There is one area in my life where I prove I’m a walking dichotomy. It’s the space that divides how I write, and then … everything else.
As a writer, one is usually tossed into one of two buckets. You can be defined as a plotter or a pantser. Plotter people are diligent with outlines, with creating the beginning, the middle, and the end of their story before penning any work on the manuscript, and they have a good sense of direction for the scope of the project when they first pull up that blank page and begin inserting the rest of the necessary details.
Pantser people (as in fly-by-the-seat-of) are more like archeologists who stumble upon a small protrusion of bone under foot. They then find their tools and carefully start digging, sweeping away all debris surrounding the bone until they’ve unearthed the complete animal that is their marvelous story. That story is mostly hidden from them until they’ve completed the dig. They typically have little to no idea as to the type of animal (the genre), the number of bones (characters, plot points, etc.), and whether the animal is whole (does this baby have a beginning, middle, and end or is it riddled with mind-boggling gaps?).
I’m a pantser with my writing and a plotter in life.
It is unexplainably weird.
One would think that with the freewheeling way I like a story to unveil itself, I would reflect that same sort of attitude in daily life. Except I cannot stomach the risk. Planning and organizing everything brings me the same level of calm as eating a giant blueberry muffin. When finished doing either, I just feel all is well with the world, and maybe a little bloated.
Which is why I struggled against the universe this month as it tried to make me switch hats without warning.
To set the stage, I am big on recycling. I am also a penny pincher and a teensy bit of a hoarder, but I think in healthy doses, these three can go hand in hand and not have people worrying you should be institutionalized. I’m more thrifty than anything else, saving things until I can no longer gain benefit from them. Like the four old computers and their accompanying monitors sitting in a corner and waiting for me to decide on their futures.
My county has a biannual “hazardous material and home electronics” recycling day at the dump. This would be my first visit participating in the festival, but I chose only one computer to do the test run with—as I wanted to assess the safety factor of handing over defunct equipment that had previously held all my life’s most protected information within it.
I thought it would be easy. As in, drive in, hand over, say thanks, drive off.
It was not. It actually was more like: drive in …
My county dump had opened its golden gates at 8 am. I arrived at 9. It wasn’t until 9:30 that I realized I’d possibly made an error in judgment. It wasn’t until 9:31 that I realized I’d definitely made an error in judgement.
I had a whole plan for this day—a million things to do—and those things had each been assigned a very specific time slot. Today was all about efficiency, and the fact that I was inching forward in a line I couldn’t see the front of meant someone was messing about with my day’s plot.
After half an hour of waiting in a mostly idle position and spotting one car leaving the dump every five minutes, I began to study my surroundings and not just stare at the entertaining piles of refuse divvied up into appropriate heaps. I surmised several things:
- My county dump had obviously hired engineers from Disney World to create a snaking path toward the attraction we were destined for.
- That snaking path was going to take each car around the entirety of the landfill, circling its footprint so that all of us could see just how wasteful a county we actually were.
- The entire county had shown up to throw something away.
- I left my smart phone at home.
It was now 9:45 and I had inched five cars farther along the circumference of madness mountain. I was in the middle of doing a complicated mathematical spreadsheet in my head inputting data that included the number of cars I could see in front of me, a guestimate of how many lengths of the chain of cars in front of me it might require to circumvent the entire rock of rubbish, how long it took to empty out the trunk of each car, and a little side bet on when anyone would become angry and frantic enough to get out of their car and climb the trash tower and get a look on the other side.
Two things were certain—one was that you could not turn around and leave. It was one way only. And two was that I could not do a complicated mathematical spreadsheet in my head.
I looked longingly into the backseat and wished I could make that computer come back to life.
I had mail to answer. I had a book to edit. I had a lawn to mow. And somewhere around hour two I realized I had a bladder to empty.
I spent the time watching the girl in front of me and the guy behind me get out of their cars and start chatting. I cleaned out my glove box. I listened to the only radio station without static interview a famous Indian chef about the best traditional Diwali recipes one should cook. I watched the car in front of me run out of gas and the car behind me fill it up again from red plastic containers. I watched two people hug. I wondered how many people had left their kids at home with a “be back in a sec!” statement. I watched the girl in front of me and the guy behind me share an incredibly romantic picnic on the hood of one car. I meditated in 7-minute increments, in between each eight-foot leap forward. I panicked thinking about the nearly three hours sitting in my car, the potential to run out of gas, and the desperate need to pee. I cried during the makeshift wedding involving the girl in front of me and the guy behind me. I shouted out my window that I could cook them Gulab Jamun and Paneer Tikka if they needed catering for the reception.
At 1 pm—four hours after first getting in line to safely dispose of my one old computer, I pulled up to a guy dressed entirely in plastic. I assumed he was safe from Covid, from hazardous waste, and from freezer burn if he were to be improperly refrigerated.
The guy opened my trunk and said, “Just this?”
I rested my head on the steering wheel and muttered, never again.
He closed my trunk and shouted, “I hope you made some friends!”
I slowly followed the car in front of me out of the dump’s gates, watching the new happy couple with the “Just Married” words written from the contents of old fast food ketchup packets across their back window, and listened to the tinkling of a few metal gas and oil canisters they’d tied to the backend bumper.
It was rather surreal to look back at my plotter self and watch two pantsers unfolding life as it came to them. And driving home behind the newlyweds I couldn’t help from smiling. Who would have thought the county dump serviced residents with both drop offs and pickups?
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