I couldn’t write a single word today.
The page was empty, glaring at me, reminding me that it had a purpose to fulfill. Yet, empty it remained as I twiddled the pen between my fingers, until I scribbled down the first thought that came to mind. At first, it read like perfection, a Hallmark greeting that glides off the tongue and caresses one’s heart. But after a moment, its meaning grew stale. I crossed out the line, ending its short poetic life, and waited to start anew.
And so the jaws of anticipation devour me again tonight. I had hoped to perfect this calligraphy and show it to my readers, to complete the cycle of creation and begin another one. Strangers and friends alike inspire me with their stories and humble me with flattering remarks. They tell me my words bring them to tears, brighten their cloudy skies, or purify their lives like fresh air. Today, however, I’m not sure I deserve such praise.
I couldn’t write a single word today,
and so I failed.
Writing is a tricky craft, I’ve discovered. It’s not a simple matter of taking a pencils to paper and performing magic. Instead, it’s born as a passion, a passion that sometimes stumbles and stutters and other times kicks and screams. Then it has to grow. Naturally, nurturing the skill of writing – and learning to balance its split personality – takes patience and practice. In my case, I’ve had to befriend a thesaurus, become one with pens and computer keys, and restrain a desire that churns insatiably during my forty hours of obligatory service each week. Despite my valiant efforts, though, I am still a novice. Shape, muse, and language still flap wildly in my grasp at times, but when they surrender at last, they melt and flow through my funnel of meditation.
The result is extraordinary: A whitewater stream of vision and emotion, a flood of rhymes and dreamscapes. In this stream, I become a mermaid and find my siren voice calling from within. In this beautiful rush, I cup my hands to catch drops of brilliance and pour them onto paper. When this river runs through me, I can write – and when I write, I am content. Tonight, I thirst for that stream, but the riverbed runs dry.
I have failed myself today,
and my blood burns through me
as black ink.
I call it a case of creative anxiety – when words dart out of reach and feelings refuse to be molded, when the voice I’ve found and tended can only choke and sputter. It’s a weight that puts so much pressure on my spirit, I can feel it writhe when I sleep. And as I sleep, I dream of drinking the sweetest panacea from a silver goblet – only to watch the liquid evaporate the second it touches my tongue. This makes me wonder: Does rest ever finds its way into the restless writer’s soul?
Something about that question doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been a restless writer ever since I was a child. With crayons I wrote stories about talking zebras and friends eating pancakes on the beaches of Hawaii. That was the first wave of my passion, and everyone applauded my talent.
Meanwhile, I grappled with this strange power that had started to swell in me. It had clouded my path, hiding the twists and turns I would face along the way, yet it bathed the end in starlight. Without a second thought, I set off on the journey. Through the fog I saw the outlines of branches groping for me. Whispers of encouragement and disapproval dogged me along the way, but rarely did I listen. All I heard – and all I knew – was the poetry inside my head, the meter of my life’s free verse.
So, even as the scalding ink
leaves a blistering stain,
I cannot be dissuaded
from the heartbeat of my existence.
I close my eyes, relieved to feel the flow of slumber for just a moment. Yes, even for the restless, labor is always followed by a lull, pain by clarity, and fear by faith – a belief that neither cracks nor falters. Such conviction comes from only one place: A sense of purpose. Even when I have no time to answer the mermaid, I know what I would say. I’d tell her I am the architect, building on ideas and toiling under the sun until the structure takes its final form; I am the attorney, preparing to print my case and persuade the jury with images and alliteration; and I am the head of state, a rebel who reigns over her microcosm and constantly seeks reform – not in law or justice, but in color and wit.
Satisfied for the night, I close my journal – and epiphany strikes. At first I swear it’s an outlandish notion brought on by anxiety and lack of sleep. Yet, as I ponder it, I realize it makes even more sense. I have not fallen short, as I had thought earlier tonight, but rather I am in the midst of rising. Yesterday’s poem was the latest crest in a chain of highs and lows. My next piece – to be written tomorrow, in three days, or next week – will continue that pattern. Tonight, therefore, is only a valley between two peaks, and I am bound to swing upwards soon.
I open my journal again, not to write but to reflect. Perhaps this passion transcends all purpose. It’s not a casual hobby or an addictive drug, regardless of what others may think. For me, writing has become what roots are to a tree. It catches inspiration in its many forms – life events, people, novels, song lyrics, the woods surrounding my house – and feeds it to me. It stimulates my intellect and encourages me to observe, make mistakes, learn, and grow. Most of all, it sustains me. Even when I can’t complete a sentence, I know I have not died. The world has not suddenly crumbled or gone to black. I am still alive. I still have my craft – my lifeblood – and I refuse to abandon it.
So, even though
I didn’t write a single word today,
I smile at my crossed-out lines
and half-finished phrases.
Tomorrow is another empty page
waiting for my felt-tipped branch,
and I will never fail
as long as I try to fill it.
© Sara Letourneau 2009
Published in the anthology “More Great Writing by People You’ve Never Heard Of”