Sometimes I can’t write if I hear a clock ticking.
Or if the room is too quiet. Or if it seems my surroundings are too still, like every reminder of life has been squeezed out of the room, the atmosphere, the universe. (Confession: When this happens, I am prone to exaggerate, repeat words or ideas, even disregard grammar rules.)
For some reason, I continue breathing. Here at the keyboard, I am stilled but alive, yearning for expression, but paralyzed.
I have a pulse. I have neural recognition and mobility. I think I have function and purpose, but I cannot prove it. I know I am breathing because I am not in physical distress.
I need, I don’t know – SOMETHING – to trigger synaptic activity, to translate SOMETHING, ANYTHING to the page. A sound, a rhythm, a reminder that time is passing and I am on Earth to record something, register a feeling, highlight an idea, or something, somewhere, even if only through a fictional character, a made-up scene, a story that doesn’t exist – and won’t exist – until I give it contours, until I infuse this manufactured reality with meaning, construct a plot, add depth, or dream to rise beyond razored edges with poignant conflict.
What is this beast that confounds me? (Truly an agile, almost Shakespearean transition.)
This beast, this monster – it’s something so big it loses size, like being overwhelmed, or buried, or ignored, by silence. (This is not a contradiction, but rather irony suffused with dissonance.) Ticking, ticking. Relentless. And then, this beast – also mundane, at times solicitous in its own domain. I search for the forgotten, perhaps abandoned and sometimes pulsating life form within Poe’s heart, another creature that never dies.
My intellect tells me nothing holds me down, but I can’t move. I honestly CANNOT MOVE. (OKAY, I GOT TO THE CAPS LOCK KEY. BUT TRUST ME, I CANNOT MOVE IN A MEANINGFUL WAY. AT LEAST NOT, RIGHT, NOW.)
IF ONLY I COULD HEAR THE TICKING OF A CLOCK, COULD KNOW LIFE GOES ON, COULD BELIEVE THOUGHTS AND COLORS, TEXTURES AND MEMORIES – THESE ALL GIVE MEANING TO MY EXISTENCE BECAUSE I WILL COMMUNICATE ALL THAT I SEE, HEAR, FEEL. I PROMISE!
But here, nothing.
ONE DEEP BREATH.
I’m moving again, perhaps more confident, more assured of why I am here, at the keyboard, in this time, this place.
I am the writer, the one who describes, relates, understands, conveys. I inform, interpret, analyze. I share. And then —
Illusions take shape. (Is that even possible?)
With fingers poised above home row, reality tugs at my brain. I fight the urge to push back. It’s the invisible demon again. (At least I think this devil is invisible; I can’t see it, but I know it’s there.) Right there, yet again, perched on my shoulder. Then the jumping, up and down, a sour voice hissing in my ear: You can’t write! You can’t write.
Next, more menacing: You can’t write. Not now, not ever. Never! Never! Never!
(The devil gets italics AND boldface. You caught that, right?)
Another day: I sit down to write and stop before I even get going, before I’ve found a reason to smile because I like that word there, or this idea nudged alongside a deft description here, or that unplanned cadence or measured tone, perhaps even alliteration that works but seems more like a lucky find than a developed result. Before I get to any of that, I stop, move away, decide something has to be done before I can get going, before I get to be the musician playing keyboards, underscoring today’s existence with a steady beat, adding melody to musing.
Do I hear a clock ticking?
Today is one of THOSE days, when sound – any sound – is an unleashed fury, the wind doesn’t soothe but singes, more like a dreaded goodbye from a close friend than a harbinger of welcome change or harbor of comfort. Then, like so many times, silence becomes the treasure in today’s realm, even though the clock, just, keeps, ticking. …
… on and on and on …
This is what it’s like when I can’t write: The clock keeps ticking, or it doesn’t. Or the devil convinces me I should be doing something else because there are so many other things that need to be done and, well, you know, THE CLOCK IS TICKING!
Or it’s not.
If a door is shut, then it needs to be opened. Same with windows. And the inverse is true as well: If a door or window is open, it needs to be closed. Maybe I should start a load of laundry before I write; maybe then I will think I’m being productive and more likely to ignore distractions because I am convinced that I’ve earned the right to sit down and write.
So how does the next scene go?
I’m headed upstairs, walking through the kitchen when I see the green light glowing on the dishwasher. The solitary green light means only one thing: the cycle has finished. I’ll just take a minute, empty the dishwasher, get a bottle of cold water from the fridge, and then I won’t have any reason to stop writing once I get going.
I put the last glass in the cupboard, close the silverware drawer with my hip. Then, I see it: One of the bulbs in the fixture over the fireplace is out. Where did I put the spares? I know I bought extras the last time I went to the store, or someone did. I know we have more bulbs, and it’s a lot easier to read with all bulbs in place. …
… and on and on and on …
There are so many reasons not to write. So many battles to fight to get to the keyboard, so many challenges to overcome to start writing, and so many hassles that bedevil my best creative efforts, however they present themselves.
Now the blank black sky of my cherished pre-dawn hours is blueing. A creeping exhaustion pervades. I lift my fingers off of the keyboard, anchor my elbows on the blond wood of my desk, rest head in hands.
Desperation, hints of fear, and then, at last, hope rises. Perhaps the biggest challenge is embracing solitude in quiet hours. Chasing affirmation, I close my eyes. I begin typing:
The writer writes
to stake a claim
in the empty sky.