Say Yes. (a post for young writers)

Recently, I took my kids to a fair at the local University, and there was one of those big plastic balls there, the ones that look like a human-size hamster ball. Kids were lined up to take their turns running inside the ball from one line of trees to the other and back. My son wanted to do it; my daughter was not so sure. “Do it,” I told her. “If you hate it, you never have to do it again. But if you don’t do it, you’ll always wonder.” She did it twice.
Say yes. This is a lesson it has taken me almost 40 years to learn. Do I really want to go to the sexy ladies party I’ve been invited to, where they are hawking dildos and lubricant to frustrated moms? Kind of. But even if I didn’t, I would make myself go, because I’m a writer.
Once I was at a parent meeting. I was sitting in a circle, inside my daughter’s classroom, and I had my notebook open, ready to take notes. “You have to do everything,” one of the mothers said. I now have no idea what she was referring to, or why this came up. I just knew that I liked the way it sounded. I wrote it down. You have to do everything. This is now my mantra. You have to go on your kids’ field trips. You have to dress in a pink bonnet and pretend to be a Russian Immigrant at Fort Ross; you have to hike to Bumpass Hell which smells like the breath of a hell beast hot on your face. Do Everything. Then you will never run out of stuff to write about.
You are young and you have so many things to say yes to. Do you want to go to Rocky Horror, even though you might be embarrassed the first time you go? Yes! Do you want to go to some weird underground club where a new band you kind of like may or may not be playing? Definitely! Try out for the school play. Learn to play guitar. Reinvent yourself with glitter and makeup. Go to Prom, no matter how dismal it may sound. You have to do everything, especially while you are young. Don’t hole yourself up in your room brooding and being artistic. There will be time for all that later.
A final story to punctuate my point: The very first writer’s conference I attended was in Reno. I was a new mom; money was tight. I had won a scholarship, but I knew I’d want some spending money to buy books and things, so I grabbed a bunch of quarters and put them in a ziplock. At the conference, I bought one book, which cost me about 60 quarters. Afterwards, I was sitting in a workshop, my remaining quarters tucked neatly in my backpack, and some of the attendees started talking about gambling. They lived in Reno, and they had a system for the playing the slots. I don’t remember what the system was and I’m sure if you’re curious, you can find their system on another website, but it dawned on me that I was in Reno Nevada, and that my hotel room was in a casino of all things. And the universe was even giving me a nudge, because I happened to be carrying a baggie full of quarters. So that night I went to the slots and I ordered a mix drink, and I played the slots according to the writing students’ system. While I was there, I noticed the sounds, the smell, the weird dark grit of it all, and sticking to the system, I won some money and I lost some money and when I was down ten bucks, I called it a night. Now, if I ever have a character who ends up in a casino, I will know what she sees. I will know how the chair feels, and the sound the cocktail waitress makes as she clicks away on her heels, before the sound is drowned out by dinging and the winning sound of change clinging against metal.

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