Wednesday, March 7, 2012

As Easy As Thinking It Makes It So


In class yesterday, as the students and I wrote, I felt that I hadn't written much of anything lately. Sure, I publish these essays daily, but even they have felt forced. I've spent more time staring at the screen wondering what to write about. Some would call this writer's block, but I'm not much for that particular diagnosis. I was, after all, in the middle of writing when the thought occurred to me. I just wasn't thrilled with the things coming out on the page.

The day before I had revised two old prose poems. That's work I like doing, but often enough revising old writing gets me wondering why I'm not producing new stuff. As I pushed the pen across the page in class, I wondered why I wasn't writing more poetry or fiction. What would it take to get me back to that?

Right away the answer came: I need to be looking at the world as a writer. I need to live a writerly life. This doesn't mean I have to grow a goatee, take up smoking, and live at the bar Bukowski style. I look terrible with a goatee and smoking is out of the question. The bar on the other hand... I just  need to see the world as though everything in it were waiting to be added to my page.

Easier said than done, I thought, but it turns out that saying it is the key to doing it. Soon as I said it I began seeing things to write.

I drove home from school on Route 81, past the old Penfield Mfg. Company building and the little Victorian house that sits on the roof of it. A story blossomed in my head about a child asking her father about the house and the father telling a deep and intricate story about the owner of the place, his son who was friends with the girl's grandfather. The whole thing would be an elaborate lie, a story he tells to pass the time on a long drive and to do...something else. I haven't quite figured out that last bit, but that's okay because I started writing it in my head as I drove. Soon as I could sit with my notebook, I began scribbling ideas for it.

As I writing that that, a woman came in to the waiting room with a young boy. She was reading a book on her phone and the boy kept trying to see what it was. A poem idea came to me about a fairy-tale nurse refusing to show her charge the pictures in the book she read to him each night. The book is blank but glows when she reads it, illuminating her face and making her seem young. The boy keeps trying to look at the book but she presses it to her chest each time he peeks and tells him that there are things he must learn from the stories before he can read them himself.

Titles came to mind: The Cat Told Me She Was Dead. The Lunchbox of Notre Dame. Snow Melt. You Want Syrup On That? Going to the Art Museum Alone Imagining I Am The Buddha. Lancing a Blood Blister.

I saw characters and settings. A man sitting on the closed toilet holding a paper towel to his bleeding nose and lip. He dreams of Lauren. She waits for his call. Outside his window the sirens are blaring and his dog howls and scratches at the door.

And a recurring image of a boy pushing his hand through a glass door.

It all came to me because I said to myself that I need to be more writerly. There remains only the tasks of writing some of it down and keeping myself open to the world in this way.

Already I feel more alive, happier, ready to do something. This way of thinking extends past the page. It's not just about my writing. It's about living. I don't want to sit still and wait for things to happen. I'm ready to make things happen on the page, ready to make my pen sing, make the keyboard talk. I'm excited to make myself aware and alive, and to write on and on and on.