#38Write—my global writing initiative—is a monthly series of online writing adventure workshops for place-passionate, culturally curious writers around the world. Each writing adventure focuses on one particular aspect of craft or the writing life (for example, writing kick-butt descriptions), and during each 38-hour adventure, writers connect with me and #38Write writers around the world via a Twitter hashtag (#38Write) and a group Pinterest board. Lots of good work getting done.
The theme of November’s #38Write online writing workshop was Habits. Fifteen writers in 9 countries participated: China, Turkey, Australia, the U.K., France, the U.S., South Korea, the U.A.E., and Japan.
Let me tell you, there are some habits in those 9 countries!
After reading/watching a number of assigned pieces/videos, I asked writers to: “…go on out into your community and find a habit that annoys the hell out of you. Yep, put on your walking shoes, hop in your car or on your bike, and go to work, a bar, a restaurant, the street in front of your house, a school, a library, a park, a movie theatre, the Laundromat, etc. Go any place where you’ll find people who annoy you.” Then I asked writers to lay it on the line (or in this case, on the page).
Here’s what a handful of #38Write writers put on the page. Now, you may cringe once or twice, thinking “Wow, that’s got a little bite to it!” but that’s exactly what I asked the writers to do. Get the bite on the page.
Sean | U.S.
Dr. Seuss’ Grinch put it best… “That’s one thing I hate! All the noise, noise, noise, noise!”
I’m a self-professed foodie, culinary aficionado, and home chef, yet I absolutely cannot stand listening to people eat. Really. It literally makes my skin crawl, I’m confronted with the fight or flight response in its most primal form.
Death for me is meal time void of conversation or at the very least white noise. Otherwise the sound of the food being masticated along with the accompanying chorus of tongue and esophageal noises rush in to fill the void.
Six months of the year I am forced to exist in a level of hell unknown or yet undisclosed by Dante when my mother-in-law shares our home. Poorly fitted dentures and age-related temporo-mandibular disorder punctuate each bite with a range of “snaps”, “clicks”, and “pops” adding to the cacophony of consumption and elevating my misphonia to an entirely new dimension.
I am cursed.
Serge has this incredibly annoying habit of always leaving the hangers with clothes stretched on the bed whenever he takes out a shirt or a coat from the wardrobe. Even after almost nine years together and many, many rows on the topic, I am still going bonkers when I find them just lying there on the bed or even on the bedroom floor. Like a broken record, I ask him why in the world is it so difficult for him to put the damn hangers back on the rack. I ALWAYS get the same answer. “I will put them back, chill out!” Of course he never puts them back and although I know it is a lost battle, I cannot help and work myself up into a seizure and start nagging, mumbling and sometimes shouting. And when he sees my veins on my forehead bulking and my eyes popping out with rage, he serves me his scram face adding idly “chill out woman! What are you fussing about? They are just clothes, and I am in a hurry.”
For almost nine years, he’s always in a hurry! In that moment, I just want to go for his throat and strangle him slowly and methodically until I feel he’s hanging on to dear life. For God’s sake, all he needs to do is raise his arm and hang the damn clothes up where they belong.
Lately I have given up trying. I bark the usual “Again, you left your clothes all over the bed. I am going to take them all and burn them and put the ashes in a plastic bag and throw them out!” without really expecting an answer. I just feel good saying it. But then his answer only deepens my frustration: “I will put them back, don’t worry”! God forbid, I should worry about my partner being tidy and organized. God forbid I should worry about waking up one day and not finding any of his clothes scattered around the house waiting for me to pick them up!
I went through so many stages—annoyance, rage and finally psychotic rants. Nothing helped, nothing will I guess. I just have to resign myself and think of green pastures and happy places when I see those hangers on the bed. Think about all his wonderful qualities and accept that tidiness is definitely not one of them. And then I hear my mom’s voice drumming in my years: “You are so messy. When you will be a wife and a mother and you’ll have to pick up after your husband and kids, you will remember my words and only then you will understand”. I never paid much attention to my mother back then, but I am finding myself sounding more like her every day. And by God, I thought she was irritating. I can only imagine what a nuisance I can sometimes be.
Catherine | Turkey
Joanna sat down just outside the door of the café. It was still warm, the October breeze hadn’t cooled the temperature much. Martha arrived a few minutes later, apologising and giving out about the crush on the dolmus. They ordered and Martha ran through her usual complaints about her latest Turkish boyfriend. The last one was too full on, the latest too distant. It took a few minutes to register that Joanna was unusually quiet.
“You usually have a few more opinions on this stuff,” Martha asked. “With all your experience… You ok, hon?”
“What experience?” Joanna replied.
“Jeez, leave the question-answering-a-question bit out. You know what I mean, you and Alper are nearly married.”
“Nearly doesn’t count for anything.”
Martha could never let a silence go.
“Come on, spill already.”
Joanna waited until after their coffees were served and the waiter was out of earshot.
“Alper doesn’t want to marry me.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Martha. “What’s the problem – his mom won’t let him marry a non-Muslim?” She laughed but stopped when she saw the look on Joanna’s face.
“I don’t think so; I get on great with his mam. He just doesn’t want to.”
“There has to be a reason though. You guys did discuss this.” Martha was more serious now.
“We did ages ago. But last week I asked him about it again and he didn’t answer. He talked about his plans to go to the UK for a doctorate and how he wanted to do what was expected of him. He hasn’t answered my calls for the last two days.”
“He didn’t say no, then.” Martha smiled, half-heartedly.
“He didn’t say yes,” said Joanna. Martha frowned.
Another silence, again Martha spoke first.
“This is just like the plumber, the electrician and that guy who was going to give you a job at the publishing agency, isn’t it? Promise to do something and then back out by just ignoring your calls…”
“I’m afraid it might be.” Joanna felt the tears begin, she’d just confessed her worst fear.
Martha sighed, “The curse of the Turk—they just can’t say the word no.”
Jennifer | South Korea
Chuh bok chuh bok was the sound of Father’s footsteps. From the anbang, where he gathered up another pile of gear, turned back and went through the maru, past DongJin sitting at the kitchen table eating apples. A steady beat of chuh bok chuh bok. Without a glance at DongJin, Father continued to the doorway to add to his pile of gear. Then chuh bok chuh bok back through the maru to the anbang. Back and forth, back and forth, the rhythm of his footsteps as steady as a metronome.
First DongJin tried to drown Father out by humming Smoke on the Water while tapping his dessert fork on his step-mother’s new Corelle dishes. Then he tried to create a counter-beat by loudly crunching on the apples. But Father’s pacing continued, unfaltering. Chuh bok chuh bok… It wasn’t just the sound; the footsteps vibrated through the floorboards and permeated DongJin’s body like a second heartbeat.
Chuh bok chuh bok. I could go to the bathroom or bedroom to escape, mused DongJin. But he was determined to be conspicuously lazy. I OFFERED to help, he fumed. I TRIED to take the heavy bags from his hands, but Father waved me off like a pest. Told me to go ‘Eat some fruit and rest.’ So that’s what I’m doing. While he lugs more and more stuff over to the doorway and grumbles about how his back hurts. Chuh bok chuh bok.
It always came down to this: Father’s way or his way. And Father always presided. Father made the decisions, Father did all the important stuff, Father even set the goddamned rhythm of the place. Chuh bok chuh bok. Leaving DongJin to sit and sulk. Like he always did. Like he had when he was a child. Which only made Father feel justified to treat him like an immature, incapable idiot.
When do I get to grow up? In Father’s mind, he is the adult and I am the child, one or the other, black and white, nothing in between. How can I prove to him that I don’t need to be coddled, when he never gives me any chances to show it? When he tried to step up, take responsibility, act like an adult, Father pushed him down again. Told him to sit and eat fruit. Chuh bok. chuh bok.
Anita | U.S.
It started in the buffet line at the Allenberry Playhouse Restaurant with the old lady in front of me. She was using a walker and had come to a lingering stop. Another woman in her 50s, who had been helping the old lady with a walker, stepped away saying “I’ll be right back”. Waiting, the old lady, with one hand on her walker, repeatedly reached under the glass shield with her free hand and fingered cubes of cheddar, pepper jack and Swiss before nibbling the winner. The growing line was at a standstill. Annoyed as hell and avoiding the cheese platter I stepped around the old lady and proceeded to fill my plate with salad greens.
Next, the ‘hot entrée’ line was backing up when the woman in front of me barked “Go around the other side. It’s open!” I stood fast. The ‘other side’ of the hot entrée line was led by a man with Parkinson’s; food was falling from his trembling plate back into the serving dishes.
Finally, sitting in the dining room, my appetite gone, I looked at my salad and turkey dinner wondering what had it been exposed to before finding me. As I picked over my food, I couldn’t help but over-hear the conversations at the next table.
The obese man with thick eyeglasses at the table to my right was telling his tablemate that he gives himself insulin twice a day…” Between bouts of bemoaning the woes of having diabetes, I watched him make two trips to the buffet line returning each time with mounds of potatoes, breads and meats with gravy. Then he visited the dessert table returning with a piece of lemon meringue pie and chocolate chip cookies.
His tablemate, a thin fellow except for his belly which tested the strength of his shirt buttons, added that he was glad he didn’t have to give himself a needle but that he did have to take three blood pressure pills. As he spoke I watched him add salt to an already salted meal.
My husband heard the same exchange at the table to my right. Before I could start preaching, again, about personal responsibility, my husband lowered his head, peered over his glasses at me, winked and smiled. I smiled in return and watched him appreciate his food. I’d wait until later to tell him about the cheese and ‘hot entrée’ table…maybe.
Russell | Australia
I can’t handle this job, Dave, I really can’t. You know me, right? How long have we been together? Two years already? You should know me well enough by now, Dave. Well enough to know that I cannot abide messy people. I can’t stand them. I literally can’t.
So you remember me telling you that we were moving desks today? Remember I said we also had a new team member joining us? Rose Janning? Remember? Oh come on,
Dave, I only told you last week. Yeah, that’s right, you’ve got it. New location, new teammate, and all of it happening today.
Okay, so Rose seemed like a lovely lady when we met her last week. A bit on the ratty side—bird’s nest hair, weird sense of dress, a little bit out there. Actually, definitely way out there but still, she seemed alright. So, today, she moved her things over to her new desk. My God, Dave, you should have seen it. Reams and reams of paper, she must have 30 binders, and the plants… Dave, honestly, you should have seen the plants. Ten of the ugliest damn plants you will ever have seen. Ever. Period.
I’d already spent all morning cleaning our team’s new desks, you know, getting them ready for us to move into. I’d been wiping them down with disinfectant, tossing any rubbish into the bins, recycling, polishing, scrubbing, and tidying. I must have used a ton of hand sanitiser while cleaning. It was disgusting. Grime all over the telephones, fingerprints on the monitors, coffee stains on the desktops.
You know what I’m like, Dave. I can’t handle the thought of any germs. I can’t even go to the toilet without taking my hand sanitiser with me. Heaven forbid if I accidentally touch the toilet seat or the cubicle handle with my bare hands. Anyway, I cleaned and then cleaned some more. So Rose moves over and brings her plants with her and places them on her desk, on the windowsill, and even on the other desks I spent all morning cleaning. Ten of them. Ten sprawling, leafy, dust covered bushes spread out across our sparkling clean office. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.
I tried to ignore it, Dave. I tried to look away. I tried to concentrate on my work. I even got up and went to the toilet three times in one hour, which I never usually do. You know what I’m like, Dave, when it comes to toilets. I never go three times in one hour unless I’m having a really bad day. Eventually, I decide I can’t hold out anymore and I have to eat some lunch. I start unwrapping my sandwiches… Just the memory of it freaks me out as I’m telling you, Dave. It was so disgusting.
As I unwrap my lunch, there were flies, Dave. Dirty, infectious little fruit flies everywhere. Buzzing around my desk, near my food, getting caught up in my hair. I tried killing one with my spray cleaner and another one appeared. I was so grossed out and I swear it was down to those plants. There were no flies before those plants arrived, Dave, no flies at all. It has to be those awful, nasty plants. Before the week is out, those plants will be gone, Dave. I swear it. I swear it on my hand sanitiser’s life. You just wait and see.