Writer’s Block

She sits in her bed, wanting a comfortable, quiet place to write. It’s the weekend, and while one kid is napping and the other is quietly watching her husband playing a game, the void of “nobody needs me right now” has apparently not made enough room to be productively creative today.

The blinking vertical line at the top of the page starts to look like a tapping foot as she stares at it, waiting for inspiration. She is kicking herself for not drafting something sooner, reflecting on the excuses she bought time with during the week. But a deadline is a deadline, even if it is self-imposed.

More staring…blink…blink…blink.

She could write about writer’s block, and she starts to, clinging to the idea for dear life, only to find that having writer’s block about writer’s block is a singularly discouraging and frustrating thing.

She knows what she wants to write for the next post, but she can’t bump it up because it’s time sensitive. It has become glaringly obvious to her that the schedule she’s been putting off making for herself is desperately needed. She starts to distract herself with that but then realizes it’s just another thing to be doing instead of writing so she closes the tab she just opened and starts staring at the blinking cursor again.

The cat and one of the dogs are both asleep at the foot of the bed, and as she finds herself wishing she could just roll over and conk out too, she starts to question her location choice. Writing in bed is comfortable, but the blank space in her mind where words usually show up is soft and beckoning like the pillows behind her and now drowsiness has joined the party.

She starts to type again, just to start something, and a narration of her current status is all that comes out. It’s sad, and will likely be entirely uninteresting to her readers, but it’s all she’s got right now. The annoyingly loud tick of her watch matches the blinking of the damn vertical line and her eyes widen in irritation. The universe is mocking her.

All the notes she has about future topics seem dumb, and the inspiration train has still not pulled into the station. She pouts. She fidgets. She welcomes the distraction when her husband comes in to sweetly ask if she needs anything. She welcomes the ping of someone messaging her on another tab. She knows she should close it, but then the ticking watch and blinking line would be her only company.

The dog is snoring. Lightly, but the even sound of a dreaming canine is lulling her to sleep, so she sits straight up. No more cushy pillows to cradle her, she goes back to the narration and rolls her eyes at herself for still not having anything better to write about today. But that’s how it goes sometimes. There are days when nothing but choppy, random sentences make it to the page. There are days when every word seems wrong or weak or boring. But she still writes them. It may not make up very much at the end of the day, but it’s still writing.

She writes a short apology to her readers for not producing something more interesting this go round. Reminds them of her introductory post and how she warned them that sometimes she would fail. She thanks them for their patience and hopes they like the better-planned post that’s promised for next time.

Failure is just a launch pad for growth. Mistakes are inspiration for learning. Weaknesses recognized are seeds planted to reap wisdom.

The writer excuses herself to go tend her garden.

Food, Gloriously Written Food!

Turkish delight, butterbeer, fried green tomatoes, lembas bread. Oh, the world of literary foodstuffs. I’m a sucker for a good book and a good meal, so when I stumble on some food so well written that I can’t help but pout about what I’m missing being stuck on the reality side of the page…my friends, that is heaven. I’m sure if you thought about it right now, you could easily reflect on some kind of snack or feast referred to in a book that made you salivate.

I didn’t have a clue what Turkish delight was until I was an adult (a rosewater flavored gummy sweet), but Edmond’s anticipation, and, let’s face it, his willingness to betray his siblings for another taste, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe had more than piqued my curiosity at this treasured tasty.

As an American, I had many a moment reading Harry Potter as a child where I wondered which foods served at Hogwarts were English traditions or Rowling’s own magical creations, but please bring on the pumpkin pasties and the butterbeer!

I’m sure I’m not alone in this particular sensation. Where the imagined becomes real. The words have triggered an incredible physical reaction that wakens longing, hunger. There should be a word for that particular feeling. If you know it, please share!

My best friend ensured that my first encounter with raw oysters included a glass of champagne because…well, Hemingway:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

 

It is no surprise to me that a common term for someone with a deep, unrelenting, desire to read is “voracious”, an adjective which means – wanting or devouring great quantities of food. Books and food are kindred spirits. They each nourish and feed the mind, body, soul. Good food, like a good book, inspires and satiates all at once. You are left feeling deeply satisfied and equally wanting more. You feel genuine sadness that it is over, but grateful for the experience…one that never really ends because now it’s part of you. That food will turn into energy for your body, and the memory of flavor will linger, subtly altering your tastes and desires for food in the future. That book and its words will sit in your skull until leaping forward to be remembered and questioned and needle its way back into your subconscious, evolving self.

I’ll keep it short and sweet today, this last day of the year, and leave you with a bit of sweetness. As a young girl, maybe eight or so, I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved books. It was winter, and I had just finished the first volume, Little House in the Big Woods. When Texas got a rare treat of snow that stuck and a scant few inches blanketed our yard, I begged my mother to make Maple Syrup Snow Candy, just like Laura did in the book. I can still picture the small, plastic blue bowl that she helped me fill with the clean top layer of snow we delicately scooped up, not wanting to collect the dirt and grass hiding millimeters below. Mom warmed some syrup up on the stove, then helped me drizzle it in my precious bowl of snow. The magic and sheer delight I felt will live with me forever. Something from a cherished book had come to life before my eyes and I could almost smell the wood smoke from the stove in Grandmother Ingalls’ cabin.

If you’re lucky enough to have snow on the ground, here’s a recipe I found that you can try. She even has a few quotes from the book. 

Happy New Year, my friends. I hope it’s filled with delicious food and delightful books. ❤

Bread Crumbs

It isn’t unheard of for me to write a little something, share it with my husband, and have him look up at me and ask, “Where did that come from?” I don’t always know, to be honest, but there are times that I can track an idea by following the breadcrumbs of my mind and the leaps it takes. The starting points are often the most simple and ignorable parts of life, but there they are.

I often find myself distracted from the largeness of life by the minutiae of it. I get caught up in trying to define the exact shade of yellow that is falling from my neighbor’s tree or wondering if the pebbles and rocks ground and mixed into the cement of my street is local or if it is broken bedrock from far away – a material once surrounded by the rugged beauty of earth, exposed and fractured by machines, packaged and shipped by machines, reincarnated by machines to serve as a smooth surface for machines. It’s part curiosity about how things work and part adoration for the stories behind why they do. These questions trigger memories which trigger new ideas which sometimes trigger stories.

For example, there’s a man that waits at a bus stop close to my house no matter the weather Texas happens to be blessing us with. He’s reasonably well-dressed, bearded, but neatly, and carries a leather briefcase. The image clings to my mind as I drive past and I find myself combing through my memory of what he looked like long after I have lost sight of him in my rearview mirror.

Perhaps, I wonder, he is a true, blue eco-warrior doing his part for the environment by using public transportation. Maybe he’s just down on his financial luck. Or maybe he has some intimately personal or psychological reason for not wanting to drive. And that’s where the story starts simmering. By the time I reach my destination I’ve created an entire narrative about this bearded man with a briefcase and a dad-bod.

His wife is fighting cancer. A vicious sort that is slowly leaching her youth. His live-in mother-in-law helps take care of her while he’s away at work. When his wife has an appointment with her life-saving poison the mother carries her in their junky car crammed with car seats, crushed crackers and prescription receipts littering the matted carpet on the floorboards. The pair of midsize SUVs, once housed neatly in their garage, had been traded in for the aging four-door sedan to help cover what the insurance didn’t. The Bearded Hero is quietly living an ongoing sacrifice, though he would loathe hearing it referred to that way. He spends extra hours at the office, underappreciated for all he does for his boss and co-workers. Even more of his valuable time is spent on that damn bus travel that extends his commute. And every day, as he stands at the stop, waiting for the cough and wheeze of the city bus to come over the hill and carry him away from his love and the life he’s sacrificing for, the little boy inside of him still carries a torch for everything he dreamt his life would be.

By this point, I’m brushing tears from my eyes, crying for a man I do not know and a wife I have invented. But it could be real. So a silent prayer is said for whatever that man’s life really looks like – whatever pains and difficulties have manifested. Because, regardless if I’m right or just a crazy writer pulling at a thread, we all could use a little extra grace.

The characters of the man at the bus stop and his family are easy to grieve and root for. It’s simple to slip into their shoes and trudge alongside them in the trenches of life. I can imagine the pain of setting aside dreams because you feel obligated to tend to other things. Can’t you? I’ve had cancer and mortality touch my life in ways that made it easy to slip away from my goals with a half-hearted promise to return and settle myself into “caretaker”. Just as easily, I can lay alongside the wife in her bed that is swiftly molding to the shape of her shrinking body. I cannot relate to the illness itself, though I have witnessed it in others, but I can relate to the thoughts that eat at your mind when all you can do is exist. I am horrendously harsh on myself on quite a frequent basis about my mothering and wifing, sistering, daughtering, friending…writering. How much more difficult and guilt-ridden it must be for someone truly incapable of performing on all cylinders when so much of life is calling for attention and care.

That’s where the tears come from. From that place of knowing just enough of what it feels like to empathize with the fiction come to life in my heart. That’s where the good stories are born. The books I’ve read where the author has delicately teased out emotion, allowing it to bloom quietly just as it would, had all of it been true — those are the ones that stick with me. Because no matter the setting, how fantastical or unimaginable the situation may be, the emotions are real. That’s the difference between a sentence wonderfully wrought, but not wonderfully put.

In case you were wondering, I’m shooting for the latter.