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Mouth Wide Open

Writing is not an 8:00 to 5:00 job. It’s a way of being, and looking at the world, and the hours are pretty much 24/7, year round. It requires being a good observer, ever on the lookout for bits of life that have story potential: a scrap of overheard conversation, an interesting mannerism, a quirky detail, or sometimes an idea big and expansive enough to add a new level to a novel.

Recently I had one of those big and expansive ideas pop into my head. The only problem was that it came to me as I was leaning back in a dental chair, mouth wide open, getting my teeth cleaned. It didn’t seem like a good moment to pull out my notebook and jot the big and expansive idea down, like I usually do. The polisher was whirling like it was angry, and mint flecks were flying. So instead I used a little chant, which I sung in my mind to help me remember: “Existential sandwich. Existential sandwich. Existential sandwich.” And it worked. As soon as I got back in the car, I captured the idea in my notebook.

Then I went home and had a PB&J.