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Writer’s block: The layers of avoidance

pen102210_optBY LORI SENDER
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
THE MAYBE CHRONICLES

Writer's block is alive and well, here in the upstairs office of my home. I'm not sure why, now, it seems to have settled around me . . . maybe it's the fall weather and all those parenting, school-like obligations, those minuscule distractions leaving me feeling attention deficit and dithered to a ditz (did I ever send along that second box of tissues on my son's school supply list? Was that scissor too dull and babyish, how sharp and pointed is appropriate for a sixth grader?). Maybe it's the reality of no one in this house landing a job, leaving me open to endless uninterrupted hours of writer's block, or, depending on the day, endless interrupted hours in the kitchen with my husband. But whatever the reason, it's here . . . it's steadfast, it's relentless, and it's smirking right now in my face.

So I decide to face it, to get even and ignore it. "Just write," Natalie Goldberg offers in her book, Writing Down the Bones. It's worth a try, but first a shortbread snack from last weekend's Valley Shepherd Creamery Festival, which reminds me of that great shortbread pan I snagged on Sunday in the ten-dollar-bag sale at the VNA Rummage sale. Hmm, I wonder how hard it could be to make a shortbread. I mean, how much different from a tart could it be. Although this snack is tasting like way too much butter. Not that my tarts aren't full of butter. Wasn't it ten tablespoons in my last pie crust for God's sake? Writing, writing.

I see people at our local Starbucks, writing, studying, typing away on their computers, seemingly oblivious to all those chatty latte-freelancers, the just-stopped-by-to-say-hello neighbors. For the life of me, I can't do it. I need absolute quiet, doors closed, no-radio-on silence to even begin to form a sentence. But I wonder, maybe they know something I don't know. Maybe the diversion is the thing. To actually step out of the house, and begin to look like you're creating something and voilà, a few hours later, you've created something, as in, a 500-word essay.

I remember a day in college, my friends Betsy and Fran wrestling on the floor in my dorm room, giggling, fits of squealing at my feet, while I forced myself to write an essay on Richard Wright's Native Son. Somehow I managed to finagle a poem, and with not too much effort, completed the thing from start to finish in under an hour. And sure enough, as the universe would have it, my teacher asked me to read it aloud to the class that next week. Still, I figured it was just a fluke and continued my millstone study habits with little abatement for the next three decades.

It's a few days later, and I'm sitting in the Daily Treat Restaurant, pen in hand, looking like some middle-aged Harriet the Spy. I feel ridiculous, though I remember feeling just as ridiculous when I'd attempt any cafe writing in my twenties in Cambridge, Mass. It all feels a bit self-important, smacks of some freelance, get-a-real-life vibe, here among the mothers who lunch, older women with rolled-up yoga mats, hard-working boutique staff finally off their feet. But I'm writing, even if it is about a salt shaker and a high-rise building. The chatter around me eventually softens and I settle into a bit of stream-of-consciousness writing. Not so bad, maybe I'll try this again in, like, a year.

"I don't understand this . . . how does this happen?" My husband is standing behind me, beseeching me to figure out why the HP printer is acting up. "This is the fourth time I'm printing this thing."

"Shush, I'm working. . . . Can‘t you see I'm writing?"

Blessedly, he fixes it on his own, but while he's standing here, there's a shopping list to go over and although I think the family might need my butter, he thinks not, but either way we agree he needs his butter. I glance out the window and notice my son is outside hammering at a combination lock which really is not the best thing to be doing around dusk on the curb and I can't help from continually staring out the window.

Well, that about wraps it up. I'm done. Painless.

 

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