As a professional writer—that is, a recreational writer with deadlines who waits tables—coming up with a topic is the most important first step of the writing process.
The unimportant first step of the writing process is refilling my glass with artificially flavored juice from concentrate four or five times. Not because it’s important to stay hydrated while typing, but because I can waste a solid five minutes drinking and refilling.
It’s easy to refill a glass. It’s harder to find a topic that isn’t worthless.
I should know. I’ve written dozens of columns with worthless topics.
But this week I was ready to sit down and write: I met former President George W. Bush.
At least, I thought I was ready to write. You see, I was so desperate to compose something valuable that my brain invented one of the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had. I even remember thinking in my dream. It sure is a good thing I waited to write my column since I ran into George Bush today.
Since I’m on tour with the Tabor Choir this week, my dream took place in the large, mansion-like home of someone who was hosting several of us students.
(I should note that large, mansion-like home-owning people rarely host us, but this was my dream and I wasn’t going to put myself on an air mattress on the cement floor.)
Early in the dream, Secret Service men arrived to secure the house. I think they even placed name cards at each table setting, which is a task I had previously never thought Secret Service men performed.
Perhaps that’s because they’re so secret.
President Bush and his entourage arrived shortly after. He was traveling around the country to recruit college students to volunteer for this year’s Republican presidential campaign.
Mr. Bush was congenial, folksy and much shorter than I anticipated.
I asked him for an autograph, which he signed graciously. He then wrote a note to Hanna and me, but apparently misspelled something because he crumpled the paper up and threw it away.
The three of us then shared a warm conversation in which he asked us all about our lives and we remarkably asked him absolutely nothing about his. Or his presidency. Or what life in the White House is like. Or what other hostess-oriented tasks the Secret Service men perform.
Then I realized I wasn’t wearing pants.
This was devastatingly disappointing, because lack of pants is almost always a sign of dreaming. But I still held onto hope that I was really meeting with President Bush, and that I would have an incredible column topic for this week.
After I put on some pants, Mr. Bush, his entourage, our host family and all of us Tabor students gathered in Bush’s private suite—the mansion-like home had a secret suite!—and sang Josh Groban’s, “You Raise Me Up” around the dining room table. Or maybe Andre Bocelli’s “The Prayer.” It’s becoming hard to recall.
All of this, I remember thinking, was going to make a fantastic column the next morning. Unfortunately, the morning—and reality—came early when I woke up at around 5 a.m. and realized I hadn’t actually met President Bush, but that I was wearing pants.
So then I was left to brainstorm another riveting topic to write. I considered discussing the robin that played chicken with us on the road the next day.
But you know what they say: A Bush in a dream is with two birds. Or something like that.