Making Literary Lemonade: Or how to use the Very Concerned Environmentalist as a character in your next novel.

I have to start with a disclaimer. I am not anti-environment, nor do I disrespect concerned environmentalist. I love our planet and want to take care of it to the best of my ability. I admire people who feel the same and act on their conviction. That is, until they become so righteous that they are blind to their immediate environment and the humans who coexist with them.

Okay, now that is clear I can ask–how many of your remember the ubiquitous posters that said, “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade”? For a time, I think in the 1980s, they were plastered to the wall of nearly every office, classroom, or other public gathering place I entered.

“Make Lemonade,” flashed through my mind as I stood in line at a new super store that recently opened in our town of 60,000. You may know the chain, the one with great, fresh produce. It has only been open a couple of weeks, and the new employees are still trying to figure things out and get a routine going. In the meantime, it seemed everyone in town, plus several thousand from the adjoining counties, surged into the store around 11:00 a.m. last Saturday.

Self-check works great unless you have a dozen different produce items, not all of which have codes attached. So, I opted for a normal check-out line (for some inexplicable reason the quick-check lines–12 items max–was closed). I waited patiently while an elderly man fumbled and grumbled and finally figured out how to use his debit card. The cashier, a sweating, slightly overwhelmed young woman, was helpful and courteous to him.

Next in line, directly in front of me, was a woman, maybe 35 years old, with a heavily loaded cart. Once she got all her items on the conveyor belt, she stepped back and the cashier began to scan the first item. At that point, the VCE (very concerned environmentalist) stopped the cashier from putting an item in a plastic bag on the turntable. She produced a large, cloth bag, stuffed with more wadded-up cloth bags, and plunked them down in front of the casher. The message was clear.

Okay, cloth bags save landfills. I get that. What I didn’t get was that the VCE expected the cashier to extract the crumpled bags, one at a time, shake them out, attach them to the turntable that held the other bags, and fill them–again one at a time and to the VCEs specifications–then place them in the woman’s cart while the VCE stood there with a smug, self-satisfied look on her face, declaring to the rest of us that SHE–at least–cared. But, clearly not about the line that now reached far in back of me, or what the sweating, trying-to-be-accomodating, young cashier was going through.

The whole procedure took about five times longer than normal, and it occurred to me that, at the very least, the VCE could have assisted the cashier–or simply have the grocery items loaded back into the cart and fill the bags herself once she was through the line.

So, annoyed as I was by her lack of consideration, I realized this was another lemon from which to make literary lemonade. She will be a character in one of my short stories or novels. Maybe not a main character, but the catalyst for a robbery gone wrong in a crime story, or a love interest of a character in a book (the odd couple format), or maybe just a character who is her own worst enemy, caught up in a self-righteous fog.

Regardless of how I use it, the incident will give me a real-life description of a place, an incident, a character who will flesh out a scene. Plus, it will help me keep my blood pressure at a healthy level if I can think like a writer, not like a frustrated shopper. So, the next time the person in the car that cuts you off and flips you the bird infuriates you, take a second look and notice their ratty haircut or junker of a car. It can all go into your fiction.

4 thoughts on “Making Literary Lemonade: Or how to use the Very Concerned Environmentalist as a character in your next novel.

  1. I just got back from a trip to Hawaii where I noticed (in two different grocery stores) that all the bags at the checkout are paper. No choice of “paper or plastic” – at least not at the grocery stores. I wonder if they see too much plastic washed up on their beaches, or what …

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