It occurs to me that every writer who has ever experienced, then overcome, writer’s block has written about his/her own sure-fire, can’t-miss, never-fail cure-all. I’ve read about cures that range from simple transcendental meditation, to transcendental meditation laced with a fifth of Scotch, to inky quill-applied acupuncture tattoos in homage to masters ranging from William Shakespeare to Sheb Wooley. Well, I say, ‘Phooey!’
Yeah, sister, you heard me right, ‘Phooey!’ And I can tell by the smirk on your face that you agree. Who needs the chicanery of medicine show impresarios and carnival barkers, right? The only real cure for Shywordatosis –commonly called writer’s block--is writing. Can I get an Amen? Thank you.
Yessir, folks, if you want to cure your writer’s block, just write something, dammit! Could it be any simpler?
Oh, I can hear you whining already.
But I don’t have anything to write about.
Then, maybe you’re not really a writer, Jethro. What, do you live in a vacuum? Can’t you recognize the dramas, conflicts, ironies, absurdities, calamities, and comedies that rap knuckles on your heavy-browed forehead every day? Even if your life is duller than Sherman-Williams Flat Latex (a statistical impossibility), surely you share your orbit with someone worthy of a few words of note, right? Write about your grandfather’s fascination with flatulence, or your bag-boy’s flagrant acne. Write about the postman who talks to himself endlessly as he meanders up and down your block. Or your eighth-grade algebra teacher who wore shoes five sizes too large, and held them on with rubber-bands. You cannot tell me you don’t know people like this. Think family.
Hey, there are over seven billion potential story-petri-dishes camped right in your ethereal backyard, for heaven’s sake. And millions of them are doing all kinds of weird, wonderful, wild, what-the-hell things twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. And you can’t find anything to write about? Hell, we haven’t even talked about politicians and governments yet. And, don’t forget, family.
You say Melville stole your white whale, and now you’re barren? Do I really need to say it? Shame on you!
But my muse has abandoned me.
Oh, please. What, are you seven? Your invisible friend won’t come out and play? If writing was all about fairy dust and magic wands, writers wouldn’t have to drink so much.
Come on, folks, your muse doesn’t dance on the head of a pin. It dances in your imagination, until you get up the gumption to squeeze it out through the nib of your pen (metaphorically speaking).
It requires a lot of misspent energy to conjure, board, and furnish a silly little muse. Why not divert that energy into something more productive like, oh, I don’t know, writing?
All the good stories (novels, poems, essays, plays) have already been written.
Yeah, sure, I remember it well, April 23, 2005, 3:53 EDT. That was the day the inkwell ran dry forever. No more stories left to tell.
Oh, come on, people!
Were Romeo and Juliet the first and last ‘star-crossed’ lovers ever imagined?
Was Natty Bumppo the first and last ‘noble savage’?
Was Tom Joad the first and last champion of the downtrodden?
No. No. No!
Why do you insist there’s no room left for you? Because you’re listening to your useless, no-account, mealy-mouthed muse, honey!
Okay. I know I’ve hurt your feelings, and I’m sorry. But I’ve struggled with writer’s block just like you. And I’ve discovered its root cause:
We don’t think we’re good enough.
That really is the bottom line, isn’t it?
Well, join the club. The same club Willie Shakes, Sam Clemens, Robert Frost, Victor Hugo, Charles Bukowski, Charles Dickens, Virginia Wolf, Tom Wolfe, Joseph Conrad, Leo Tolstoy, and a slew of Bronte sisters, all attended—hands wringing.
Listen, there isn’t a writer ever lived who didn’t strap on a feedbag full of self-doubt every single day. The real writers chew it up and spit it out.
Now imagine this: You’ve overcome your fears. You’ve written a masterpiece that has been lauded and acclaimed form sunrise to sunset. You’ve really done it, huh?
But wait. What are you going to do next?
Strap it on. Chew it up. Spit it out.
Write something, dammit!
ABOUT LEE ALLEN HILL
COFFEE HOUSE CHATTER
STORIES BY LEE ALLEN HILL
POEMS BY LEE ALLEN HILL
ESSAYS BY LEE ALLEN HILL
CRUMBS BY LEE ALLEN HILL
I’ll never forget my father’s reaction when he found me reading the magnificent How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. “You’re reading a book about reading a book?” he asked in disbelief. “Diane!” he called to my mother. “Why did we ever take him out of Catholic school?”
So I can forgive anyone for having the same dubious reaction as my father when I say one of the most exciting books I ever read is about boredom. Boredom, Self and Culture by Seán Desmond Healy helped me consolidate thoughts I’d had for years about the paradoxical devastation and beauty of boredom.
Most people trivialize the experience of boredom. Healy writes, “This supposedly commonplace perception of [boredom] as a virtual unavoidable occupational hazard, disagreeable but harmless, possessed even as it might be of redeeming educational value inasmuch as it prepares its victims for the greater boredom to come - a kind of educational vaccine stimulating the production of characterological antibodies to contain future onslaughts.”
If only it were that benign. In reality, boredom is usually corrosive and destructive to the human personality. It is a major factor in the self-defeating behavior patterns that cause us all so much pain. And yet, within the experience of boredom resides the potential for self-knowledge leading to deep fulfillment.
Healy makes the distinction between simple boredom and hyper-boredom. Simple boredom comes from tedious activity, a reaction to a monotonous irritant. Hyper-boredom is a more serious deep-seated agony, rooted in a perception of inner emptiness. Simple boredom is a response to an external something. Hyper-boredom is a response to an internal nothing. It is this hyper-boredom, the true subject of Healy’s book, that I take very seriously.
The experience of hyper-boredom is manifestly intolerable. Proof of this is found in how quickly, almost desperately, we seek to escape it. We feel bored, that is, empty, and almost instantaneously we take evasive action, doing just about anything to divert ourselves: text someone, use the computer, turn on music, eat, drink or smoke. Even fiddling with a pen will do. Almost any diverting activity is preferred to the perception of interior emptiness we euphemistically call boredom. The more keenly felt, the more assiduously avoided. Since hyper-boredom is so easily appeased without being truly remedied, we fail to recognize its controlling power.
As Healy notes, the common denominator of all hyper-boredom is the loss of personal meaning. The idea of life without meaningful purpose panics the soul. Many people are reluctant to examine this in a personal way; they may do so only with detached philosophic interest. Or they may avoid the subject altogether because personalizing the question makes it terrifying. If I sense emptiness in me, what does that say about who I am?
The creeping specter of our own meaninglessness, suggested by hyper-boredom, is uncomfortable enough that we regularly blunt it through agreeable distractions. This might be a reasonable solution for simple boredom; simply fend off tedium with novelty. But the experience of hyper-boredom is deeper, chronic and not dependent on external factors.
Hyper-boredom is largely metaphysical; experienced apart from sensory events. Seeking better distractions, more inventive and original experiences, may be sufficient to reduce simple boredom, but only expands our capacity for aching hyper-boredom.
This sheds light on why the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake invariably results in boredom. We want the pleasure that thrills to continue thrilling indefinitely. But our response to the pleasure adapts, tolerance increases, what was novel becomes ordinary; the thrill is gone and we are left even more susceptible to hyper-boredom than before we started. If you like to drink, you might find that it now takes four beers to accomplish the buzz that used to come with two beers. This should concern you, not for fear of alcoholism, but for fear of your inner life becoming even more vulnerable to hyper-boredom.
The redemptive potential of boredom exists in the possibility that the discomfort will drive us to devote honest attention to our souls’ true need: its thirst for meaning, not distraction. What does our experience of emptiness reveal about our fears and our needs? Inner unrest is a portal leading to answers to that question and more.
In Dante’s Inferno the lost souls in Hell rushed to their judgement, desiring the very thing they feared. If we are to lay hold of Beauty begat of Boredom, we must confront the same inclination in our own souls to rush to the usual diversions that perpetuate the hellish hyper-boredom we fear. Avoiding the confrontation with our own emptiness leads to a greater, more protracted and painful struggle in the end.
For the artist or the writer, the experience of boredom is opportunity knocking: an entry way to revelation, insight and creativity. When the ordinary withers, we absorb the initial crush of nothingness. Intense resistance is expected. What is being resisted? The perception of nothing? Remind the self: “nothing” is harmless. Practice waiting it out until something emerges from the nothing, as it will in time.
This is the struggle, resisting the urge to flee to the pleasant distraction. Try this when feeling nervous in a social situation. Ask why the discomfort is there; something fearful about the self? Challenge its validity instead of drinking your way out of it. As we progress, we learn how enfeebling the distraction was and how invigorating this manner of self-discovery can be.
The perception of inner emptiness, what Seán Desmond Healy calls hyper-boredom, is not a nuisance but an invitation to a radical change in our approach to life. This inquisitive attitude towards boredom is counter-intuitive, ironic and yes, exciting.
reprinted from www.recoverytalks.wordpress.com November 19, 2012
What is the loveliest sight in the wild? It is a question I have asked myself again and again, but I come up with a different answer every time.
There is, for example, the sight of fox cubs gambolling with the vixen about their nursery playground in the cool of the evening. It is a sight that fascinates and delights. The youngsters play with the vixen’s ‘brush’, jumping over and on her. They chase their own little wisps of tails and run races; they wrestle, snarling and snapping in pretence of being angry. And all this in the soft twilight, with murmurs of music as the wind whispers through the scented heather, while in the darkening sky a fugitive star twinkles and disappears, and twinkles yet again, a herald of the unnumbered host.
That is a picture never to forget, and one with new-born charm each time encountered.
A little later in the year, while lying indolent in the shade, you can see the swallows hawking gnats against a sun-steeped sky. The graceful evolutions of the birds attract, compelling admiration, wonder and delight. Then, suddenly, you see two come together in mid-air, touch beaks for a brief moment, and dart away again. It is as though they kissed each other; a fleeting, chaste expression of their love.
In actual fact, it is the mother swallow feeding her new-fledged youngster on the wing. And when we know this, we vow afresh it is the prettiest picture of the wild.
I have a friend whose good fortune it is to be able to watch otters nightly. He declares that there is nothing more delightful than the sight of a female with her young swimming, diving, hunting, playing in the clear depths of running water. Others of my acquaintance express unbounded joy at the vision of a mother bird feeding its twittering, fluttering brood, of a hind nuzzling its big-eyed fawn, or of a harvest-mouse and its family performing acrobatics on an ear of corn.
But an old shepherd, with whom I once discussed the subject, dismissed all of these and insisted there was no prettier sight in the whole wide world than a squirrel giving jumping lessons to its young. And he is not far wrong. I have stood behind a wall in The Lake District and watched such an entertainment, with three young grey squirrels as the pupils. They can be fascinating little creatures in the sight of the town-dwellers, for they show little fear once established in a public park, and will prettily beg for nuts.
In appearance it is not so attractive as the red squirrel, and its tail especially is not so handsome and bushy. For all that, it makes full use of this appendage when leaping from bough to branch, and there is not the slightest doubt that the tail can, on occasion, serve as a parachute to enable its possessor to leap lightly from a great height.
I have seen a squirrel, evidently getting the worst of a fight with a rival, take a flying leap from the top of a moderately tall pine. It came down with tail and legs spread-eagled and seemed veritably to float – perhaps glide would be the better word – through the air. It landed lightly, with a little spring that reminded me of a ballerina, and bounded for cover in the nearby wood, doubtless fearing pursuit. But the victor in the pine was content with a vocal injunction to it not to show its craggy whiskers in the neighbourhood again. From the manner of the defeated one’s going, I feel sure it did not do so.
If you come quietly on the scene as a squirrel is, say, nibbling a fir cone, he ‘freezes’ the moment he becomes aware of your presence. Immobile as a bronze figure, he sits and stares; and it is surprising the length of time squirrels and other wild creatures can maintain such immobility. I once disturbed a fallow deer and its fawn. They galloped off immediately, but the way was uphill and the sheltering wood some distance ahead. The little one wearied, and I suddenly became aware of the fact that it was no longer running beside the doe. I assumed that it had been hidden in a clump of bracken, and as the new-sprung fronds were as yet uncurled, I wondered how the mother expected her baby to lie unseen.
Eventually I came across the fawn, quite visible in the midst of a dozen crozier-like bracken stems. It lay there, a dark mass that caught the eye even from a distance, but it never stirred. I stood within a foot of it for several minutes, and the doe stood at the edge of the wood about a hundred yards away and watched me. She moved constantly, a picture of timid anxiety, but the fawn might have been carved out of stone.
This was an example of pure instinct – that much-abused word when applied to the ways of the creatures of the wild. I am convinced that in many cases than even the most observant record, reason enters into the daily actions of birds and beasts. This, however, was instinct, and nothing more: blind instinct in the fullest meaning of the term. The bracken fronds would not have hidden a kitten without protective colouration. The fawn was as big as a lamb, and almost black. It lay there because it could not go any further, and it lay still because it is the natural instinct of wild creatures to ‘freeze’ in the face of danger.
Flight and immobility each play their part as protective instincts in the wild, though there are times when stark courage takes their place. The mother squirrel will fight like fury in defence of her young. A mother is often better off in the matter of nests (otherwise known as dreys) than a bird. She has at least one in reserve to which she can transfer her young when danger threatens. Another interesting point is that this nest is often built in an evergreen, which provides additional cover at a time when the ordinary trees are not in full leaf. Litters vary. Some contain three and others as many as six youngsters. It is generally thought that the young are born in May or June, but I have found a litter in early March, which certainly helps to discount the old theory of the prolonged hibernation of the squirrel.
As a matter of fact, squirrels do not hibernate in the true sense of the word. They lie up in their snug nests for days on end during the bitter weather, but sunshine and hunger brings them forth. Then they may be seen seeking the nuts they have hidden away in the autumn. The finds they make may be of their own burying, but they are just as likely to have been hidden by others – such artful little creatures.
Myself, I’m still asking myself - what is the loveliest sight in the wild?
In today’s society we think money is the only currency that it exists. When you have enough, it doesn’t matter, when you have none it can destroy a person. You can literally starve to death.
During the depression years—of the thirties—not the recent ones—men would trade their humanity and strength for a meal and a safe harbour for a night or two. When their ability to negotiate with what they had ran out, they simply hopped a freight train and rode further down the track. Staying alive has always been a core part of survival and life.
But there are many ways to negotiate a deal. If people really spent enough time in introspection, they might find that the US dollar can’t buy them what they want. Usually inner needs are best identified when a person can’t flip a credit card across a counter. They have to trade what they have for what they want.
Personal currency expressed in the simplest terms is paying the price. If you want to eat, you’d better work. If you want to eat steak instead of porridge for supper, you’d better be able to deliver quality work or find a sucker who is bewitched by your smile, potential and willing to give you the old cow to take something off his hands.
Some people dream of being a writer, usually at some point in their ‘real life’ while the job is choking them, but the picture in their brains, the solitude and the writer’s garret is a part of romanticizing a better lifestyle than they think they are living.
Some people’s egos are so fragile that they pen a poem or a story and when they don’t win the competition, they unduly berate themselves. Those that send out their masterpieces to publishers and editors are too willing to accept failure as a sentence for their ‘foolish escapism.’
There are others who think that every word that flows across a computer screen is magical and become defensive and belligerent in defending work in progress, blaming other people for their poor judgement and defending their right to expect recognition.
To both groups, take this as a gentle reminder, that creativity, long hours spent in lonely isolation, do not guarantee success. Just as every one of us had to pay our dues, work our way up to a better position in our field of commerce, so too does the writer need to pay his dues.
Take courses in community colleges, join a writers group or an on-line writing community. Put the same effort into writing that you did into your career and it will change your style, your ability to appreciate your ever-evolving craftsmanship as a writer. Find people who will not pat you on the head, but instead give you the kind of feedback you need to master the craft.
We are all authors of our own destiny. Try not give up your dreams and aspirations before your time and understand, accept, that writing can become the currency of your next adventure.