The Day the Writing Died

The blank page. Sometimes it beckons you all sexy like a boozy lover and sometimes it taunts you like a high school bully.

Most of the time I know what I want to write about. I know because I walk through my normal life and something gets “highlighted” in my brain. On Tuesday, it was the trip to the doctor’s office. I knew I’d write about it on Wednesday the minute I saw the picture of Jesus at the shoulder of the surgeons during surgery. The minute I saw that picture, I knew this visit was what I wanted to express. From that moment on, the check-up took on two dimensions – the actual experience and what I wanted to say or point out about the experience. The same thing happened when I sat at the bar with wifesy and the ex-sorority girl next to us said, “I made my quota and all I got was a corporate high- five.” I knew right then I’d write something about a corporate high-five.

I think this experience is akin to developing an “ear” in writing. I know my experience in stand-up comedy has taught me to do this. I can even remember actual moments that certain bits “came to me”.  That is what the experience feels like. It feels like the joke just “comes to me”. I remember sitting on a subway train one day, across from me was a man reading the NY Post. On the cover of the Post was a gesticulating, terrorist-looking, mullah with a crazy eye and a hook arm. The crazy eye and prosthetic arm really stuck out.  I mean, hello!  The very next night I was doing a bit about a terrorist with a disability and why a handicapped terrorist is more difficult to deal with than a fully capable terrorist.

Songwriters and musicians talk about this idea, as well. Elton John and Adele for example – recently I’ve heard them both say that their best songs are written in a flash. The ideas just “come to them”. You can toil and struggle over a song or a written piece and STILL get something quite good if you have the foundation and if you’re willing to put in the time, but the best pieces, the moments of bliss, definitely come in a flash.

The opposite of this experience is the fear that creativity will end. I often find myself thinking, “What if today is the day that I have nothing left to say?” What if today is the day that the writing dies? I don’t think that day ever truly comes for a creative person, but at the same time, I don’t think the thought that creativity is finite ever fully leaves you either.

So, you’re stuck in this vortex between creating and a worry that you suck, that you have nothing. This is the reality that has caused the collective portrait of the truly tortured artist.

What does one do when this happens? I think the best thing to do is write anyway. It sounds so trite. It sounds so new age, like I’m suggesting that you put on a muumuu, sip herbal tea, and attempt some “morning pages”. The truth though is that often the doing comes BEFORE the motivation. In other words, you become motivated once you do it. Not the other way around.

I can’t tell you how motivating this blog has been for me and I’m not even one month into my post-a-day goals. Again, I think this is due to my stand-up background. I need the feedback. And if it’s feedback from strangers, even better. That’s part of the reason why I write this blog under a pseudonym.

Before I did this, I wrote a book of essays that came VERY close to selling. Then I wrote a fiction book – a 70,000 word fiction book that I ended up tossing. Nothing was worse than that fiction writing experience for me because I felt like I was writing in an abyss. I was dug in deep and had the stinking feeling that only my first chapter was any good. So, what was I to do with the other 19 chapters? I suppose every experience makes us grow, but there had to be a quicker way to discern the difference between my suckage and my not-bads. With this blog, I never feel that way. I write a piece and I know pretty quickly whether there’s something there or not. Needless to say, all of your feedback – whether it’s silently through the stats or the like button or a comment on my facebook feed – has been invaluable. I’m so glad I started it.

Now, I have many pieces that I could just plunk up here. Pieces that I’ve written earlier before I started this process. Pieces that I know are at least decent to good and I’m sure at one point I will post some, but for now I’m creating something brand new EVERY day. Even when I have no idea what to write, when nothing’s been highlighted in my head, and on days when I think my creativity has died. Like today, for example.

Maybe it is these moments of confusion and nothingness that are the most human. As I write this piece, I keep thinking of that moment in the film Pollock. Jackson Pollock is in the tub after yet another bender and he brings up maybe having kids to his lovely wife played by the amazing Marcia Gay Harden. I think he brings this up because having a child is also creative. You put your energy into this little human being and perhaps, at times, it’s even more gratifying than banging your head against a wall and wondering if what your painting or writing or sculpting – is any good.

Pollock’s wife is appalled by the idea of bringing a child into their situation. She says to him something to the effect of, “You want me to bring a child into this world? Into our situation when all YOU do is NEED, NEED, NEED. That’s all you do is NEED, NEED, NEED.” It’s one of those white-knucklingly brilliant moments of acting. In a moment, she says who she is and what her relationship is to Pollock – the artist. She’s his constant caretaker.

I pray that I’m not like that. However, I know that my life is not and will not be the dream I envision and the thing I need it to be – until I have created THE creative thing that I’m proud of. Not everyone needs that. But, I know I do. So, I suppose in that way I NEED, NEED, NEED.

So, thank YOU for reading.  Thank you for being my Marcia Gay Harden.


Photo cred and Sony Pictures

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