Today, I used a gift certificate my amazing, supportive husband gave me for Christmas. It was due to expire today, so I didn't have much choice! Last fall, I hinted that it might be fun to get a certificate for a massage or something as a birthday or Christmas gift. I opened my stocking Christmas morning to discover he'd gone whole hog--a half day visit to an upscale spa. Wow! He listened and he put it into action! You can't have him, he's mine.
The certificate had a six-month expiration date. You may ask why I waited so long to use it. Well, my personal life kind of took a nose dive right around that time. My mother was in a serious car accident and the last six months have been spent helping her heal--in the hospital, a rehab center, and finally at home with home health services that recently ended. I certainly NEEDED the spa visit, but I just didn't have the time or energy to go get pampered. How goofy is that?
Also, I'll let you in on a little secret. I was a little intimidated by the thought of spending half a day in an environment that is SO different for me. I am proud to admit ... well, kind of ... that I am a city bumpkin. I've lived in cities or suburbs pretty much all my life, but I am just a low maintenance kind of girl when it comes to this stuff. For me, "pampering" means a haircut every 3 to 6 months (seriously) and highlights noticeable enough to give my hair a little pick me up, but not so noticeable my hair gets the two-level look while I wait a year to get them redone.
But make the appointment I did, and I enjoyed my day just fine--the pampering part as well as the chance to make a fool of myself at every possible opportunity, because I am talented like that.
I guess I didn't do too badly. I find it possible to put on the appearance of someone far more sophisticated than I am when necessary. For a few hours, anyway.
All day, the thought that my blog post was already overdue ate at me a little. I admit it kept my first stop--massage--from being quite as relaxing as it might have been. Well, that and the fact that I find it difficult to lie on my stomach with my face against a thing that kind of resembles a tiny, padded toilet seat. (Yes, Joan, I did just say that out loud.) I was never a stomach sleeper and still have trouble figuring out how anyone does it. But relax I did, eventually, and the whole experience went fine until the masseuse, who spoke in a perfectly normal voice up to that point (when she spoke at all) asked me at the very end, "How you feel? You feel gooood?" In a voice that weirded me out a little. This may be TMI.
I managed to impress the aesthetician with the amount of dry skin she was able to rub off my face. She was not surprised as I informed her right away I'd never had a facial. I am honest if nothing else. I dutifully nodded when she mentioned I should do this treatment every four weeks. Uh huh.
After my massage, facial, and spa lunch, my veneer was wearing thin.
Thus, I was delighted to spend the last couple of hours with a nail tech who was as down to earth as could be. She laughed when I told her my usual pedicure consists of checking to see which toes need another coat of polish before I go out and whether any of them are so long they're hanging over the edge of my sandal, thus requiring a quick snip with the clippers. Yes, I am that girl. After a while, I do have to remove the gunk my method creates and start over. She was impressed that my fingernails and toenails were in great shape anyway. I attributed it to a little lotion addiction, never going barefoot, and not doing enough housework.
After four hours or so, I left feeling relaxed and ready to return to my everyday life.
I said all that to say something about writing. I spent a few minutes at each spa stop thinking about how I could apply it to writing. It finally occurred to me. I spent my afternoon in a place where I'd normally never go, doing things I'd normally never do, and it stretched me. Not in any life-changing way, but still.
This is what we can do to stretch and grow our characters, too, or bring life to what could otherwise be a dull, everyday scene. I'm guilty of letting too many of my scenes take place in kitchens and living rooms and yards--where my characters are comfortable.
I realized that in my current project, some of my favorite scenes to write--and I believe some of the best or funniest or most emotional ones in the story--were ones in which I placed my characters where they'd normally never be.
~My 36-year-old hairstylist forced to eat lunch at the Pitt Grill in the racist hometown she couldn't leave fast enough as a teenager.
~My 16-year-old sheltered Kentucky girl pretending to be grown up in a swanky Newport nightclub or hiding in the shadows of a revival meeting where all the faces are a different color from her own.
~My 89-year-old weary traveler sitting at a rest area in Arkansas giving a terrified mother unexpected advice.
So. What about you? Can you lift your character from the dollhouse you've created and drop her back down in a setting she can really work with?
Without my spa day, I would have been coming up with my blog post from the couch in my family room--as usual.
Photo credit / Unique Hotels Group's Flickr photostream, by Creative Commons license