So, the thing is… I’m a writer (again).

May 3, 2007


I was driving back home from having coffee with a friend and was stopped at a red light. It was raining, a good steady rain, and I was enjoying my intermittent windshield wipers (I always think it’s so cool that you can slow them down or speed them up). I noticed that a man had parked his expensive sleek sedan by the side of the road. I’d say he was in his mid-fifties. Dressed in shorts and dock shoes without socks, he was tramping around by the side of the highway. At first I thought he was looking for something but then I saw he was carrying a handful of wildflowers.




I know that he might just have been an agricultural guy checking pesticide levels or acid rain or something, although I’m guessing they don’t usually drive Mercedes.


But then again, he might be a middle-aged guy newly in love and going to see his lady friend. OR maybe he’s been married for forty years to the same woman and the reason he’s so happily married is that he does things like this—gathering wildflowers in the rain. Maybe they had had a fight and he was trying to make up with her…


And then I wondered about her: did she appreciate him? Was it like my own life where every time my husband gives me flowers (which is often), I feel this sense of wonder that I get to be married to someone who actually thinks about me when he passes flowers? Was she ill and needed cheering up? Was it an anniversary? Was she his daughter or maybe his mother or the office manager in his lawyer’s office where he was going to disinherit his children? I drove home slowly, spinning possible stories about this man who I saw for exactly five seconds, picking wildflowers in the rain.


And I realized that something had shifted and I was a writer again.


You all might not have known that anything was different, except that my already sporadic column had become even less than sporadic; it’d become SCARCE.  But something changed over the last eight or nine months and I just didn’t see the world in the same way.  When my life-focus becomes myopic, I can’t write without huge effort.  You know what it’s like?  It’s like when your long-term relationship goes through the doldrums.  You know you still love your partner and that hasn’t changed.  But things are just a little more work and not quite as fun.  For me, that happens with writing, too. It doesn’t feel like a chore, exactly, but it doesn’t happen easily, either.


I’m not really sure what happened to make me lose my writer’s perspective. Maybe it was when my friend JB became so ill last August—it just seemed inappropriate to be sending out funny little stories of my life when he and his family were dealing with something so serious. Every time I wanted to send something out complaining about something miniscule that might have started something funny, the thought would come, “How can I possibly complain about anything when they are going though THAT?”


See, the thing about being a writer is that it gives me different eyes through which to see the world. It’s like my friend Paula, who is a professional photographer. I wish I could see what she sees when she looks through a camera lens but I can’t until she prints the picture out. There’s some talent there that I can’t match. One day, we both took pictures of Jane and even though we have the same camera, my pictures looked really… well, NOT GOOD. Hers were brilliant and are hanging on my wall.


I think that’s a good illustration of what I do, in a way. As a writer of humorous pieces (yeah, I know, not THIS one but mostly), I tend to look at the world through a kind of whimsical filter, finding much of it laugh-out-loud funny. When I write about it, I hope I make other people laugh. I think laughter is the shortest path to breaking down the barriers between people and that’s always been my mission. 


But when your friends are facing life and death circumstances, it’s difficult to feel that something whimsical and amusing is worthy of anyone’s time.  


So, then I had foot surgery and my activity was significantly curtailed and I still needed to write so I started blogging. Writing a blog (short for web log) is a whole different form of writing than I normally do but I think it’s complementary. It’s more immediate –more day-to-day and not always with a carefully crafted point. And in my blog, I can post pictures! How cool is that?


Anyway, I started blogging. Just a little bit. Well, a little bit every day. And then some longer pieces and pretty soon I was doing that thing where I was blogging in my head when I was away from my blog. And pretty soon, some switch flipped and I saw that man in the rain and I realized that I couldn’t make JB well by not writing. But I might be able to make his wife smile every so often. I might be able to write something that makes them forget for a few minutes.


So, now, in addition to a much more regular column (no, really, I promise!) I’m also going to keep writing my blog. You can find it at So The Thing Is Blog  and you can even subscribe to it. (Your address won’t be used for anything else, according to the Blogger folks, and I won’t have to keep track of the addresses manually, which really only gives you about an 80% of actually getting subscribed anyway. Maybe I should resolve to be more organized.)


And JB?  Thanks.



To subscribe or unsubscribe to this free (if sometimes sporadic) e-mail newsletter, send e-mail to Barb (  (Your address will not be used for any other purpose.)  If you would like to forward this column on, please do so in its entirety.  Feedback welcome.  Back issues can be found at So, The Thing Is...  (


(c) Barbara Cooper 2007



Barb Cooper is the mother of Ana (9) and Jane (6). She lives in Austin, Texas and she recently discovered that it's NOT illegal to pick wildflowers in Texas.