|Inspiration from September 2010|
I start by turning on my computer, a Dell XPS 17 laptop. It’s a couple of years old, but reliable and more than adequate for the task. I’m using Microsoft Wordpad because I can’t afford a full-featured version of Office and the advertising in the trial version irritates me. My dictionary, a Concise Oxford, sits on my desk, along with my Webster’s Thesaurus. I haven’t needed Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” in a while now, so it is tucked away on my bookshelf with my other reference works, like my Hammond World Atlas and Audabon’s “All The Worlds Animals.”
I take a long sip of Pepsi Max. I like it better than the other diet sodas because it has more caffeine and that little buzz helps me to write better. Soda is my drink of choice because I don’t mind it when it goes warm or flat. Cold coffee is just gross and disgusting, but warm soda is OK. I take a gummy bear from the bowl in the far corner of my desk, pop it into my mouth, and suck on it slowly. Yum, an orange one. I place my fingers on the keyboard, feeling the little raised bars on the “F” and “J” under my index fingers and stare at the empty screen.
This is to be my magnum opus, the work that makes a name for me in the literary community, something timeless, inspiring, and profound. The clock ticks, the seconds turn into minutes, time slows to a crawl, as I wait, poised for inspiration to strike. I know it will. I am as sure of this as I am sure of true love, honest politicians, and a journalist’s integrity. Then, I see it, there in my waste pail, a soiled paper coffee cup from Starbucks. It had held a Grande French Roast, with skim milk and 8 sugars. I begin to write.
“Ode to a Paper Cup.” Ahhh, what an auspicious title. This will go well. I feel my confidence start to surge.
“Oh white paper, soiled and stained, what treasure you held, when it rained.” Ok, I’m lying here. It wasn’t raining when I got the coffee, but I need a word that rhymes with stained. Maybe I should try and work in “pained” and then I can do some work with conflicting emotions. Pleasure of the warm beverage contrasting with ... hmmm ... a heat-induced toothache from the hot coffee? No, too hackneyed and cliché and without the pure elegance and charm associated with the plain, pure, virginal white paper. Oh, I like that, “virginal.” Perhaps I could work it into the next verse.
“Virginal and pure, white as the snow, the robes of a vestal, you long to know.” Not bad, and the tie to the Roman Vestal Virgins adds some historical depth that this work badly needs. I smile to myself seeing the work developing in front of my eyes, my brilliance being recorded for all time. But something isn’t right with that last line. It needs a little refinement. “like a vestal’s robes, of purity glow.” OOOOOO, YES! The tie to purity will let me talk about the coffee beans that made the coffee, the purity of their flavour, and of the child labour, a young virgin, that picked them. I’ve found a hook now to bring in some sort of relevant social topic and can expand on the evil of child labour. I can see that Pulitzer prize now, sitting on my shelf. My mind wanders as I imagine the boycott of Starbucks, the sit-ins on Wall street protesting unethical business practices, and the total revamping of the world’s economy, all because of my poem. I’m on to something here, I can just feel it.
Suddenly, without warning, the room is plunged into darkness. Looking around, I can see only the blackness of night. Leaning slightly to peer out the window, I see only darkness outside as well. Not even the soft orange glow of the street lights is present. I can only assume that there has been some kind of power failure. As I reach for a gummy bear, guided only by the faint glow of my laptop screen, my arm brushes my bottle of Pepsi. The sparks come as a complete surprise as the warm sugary liquid glugs out onto the keyboard. The screen goes black and I find myself sitting in total darkness. The air is filled with the unmistakable scent of burned plastic. Who would have thought a battery had enough power to spark and flame like that?
It is gone. My magnum opus, lost to human-kind as my laptop silently passes from this world into the shadow world of dead electronics. I can’t afford to have the hard-drive removed and its contents copied to a DVD, in the hopes that there is some sort of automated backup on it. My dream has been shattered, my hopes destroyed, and my Pulitzer will be given to someone else. I have been robbed of my destiny by 750 millilitres of Pepsi Max.