Senior year of college, I wrote a sixty-page novel for my final capstone project. Originally, the story was supposed to be a piece of magic realism told through the perspective of a shadow but throughout the semester, it morphed into a family saga involving star-gazing and “Mister Ed” obsessed taxi drivers (it seemed like an important inclusion at the time). Up to this point, I was primarily a nonfiction writer enamored by the idea of fiction. I was hungry for creative license, itching to make up the beginning, cultivate the middle, and gently usher in the ending. I associated fiction with control and like most college seniors, I was desperate for control.
But I soon found that with fiction there is little control. Fiction has a bad attitude and a brilliant mind. It’s addictive, it’s maddening, and it’s not my forte.
Somewhere in the middle of my story, every character, long-suffering and confused, made a mad dash towards the dreaded “bathtub”.
Dunn dunn dunn…
While a mid-story bubble bath probably would have been a game changer, this kind of bathtub is strictly metaphorical. A bathtub story is one of inaction. Thoughts and reflections squash character interaction, the conflict becomes covert, and the reader comes to realize what “Making Shapely Fiction” author Jerome Stern always predicts of bathtub stories: the character is never going to get out of the bathtub.
It’s an alarming thought for writers, for characters, and for people like me who happen to be both.
I’ve lived in my own bathtub story for three months now and while I have a growing need to scramble out and flee to Europe, I don’t feel damned to a life of fading bubbles.
A lot people seem to think life only exists in action-if you’re standing idle, you’re not living, you’re stalling. I used to think the same way but now that I’ve spent some time in the bathtub, I see it differently.
Life is equal parts action and reflection. The moments in between give fruition to brilliant ideas, ideas that drive you mad and steer you towards the splendid turbulence of living, hurting, recovering, and prevailing.
In all honesty, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to life in the US after spending time abroad and I’m more than ready to go back-back to the bunk beds, and friendly strangers, and gorgeous landscapes of Europe. But I do not regret the time I’ve spent in the bathtub because I am now certain of one very important thing: all I want to do is write. I realize this is not exactly a revelation for a girl who majored in writing and maintains a blog but for me, this kind of certainty is big. Really, really, big!
Freshman year of college, I was pre-med. Sophomore year, I switched gears to public health. Junior year, I thought about teaching special education and senior year, I even considered professional chocolate tasting (apparently, my taste buds are at their professional prime and it seemed like a real shame to squander the opportunity).
I’m now certain that today, tomorrow, and every next day (excluding Mondays) I have to write. It’s what I was always meant to do. Writing pulls me out of the tub. Writing pushes me back in. Writing preserves every peak and valley, every reflective moment that propels me into action.
So, let this sudsy post serve as a reminder that we are not squandering our short and precious life by living a little while in the bathtub. It’s the process of life that will always be the most beautiful, the most telling. Run that bath and rinse and repeat those reflections. Cool things have happened and cooler things will soon splash their way to the surface.
So rest assured, your lathered mind and freshly-bathed soul is still among the living.
Plus, when you do climb out of that tub, you are going to smell really nice.
Run That Bath,