"Writing is fun sometimes," Felix assured Pearl as they trudged across the wet parking lot toward Has Beans.
Pearl glared at him. She had become a bottom-dweller in writing's black hole, a hack. Everything she produced was crap and she'd rather clean her bathroom fan vent than sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper.
"Name once," Pearl challenged him. "One time that you grinned at your computer screen and meant it."
She pulled open the café's heavy glass door, letting go of the handle as she plodded through.
"I do it all the time," Felix said as he scooted in behind her.
Mike was already inside, at the end of the order line-up. When they joined him he asked, "Do what all the time?"
Twenty pairs of ears swiveled in their direction. Thanks to Mike's foghorn voice, all the café’s Sunday-morning regulars already knew many things about their little group, including that one reason Barb didn't have time to write was because she and her husband had sex every day. Now the patrons waited for more steamy details.
"I have fun," Felix said.
"Barb already used that excuse," Mike said. He and Pearl had confessed to envy; their reasons weren't nearly as creative. Or as enjoyable.
The line shuffled forward a foot as a blast of cool, damp air hit Pearl from behind. She checked over her shoulder.
"What are you talking about?" Barb shook her umbrella as she came through the door.
"I have fun writing," Felix said.
"That's impossible." Barb smacked the end of her umbrella and it collapsed obediently.
"You want to come to my house and watch me?"
Pearl thought about the four of them crouching in Felix's tiny apartment, the smell of mildew seeping under the door from the hallway and his upstairs neighbour Bud charging around, slamming doors and demanding to know where the fuck were his smokes.
"Prove it here," Pearl said. "Grab us a spot and we'll get your coffee."
Felix shambled off to loom companionably over a couple at a window table.
They quickly picked up their keys and mobile phones and left. They were probably finished anyway.
Mike ordered the coffees and went to collect them while Barb and Pearl selected the food that would fuel the good times ahead.
"Talk about Mission: Impossible," Pearl said as she paid.
Barb picked up two of the plates. "If we could get Johnny Depp to come along it might be fun."
Pearl was stilling grinning as she carried the other plates to the table.
"See?” Felix beamed at her when they arrived. “I told you it's fun."
"We haven't even got to the writing," Pearl pointed out, wondering why Mike was setting up his laptop in front of Felix.
Felix dismissed her grumpiness. "It's all part of the total experience."
"Where do you get that ‘total experience’ crap?" Barb dropped a slice of lemon loaf in front of him and when he started to answer, she said, "Never mind. Get to the fun."
Mike sat down, sliding the mug away from Felix’s wrist as he tapped at the keyboard.
“I just found this the other day and it’s totally sweet.” Felix reached for his cup and cradled it in both hands, making Mike twitch, as he read off the screen.
The medial forebrain bundle of nerves, which lies deep in the brain, is known as the reward centre, Felix explained. Doing something pleasurable activates it and makes people want to repeat the action.
"Writing does not stimulate my medial forebrain bundle." Pearl bit into her chocolate-dipped peanut butter cookie.
The trick, Felix explained, is to make yourself have fun.
"That sounds like one of my mom's old threats," Pearl said. "'If you don't stop that snivelling, I'll give you something to cry about!'"
"Exactly!" Felix beamed at her. He looked at the screen again.
According to neuroscientist George Stefano, he continued as the caffeine jockeys at nearby tables tipped their heads toward him, pleasure is the brain's way of subconsciously ranking what is most important to us. And physiologist Michel Cabanac believes pleasure is the transient result of closing a gap between what we feel and what we want to feel.
He raised his eyes and gazed brightly from Pearl to Barb to Mike. "So all we have to do is make writing more pleasurable than the alternative!"
"Thumbscrews, for example," Barb said.
The eavesdroppers leaned slightly away.
Pearl broke off another chunk of cookie and asked Felix, "So what do you rank writing against?"
"You know Bud?" Felix sipped his cappuccino.
They all nodded.
"He's very sociable. If he finds out I'm not writing, he comes to visit."
Pearl thought about it: thumbscrews, Bud, cleaning the bathroom fan vent. She licked chocolate off her fingers and picked up her pen. "All right. Stimulate my medial forebrain bundle."
Around the room, twenty pairs of wide eyes snapped in their direction.
Felix got this idea from Bonni Goldberg's Room to Write (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1996). He figured that since everybody loves a holiday, they were bound to enjoy this exercise.
The federal government, Goldberg says, has granted you one day to declare as a holiday. What will you name it? What is being honored? How is this holiday celebrated? Which businesses stay open and which close? What doesn't happen on this day? Be whimsical, cynical, humorous, serious, or outrageous.