Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.
The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, places or situations is purely coincidental.
Doug slapped shut the lid of his laptop, so angrily that he immediately regretted it. Come on, Doug, don’t be stupid. You can do this, he thought, while wondering if his uncharacteristic release of anger might have just shattered the very expensive screen, which he knew was the most expensive single component of the whole computer…STOP IT! he shouted in his head, realizing that though he had only learned of the task that lay before him five seconds earlier, already he was responding the way he always did in situations in which he didn’t know what to do: he suddenly became vulnerable to any and all distractions.
A few minutes earlier, Doug had opened his email account and completed his usual morning routine, reading the messages he cared about, storing or trashing those he didn’t, and finishing the email session with a nearly empty inbox. He saved one message for last–the WordPress #bloganuary prompt for the day. Doug had participated in the annual writing event the previous year, but got started late and failed to complete more than a small handful of the writing assignments. This year he was on a roll. Beginning on January 1, he had written and posted every single day, on topics that were enjoyable to think about, and the writing came relatively easily. A small handful of people even “liked” his posts, and though it was a small and silly thing, he felt pride when the WordPress app on his phone congratulated him for completing a six-day blog-post streak.
But on this day, this seventh day of January, the prompt was different from the others. Though he should have known better, he didn’t anticipate that he would be prompted to write fiction, or worse yet, poetry. Both were way, way, WAY out of Doug’s wheelhouse. He was prepared to write about his memories, to share incidents from his life, to opine on some issue, to reflect on something that happened to him–he was willing to give almost any kind of writing a try, but FICTION? Give me a break, he thought, pushing his chair away from his writing desk.
After a quick breakfast, still on the fence about whether to soldier on and try to write a short story or a poem, Doug decided to bundle up and go for a walk. It was a dreary Saturday morning, completely overcast, with enough humidity and breeze to make the 31-degree air feel ten degrees colder. He opened his phone and tapped the weather app icon. At the top of the display was a precipitation timeline that indicated there was a chance of snow flurries at some point during the next hour, but it looked like he might have as much as thirty minutes before the snow came, if it came at all, and that was enough time for a short route. He pocketed the phone, walked to the end of his driveway and turned left, to the west, because the wind was coming from that direction, and on days like this he generally preferred to get the wind-in-your-face portion of the walk out of the way first.
Doug stewed about the writing prompt as he walked through the neighborhood and past the middle school near his house. In college he had taken a couple of courses in fiction writing, but that was a very long time ago, and though he managed to write one short story that the professor in one of those classes actually liked a lot, he never thought much about writing fiction after that.
The wind in his face picked up strength as he walked alongside the football field and track on the west side of the school, and he briefly considered bailing on the walk and turning back, but he was less than a hundred yards from a section of the path that was nestled between houses and trees that would block much of the wind for the next part of the route. I don’t know why I would even consider trying this assignment–I just don’t have that kind of creativity. This had almost become a mantra for him. He envied people who could just think up stories out of thin air. He thought how different he was from his daughter, a young mother of five, who was homeschooling his three oldest grandchildren, and who somehow found time, energy, and enough creativity to have recently finished a forty-thousand-word first draft of a fantasy novel she had been thinking about writing for years. He thought also of his own father, now ninety years old, who had written two plays, dozens of children’s stories for the church newsletter, and a couple of young adult fiction books, one of which Doug had helped him publish on Amazon. “Those genes must have passed right through me,” he said to himself under his breath, as he turned the corner at the bottom of the hill and headed south.
After a short uphill for half a block, he turned west, and downhill again, winding his way through a neighborhood he knew well and had walked through many times with his wife. Many of the houses in this hilly subdivision were uniquely designed, interesting homes, and it occurred to him that he had only seldom encountered any of the residents of those homes on his many walks. Often, when walking along this curvy street, with tall, old trees on either side of the road, he tried to imagine what sorts of people lived here, and what jobs they had, and what their families were like, and the reverie made the walking seem to go faster, especially as the street curved back toward the east to a steep uphill stretch.
I don’t even know where I would begin. My mind is completely devoid of ideas for fiction. I don’t write fiction. I write memoir. He was walking steadily uphill now, and he stopped to wait for a few passing cars before crossing the street. The wind was stronger here, but the uphill walking had warmed him up enough that he didn’t feel the bite of the wind any more. He crossed the street and turned back to the north, where there was one more fairly steep stretch before he turned east again for the half-block home stretch. As he headed up the hill, he noticed that there were small drops of rain mixed with sleet or snow in the air. By the time he reached the top of the hill and turned for the home stretch, his glasses were dotted with water and melting sleet. He picked up his pace, as the wintry mix became more of a shower. He thought about his six-day writing streak–he hated the idea of breaking it–but as he opened his front door and walked in, melting sleet dripping from his shoulders, he said aloud, “Ah, just screw it. I’m not gonna do it.”