the pros and cons of writer’s block

I don’t have writer’s block.

Because that’s when you can’t write.

Where your mind is a crevasse, a pit, a canyon–

Deep and vast and empty.

Vultures flying overhead,

scouring for bits of creative roadkill

left among the dust and heat.

Circling, swooping, diving

On a mindless, endless loop

Of absolutely nothing to say.

 

I don’t have writer’s block.

Because my mind is not a canyon.

But a chalkboard in a first-grade classroom

Filled corner to corner, top to bottom

with only two letters.

Or a typewriter with just two keys–

Two options, two choices.

I hunt and peck just like the vultures,

but there are only two letters for me to find.

Of the 21 consonants and 5 vowels in the English language–

the language I learned to speak by mimicking my mother as an infant,

the language I learned to write poetry in by copying my mother as a young girl–

Of all the letters she taught me,

Only two are within my reach.

Two alphabet neighbors,

Making one precious word:

M-O-M.

I’m an artist with only two colors.

I’m a musician with only two notes.

I’m a daughter with only one parent.

Because M-O-M is gone.

 

No, I don’t have writer’s block.

Because I cannot block out grief.

And I cannot block out angst.

Or flashbacks.

Or nightmares.

Or the swelling of my stomach when I miss her more

than having 24 more letters to work with–

Than having something else to say.

 

I don’t have writer’s block.

Because I can write.

I can write anger.

I can write devastation.

I can write longing.

I can write memory.

I can write her.

I just can’t seem to write anything else.

 

I don’t have writer’s block.

But there are some days

I wish that I did.

 

Writers’ Block Challenge #4

Task: Write a story about the images on a roll of film. Use 12, 24, or 36 paragraphs.

Flawed Memories

He hadn’t crossed her mind for months when she decided it was time to clean out the closet in her adolescent bedroom. She dug through the poufy frocks and sequined skirts of old prom dresses, remnants  of a coin collection, graduation caps and gowns and tassels. She dug deeper and uncovered pictures that had decorated her college dorm. Art supplies long forgotten. An old broken iPod – lime green, clunky and heavy. She sorted through high school sports paraphernalia. Sweat shirts from swim team. Running shoes from track.

Twenty-two years of memories kept quiet and tucked away. Out-of-sight and nearly forgotten. But not quite.

Buried underneath a box of clothes that most certainly didn’t fit anymore, she found it. A shoebox. Wrapped in pink and purple tissue paper. And small cut out hearts. A memory box. Containing all the keepsakes a sixteen-year-old holds onto the first time she falls in love.

She ran her finger along the outside edge over the crinkled, stiff paper hearts and considered just throwing the whole thing away. Why rustle up all those old feelings, right? Surely there’s nothing in there she’d actually want.

But something sentimental got the better of her and she lifted off the lid.

Inside, she found delicately packed corsages. Dried flowers and ribbons and Velcro bands. Faded ticket stubs to movies and concerts and amusement parks. Cards and tags from every birthday or Valentine’s gift. Empty jewelry boxes. Letters  they wrote each other. Printed lyrics to their favorite songs.

She felt her heart tug as she flipped through the memories. Let them flash in her mind. Homecoming dances and football games. Break ups and make ups and a mountain of firsts. How earnestly she had loved him.

At the bottom of the box was a single roll of film. Undeveloped. She lifted it out and pulled at the fragment of film strip peaking out of the plastic black case, exposing the negatives. Holding it up to the light, she saw a sequence of happiness. A casual afternoon together with nothing better to do than laugh and cuddle and waste a roll of film.

She shook her head. That’s not what it was like, loving him. You’d look through this box and think we were perfect for each other – that we were meant to be. That we were happy. But we were no such thing. Sure there were moments like the one captured on that film. But there were other moments to. The terrible kind. The scream-so-loud-your-lungs-hurt kind. The weep-until-you-get-a-migraine kind. There was cheating and callousness and recklessness and selfishness and emptiness.

Where is the box that holds those memories? Where’s that roll of film?

We look back and we see the flowers and the letters and the smiles and we wonder, were we wrong to let it all go?

She put the film back in the box alongside the other happy mementos before replacing the lid. If I must remember us, I insist on that memory being true to what we were. With that, she added the memory box to the ‘throw away’ pile and moved on to sorting through the Art Supply bin. 

opening lines

Task: Think of your five favorite novels and read their opening lines. Ponder them. What makes them great. And how you can use their opening line strategies in your own writing.


Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston) Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)  Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my free time to thinking about death.

Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart (Joyce Carol Oates) “Little Red” Garlock, ‘sixteen years old, skull smashed soft as a rotted pumpkin and body dumped into the Cassadaga River, near the foot of Pitt Street, must not have sunk as he’d been intended to sink, or floated as far.

All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque) We are at rest five miles behind the front.

Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann) Those who saw him hushed.

diet

She let out a heavy sigh as she stared down at the black scale on her cool bathroom floor. She removed her wrinkled t-shirt and cotton shorts before stepping on. Drew in a deep breath. The scale’s dial whipped around quickly, then teetered back and forth before settling on a number.

And that’s it. That’s the number that defines her today. She’s seen it. She cannot change it. Today, that’s her number.

And it’s not good enough. It’s not low enough. It’s not thin enough. It’s fat. It’s bloated. It’s ugly. It’s big. But today, that’s her number.

She shakes her head silently as she steps back off and turns to start the shower. Tomorrow will be better.

She’ll shave her legs and curl her hair and line her eyes and powder her nose, but it won’t matter. That number has already taken hold. She’ll pick out her cutest dress. Pair it with trendy heels and statement jewelry. But the number hangs over her still. And she’ll examine herself in the mirror before she walks out the door, but all she’ll see is that number.

Every woman she runs into she’ll match up against her number. Every size two and extra small. Every time she’ll fall short. Her number is just too high.

Every bit of food she consumes she’ll weigh against that number. Will this make it worse? Is it worth it? What if I just skip this meal? She won’t enjoy a single bite. Food has become a number too.

And at the gym she’ll mount the elliptical and watch the calories slowly climb. Exercise is just another number. She’ll push and pull and sweat and gasp and think, tomorrow must be better.

She’ll drink water and pass on dessert and go to bed as her stomach growls and dream of a better number.

I know this girl. I was this girl. I see this girl still every day. And every time I see her, I want to tell her a lesson I learned long ago about numbers on the scale.

Those numbers do not define who you are. They do not determine your worth. They have no gauge on your potential. And they most certainly cannot assess your beauty.

They are numbers on a machine. A machine designed to tell you your relationship with gravity.

Stop looking at the scale and start looking at yourself. You are beautiful. And everyone else can already see it.

failed experiments

Describe Your First Brush with Danger

When I was just a youngin’, maybe five years old, I remember sitting on the kitchen counter on a bright summer afternoon. My mom was nearby, but engrossed in something other than her overly curious (and in this moment, stupid) daughter.

As I sat there, I noticed a black stapler resting innocently beside me. And I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I wonder what would happen if I stapled my finger…”

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind did I pick up the stapler with my chubby right hand, slipped my left thumb underneath its arm and proceeded to press all my weight down on it.

After hearing it snap, I lifted my newly decorated thumb up to my face to examine it. The thin line of silver went perfectly down the middle and dark, thick blood quickly began pouring out of it on both sides. It was at that moment the pain suddenly struck me and I began wailing.

My mother immediately took notice and tended to my stapled thumb, trying to calm me down and comfort me at the same time.

She may or may not have asked me why I stapled my finger. But if she did, I’m fairly certain my distressed five-year-old self was not able to articulate that clearly.

So Mom, if you’re reading this, I just wanted to know what it felt like. It’s a pain I’ve never forgotten still to this day.

And you know what I learned? Sometimes it’s just better not to know.

searching for the write words

The artist sees the world in colors and patterns. In strokes and palettes and angles. The photographer, in depth and light and shadows. The musician, in strums and beats and rhythms.

And the writer sees the world in hyperbole and parables. In memoirs and fantasies. In fact and fiction and monologue and dialogue. Every action with an adverb. Every object with an adjective. Every emotion with a metaphor. Every moment dusted with allusions and alliteration.

And as life speeds by, the writer can barely process any of it, because the brain is trying desperately to find all the write words.