It was a muggy afternoon in Midtown Memphis almost 17 years ago, and I had agreed to meet my ex-girlfriend in the Starbucks on Union Avenue. The ghost of Elvis was nowhere in sight. If he had any sense, he was hiding somewhere there was air conditioning.
We had been broken up at that point for many months, but we were still friendly. But tomorrow, I was leaving to move to Raleigh, NC, and when I told her, it made sense to see each other one last time to say goodbye. I was pretty sure I wasn’t coming back.
We sat at a table by the door.
“So, what is your plan for when you get there?” she asked.
“I found a room in a rooming house on Craigslist and sent them the money for the first month to hold it. I’ll find a make-do job, and then work on my freelance writing to make a living.”
She stared at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing. I’m just remembering why we broke up. You do realize that isn’t a plan, right?”
She was right. It wasn’t a plan. But then again, she was a planner. I am a pantser.
There is an old joke to the effect that there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don’t. I’m one of the ones who do. And I think most people are either planners or pantsers.
We took her kids to Dollywood once.
She had prepared a three-ring binder. With tabs, one for each day we were to be there. Each day had a written agenda. There was a map of the park she had downloaded from the web, with the optimal route highlighted. There was a daily anticipated budget.
My plan had been, “Show up at Dollywood.” But then again, I’m a pantser.
I like the term pantser, and am actively lobbying for its inclusion in the broader cultural lexicon. It’s someone who does not plan but prefers instead to fly by the seat of their pants (pants. Pantser. Get it?).
I first heard it when taking a course on writing fiction, and the teacher contrasted the two styles of plot development. Some actively plan, usually with detailed outlines and charts, the direction of their story. Joyce Carol Oats advocates this view by saying, “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
Others (like me) try to write one true sentence and then another, and the current sentence tells you what the next one should say. All I know for sure is the sentence I’m writing right now. “Outlines,” says Stephen King, “are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”
Ouch. But yeah. #TeamPantser
This past Monday, my wife and I celebrated 13 years of marriage. And like the pantsers we are, we did it by taking a whirlwind weekend trip to New Orleans – some three hours down the road. We had a few solid blocks in place before we got there. The purpose of the trip was to see the Van Gogh Interactive Exhibit before it left town. Beyond that, our goals consisted of things like “Eat good food” and “Have a good time.”
The night before we left to go down, I went on Priceline and got us a decent hotel room. When we got to the hotel and checked in, I went on Yelp, searched by “distance” for restaurants that were $$$ and under, and we sat in the hotel and discussed the merits of our options. We ended up eating amazing tacos from a local taqueria. The next morning we grabbed hotel breakfast, then the Van Gogh Exhibit, and then we went on Yelp again, looking for a nearby restaurant for lunch.
The highly praised gumbo restaurant around the corner was a pandemic victim and sat empty and silent. The burger joint with patio dining was a cramped convenience store with a broken picnic table under a tree. Then we tried finding a place that promised “New Orleans Soul Food,” and we never did find it after driving slowly up and down the street three times. Finally, in frustration, we stopped at a barbecue joint just because it looked open. After an hour of driving around looking for food, anything would have tasted good.
But it was delightful. The food was good, if not amazing. The atmosphere of the place was legit, and the people were fun. We talked about the exhibit and marveled at what we had seen, and talked about the 13 years we had spent getting there. It was, in every way, a good meal.
Would the meal have been better if I had made reservations at a fancy place in the Quarter two weeks before? Were we missing out by not having planned the weekend? Had we built an agenda and scheduled more “fun” into the 24 hours we were in the city, would it have been a better trip?
Maybe, but I doubt it. But then again, I’m a pantser.