Exercises

Lesson 3: Describe an object

A curtain hangs over the window by my bed. White and gray stripes plunge into the space between the mattress and the wall. The stripes have a distinct pattern--thin, thick, thin, thin, thick--that gets lost in the folds of the fabric and the shadows of the room. The only light source comes from my computer screen, lending a steely blue tint to the woven fabric. Horizontal creases are still visible, even though the curtain has been up for almost a year. I never ironed it. The fabric itself is reminiscent of burlap or old linen--made to look handwoven but, without irregularities or blemishes, obviously made in a factory--probably in China or Taiwan. The fibers would be smooth and soft if woven in a different pattern. The curtain isn’t rough, just textured. The back panel that faces the backyard is completely gray without the handwoven look of the front. Rarely seen, the blackout panel is smooth and glossy, almost metallic.

It’s a sturdy material, but not too heavy--unlike the sheer curtains that undulate in the open windows in romantic movie scenes. Nor are they the heavy tapestry-like curtains you might expect to see in an old castle--the kinds the maids used to beat with brooms and sticks to get the dust out.

If I did open the window, I'd pull the curtain back, catching the papers stashed under my bed, causing a crumpled rather than a crinkled sound to break through the silence. Or perhaps it would disrupt the abandoned glass of water sitting on the sill, knocking the metal straw into the glass with a clink usually reserved for toasts. Finally, it would glide past and sink into the metal arm screwed into the wall with the satisfying noise that comes to mind when you hear the phrase "brushed nickel." Unaffected by the wind, the curtain would sit wherever I put it.

The taste is of cotton and soap, and it leaves a bitterness on the tip of the tongue that spreads to the back of the throat. There’s no distinct smell, but that may be because of the smoke-laden carpet beneath its hem, barely detectable until the curtain changes positions, sending the pungent aroma upwards until it dissipates into the open air.

Despite the heat outside, the curtain is cool to the touch. I doubt it’s like this during the day when it basks in the sunlight (and keeps the cats from doing the same). 

Stationary until moved by human or nudged by cat. Perhaps it would want to go somewhere, even out into the yard cut off by glass and screen. But how would it get there? Some strong wind to send it flying and fluttering? It would have to escape the tether of its rod first. Even if it did, it would slump to the floor and be devoured by the black hole under the bed. But maybe that’s how it gets outside after all.

It keeps the sun and any prying eyes out of my room. That’s its goal, its duty. Standing, stiff and unmoving, like a security guard, but one of the security guards you befriend--it protects the room while adding personality to it. Does this fabric guard long for a different employer? Maybe something with prestige, like the White House or Buckingham Palace? No. I don’t think so. After all, it’s doing the same job here as it would be anywhere else--but there’s a lot less pressure to be perfect here.

The simple gray and white stripes echo the bedspread and together with the neutral walls and floors, create a clean, minimalist type of aesthetic--the kind that’s good for undistracted writing.

 

Lesson 4: Sensing the scene

It's that time of day, right after lunch, when no one wants to get anything done. The delicate click click click of the keyboards is barely audible, especially when compared to the cackling coming from two cubicles away.

I'm always more alert when Sara is on the phone. My body tenses anticipating the next burst of fake laughter. It's the single sound that encapsulates my rage toward corporate culture--the worst combination of "hey look at me" volume and the obvious insincerity that only gets worse by the fifth laugh this phone call.

It's too early in the day for a break, but the rage is bubbling up inside of me. It's a distraction. Hopefully she'll be done with her call by the time I get back.

I walk into the oppressive heat--at once soothing and stifling, like a mother hugging a teenager who thinks he’s too cool for such displays of affection. My beat-up sedan looks out of place next to the Teslas and BMWs that sit in the managers' lot. The door handle is gritty. I haven’t washed my car in God knows how long. As I lower myself into the driver’s side, the heat dances, shadows undulate, only visible on the fabric of the seats.

I take a cigarette from the pack and let it sit on my lower lip before lighting it. The taste, cherry and clove, isn’t enough to disguise the tar and tobacco making their way to the core of my body. But it is enough to make it bearable.

I’m not a smoker, my eyes fall on the cluster of suited men standing around a picnic table. Not like them at least.

I don’t make this a habit. Even still, the guilt rises up from my gut until I choke it, suppress it, with another drag.

The AC circulates warm air through the car, but it’s better than outside. The fumes from the tailpipe burn the Earth’s lungs as I burn mine.

Another few minutes of my only vice.

I toss my half-smoked cigarette into my half-drank cup of coffee, listening for the enxtinguishing hiss before replacing the cup’s lid. At least I don’t litter.

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