Writer’s block is not real. When people say they have writer’s block, what I think they mean is that they are unwilling to write a lot of stupid crap. Or that they have suffered a stroke, and can no longer think or communicate in words. One of those two things.
I was in New York a week, and immersed in the artist’s paradise it is (when one doesn’t have to worry about making one’s rent): four plays, three museums, delightful food and drink and sometimes a little too much of it, all the faces, all the amazing feeling for an introvert and a creative person that “we are all in this together,” which, for all their snotty and cold reputation, New Yorkers ooze. Almost everyone, all the time, is aware of the others in his sphere of smell and hearing and sight, and often people are quite kind in what they offer: washed and decent smells, perfume, their subdued voices, their quiet, their brave and interesting outfits, their hair unlike anyone’s you’ve ever seen. Other people, sure, invade your space with wanting you to donate money, or tell you about the Bible, or take their mixtape CD, but they are actually, by far, the minority.
I didn’t bring my laptop to New York. I had a notebook, of course, but I was very social on this trip, and had and took almost no time to write. Halfway through the trip, I was missing writing, and eager to get back to my keyboard.
Then I was actually home.
There are different kinds of not wanting to write. Feeling like there’s nothing worth saying. Wanting to avoid work. Knowing there’s something you want to express, but knowing it’s not fully formed yet, and you shouldn’t bother trying to force it. General ego instability, too much worry that what one says won’t be as brilliant as one wants to be, or that whatever comes out is going to be stupid crap (a quite reasonable fear).
All of these symptoms respond pretty well to bribery.
I’ve hated the idea of writing for the last couple of days, resulting in a couple days of dumping my complaints on page after page, and a lot of fretting that I think I know what I want to write my next novel about, but being fully aware that writing it will take more life experience, a phone call, some internet research, and probably a road trip.
A lot of times, I have to buy a special notebook and put a lot of nonsense in it. Many of the totems that suggest themselves to me as important will fall out of the fully realized piece, and new ones will show up. Right now, I think the book is about Georgia pine trees, slavery, the story of Jacob’s ladder, bars, mermaids, old Baptist hymns, and college towns, but I’m probably wrong about some of that.
I decided I would go buy this particular blank book that I had seen earlier in the week, that in addition to the usual coffee drink of unusual price, I would get the book. I have to pretend to myself that what I put in it will be significant and lovely, even though, as I said, not only will the gatherings there be only occasionally useful, but in truth, I will lose all interest in the thing once the writing of the book gets going.
I parked my car and walked to an intersection. The people in front of me were both wearing sneakers and khaki shorts, and walking so slowly I felt like it was August 1850 in Memphis, Tennessee. Oh, how I mourned for Manhattan. We missed the light. We waited. I tried to become interested in what was written on the manhole cover. I thought about what a snob I was because I disapproved of sneakers in nonathletic roles and grown-ups in shorts, and how unattractive that was in itself. We crossed the street, and I had to follow said couple up the block, and then, oh, no, into the shop.
I had been in this shop earlier in the week, as I said, and they had this mermaid journal that I might like, and on my previous visit, a sales clerk who was not just normal salesman friendly (bad enough) but had actually told me she “loved my outfit” in the most insincere tone, again greeted me immediately and started to say, “You look like you’re…” and I pretended not to hear her and kept walking, breathing deeply and darting around all the casually ambling, browsing midwesterners who were all in my way.
I grabbed the book and found a different clerk. “You look liked you knew just what you wanted!” rabid lady said, from somewhere behind me, and I again pretended I didn’t know she was addressing me. It felt bitchy and wonderful.
The normal woman rang up my book. “Someone can get you down here!” rabid lady called.
“She’s got me,” I said. Normal woman took my debit card, and I smiled at her because I felt bad she had to work with rabid lady, who had made me crazy with only about fifteen words, although, to be fair, I was feeling pretty neurotic when I walked in.
I went to coffee, and pulled out the mermaid book, which was looking a little scary, all empty and with all those lines in it, and with those inspirational quotes in it, which I was concerned might be a little too goofy for such a serious endeavor.
One of my baristas called me by name, and the two professors who get their coffee were both sitting peacefully as ever, flipping through books and keeping their empty espresso cups company. I’m still considering what to write today.