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Being a writer is not just about the work, sometimes it’s about everything else

By Jo Scott-Coe | Contributing Columnist

There’s a common myth that “real” writers feel like writing all the time. Sometimes we feed the myth by over-explaining gaps in our creative activities or output. Sharing how writing works or doesn’t work can be fascinating. For me, this can also be a counterpart to anxious impulses: Addressing anticipated critics — real or imagined — or playing out arguments on an internal loop after someone has voluntold me what they think I should be creating.

But being a writer is not just the work and rework, the hustle and the sell. It’s more than the conversation, competition, and even the profound connectivity and celebration that can come with what we do. Sometimes it’s about everything except the typing and printing, uploading and emailing. It’s washing dishes and scooping the cat box, getting dressed for a job that thankfully pays the bills, and hoping I still have energy to exercise at the end of the day. It means sharing a meme or GIF with family members or friends on a text thread during a day that required no literary allusions, illusions, or even complete sentences in order to matter.

Here are some of my low-key sources of joy in that ordinariness.

Today: That easy give in the stem when the first lime of the season agreed to leave the tree. My big cast iron skillet, nothing fancy: I purchased it weeks before the pandemic lockdown. Planning meals around it (shepherd’s pie? mustard chicken thighs and potatoes?), cooking with it, using mismatched hot pads to carry it from oven to table, all make me want to do a little jig in the dining room. Wiping the skillet clean with oil and a paper towel? Bliss.

Little reminders of past comings and goings — my own, others’: Faded cotton dinner napkins decorated with purple flowers and green vines, purchased at a small linen shop on a cobblestone street in Orvieto. Beer from a bottle of Gulden Draak in a squat goblet that takes me back to a cold December evening in Bruges. Looped around shoulders of plaster santos, rosary beads from friends who kindly thought of me on visits to Rome, Spain, and Jerusalem.

Magazines: not the literary publications in the household rotation, but heavy commercial tomes with more advertising than articles. I crave the broad, slippery pages of “Vogue” or “Bazaar,” all those color-saturated closeups of chunky Bulgari gems, boots with insanely high heels, gloriously impractical handbags. Extra thick pages for perfume ads, the peel-back strips enticing a whiff of marigold and sage, rose and myrrh, sunflower and honey. Now and again, the treat of a small plastic pouch containing a smidge of miracle serum or creamy moisturizer. Decadent. Ridiculous. Delightful.

*******

There is a wooden porch swing in the yard behind our garage. Sometimes I sit there and loll my head back, staring through tall jacaranda branches to watch for passing airplanes. But then Omar, my indoor-outdoor cat, breaks the spell. She rustles from the brush with her signature squawk — yes, a squawk — and leaps to the swing, stretching out as if to remind me: Indeed, I am allowed to be her guest.

My husband has a favorite chair at the corner of the living room, where two large windows meet. Even when I am in another part of the house, I can always sense the quietness when he settles there with a book or his computer, waiting for the turn of afternoon light through the curtains. On Oceanside’s San Luis Rey River Trail, where he and I have ridden bikes many times, there is a short, steep hill that swoops under the 5 Freeway. This area is perpetually protected from sun and picks up breezes from a Pacific inlet. At the end of a tiring ride on a 90-plus-degree day with no shade, there is nothing like standing on my pedals as the incline draws us down fast into the impossible blast of nature’s air conditioning. So many joys evade words altogether. Writers can savor those, too.

Jo Scott-Coe is the author of two books, most recently, “MASS: A Sniper, a Father, and a Priest (Pelekinesis).”



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