Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Respect My Dry Cleaner

I've been going to the same dry cleaner ever since I moved into my neighborhood. Even though her rates are a little more expensive than the other dry cleaners' in the area, she always gets my clothes cleaned properly and doesn't leave them scattered around in stacks or piles. And even though I secretly believe that the amount of money I've spent on dry cleaning bills would probably be enough to buy new cars for my dry cleaner and every member of her extended family, nevertheless I keep going back to her because I respect her work ethic.

Even though she opens her business every day at seven A.M., I've seen her still working hours after her business has already closed. I'll see her carefully ironing someone's pants, or I'll see her head bent over her sewing machine as she mends someone's dress. I feel sorry for her that she has to work so hard. But I also respect the fact that she takes pride in her work, and is willing to put in as much time as possible. I think that that's why her business has succeeded in an economy where several businesses, including other dry cleaners, have shut down.

Contrast her with this guy I used to see at the library all the time when I was an undergrad. He would bring stacks of books with him, but I rarely saw him open any of them. Instead, he and his friends would talk about everything BUT school, and talked loudly as if they were making sure that everyone could hear about how awesome their lives were. Right. Bragging about how many coeds you tried (and failed) to grind dance with and about how you passed out after downing too many tequila shots and throwing up in the street makes you a REAL rock star. (Then again, maybe it does.)

I'd also see him looking around the room several times, because he was always looking for girls to flirt with. He never flirted with me, probably because he saw me shooting my "Be quiet or I will GET you" glare at him. What amazed me was that I once saw him holding an MCAT book. I always wondered if his lack of a work ethic prevented him from getting into med school. Or maybe he did somehow become a doctor, and then spent most nights talking with his fellow doctors about how he passed out after trying (and failing) to grind dance with female colleagues, drinking too many shots and throwing up in the street. Or maybe he would chat up his female patients and say something like this:

Lazy doctor: So, are you doing anything tonight?
Female patient: You mean before or AFTER the heart transplant you're supposed to perform on me?

That guy also makes me think of this other guy who was a member of this gym that I used to belong to. I saw him at the gym quite often, but I never saw him exercise. He would sit on one of the stationary bikes and then watch one of the TVs up on the wall, but he wouldn't actually pedal the bike. He'd just sit there, for up to an hour or more. I always wondered why he bothered to pay for a gym membership when he could just sit at home and watch TV. (And I also wondered how he always managed to smell like he'd been exercising for 13 hours straight when I never actually saw him exercise.) By not doing anything, he wasn't actually accomplishing anything, like building endurance, gaining strength and muscles, or losing weight. He was just wasting time.

These people made me think about the difference between the people who actually get work done and achieve things, and the ones who don't even try. It relates to writing because not only do you have to show up to write, you also have to actually write something. You can say that you want to write a book, but that's not the same thing as actually writing it.

It sounds obvious, but I must confess that sometimes I'll sit down at my computer to work on my novel and I'll end up watching Youtube videos of The Office bloopers or home movies of people's puppies instead. It's very easy to procrastinate, because it's so much easier not to write. But if I just sit at my desk every day without writing, then I'll never be a writer. And then I might as well not sit down at my desk at all.

If I'm not going to put in the effort to write, I could do other things, like start a letter-writing campaign to Bravo to stop making more Real Housewives spinoffs .(Seriously, are they going to have one with housewives from EVERY city in the U.S.? By showing all those episodes of rich "ladies" fighting with each other and spreading nasty gossip, are the show's producers trying to make the audience meaner? Or is acting like Satan's mistress the "in" thing to do now?)

Or I could train for a marathon so that I'd finally be able to run fast enough that I could laugh over my shoulder at all the people running behind me. I'd say, "Ha ha! Eat my dust, LOSERS! Why don't you run more SLOWLY, because you'll never beat me! Hahahaha!" And then, of course, at that moment I'd trip over a fire hydrant or something and fall flat on my face, and all the other runners would simply laugh and trample over me and sing songs about karma.

I read somewhere that writing isn't always productive, because you can write for hours and still not come up with a draft that you're satisfied with. But that great draft isn't necessarily going to be completed in one sitting. It could take several days, weeks, or months of writing before it gets done. The point is that you have to be willing to put in the time AND the effort to do it.

I'm not saying we should put in fifteen-hour days. But I think that if my dry cleaner did become a writer, she'd have a much better chance of succeeding than that Casanova wannabe (who had all the charm of a contestant on a reality dating show) from the library or the guy who'd rather watch TV than exercise (despite the fact that he could do both at the same time). It isn't just about talent. What's that phrase by Thomas Edison? "Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration." (Or is it 2% and 98%?) And I think he's right.

How do you motivate yourself to keep writing, even when it becomes challenging to produce something good? How do you keep yourself at your desk when you'd rather be doing something else (or nothing)?


  1. I find that a deadline works wonderfully. Other than that, I'm a lazy cow.

  2. I loved this post! I just try to remember that I enjoy writing. And if I enjoy doing something, I'm more likely to continue doing it.

    PS: I'd totally cheer you on while you ran a marathon, even if it resulted in you tripping over a fire hydrant.

  3. Hi Fran,
    Deadlines can be very effective. Unfortunately I usually leave things until the last minute. :)

    Hi E. Elle,
    Thanks! It would be a lot harder if writing wasn't enjoyable. Then I definitely wouldn't get anything done.

  4. My writing energy and desire waxes and wanes. Because there's no immediate pay, there's not the same desire as keeping my family afloat with a dry cleaning business. I bet even the woman wouldn't be that dedicated to writing. There are only so many hours you can be creative.

    That said, I try to write something or edit something everyday. Now that I'm working full-time, I've been falling short of that goal.

  5. Hi Theresa,
    It is hard to write or edit everyday when you're working full-time, especially because teaching takes up so much energy. But maybe your teaching job could give you some more ideas that you could use in your stories. :)