"Potato skins,” said Harvey, coming from the kitchen where he had heated his treats under the broiler. "Red potatoes from Liz with cheese, green onion, and sour cream to dip. And Ollie, there is a bag of potatoes on your counter for you to make the potato salad for next Sunday. The kids agreed to come since I set the date and didn't give them a choice. They'll be driving down from Seattle and Portland."
"Great, Harvey," said Ollie, "you guys are so creative with the snacks. Is this a competition?"
"For me, it was a slam dunk. I used the inside of the potatoes for hash browns."
Everyone dived in.
"Yum, these are perfect, Harvey, thanks," says Sally.
After everyone had eaten a stuffed potato skin and settled into their seats with a drink, Twinkie pulled a canvas bag from beneath her seat. "Ollie, I brought you something." She pulled a 6-inch glass orb from the canvas bag. "It's a fishing net float I made last Saturday, primitive by professional standards, but my first piece worth sharing." She held it out to Ollie. "It’s for inviting us into your lovely home. And for being the gracious hostess, you are."
"Oh my, Twinkie," says Ollie, gently taking the glass ball. "It's beautiful. Your blues and greens are exquisite," she turned it around in her hand, "and there's a bit of purple, "How'd you do that? You are an artist! I see there's a little loop. I will hang it in my kitchen window. Thank you so much. I am honored."
Ollie swishes her white caftan aside, and with her gold dangling earrings flashing in the sunlight, she sits the glass ball in the center of the table. "Simad," she says, "We sent you off with little help last week."
"Truth be told, I ran off because I was embarrassed. I was complaining."
"No, Simad, you told us how you felt," Ollie explained. "That's different from complaining. As much as we would like it, life isn't always rosy. Our experiences are what they are. Remember, we're here to support and encourage."
"Then figure out what in the hell is wrong with me."
"You know what?" says Shal, "Stuckness like you are having means you are onto something big."
"You think so?"
"Well, the closer you are to the truth, the more the monster resistance will jump on you. It's inescapable. It is always there. It is not your fault. You can't kill it."
"Whoa, that's encouraging."
"But you can trick it."
"Shal, where do you get these things?"
"Well, for one, I read Steven Pressfield's Do the Work. One exercise is this: He took it from Patrica Ryan Madson's book Improv Wisdom. Madson was an Impro teacher at Stanford, and one of her exercises was this: Imagine you have a box. What's inside? You open it, and there is a frog, a book, or a clock inside. No matter how many times you open the box, something will always be inside.
"Pressfield wrote, 'I believe with unshakable faith that there will always be something in the box. Ask me about my religion? That's it. That's how I approach my work. My brain will always give me an answer.' Guys," says Shal, "that's my religion, too."
Simad was silent thoughtful, one hand stroked his chin.
Ollie said: "Why did you start writing in the first place, Simad?"
"I felt it had me by the neck and wouldn't let go. I had to do it."
"Did you love doing it?"
"Oh yes, I'm in the zone when words are flowing. I'm out of the zone when the words all bump into each other like a train wreck. That's where I am now."
"So, says Twinkie, you do it out of love."
“I suppose so, yes, I love doing it. It feeds me. Is that being egocentric?"
"Who cares, "says Shal. "You must be somewhat egocentric to do any art. It's putting your heart out to be shot at."
"Is that troubling you, Simad? You're afraid of being selfish?"
"Well, there's an aspect to it."
"Give it up, dear one. Do you think Beethoven was worried about his ego?" Ollie says.
"Maybe. He was human."
"Yeah, but he did it anyway, even deaf. Imagine that. He must have heard all that music in his head, and it was roaring to get out."
"But I'm not a Beethoven."
"Nope, he's been done, and you don't want to be deaf anyway. I bet you have words roaring to get out."
"I do. It's the deadline that has me tied in knots."
"Ah, the ole, I'm not good enough ploy—the pressure. Or maybe you're afraid of being shot at. Get back to the joy of it. That's the reason you want to write. There is always a little something we must pony up to when fulfilling our dream. There is always an aspect to it we don't like. And you have a publisher wanting it. Many people would go into poverty for that."
"I'm into poverty already. This is my first novel. My last book was non-fiction. I'm not supporting myself with it."
"You're making excuses," says Ollie, "Get back onto the joy of it. Do you have your ending?"
"That's part of the problem."
"Let your protagonist write her own ending. You don't have to do everything for her."
Simad laughs. "I'm curious to see what she comes up with."
"Me too. Hurry and finish so I can read it. I'm tired of your lolly-gagging. Even if you don't know what to write, your fingers should move on that keyboard. Write "crap, crap, crap***" until something emerges." Ollie fills her cup as though for emphasis.
"And," says Twinkie, "You still have your hearing."
"Yeah, if I didn’t I wouldn't hear all this advice. Or know to love you guys because you want to help me."
"And stop worrying about being perfect. That'll kill you. Just get 'er done," said Sally. "When we were on vacation, my kids got their best shopping done in the last 15 minutes. There was something about the urgency of it."
"But Sally, Chefs are notorious for being a perfectionist. What do you do if a dish isn't perfect?"
"I throw it in the garbage and start over. I do have a deadline—a customer waiting for their food. I don't cook all that much, though. I give the recipes to my cooks, and they do it. I'm not looking for a Michelin star. I'm a cook, not a Chef. I'm more like Julia Childs: a pinch of this, a dob of that, pour in some red wine, eat, enjoy."
"How did you get so blasé about your art, Sally?"
"I'm not having a heart attack over a plate of spaghetti. Oh, I'm sorry, Harvey."
"No problem. Liz couldn't cook worth a darn. She loved to garden, though. You figure."
"So, she died doing what she loved. We should all be so lucky." Twinkie says, "I don't mean to be disrespectful, Harvey."
"It's good that you are disrespectful about death, for there isn't any. People live on, just not here. It's the person to hold and to love I miss. We had our ups and downs in marriage but were always committed to working it out. She was my best friend and my lover. I looked forward to coming home every day."
"We came together to expand our spiritual journey, Harvey. Thanks for sharing that." Ollie says. "Simad, I suggest you write for about 15 minutes outside your manuscript. Write out the crap. Or run around the block. Or clean house. By the way, do you have dishes in the sink?"
"Wash them as soon as you get home, and your block will disappear."
"Is this like paying for warts to make them go away?"
"I'll do it. In fact, I'm excited. I'll wash the dishes, then dive into my novel. I'll pretend I'm shopping those last 15 minutes before boarding the plane for home.
Shal pipes up, "Homer began both the Iliad and the Odyssey with a prayer to the Muse. He knew his best work came from some invisible source he could not control. He could only invoke it."
"I will let my characters get what they have been wanting all along.," says Simad. "I believe I was afraid to write "The End,' although writing 'The End' is passe' now."
"Yeah, Simad," says Shal, "just finish the damn thing. Be cocky enough to believe you can do it."
"One more thing," said Shal, "Oscar Wilde said. He always passed on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it, he said. "It is never of any use to oneself."
"Here, here," said Harvey, chuckling, and hoisting himself out of his chair. "I'll heat up the rest of the potato skins."
P.S.You can find all the conversations on Substack, plus a little extra in between.