Chapter Six

Illy had been trying for years to become a morning person. She was convinced the morning was the most inspiring time of the day and had visions of waking before dawn, doing a few invigorating sun salutations in her living room and then sitting down to churn out five or ten pages while the rising sun glowed through the window. So far she’d managed it twice- at least the waking up before dawn part. Both times she’d opted for coffee before yoga to get some brain synapses firing, then sunk into the couch to enjoy the coffee, reached for the brown and green afghan her grandmother had crocheted for her, and woken up around noon, yarn patterns pressed into her cheek and half a cup of cold coffee wedged into the couch cushions.

The problem was that she wasn’t really a night person either. Even in university when every other student was pulling all-nighters to crank out term papers the night before the deadline, Illy had worked as hard as she could till eleven, then added a three line concluding paragraph and climbed into bed. She figured it wouldn’t help her academic success to be sick and exhausted so made it a point of duty to get a good night’s sleep. Now, without the incentive of a morning deadline, she found even evenings impossibly unproductive and usually ended up watching online sitcoms from the eighties. Her creative window was shrinking at an alarming rate and Illy was beginning to fear it would soon stretch from approximately nine to eleven a.m.

But that was before she had a publisher. The morning after the belly dancing class, Illy woke before her alarm rang. She opened her eyes and watched pre-dawn shadows slip through the slats in her blinds and slide across the ceiling, grey and foreign. The air felt still and alert, like the morning was holding its breath, so Illy moved slowly, afraid to break the silence. She sat on the edge of her bed, took careful deep breaths, and envisioned the next few minutes. For years, Illy had been imagining what her life would look like once she was a real author, and now that it was here, she had to make some quick decisions. She wanted so badly to do this morning right, to set herself up for inspiration and productivity.

An early morning jog had always been a crucial part of her Life as an Author Vision, but now it seemed a little ambitious, not to mention time-consuming. She opted for a few stretches and stood beside her bed, reaching for the ceiling and feeling lithe and sophisticated. She bent at the waist to touch her toes but still could only reach her knees, so settled on arm circles, banishing the accusation that she looked more like a junior high gym student than an urbane Pulitzer winner.

After completing the Fitness Component of the morning- a component that admittedly needed some development in the future- Illy moved on to Wardrobe. She stood in front of her closet and smiled. This was her favourite part of the Author Vision because she understood how important the right outfit was in achieving optimum creativity. Illy knew lots of writers wore only black, and she had definitely considered it as a viable option for her own writing career, but had decided that writers in black looked like they were trying too hard. Plus she wasn’t really an all-black kind of writer- the kind who smoked and wrote about sleazy sex and didn’t use proper punctuation. She was more of a mismatched tank top and skirt kind of writer- like Sylvia Plath, but happier. Unfortunately she still hadn’t bought any perfect Sylvia writing skirts. She had been intending to stop by the Salvation Army thrift store for months, but the truth that she could barely admit to herself was that she hated the way thrift stores smelled like kidney beans and wet corduroy. What she longed for was a store with the edgy, alternative elements of the Salvation Army laid out in the crisp orderliness of the Gap. For now, she settled on the sweatpants she’d worn for belly dancing, her tightest tank top, and a purple head scarf- casual, but sexy.

Life as an Author component number three: Atmosphere. Illy wanted to establish the feeling that everything around her was cooperating in the creative process, like the universe was her inspiration midwife, coaxing her through the birth of her story. That was a lovely image- the universe as midwife. Maybe she could use it at the beginning of her novel, or even in the dedication. This book is dedicated to the Universe, my inspiration midwife. Feminist things like that were so trendy; Banana Woman would probably love it.

Illy walked- glided really, like an earthy, artsy Audrey Hepburn- to the kitchen to prepare her snacks, the centrepiece of Inspiring Atmosphere. Usually she had coffee and animal crackers; she loved the ironic contrast of adult and child, and felt that it gave her writing both maturity and freshness. But today she needed something more exotic, something more in line with a name like Hartfield House Publishers. She remembered her mother giving her some sample drink packets that had come in the mail- what had she done with those? She scrounged through her junk and utensil drawer and found a small silver envelope. Taste of India Cardamom Chai. Perfect.

Illy felt a little guilty as she waited for the water to boil. Just last week June had been reading a book about being an artist and she told Illy that the author’s main advice was to never try to feel like an artist. Just start creating and you’ll actually be an artist, instead of trying to conjure up an artistic identity, or something like that. At the time Illy thought that was great advice, but now she thought it was rather audacious. Really, what did that author know about what worked or didn’t work for other artists? And anyway, she probably didn’t mean little things like making chai. It wasn’t like Illy was wearing all black. She stirred the powder and water in her favourite mug, cupped it in both her hands, and walked to her desk, feeling the jittery but hopeful nausea she felt before a first date.

Illy loved sitting at her desk. She loved the little African Violet beaming from a plastic pot on the corner that kept blooming even though Illy always forgot to water it, as if reassuring her that she was still loveable. She loved the view out the window, looking out on the big elm tree that held its ground with dignity in the middle of all that pavement and watched her like a doting grandfather. And most of all, she loved her typewriter. Illy’s favourite university professor lived in an old brick farmhouse and wrote quirky children’s books on a typewriter in the attic. Illy had always thought that this was the most romantic and authentic way of writing, and so when she found the old Remington at a garage sale in university, she vowed to write all of her novels on this beautiful machine. She had a laptop too, of course, that she kept in her bedroom for writing less important things, but here on her desk by the window where she would write her novels, sat the typewriter. Illy smiled to herself as she sipped her chai and watched melting snow drip off the elm’s branches. Life as an Author was unfolding exactly how she’d envisioned.

Illy had just rolled a sheet of paper into the typewriter when she heard the buzz of the intercom by the front door. The intercom was below Illy’s window, so she could hear it when she sat at her desk, although she considered it a point of honour to not listen in on people’s conversations, or at least not repeat the information she gained. She knew that living in that particular suite and hearing what she heard bestowed on her a responsibility to the rest of the building’s tenants, whether they knew it or not, and she was proud of being such a trustworthy neighbour.
Illy wondered who would be getting a visitor so early in the morning. She leaned a little closer to the window, listening to the mysterious guest dial a number on the keypad.

“Hello?” A woman’s groggy voice crackled from the speaker.

“Good morning, Starshine. I’ve got two piping hot double mochas. Just looking for a beautiful woman to share them with.”

” What? In the middle of the night? You’re crazy- and a little amazing…” The intercom buzzed. Illy pressed her forehead against the damp window, trying to see who the man was, but only saw the door swing shut. She set down her mug and hurried to her door, hoping to hear which suite he went to. The sound of footsteps passed in the hallway and continued up the stairs, soon fading away. Illy sighed and leaned against the door. Who in her building could have such an incredibly romantic boyfriend? There was Kayak Lady who lived above her and dragged her kayak down the stairs every morning, but Illy was pretty sure she was gay. Or the woman with the gray braid that hung to her knees and only left her apartment on Tuesdays, but she was at least seventy years old. Illy just couldn’t picture any of the women in the building with a boyfriend who delivered coffee in the morning. Whoever she was, she was devastatingly lucky.

Illy walked back to her desk, slouched in the chair and sipped her chai. She knew she had an unhealthy tendency toward envy, concocting elaborate daydreams that revolved around other people’s gorgeous and hypothetical lives. Countless stern lectures from June had helped in the battle against these Envy Dreams, as had getting a bit older and meeting some really miserable people whose lives looked fantastic to the casual observer. But she still had moments of relapse like this one, when it just seemed like other people were starring in poetic and romantic storylines while she drank free samples of powdery drinks and did arm circles in sweatpants.

Illy was just about to grab her laptop and climb back into bed for a few self-pitying hours of celebrity gossip and sleep, when she remembered Banana Woman, pivoting above her with arrogant disdain. As she spun, Banana Woman had probably been assuming Illy was only posing as an author, and in reality spent her days analyzing the names movie stars chose for their babies. Illy refused to live up to her own predictability. She sat up straighter and looked at the African Violet, her doting Elm, and dear old Fern for moral support. It was a little unfortunate that her fan club members were also all members of the plant family, but she knew June and her mother would join if called upon. And she knew they would all say the same thing: Stop feeling sorry for yourself, make some real coffee, and start writing. Her mother and Violet would also have something to say about watering her plants, but Illy had plenty of valid excuses in response to that suggestion.

Illy dumped the rest of the chai in the sink, turned on the coffee pot, and grabbed a handful of chocolate chips from a bag lying on the counter. This was no longer about being sophisticated. This was about a one week deadline and a very blank page in the typewriter. By the time she sat back down at her desk and nodded with gratitude at the Plant Team, she had had an epiphany, or at least a profound jolt from the caffeine and sugar. From now on, other people’s lives would not be fodder for Envy Dreams. They would leap right over her self-pity onto the page, providing her with a constant source of literary inspiration. Contestant number one in her post-epiphany resolution was Mocha Man.

Illy began typing. The clicking of the typewriter sounded professional and productive. Dylan opened the door– Dylan was the perfect name because although it had been trendy in the mid-90’s, it was practically retro now and sounded so passionate- and walked toward the girl at the desk. He was carrying two cups of steaming mochas and a single yellow rose. The rose idea had appeared out of nowhere and Illy knew it was fabulous. It implied so much: that Dylan had planned enough ahead to stop at a flower shop, that he thought of the girl as more than just a friend, and that he wasn’t too cheesy. A red rose would definitely have been cheesy, but yellow was charming and authentic. Illy took a deep breath and looked out the window, squirming in her chair with the energy of it all. Being a writer was so rewarding. She knew that with a character like Dylan leading the way, her novel would unfold with poetic grace. Illy couldn’t wait to meet with her publisher.


Continue Reading: Chapter Seven