with what we think is the perfect plan, and then all hell breaks loose because we can't find the "tools" to implement our ideas.  Characters rebel against us, disappear, and suddenly new ones arrive, and within thirty pages, it's a new book.  Sometimes we willingly follow their leads and the path brightens, and sometimes they totally screw us over.  We leave them stranded in a cornfield for weeks on end (true story), waiting for us to save them, to turn the next page and breathe life into their lives. I wish I could send a text message or a greeting card apologizing for my inadequacies, but they would probably gather round and tear it up. I know them that well.

Sometimes I wish I could be prepared, have all the tools at hand to perfectly execute where I want things to go, but it's not textbook surgery or car repair from a manual, and I suppose it shouldn't be at that.  Real writing is supposed to be messy, unpredictable, and damned hard to do at times, especially when we have a million other things on the list ahead of it.  But I often find that sometimes, stepping out of my comfort zone and trusting a character to lead the way gets me out of a fix.  In the end, good writers find what it takes to get the story told, no matter the tool or device.  Yeah, sometimes writing is like eating a lobster with a ball peen hammer.

PS-  I caught Adam eating scrambled eggs with a 3/8 inch socket wrench this morning.  That's my boy.