Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Playing with Blocks

It’s nearly eleven. My wife sent me into my office around 9:30 or 10 after I wavered about whether or not to watch a movie. She’s relaxing on the sofa between our two tiny dogs. Sadly, it’s now 11. The film she is watching is nearing its denouement, and I have yet to complete a single paragraph. Until now.

In my reveries about this blog, writer’s block is not an issue. The ideas, like the tulips that edge our house, should simply push through the soil and stretch toward some source of light. But that simile, like all similes, will break down if you examine it closely enough.

In fact, sometimes, there is absolutely nothing organic about the writing process. Instead, you find yourself staring at a blank page. You might be overwhelmed by the possibilities as endless as the varieties of avian song. Or worse, you could imagine that your flock of possibilities has migrated south for the winter. The words aren't written, and if you’re anything like me, that’s when the anxiety sets in. Perhaps, all I need is a little inspiration…

In college, much of my time was devoted to the search for such inspiration. It was a haphazard quest that took me, in wee hours of the night, to dive bars, basements filled with heat lamps, and the deep woods of a park that bordered campus. I imagined myself and my friends to be on the cusp of a neo-hippy movement. I even fantasized that our generation, with our more enlightened education, could somehow fulfill the visions that were first espoused by that hippie underground. I could be a poet who changed the world. Man, was I naive.

In retrospect, that period in my life could easily be described by the building action of an after-school special. If I’d kept following that path (in this imaginary Hallmark film), I would have been slain by gang violence, gotten arrested by campus police, or been convinced by a certain psychotropic substance that I really could fly. Of course, if I were a woman, the script would have called for an unwanted pregnancy. But that’s the problem with melodrama: we rarely experience such worst-case scenarios. Those dilemmas are for those less fortunate than us. We imagine such circumstances are the domain of the poor, the deranged, or the idiots among us. Sometimes, I think naivety is contagious.

For me, I realized I had problems the day that I checked my bank balance at an ATM, saw 7 dollars, took out a 5-dollar bill, and walked across the street to buy a drink. I sat in a booth by myself that afternoon, wondering what I’d just done, and what I’d do next. Somehow, I made it to my next loan check without skipping a meal, but after that drink, I swore to change.

But change, like writing, is a process. Later that year, I came across a poem that detailed the delicate movements of a water bug with such precision that it was actually moving. I compared the poem to my own poetry and could not find that kind of attention. And my writing suffered from this ridiculous comparison. Worse, I found myself thinking that certain illicit substances could help one replicate that kind of attention by convincing one to stare for very long periods at vegetation and walls. I succumbed to the temptation, while rationalizing the decision with the notion that this was for my writing. Luckily, I had a few bad experiences generated by my psyche, and by summertime, I drank occasionally but no longer sampled illicit substances.

Of course, I kept writing. Every once in a while, I think about searching out inspiration like a beat poet who is lost in time, but such thoughts are fleeting. I was never a huge fan of the beats, and I’ve learned a thing or two about writer’s block. Now, I accept such long moments of indecision. They come and they go, often leading a writer’s mind into an unexplored thicket of thought. In fact, I’ll say it: writer’s block is a blessing. It belies the notion that anyone can be a writer. If, one morning, a bout of writer’s block convinces me I have nothing to say, I’ll gladly hang up my figurative pen. After all, I can still earn a decent living and enjoy the life I have with my family. But until I run into the block that I can’t break, I know that inspiration is everywhere—as long as you remember to sit down with your writing implements whenever you can.


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