About Me

My photo

I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

At War with the fine art of Writing


A few years ago, I got a letter from my son, who was away at camp.
Let me amend that: I got an envelope from my son.  I was quite excited to receive the lett— the envelope.  He’d sent two letters within the first week.  The first was printed on a scrap of paper.  It began: “I’m not gonna make it.  Pick me up Sunday…”.  The second came two days later, written in some secret code, with the key included on a separate piece of paper (possibly the remainder of the scrap from the original letter, folded  eleventy-seven times for security purposes, no doubt).  The crux of the coded letter was “having a wonderful time; send money…”
So, after another two weeks, with nothing further to grace my mailbox, I was eager to get something.  I ripped open the envelope, took out a piece of paper, and………………………………………………
Nothing.
He’d sent me paper.  Blank paper.  As in: bright white with translucent blue stripes, college-ruled and fringed in all its perforated glory, unsullied by anything as mundane as pen or pencil.  Perhaps, as a follow up to the encoded letter, this one was written in invisible ink.  I stewed a bit, fretted less, and figured I would have heard, from one of his counselors at least, if he had been abducted by aliens, was suffering from amnesia or was dead— if, in short, there was some physical reason that prevented him from writing.
When I retrieved him a week or so later (after the requisite hugging (from me) and embarrassed shrugging (from him), and the commotion of goodbyes and hellos), I asked him about the Blank Letter.  As it had been less than an hour since I’d picked him up, I tried to keep the aggrieved-mom tone from my voice.  I mostly succeeded.  His reply?  “There were no working pencils, Mom.”
I stared at him as blankly as the “letter” in question.  Never mind the pack of 24 mechanical pencils that had accompanied his eight pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes.  Or the pen that I’d sent in his care package, along with a book of word-finds and sudoku. 

No.  Working.  Pencils. 

In the entire camp, a camp that housed a couple hundred kids and staff at any given moment, not one writing instrument that worked.  For him.  Sigh.
Why, you might ask, do I bring this up?  Why use almost 500 words to lay the groundwork necessary to talk about writing instruments and whether or not they work?
Why?  Because I stare at a blank screen, free-floating pixels at war with the delete key, and I think to myself “No working pencils.”
I seem to be stuck, at war with my art.  Or stymied by it.  Like that character in The World According to Garp, the woman who wrote brilliant first chapters and nothing more, I stop after the first few perfectly wordsmithed sentences, unable to continue, unsure where my writing wants to go, unclear what I’m trying to say.  And if I got quiet, and allowed myself to listen to the voices whispering in my head, I’d be afraid that I really have nothing to say at all.  Easier by far to have no working pencils than to face a blank screen.
So what to do?  Like a recalcitrant teenager, I ignore the computer sitting malevolent and silent on my desk.  Or at least, I ignore the document section; Facebook and youtube seem to work just fine.  At times, I will type at the screen, though I seem to delete way more than I type.  It is an odd little dance that I do, a two step of add and subtract: one sentence written, three thrown away.
I work myself into a frenzy of writer’s block— frustrated, distracted, mopey— and then, glory be!  A friend reminds me to breathe.  Breathe, he says, and take up my pencil.
So I do; I grab onto his metaphysical pencil, and take a deep breath, plunging into the fray once more.  And as is my wont, I write about the thing that scares me the most.  I write about fear, and doubt, and tiny whispers that leave me breathless and drenched in flop sweat, convinced of my ineptitude.  I write, and I delete– but with precision and mindfulness.  I still feel a bit logy after so long an absence, but the pixels are starting to dance instead of stumble.
Breathe.  Find a pencil.  Write.  A writer writes, even through the fear.  How else do I get to hope?  How else do I get to dance?