Short sorties of my life

I vowed to write every day, and unwittingly signed up to fight sorties for a lifetime.

Four years ago, I drove home from work with all the contents of my desk and cupboard thrown into my car, convinced I was taking a well-deserved break. In the days that followed, with no timetables, lectures or deadlines to dictate my day, I cooked, cleaned, read books, watched movies, and took long walks. I breathed slow and easy. Or, that’s how things worked for a month.

One quiet afternoon, with nothing more exciting to do than take a nap, I wiped a film of dust off the laptop I’d bought eight months ago envisioning a long career of research and technical presentations. While I’d savoured the joys of unstructured time, the laptop had sulked on my table like a giant clam.

I switched it on, opened a Word file, and blinked back at the cursor. Alarmed that this activity could signal an end to their relaxed days of tic-tac-toe, and hoping to discourage me, my neurons flung this sentence at me: “Oh, I had to stop peering through the keyhole.”

In my naiveté, I began to type, and fell headlong into the lives of strangers. Within seconds, I became that caricature who clings on to the leash while her dog tears along the road in the pursuit of an exciting scent. Hours later, I stared at what I had written: my first short story of 3,000 words, which to my astonishment had a beginning, middle, and an end. Overly pleased with my effort, I vowed to write every day, and unwittingly signed up to fight sorties for a lifetime.

Days were never the same again. I raced to finish chores and write more stories. I was puzzled to find that unlike that first heady experience, all other attempts at story writing were more like cajoling an elephant uphill. It was clear how ill-equipped I was. Just because I’d written a few ‘commendable’ essays, poems and letters at school and college, I’d considered myself qualified for this battle.

If the punctuation didn’t materialise at the most unlikely places to trip me up, there were the adverbs, adjectives, and clichés to ambush and kill. In the middle of a sortie, characters disappeared on independent excursions, and returned with relatives and friends. They spoke their minds and ignored the dialogue I wrote for them. On good days when they told me their story, there seemed to be no occupation in the world as gratifying as this.

This battle demands stamina. There’s writing muscle to build, and free time to protect. Because some vengeful neurons now side the inner critic who is hard to please, I study the craft and work of great masters. I’ve been lucky to meet friendly souls who share this love for sorties. Though each one of us fights alone, we are never lonely. Why does one sign up for a life of sorties? I really don’t know. For me, the reward comes every time I survive a minefield of mistakes, and type 'THE END'.
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