Writing as a Way to Cope with the World

"Peaceful Hours" by Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1885
I believe this is a painting titled “Quiet Hours” by Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1885

Each time I see this painting, I remember writing an entire short essay sitting on our patio, while Natalie napped in her stroller next to me. I had observed behavior in a bathroom line at a movie theater that had disturbed me. Writing about it not only helped me get the “sinking feeling” off my chest, it helped me understand why I was so disturbed. The essay ended up being published in the Los Angeles Times. Today, I discovered the essay is still on-line and reading it made me realize that one of reasons I write is to cope with the world. I wrote this essay 17 years ago. A couple days after the essay was published, I received a call from an instructor at the Police Academy. He wanted me to know that he was going to use the essay in his class, to initiate discussion about the choices one makes in situations: to behave humanely or not.

Here’s my essay titled “A Sinking Feeling in the Bathroom Line”

The words “sinking ships” and “full bladders” don’t usually find themselves together in the same sentence. But they do in the case of the “Titanic.”

When we set sail on Titanic, we are committing to a three-hour 14-minute movie-going journey. By film’s end, I opted to bolt for the bathroom, ignoring even the credits.

Not alone in my thinking, the line outside the ladies’ room stretched far beyond the door. Inside, 15 more women shifted their weight back and forth. Tension floated in the air. Two women exited the restroom. In the meantime, eight more women had lined up behind me, I tried to remember how many stalls were in the bathroom so I could compute the estimated time of arrival to a stall door. I thought I remembered four stalls; I had at least a five-minute wait.

Suddenly from the back of the line, a woman with child in tow squeezed through pleading, “Please let us through. My daughter is sick.” I stepped aside. As they inched forward, I heard a woman behind me hiss, “We all have to wait.” I turned to this stranger and with a mixture of disbelief and disgust repeated what the woman already knew, “She’s sick!”

Closer to the front of the line, a woman wondered out loud, “Couldn’t she use a sink?” My body tightened. Thankfully, the woman immediately in front of me responded, “She might not be sick like that,” and she made a subtle gesture for throwing up. I liked her immediately.

By then, mother and daughter had reached the front of the line, but not without more obstacles. I heard the mother cry out again, “She’s sick.”

One more woman in the sea of faces around me snickered, “They should have gone to the management. They have facilities for this kind of thing.”

I couldn’t believe the lack of compassion. Had we really just seen the same movie? I mumbled, “And which boat would you have been in?”

I remind my students that we, as filmmakers, have the ability to accomplish so much through our storytelling. We can open closed minds and hearts, while taking our viewers on adventures to faraway peoples, places and times. James Cameron, whose films I have admired for their craft, took me on an adventure this time, that included my heart. He powerfully dealt with the most tragic aspect of Titanic’s sinking, how so many more might have been saved if more than one lifeboat had turned around.

What I witnessed in the line to the ladies room was terribly disheartening. Do people really believe that they will act decently in the big important moment if they do not act decently in the small, seemingly insignificant moments. Don’t they know that the small moments are practice for the big moments?

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