My day began, as it typically does of late, with my morning weigh-in. My weight was the same this morning as it was yesterday, which is modestly disappointing but not unexpected. The pounds do not slide off like a freshly-waxed car exuviates water. (I must acknowledge that I have never before used ‘exuviate’ and, until just now, did not know what it meant; I learned something new today, which, among other experiences, made waking up worthwhile.) To date, twenty-one days into my lifestyle change, I’ve shed 13.8 pounds. As a result, I fit far better into my jeans and my sports jacket than I did three weeks ago. But I’m not writing about my lifestyle change resulting in weight loss, am I? (Well, perhaps I am, but it was not my intent when I started.) No, I am writing to recount what I learned during my visit with a healthcare provider this morning.
My healthcare provider drinks coffee with sugar-free flavoring; sugar-free because she is diabetic. Her husband considers his wife and their two sons (one in college and the other a high school student) “wussies” because they flavor their coffee; he drinks his strong and black. My healthcare provider’s cousin, who is the same age she is (48) is about to retire from the armed forces (Air Force, I think). He wants to move to Australia and work in a surf shop; his dream is to become a beach bum. He and his wife (who is Vietnamese) and daughter live in Hawaii at the moment; his daughter (and a son, I believe) would stay in the States if he moves to Australia. My healthcare provider knows when her high-school-aged son arrives at school because an app on her phone signals her when he arrives (the app is based on GPS). I learned, too, that my healthcare provider would happily retire early and instantly if she came into a large financial windfall. That notwithstanding, she seems to enjoy a collegial relationship with her co-workers, at least one of whom periodically tries new flavored coffees and, when she comes across one that does not appeal to her, gives the unused portion to my healthcare provider to share with her sons.
Now, why am I exposing all of this information about my healthcare provider? I relay this information only to demonstrate that, if one pays attention, one can gather enormous volumes of information that can prove useful to one’s writing. With just the smattering of information I gathered this morning (I did not really gather it; I simply absorbed what was being shared), I could easily create a compelling character for a story. And, I suspect, one day I will. I will incorporate her red hair, her attractive smile, and her blue-green eyes into a character. I will paint a character study of this woman, using my memories of this morning’s rather one-sided conversation, revealing a believable character. And then I will adapt her attributes and experiences in such a way as to make her into a more intimate, complex, enormously attractive character with stunning but believable flaws, flaws that make her at once compelling and offensive.
Perhaps I will challenge this character’s better judgment by presenting her with an opportunity for a torrid affair with a patient; she will face a choice between comfortable boredom and uneasy, dangerous excitement. Or, maybe I will have her discover that her husband is having an affair with her best friend; she could be forced to decide between the hard work of salvaging their relationship or breaking free of an emotional connection that has, for too many years, been kept afloat with baling wire and acidic perseverance. But, instead, maybe the challenges won’t rely on the old standby of romantic fire or dead ember; maybe the challenges will revolve around the simultaneous collapse of both her and her husband’s jobs, putting them face-to-face with the potential of losing everything because they’ve never saved their money and, instead, spent it on their kids. There are so many options!
Oh, wait! I just had another idea! She could go home from work one day to find the sinks and tubs stopped up. After her husband tries and fails to find the cause, they hire a plumber, who discovers a blockage in their main sewer line. The blockage is the body of a child, only a few weeks old; the blockage is between the house and the city sewer line, so it must have come from the house. How could someone have put the child’s body in the sewer line and who would have done it? Nah! I don’t like that idea after all. No, perhaps the way to introduce tension into the story is to have the family sitting around the dinner table one night, reviewing their days with one another, when suddenly they hear the news that Russian forces have crossed into Alaska and have captured Fairbanks. Or, maybe astronomers have revealed stunning news about the sun; its fuel sources will be depleted in a matter of ten to thirteen years, so the human race has more serious problems to content with than religious wars.
Or maybe something else entirely.