January 11, 2011
Every writer gets stuck from time to time. Part of the process. Either the ideas won’t come or the words around those ideas. Instead of sitting down and letting your better self take over, you end up staring at a blank cursor knowing that it’s over. You can’t fool anyone anymore.
Every writer has his or her own method to reverse this process, which can be as creative as a fieldtrip to somewhere silly or as mundane as taking a shower. I suppose mine lies somewhere between the two—half silly and half mundane.
I go to the mall.
I’m a big fan of the mall, though not because of the stores or the coffee shop (okay, maybe the coffee shop). I could do without another pair of jeans or another T-shirt, especially when together they cost a little less than half a week’s pay. No, I go to the mall for another reason that’s just as valuable. To spy.
My usual spot is smack in the middle of everything, where the powers that be have arranged a set of leather couches and chairs for the shopping weary. Or for people like me, who are just curious.
Though I’m generally not someone very comfortable in the midst of a crowd, I do pretty well when I can watch them from a distance. And that’s my method of unclogging the writer’s brain. I go look. I watch people going about their daily lives and imagine what they’re thinking and feeling. And it works. Every time.
Today my attention seems focused on that ever present but often overlooked cult known as the Mall Walkers. Every mall seems to have its own dedicated troupe, and they all seem to be the same sort of people—very kind, very focused, and very old.
There are nuances of course, as there is in anything. People can perform the same activity but in different ways, depending upon their goal and their personality. And as I sit and watch them make their laps in the comfortable weather of the indoors, I see a lot of personalities. And what I see resembles much more than someone’s walk around a mall.
There are the die-hards, of course. Men and women who prance about in actual workout clothes and shoes much more expensive than my own. They’re not here to shop or socialize. They’re here to work. And they take that work seriously. Head down, arms pumping. And they refuse to wander from the gray tiles that line the edge of the mall lest they cheat themselves.
Others see this morning ritual as more of a social gathering. They’re here to walk, yes. To exercise, even. But they seem to exercise their mouths as much as their legs. They talk as they go, and talk about anything. Family, friends, church, who’s doing what and to whom and why. These people have no problem with breaking their stride to say hello to someone or do a little window shopping. They’re here for better health, but they also understand that exercising alone won’t guarantee that. Community and a sense of fun plays into the equation in equal parts.
At the other end of the spectrum is the upper crust of the mall-walking society. The ones whose choice of clothing is the sundress or the suit and tie. They’re presence here stumps me. They don’t seem interested in exercising. Only an idiot would wear a sport jacket or high heels for a workout. But neither do they seem to be here for the socializing, since they tend to turn up their noses to the other walkers (and especially to those of their own ilk).
After watching them pass for the fourth time, not walking but more ambling, I decide they’re here just to be here. They’re content to just be seen.
Then, like some rare celestial event, members of all three groups intersect around me—the diehards and the social butterflies to my left, and the country-clubbers to my right. Around and around on their journey from beginning to end.
And I decide that we’re all mall walkers in our own right, left to spend our days journeying from beginning to end. Like them, there are those who see that journey as a nose-to-the-grindstone marathon of endless work and self-improvement. And there are those who prefer to walk through their days making friends and having fun. And there are still others whose sole purpose seems to be all the attention they can get.
And then there are people like me, who make their own journey while watching others make theirs.
The Billy Coffey Collection