Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writer's Block, Runner's Block, and Relationship Blocks


I've struggled all day to think of something worthwhile to write on this blog. I started by thinking about numbers and accuracy but it didn't go much of anywhere. I tried just now to write about wanting to smash something against a wall, but that left me wanting to smash the laptop against the wall. Never a good idea, but especially troubling when the laptop is my own. And so, I'm left thinking about being blocked.

The typical version of this is writer's block. I don't believe in writer's block. It's hogwash. A blocked writer is one who is just not working, not writing. I have never suffered from a real writer's block. Instead, I have had days like today when I just don't feel like I can get anything good written. Writer's block isn't about having nothing to write, it's about believing that nothing I have to say is worthy. The cure is simple: to write something unworthy and move on. I applied that cure earlier today when, with nothing good coming out of my fingertips, I just plugged away until I had 750 words that were neither coherent nor elegant. Still, I had covered that much ground.

Throughout the day I had my notebook in front of me and while my students watched a film that we are studying, I kept at work on a short story idea about a man with cold hands. I hand-wrote 11 pages of the thing before it fell apart. I stared at the last three pages, reading and re-reading, hoping that the ending would resolve itself. I went back to the beginning after the kids had gone home, but the whole thing was only murkier to me. I had nothing. Well, I had 11 pages, I just had nothing for an ending. Not yet anyway.

Other blocks are tougher to deal with. In running, I occasionally hit the block of not getting out the door. For a year now I haven't been able to get out of bed and run in the morning with anything approaching regularity. Time was, I got out of bed before five and hit the gym each morning by 5:30. Now, the alarm goes off and I fail to summon the will to rise. I solve that problem by running in the afternoons, but that's hit or miss. Last week was hit, this week is miss. I think about running in the abstract and it sounds good to me, but in the actual world, the one in which it rains and I come home from work ready for a nap, it's much more challenging to get out there and do the miles.

I end up not getting out on the road and instead sitting on the couch or (heaven forbid) typing at a computer as I am now and feeling badly about it. Like writing, my running blocks are usually me deciding that I couldn't possibly go out for a run and sabotaging those things. The solution is as simple as it is for writing: just get my self out there on the road and get running.

Finally, there are blocks that are much more challenging to me and for which I don't have simple answers. These have do to with relationships such as those I have with my wife, my children, my family, and my friends. The blocks here are similar to writing and running blocks in that the block is largely a matter of avoiding the task at hand, a matter of failing to engage.

The solutions here are probably just as simple too, but I resist them. When I am having a relationship block there is a large part of me that revels in that block, the clings to it. I think that others have this most often when driving. A driver cuts you off in traffic and you curse them out. Maybe you flip them off. I tend to pull up to their bumper and flash my headlights (really mature, eh?). You should just let it go. I mean, what's done is done. But the feeling lingers, the anger is still there and you want...something. So it is with me in relationships. I get frustrated and I want...something. What that something is, I don't know then and on reflection I still don't know.

It has been the kind of day when I don't know what I want, don't know how to get the relief I feel I need (mostly because I couldn't describe the relief if my life depended on it). Still, maybe there is comfort in the simple fact that I have been able to churn out something like 5000 words on a day of writer's block. Now all I have to do is to get myself out in the rain for a run and maybe sit down with someone I love (and who loves me) to try and figure out where I have come off my tracks.

That, and as always, I need to write on.