Today’s guest post is by Chris Rosales.
What was I gonna say?
It happens to all of us. My own particular method of avoidance is to pretend it does not exist. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Eliminate the sense of injury, and one eliminates the injury.” But what if we find ourselves blocked despite even the most monastic feats of athleticism in the game of conscious vs. unconcious personal-jinx?
1. Brain food.
Run to the TV. Watch a movie. Read and read and read nonfiction. NON-fiction. Use this time that you cannot write to soak yourself in any and all information, to chew it up raw, gnaw at it.
See, you can’t write because there’s nothing left in you. You left it all on the last pages of the last book like your printer’s ink cartridge requires an IV hookup—that is, if you did it right.
Sometimes we’re blocked because we fear we aren’t the ones to write, we don’t deserve it, or we haven’t done enough.
I once had a wonderfully gruff writing instructor, the kind who smoked a pipe and carried a leather backpack that looked more like a saddle bag. He’d been sick as of late, and we’d all just found out he had cancer. As students, we didn’t know how to bring it up, how to acknowledge that strange revelation all students must come to—teacher is human—and so we didn’t bring it up at all. We asked him questions about writing.
I asked him if writers needed somehow to live more of life in order to gain, well, you know, EXPERIENCE. A distant bell tolled anytime I so much as thought the word.
He lit his pipe, watching the palm trees of Long Beach over his cupped hands, then tossed the match away and said, “Son, life is gonna hand you more than enough experience without you asking for it.”
Not the scientific kind. All the best research comes from observation. Those beautiful moments that make your writing come alive, that make your reader take a deep breath, I guarantee they came from something you caught out of the corner of your eye. So take notes. Write that something down.
Maugham said he felt he’d sacrificed something by living as a writer. He thought that to observe, one had to remove oneself from life momentarily, and I suppose he felt that these many moments of removal from life added up, accumulated, until one found oneself reaching out to touch the world and touching only cold glass. Maybe our fingertips fog it, leave mazey prints, but people on the other side would puzzle over what they were—snowflakes, glaucoma, smudges on the lens of perception?
He was wrong. That glass was already there. It’s there from the moment we realize that I am me and you are you. That I have pain, that I have joy, but mine can never be yours and never can yours be mine. And writing: well, it’s a ball-peen hammer. It’s what we do in case of emergency. Or maybe it’s a long lost chunk of gravel popping up off the highway, slowly and steadily spidering the glass. Or maybe it’s that hard-candy frozen to the windshield, and when you tug it loose all the glass turns to confetti.
No matter. Suddenly the air is moving again, and you can touch things and people, and they can touch you—from across time, across oceans, or maybe just from the other room. You are an artist, by profession or nature. You know the glass cannot remain. Not if you are to survive, not if you are to be happy. Now or over the course of a lifetime, you will not let that glass go unbroken.
Rosales is the author of SILENCE THE BIRD, SILENCE THE KEEPER, which recently won the McNamara Creative Arts Grant and was short-listed for the Faulkner-Wisdom Award. He is also a three-time winner of Center of the American West’s Thompson Award for Western American Writing. Most recently his work is forthcoming in 5280: Denver’s Magazine and has appeared in Bull: Men’s Fiction. He runs a blog at http://word-is-bone.blogspot.com/