following essay was produced as part of my 2013 effort for the
November National Novel Writing Month effort. As such, please
understand that while I did give it a quick review, it has not
gone through the same proofreading and editing I normally try
to give all of the material posted on this site.
always make some mistakes. There are errors to be found throughout
this web site, and many exist despite dozens of attempts to correct
problems. That said, ask that you approach this material in the
spirit intended – a basic thought, slightly worked out and very
informally researched, delivered in the hopes of writing more
than 50,000 words by the end of November.
~ ~ ~
twenty years ago, I wrote an essay called “Just open the door.”
original piece was for a creative writing class, and by the time
it was written I had learned that in the experimental setting
of sharing pieces with other writers, often doing things that
involved taking some risks was a good idea. Now, they didn’t need
to be risky as in risqué, but it always helped to really
spark conversation in the group in order to get the most (and
often best) feedback.
the heart of that piece was a visit from a friend pretty much
right around the time it was written. A girl I knew from school
was visiting, and as we walked to my car I went to open her door…
did you do that?”
opened my door. Do you open doors for your male friends?”
led to a discussion -- well, I suppose more of a lesson
than a discussion -- about how I was putting a woman in her place
by opening the door for her. Apparently, she was convinced and
wanted me to know, in some Freudian corner of my sub-conscious
mind opening that car door was my way of telling her that she
was inferior to me.
be absolutely correct if you believed that lesson was a surprise
spoke with many friends after that -- almost exclusively my female
friends. I wanted to know if this girl was right. Was I putting
a woman in her place by opening doors for her? Or, was she just
I asked said opening doors was a good thing. (That concept was
were also additional thoughts shared with me. One friend told
me she would break my arm if this encounter caused me to stop
opening doors for women.
fact, the women I asked pretty much also unanimously agreed that
“she’s crazy”… the actual responses I’ll omit here since we want
to maintain a polite atmosphere… and in a collective discussion
that developed during a slow afternoon at work, they added that
they felt she was giving women a bad name. Since my intent was
a kind gesture, they believed the problem with opening the door
was hers and not mine… and that effectively she in turn
was guilty of exactly what she was accusing me of doing.
was putting me in my place, so to speak.
was told to keep opening doors. (And… for the most part… I still
ended up crafting an essay out of it that contained some basic
rules that I never intended to break. I wasn’t looking for some
sort of gender war… covering the opening of doors or who should
be picking up the check on a date. And it wasn;t some exhaustive
and meaningful list. Instead, this incident had led me to thinking
about things I felt you should always do, if for no other reason
than to be polite.
was reading the list over recently and although the essay has
stood up against time about as well as that friendship. I haven’t
been in any contact with her at all since that visit more than
twenty years ago. While containing some incredibly good concepts
that got me to raise my eyebrows several times, it needs to be
revisited, rewritten, and edited.
it came to mind the other day, and I thought it might be kind
of fun to return to the piece.
original essay began with opening the door, and just kind of exploded
into a few other areas. Because I liked the subject and its potential,
but never liked the article produced, I ended up trying to write
it several times even back then… starting and stopping and starting
again, over and over. The final versions from those drafts varied
tremendously by the time I wrapped them up.
I haven’t even attempted to modify or and re-write the piece one
more time. That will come later.
now, I approached the rules contained in the essay original. And
I have some thoughts about whether or not they still apply.
a way, this essay is really what this In My Backpack
site has always been about… works in progress, sharing thoughts,
and trying to develop material as I move along.
~ ~ ~
were heading out to dinner, and as we approached my car I continued
slightly ahead of her to the passenger side door.
opened the door for her.
a conversation began. Something like this…
did you do that?”
opened my door. Do you open doors for your male friends?”
followed that conversation can best be described simply as the
material that would spark many days and nights of debate with
pause for a moment… The Jerk and Steve Martin…
It was unbelievable. These guys jumped me. Tried to get these
flowers. I got ‘em for you. It’s kind of a traditional date
Marie: Yeah, I’ve heard of that.
of a traditional date deal…”
now back to our story.
door had been opened for a friend. And yes, a female
friend. But I wasn’t seeking some sort of romantic return… had
no thoughts of a relationship… and honestly wasn’t thinking of
anything beyond opening the door.
wasn’t opened as some kind of traditional date deal.
said, during the later discussions I had with friends… and many
of those were female friends… the subject did turn from opening
doors into certain do and do-not-do items. (And traditional date
deals.) And that got me thinking.
are some of the things that I do… that I cherish… that I believe?
I came up with a list.
the years, the list has taken a bit of a beating. I actually find
the full essay a very intriguing piece of material for editing
and a re-write down the road. I honestly believe we can revisit
the very specific quoted exchange as well. (The above is the intent
and not the word-for-word.)
original intents of the list don’t seem quite as strong. But as
I look it over, most of the ideas still make some sense. So here
is that original list…
Cake is important enough to justify the requirement of capitalizing
it at all times.
when to speak.
when to be quiet.
giving or receiving, flowers for no reason at all are about
as good as it gets.
you’re guilty of doing it… apologize.
they come to a theater, even if you have it on tape at home,
never, never, NEVER miss an animated Disney
open the door.
original essay was completed when Disney was in the middle of
a simply unprecedented run. The Little Mermaid and Beauty
and the Beast had been to theaters, with Aladdin
and The Lion King on the way. It was a brilliant stretch
and true revival to solidify their place on the animation throne.
while other studios have come along to offer a challenge, Disney
now owns Pixar (instead of their early-years-of-Pixar association
with each other), and… The Princess and the Frog, Tangled,
Frozen… Disney in in the midst of some very special things.
thing is, the true intent of that line was not to get you into
theaters playing Disney movies. That was kind of an added bonus.
Instead, it was to have some time for appreciating the world,
slowing things down, and having some of the wide-eyed innocence
of youth in each of your days.
the frosting comment.
of my old roommates… Hi Mark!… was dating a girl way back when.
(She eventually became, and to this day still is, his lovely bride…
Hi Karen!) Mark, along with my other roommate, Mike, really created
an appreciation for cooking within me. And while they showed me
the basis for what has become my legendary stir fry, along with
a true understanding of all the emotions that go along with a
simmering-all-day sauce, I brought to the table desserts. It should
be noted, Karen LOVES chocolate.
making several cakes back in those days, I would occasionally
come across one of the evil truths of baking… not every cake comes
out of the pan perfectly. They can break and crumble. And that’s
where the frosting comes in. Because if you know how to apply
frosting… and maybe know a few tricks for decorating… well, frosting
can fix everything.
I’ve moved along in years though, I’ve begun to appreciate how
that could be misinterpreted. After all, the truth is that the
cake is the foundation and the real substance. And I am most certainly
not saying that a good and well done covering can hide a damaged
instead, consider this. Frosting is the finishing touch. And consider
that since it was the intent.
is what you do to wrap up the presentation you want to make. It’s
how you unveil your work and deliver the first impression.
I write a column, there are absolutely going to be words that
need to be changed, spelling errors, reorganizing thoughts, and
a significant combination of other problems that need to be addressed.
The essay and its central themes create the cake. The frosting
of the project is that proofread and editing.
that finishing touch that moves something from giving it three-quarters
of an effort to really delivering all of your best. It’s the follow
through that shows you not only care about the work you do, but
also care about making it appealing for your audience.
with that, for now, we return to where we started this essay and
where the list finishes… the opening of a door.
I wrote this article… well over two decades ago… I had my first
car. It had four doors. And, it did not have any kind of automatic
locks. You had to unlock a door with a key. (And as I recall,
the key for the door and the key for the ignition were two different
this young lady, full of conversation and questions and accusations
and opinions and sound and fury, didn’t seem to appreciate was
that I always unlocked the passenger door first if I
was driving with someone. Female friends… male friends… if there
were two or more people getting into my car, I would go to the
passenger side, open the door, and then flip the lever inside
that door to unlock my driver’s door. (Which also unlocked the
wasn’t putting a woman in her place by opening the door… I was
putting a passenger in place. I didn’t view it from the perspective
of a chauvinist… I saw it as being a thoughtful driver.
to that end, I do plan to try and be mindful of my surroundings,
to be thoughtful, and to always open the door.