Somehow, I lost one of these gifts, the one I need to tell stories. The one that lures me to the laptop day after day. “Here,” it whispers, “I have something to show you. Sit down and pay attention.”
Somehow, that went away. Looking back, I’m not sure if it happened all at once, like ripping off a Band-aid, or if it trickled away, sand slipping from an hourglass with a hole in the bottom. Sometimes I see glints of it, the way you can catch glimpses of minnows at the bottom of the creek when the sun comes from behind a cloud and strikes the water at the right angle. A flip—a poem—a scene—and it’s gone again.
The sane, responsible, grown-up part of me tries to remind the rest of me that this happens from time to time. I really admire the people who sit down and grind it out day after day, and I know that when I show up, good things can happen. Until they don’t. This is how adults make art, I tell that small, scared child that lives somewhere in me. You calm down and put in the time. Or you do things that refill the well. You don’t whine and stomp around.
Except sometimes, whining and stomping is a lot more emotionally satisfying. It’s the illusion of power, when actual creative power seems to have fled. And I suspect I’m not the only writer who’s heard that sneering voice at the back of my mind at those moments: “Who were you trying to fool?
You put on a good show for a while, but now it’s over. Whatever magic you once had is gone.”
The thing no one tells anyone when they start out on this road is how scary it can be sometimes. There’s this idea that if you follow the path, the way will open up. The Way. Will open up. I mean, it’s part of the hero’s journey, right? The brambles and pits can’t go on forever.
Or can they?
I don’t know the answer, though it’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for more than a year now. The habit of hope—and I’m not sure right now if it’s a good habit or a bad one—is hard to break. Dent it, sure. Scratch it up, absolutely. But it still hangs around, its hand out, ready to pull me back whenever I’m ready to walk. Hope says to wait a little longer. Maybe take a step back, a deep breath, and accept that plan A isn’t going to work, and plan B was a bust, but plan C will show up in a minute.
And when plan C arrives, it says, “I had this thought. A question, really, about this guy. And this girl. Do you want to hear it?”
Yes. Yes, I do.
Although this does remind me of how Dorothy Parker said that if you know a young person who wants to become a writer, the second best thing you can do for them is to buy them a good thesaurus. And the first best thing is to shoot them now, while they're still happy.