A Pocketful of Crackers

Your past as personification, use it for writerly inspiration.
Photo by Satish Indofunk via Flickr

When melancholy arrives, sometimes it’s best to let it buy a round.
By Elizabeth Cutright

A few days ago, I found myself completely unable to write. Creatively incapacitated and uninspired, stuck in a rut of my own making and painfully aware I only had myself to blame. And the feeling wasn’t just focused on writing, but on life in general.

Suddenly everything just felt too sad and overwhelming. It was one of Holly Golightly’s angry red days when all was decidedly not right with the world.

And then I found this paragraph by Jess Zimmerman over at Hairpin, and I realized it described my situation to perfection.

  • “FEELING: The one where you’re sitting alone in a dark bar with a bitter drink on a rainy day and you suddenly realize that this is your life, the final verdict on who you are at the age you’ve gotten to, and in a pulse beat you’re crowded by the phantoms of everyone you didn’t grow up to be, every delayed breakup and untaken trip and turned-down job now hoisting glasses on the stools around you, pressed knee-to-knee with the children you failed to bear or raise, and you feel that all your breath has gone into them, that somewhere only a shimmering membrane away from reality these others are breathing for you.
  • HOW TO EAT IT: What kind of snacks do they have at this bar? Goldfish crackers? Perfect. Whole handfuls of goldfish crackers. Tip the extras into your purse. (from A Guide to Eating Very Particular Feelings, Part II).

I particularly love the personification of failures that Zimmerman depicts. I can see that wood paneled bar, populated by all my failures. Look! Over there is the opportunity to work in the film industry that I turned down, primarily because it was offered to me by my high school nemesis. And at that booth in the corner, the one with the pitchers of beer and smudged pint glasses, are all the colleges I didn’t apply to – NYU, Berkley, Oxford – because I was so focused on staying close to home. Swallowing shots at the end of the bar is the good guy I let get away, and hovering near the pool table are all the bad guys I barely escaped. I can see the jobs I turned down picking tunes from the jukebox while sipping margaritas, and two of the jobs I took too long to quit are buying rounds for all the resumes I never sent out.

And there I am, perched on a stool with my Tito’s and soda (with a slice of lime if you please), gazing at the glazed mirror propped up behind the pyramid of booze. Through those colorful bottles, all different shapes and sizes, I see reflections of all the people I never became, the different families I never began, and I can almost see the “shimmering membrane” that separates me from the “reality these others are breathing for you.”

I’m a big Sci-Fi/Fantasy geek, and some of my favorite plots involve alternate timelines. What would the world be like if the Roman Empire never failed? What if JFK was never assassinated? What if Stalin was never born? (What if Fringe was never canceled?)

What if I had made a different decision? Another choice? Picked a different hand and received an altogether different prize?

What kind of life could I be leading? Should I have headed somewhere else, focused on another goal?

It’s a bit like those “choose your adventure” books that came out in the 80s. I remember ordering several through Scholastic (remember when you’d get that catalog and then beg your parents to let you buy a book or two? And then that fantastic day when the box arrived, and the teacher handed out your purchases? Amazon pales in comparison to that wish fulfillment). I have to admit; I always peeked – I checked out the outcome of every choice because I wanted to know what would happen if I chose option “A” versus what would happen if I picked “B” instead.

Of course, those books allowed you to start all over again if you didn’t like where you ended up. At first glance, it seems as if life is not nearly as simple as those long-forgotten plotlines.

But maybe it is. A friend of mine’s mother once told her, “if you don’t like your life, change it. Start living the life you’re dreaming of, and everything else will fall into place.”

Sounds simple enough, but there’s a tricky maneuver you have to pull off first – and that’s deciding what life you really want. Even more difficult is deciding why you’re unhappy with what you have (a luxury, I am well aware, available mostly to those of us lucky enough to have these “first world problems”). You may need to look at the facts and determine if it’s your situation or your perspective that’s to blame.

Right now, I’m in the process of taking Zimmerman’s philosophical advice – I’m looking for my goldfish crackers, some salty, bite-sized analgesics that’ll get me through the end of this melancholy happy-hour and back out onto the sidewalk of life, a little buzzed but also recharged and slightly less wounded.

And once I figure out exactly what those crackers might represent, you better believe I’m going to stuff as many as I can into my purse and pockets…after all, I’ll need one for my baby and plenty more for the road.

Cover photo by Dave Bledsoe (FreeVerse Photography)

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