“In literature only trouble is interesting.” Janet Burroway
Caroline’s friend told us at the bus stop today that the reason she didn’t like the kindergarten fieldtrip to Fort McHenry was because of the video—the narration about war, explosions, smoke, death, captivity. But Caroline spoke up in opposition—she really liked her last year’s Fort McHenry fieldtrip for the same reason she liked the Kit Kittredge American Girl book about the Great Depression.
“What?” She said, smilingly, as we all stood awaiting her bus stop explanation. “I like trouble. It’s more interesting.”
I told her that once, that a good story needs conflict.
I haven’t really attempted writing fiction, but I might be good at it. I can sure imagine conflict. I would call myself a semi-professional worrier. The reason why I don’t worry in every imaginable circumstance is because I read an article once that said worrying takes off several years of your life. That’s when the buck stops: when I worry about dying of worry.
I will not go into detail about the nature of my worrying, because if I do, I firmly believe these worries will come true. I remember reading Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, a part describing how Chinese peasants would camouflage their children in dirt and grime so the gods would not notice the little ones. If the children were shiny and beautiful, the gods might steal them away.
I hide my children and my worries in grass-stained leggings and smelly morning-breath.
I don’t want trouble.
May my life never make good fiction. Yawn away, Dear Readers; snooze on, potentially jealous gods and goddesses. My life is boooooorrrrrriiiiing.
The other day I was at a bookstore, minding my own business, standing in line, ready to purchase a here’s-a-nice-way-to-go-about-living book for my niece. When I was next up, the guy behind the register was looking past me in a where-did-I-go-wrong-why-am-I-here kind of way. I shuffled up to the counter, gave him my best smile. He didn’t look at me and said nothing until after the transaction, after I asked nicely, “Could I have a gift receipt for that?” He sighed an elephantine sigh, saying something to me, finally: “YOU NEEDED TO HAVE TOLD ME THAT BEFORE I RANG YOU UP!” He was so bothered by my inconsiderate approach that he picked up the phone—I thought he was calling the police but it turns out he signaled his manager, who by the way, arrived lightning fast and made things right. The exchange took exactly 27 seconds.
I wanted to throw up.
The unhappy man behind the register finished whatever he was doing, put the gift receipt in my face and I said to him, I said . . .
As I was describing the incident to Dave and the girls later (we were on our way to Philly to give my niece the here’s-a-nice-way-to-go-about-living book), both Caroline and Dave were tuned in for the moment of conflict. I could see them turning up the volume in their heads.
“What did you say, Mom?” Caroline asked from the back seat.
“Nothing. As I took the receipt, the guy mumbled ‘have a nice day,’ and I didn’t say anything back. I looked at him like this.”
Dave and Caroline looked at me looking at them as if I were looking at the miserable guy behind the register. It was a mean look.
“Wow,” said Dave.
Caroline stared over the Bay Bridge, desperately searching for something—anything. A capsizing boat, a struggling sea-gull. We were five minutes into the trip and Lexi was already asleep.
The other day I was at the pharmacy picking up a prescription that was mislabeled due to an error on the part of the pharmacist. I asked the woman to make a quick change to the script in the computer but she told me I needed to call my doctor in order to get it fixed.
“Wait,” I said, smilingly, “I just want to clarify that this was a typo made on your end. My doctor has no knowledge of this.”
The lady did not budge.
It took all of me to try again—to stand there, attempting conflict: “I don’t understand. You made the mistake yet I need to spend my time calling my doctor?”
She said yes and I said to her, I said . . .
“So you stormed off and left the prescription there even though you already paid for it?” Dave asked me.
“I was a little frazzled,” I said. “I’m not going back. Not today.” I stood there firmly, muttering, “Maybe she won’t be working tomorrow.”
Dave walked away, back to his upstairs office, searching for something—anything. An angry message on his cell phone, a hangnail, a late-bill in an endless pile of mail.
Talk To Me: There’s a chance you may be better at facing conflict than I. Any funny stories to share?