You’re Not the Only One

You’re Not the Only One

It has been at least six months since I have written a poem or even something with any substance. Writer’s block happens to every writer. There are always articles in the writing magazines I read that offer suggestions to writers who are stuck in a void. So I can tell myself that I am not the only one, but I understand how those words have very little meaning to someone struggling with loss.

I have used the phrase countless times. I tell my daughters that they are not the only ones struggling with motherhood. I tell my mother with dementia that she is not the only one in a wheelchair (although she believes she is). She always replies the same way. She says, “I don’t care about others. I’m my own person. I’m the one who has lost everything I used to have.” I know she is right. We can’t really find solace by comparing our difficulties with others, although we can find empathy for them.

I studied in college to be a journalist. I was assistant editor of my high school newspaper, rewrite and feature editor of my college newspaper, and after graduation wrote many articles for local magazines and newspapers. I had to stop when I felt like I was intruding on the privacy of people I was sent to interview. And I didn’t like the need for brevity since one of my major problems as a writer is overwriting. When I think about the situation in France, I think about the power of the pen. Right now I feel powerless because words won’t come. There are no phrases or lines that come to me in the early morning hours that I can turn into a poem that could touch others.

I have been to my computer countless times to write about a very emotional event in my life. In November my oldest daughter adopted a seven-year–old child with a tragic and horrifying past. I need to protect her privacy and keep her safe, so I have not been able to write about her. But she has changed my life in ways I can’t even explain. My daughter has rescued her. She is growing and changing and is a sweet, lovable child who is so traumatized by the past that she is unable to share it with anyone.

I have a book waiting to be self-published, but it’s held back by a cover design. I have a young adult novel partly written about a teenage basketball player whose father walks out the front door the day of his son’s basketball tournament and never returns. I started a story about an older woman with Alzheimer’s who finds herself in the park on a cold, snowy night. She does not know who she is or where to go but is transformed when a homeless dog approaches and rests his chin upon her leg. All are incomplete pieces halted by writer’s block.

It’s the absence of poetry that has me saddened the most. It’s a new kind of grief for me, blending in with all the old ones. If I can’t write, who am I? I have never stopped writing since I was a young child writing my first story about a family of bears. I have grown afraid of my own words. I commend the staff of Charlie Hebdo who certainly have reason to fear the effect of their words and their cartoons but find strength in the power and freedom of speech. I can tell myself that I’m not the only one struggling with writing. I can find strength in the struggles of others. But in those moments before dawn when no words come, when I feel bereft and alone, I wonder if the passage of time in my later years will only be filled with absence instead of meaning.

Desert Sandstorm and Writer’s Block

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”  —Eleanor Roosevelt

            Photo:  John Haslam  foxypar4

I have been dealing with writer’s block lately, like so many writers do.  Sometimes I think creativity is like a grain of sand in the middle of the desert.  When all is calm, the grains sit there storing up energy.  Then the winds begin, stirring up the grains, and creativity comes to life as the grains move and re-form, taking on new shapes in new places.  I’m telling myself that at this time the grains of sand in my own personal desert are at rest, but soon the energy will burst forth on the wings of the wind and I’ll be able to write again.

For several summers I attended the International Women’s Writing Guild’s summer conference at Skidmore where I took classes from other women writers who had successful careers and had published novels or poetry or drama or memoir.  The best class I took was from Alice Orr.  She presented great lessons in writing, but her best advice was to write for at least an hour every day, without ever taking a day off.  I took her advice because I had been working on a young adult novel for many months but it wasn’t finished.  When the session ended, I went home, bought a special pen and grid notebooks, and set to work for an hour every night.  I was teaching at the time and it wasn’t easy, but I finished the novel only because she taught me how.

I wish I had her in front of me now, nudging me into writing daily.  Sometimes I try to convince myself that I am working at writing because I am thinking about what to write or thinking about what is wrong with something  I have already written.  I read blogs and am awed by those writers who blog daily.  How do they do that, I wonder.  How does that happen?  Their discipline and drive and creativity convince me even more of my own inadequacy.  The thing about writing, however, is that it is very addictive.  It’s not like one can really give it up.  But calm does settle over the desert until the stormy winds start up and ideas are born.  I’m waiting today in the stillness.