The “incident” (think theme music from Jaws) occurred last weekend at the Write on the Sound writers’ conference in Edmonds, Washington. Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years before moving to Arizona, I missed the Northwest experience of writers’ conferences. So I flew to Seattle to attend the city’s annual conference on the craft of writing.
When I arrived at the conference, I checked-in and then headed straight for the Plaza Room where I planned to meet my friend Janet. I hadn’t seen Janet in five years. Prior to me leaving Washington in 2011, Janet and I had attended the annual writers’ conference together. As an aside, Janet and I became friends at the Fear of Flying Clinic in 2006 where we learned we shared common interests other than our fear of flying. We both liked laughing, talking, slugging down coffee, and of course, writing. With these shared interests we formed our own writing group of two. I proposed we call ourselves the Smokin’ Hot Writers. Janet suggested we get long cigarette holders to be more like real authors. But neither of us wanted to take up smoking.
In the Plaza Room, writers were treated to coffee in paper cups along with fat, blueberry muffins and an assortment of fruit. Janet carried her cup of coffee to our first class. I had already guzzled mine by the gallon and the caffeine buzz had me bouncing. Our class, “The Elastic Boundaries of Nonfiction,” provided seating in hard plastic (or wood?) chairs. The chairs didn’t provide cup holders or trays. We didn’t even have waiters with black bow ties ready to refill our cups. What does one do with a cup of coffee in a classroom where no provisions are made for the coffee cup? Therefore, Janet and the other participants in the class had to rely on the good ol’ floor for coffee cup placement.
Our instructor, Tod Marshall (only one “d” in Tod) who is a professor at Gonzaga University, asked us to write a list of the forms of writing. I scrawled, “e-mails, letters, lunch box notes…” and then I glanced at the floor …GASP! Janet’s coffee cup had somehow mysteriously taken a dive sideways (no immediate explanation for how this event occurred. I know Janet is careful so I can only presume the person on the other side of Janet bumped it—or perhaps they pushed it over gently when Janet wasn’t looking), but anyway, there it was, a horizontal paper cup with coffee slowly gushing forth, forming a brown, watery creek. It creeped like a slow-mo flash flood, rolling under the chair in front of us. The flow headed in the professor’s direction.
The conference is held in the Frances Anderson Center, a former grade school built in 1930. The historic building has settled over the years and the floors aren’t as level as modern facilities, making a perfect setting for coffee on the move.
I pointed to the spill. “Oh no!” Janet said softly so not to interrupt Tod’s (remember only one “d” in Tod) lecture on the forms of writing.
Janet and I were seated in the middle of the classroom. There was no way Janet or I could get up without making a scene. The atmosphere in the classroom held a cerebral, stony-faced tone. So Janet tried to quietly cover the evidence with as little attention as possible. Fortunately, she had a napkin with her. She carefully placed the napkin on the coffee spill– now widening into a river and seeping creepily toward the front of the classroom. It made a beeline for the foot of the man seated in front of us. He never looked down. The coffee river surged past his foot and his own coffee cup, which he too had placed on the floor. One napkin doesn’t do the job of stopping a coffee spill that’s on a mission. So Janet ripped a piece of notebook paper from her spiral notebook and placed that on the moving coffee mess.
By now, I had my complete focus on the watery-brown fluid as it made its way under the man’s chair. The suspense of wondering if the man would notice the spill caused me to pay no attention to Tod’s talk. The very nice lady seated next to me, who told me her name is Kim and that she’s from Montana, got caught up in the coffee spill drama. She and I quietly chuckled as we watched Janet tear another piece of paper from her notebook to lay on the spill to stop it from its continued surge. I’m sure Tod wondered what we found so humorous in his talk on the Essay Press publishing company. Unaware of the incident, he continued talking after a confused glare shot our way.
Please observe the photo of the “incident.”
You’re wondering…Did Tod with one “d” ever notice and call for a mop? Did one of the participants slip in it and break a leg? Is that person currently litigating a lawsuit?
Janet explained: “During class, I kept tossing notebook paper on the spill every few minutes, arranging it as well as I could with my foot and then kind of rubbing it in. When class was over, I scooped it up with one big swipe and the only thing left was a moist area under the chair. I didn’t say anything to the teacher because I reasoned that no one would slip on it because it wasn’t really in an area where someone would be walking.”
Conflict is the root of drama. That is the lesson real authors know. And many don’t even smoke. But all drink coffee. It’s an author rule.