Make Use

I went for coffee this afternoon, scanned the paper, and took out my notebook. One hour. That’s my usual writing rule when I’m at a coffee shop. Anything, but write it for one hour. I had a couple starts in the notebook but couldn’t think past the conversation three women were having at the next table.

This happens sometimes. Often, I can bury in my own head. But sometimes the next table over is worth transcribing. I write verbatim. I can’t catch everything, but I get enough. I write in list form, a new line for a new speaker. If you glanced at my notebook you might think I was drafting a poem.

I wanted to quit listening. I could have moved tables. But I sat there, hating the compulsion I felt to write this inane conversation about fitness and eating. They sucked down iced lattes and said organic every third word and wondered if leeks could give you cancer. They were meeting to sort out personal training: two of the women wanted the third to train them. “I really need this,” was a repeat phrase, as was, “I can eat anything and not gain weight. I’ve tried” from the most svelte who also said of her height and weight, “These numbers don’t mean anything if I’m not healthy.”

But those numbers meant enough she kept bringing them up. I thought I might point that out and ask if she’d swap shells with another woman present, all of us conventionally less pretty that her. I got judge-y. I thought maybe I should go, or at least quit writing it down.

But I couldn’t stop. They talked about Facebook, creeps at the gym, men who messaged them (the chunky friend doesn’t get this kind of harassment from strangers and the thinner one said, “You don’t want. It gets old”). They talked about bodies adapting to fasts, green smoothies, and the expense of raw vegetables. One of them admitted hating the little fat on her son and bemoaned the loss of a childhood like hers, when kids played outside until the streetlights came on. It was a ranging conversation dominated by the gorgeous woman with an inbox full of messages from gym creeps and finally circling back to how great it will be to start working out again.

They left. I looked over what I had. Two pages of lines pulled from a thirty minute conversation. I thought of Raymond Carver’s line: Make use.

Sunday Night

Make use of the things around you.
This light rain
Outside the window, for one.
This cigarette between my fingers,
These feet on the couch.
The faint sound of rock-and-roll,
The red Ferrari in my head.
The woman bumping
Drunkenly around in the kitchen . . .
Put it all in,
Make use.

I will, Raymond.


When I show up at the page, I don’t always know why I am there. Sometimes I ask. Most of the time, I cycle through the top load of junk and find something to take me through a couple of pages. Actually, most of the time, it is that top load of junk that takes me through a couple of pages.

But I show up. And I think that’s enough.

Right now, I’m practicing revision. I like that word “practicing” in front, because I’m learning to return to a piece and work with it. For years I’d finish a crappy short fiction piece and think it was actually kinda good. Then I’d go back, expecting to dust-up extra commas and swap out a few words. Instead, I’d reread the piece and close the file because it was complete crap and I didn’t know where to begin.

Now I am coming to revision work with the same intentionality I have when I show up at the page: I open a file, take a breath, and begin. If I have comments to work from, I have those up too. Most of the time I revise at home, during the kids’ quiet time. Those slots of time are usually short so I like to take revision writing dates out, packing my laptop and heading to a coffee shop. On Sunday I met a poet friend who was also revising old work. And today I worked alone. Both days I put in a couple of hours on a piece I’ve let sit for nearly three years.

And if being intentional about revision happens to come with a triple shot mocha, all the better.