Before I begin, I need to note that a number of comments I’ve gotten have come in the form of computer code. Since I’m no expert at any of this, I don’t know if that’s because what was sent was spam to begin with, or what, but I’ve marked it as spam and deleted it. So if you’re someone who sent an honest comment (I’m amazed at how many people send ADS… How tacky!) and I deleted it, that’s why.
Now, ahem. Oh, yes, death. A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I almost drowned. Okay, that’s kind of dramatic. I got a charlie horse in my leg while swimming in an indoor pool. I’m sure I wouldn’t have drowned. There were plenty of people around at the time, including a lifeguard and a thoughtful woman who leaped past the lap ropes to hold my head above water while I struggled — well, flailed and panicked, if we’re going to be literal about it — with the lump of cement that had suddenly grown inside my calf. But I wasn’t capable of such rational thought at the moment, having convinced myself that Death was a tentacled thing lurking in the water beneath me.
After the lifeguard — a girl, and I do mean GIRL (she looked as if she’d just come from Kiddie Gym & Swim) managed to haul me out of the water, a friendly woman walked me to the hot tub, where a kindly gentleman showed me how to pull my toes backward in case it happens again (Tears spring to my eyes at the very thought). And then everything went back to normal. People stopped staring. I stopped shaking, took a long shower, went home…
And I couldn’t write anything.
Now, I NEVER get writer’s block. I don’t even believe in it. I always advocate writing through any psychological pickle, from worrying about money to being embroiled in a bad romance. But this time, I just couldn’t follow my own advice. It wasn’t that I kept thinking about drowning. I was just on High Alert, as if I were walking along the edge of a razorblade with screeching metallic noise all around me.
After a couple of fruitless hours at my computer, I went to bed to write in longhand. This almost always works. But it didn’t. I ended up reading two novels, moving furniture, going grocery shopping, and watching TV until midnight. It was the first day I’d missed in a couple of years.
I still haven’t picked it up. That’s why I’m writing this instead. Oh, I’m sure I will, and I’ll tell you about it, but the whole situation has made me think about how fragile the thread that holds us to our creativity is. Any disturbance — the kids are sick, your parents are aging, your spouse is acting like an a-hole — and that delicate lifeline quivers. And when something big happens, something like trauma, serious illness, or grief, that gossamer thread can snap in an instant and leave you unanchored in the void.
I’m sure that my embarrassing little scene yesterday was a quiver, not a snap. But it reminded me that my thread had snapped, once, some time ago. After my divorce, I didn’t write for ten years. well, I wrote, but nothing productive, no novels. This and that, and a hundred journals trying to get myself to understand how my life had gone so wrong.
I’ve regretted that ten-year hiatus more than anything, especially since it occurred just as my career was headed for what I thought would be Big Things. I’d had three bestsellers, a huge movie sale, an article on the front page of Variety, and a multi-book contract. And then I quit writing. I can’t blame anyone but myself — if you don’t write, you can’t call yourself a writer. But I was a rocket soaring into space, and then, because of my self-indulgent despair, I sent myself crashing into the desert.
So anyway, my experience yesterday has given me a modicum of understanding about why writers sometimes don’t write. Maybe it’s not always a lack of discipline, or having nothing to say, or being unskilled, or not being able to face the fact that one is a failure. I’ve been that harsh on others who’ve come to me saying that they’re writers who can’t write. And far, far harsher on myself.
I’m thinking now that maybe my cruelty was unwarranted. Because it’s possible that sometimes things just happen. Sometimes you get the elevator, and sometimes you get the shaft. Does a bear shit in the woods? Sometimes. At other times, it shits on you. And when it does, sometimes we can’t write. Sometimes all we can do is quake and cry and hope that someday we’ll get another chance.
So I’m going to try to be a little kinder to all of us, including myself. Life is long enough to accommodate a few mistakes. We don’t have to win the race, or swim it perfectly. We just have to keep our heads above water. And if we need help even doing that, well, that’s okay, too. I’ll bend your toes if you’ll bend mine.