Away with Words

Dear reader, today I appear before you with nothing. Nada. Zilch. The grey cells that currently reside within my cranial cavity have failed to make the necessary connections that allow me to share those occasional nuggets of perspicacity for which you most assuredly did not ask.

To put that another way, I have nothing to say.

This scenario is, as you’ve no doubt surmised, not a terribly common occurrence, and you may well wonder what could produce such a sad state of affairs. I’ve been afflicted by the bane of writers everywhere – writer’s block.

The always pithy Seth Godin has posited that the idea of “writer’s block” was invented in the 1940’s when the stakes for the things we wrote about began to rise. He believes that the block comes from fear, from the pressure of trying to make every word and phrase a model of literary perfection.

Is that what’s happening here? Am I so concerned that my work be absolutely perfect that fear is holding me back? It must be said, perfection is a condition of which neither I nor my scribblings have ever been accused. Indeed dear reader, on most days I’m happy if this collection of literary litter is at least semi-coherent. It seems somewhat ridiculous to think I might be striving for perfection, but I’ve now rewritten the previous two sentences five times and I’m still not a hundred percent happy with them, so there’s that.

Writers have a bewildering collection of tactics and strategies they use to conquer blocks to their creative output. Some go for a walk to clear the mind – an odd solution since a clear mind appears to be the problem. Others turn their attention to various activities in the hopes that their subconscious will work diligently on the problem in the background. Still others attempt to force the issue – actively seeking inspiration through blog posts, articles etc. to spark their creativity.

As for me, when I feel the looming presence of a creative block, when my muse decides this would be the ideal time to indulge in that last-minute holiday without informing me ahead of time, I write.

“Now hang on,” I hear you exclaim. “How can you write if you have writer’s block? Doesn’t preclude the other? The name alone, ‘writer’s block’ seems to indicate a blockage that prevents the very act of writing does it not?”

Technically – and grammatically for that matter – this is true. (And bonus points to you for using preclude in a sentence. Bravo.) However I would point out that writer’s block does not actually physically prevent one from putting words to the page. The fine motor skills required to operate a writing stylus, or to apply fingertips to a keyboard in a specific rhythmic pattern are not impaired by the “block.” The only true enfeeblement is the belief that the words being recorded are anything more than vacuous rubbish.

Note: Nearly every writer experiences this on a daily basis. I most assuredly do.

I choose to write in spite of my absent muse in the fervent hope that doing so will somehow entice her to return, imbuing my work with the wit of Twain and the urbanity of Wilde. A cursory glance at my previous work will reveal how badly I’ve failed in that regard. Such is life.

Inspiration, like all the most interesting concepts, has as many different definitions as there are people who make use of it. Some, like the incomparable John Updike (author, poet, critic and one of my literary heroes in case you were wondering) see inspiration as a gift:

“Inspiration arrives as a packet of material to be delivered.”

Of course others, such as Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild, take a slightly more… proactive view:

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to hunt down inspiration with a blunt instrument, so I tend to lean more toward Updike’s way of thinking. Writing every day, no matter the circumstances, is the only way to improve as a writer. Now it’s quite true to say that the majority of what gets written each day will never see the light of day. The debris of countless unfinished essays fill my “scrap” file for possible use in the future. The idea is to simply build the habit of writing each day, preferably to a word minimum, punctuated by as much reading as possible.

I believe that inspiration is a gift, but a gift that is given to those who have laid the groundwork first. The muse doesn’t want to waste her gifts on someone who will squander them with inaction. In the words of the great Pablo Picasso:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”

Today, as with each and every day, I write. Writer’s block, whether caused by fear as Seth Godin believes, perfectionism or some outside force, must be pushed aside. The struggle will make for a more satisfying product in the end.

As I approach 900 words in this essay – my self-imposed word minimum – I will leave you with this thought: Any endeavour worth attempting will require daily labour and effort to achieve the greatest results. The craft of writing is no different. If writing ever becomes easy, then it’s time to stop.

I had nothing to say, and now I’ve said it.


The Eyes Have It

#Create365 – January 4, 2019

I have to admit, I have a thing for eyes.

Now relax dear reader, this isn’t some weird serial killer body part fixation. I just find the eyes to be often the most striking part of a person.

They’re the first thing I notice when I meet someone, though it must be said that many people do not believe me when I tell them this. Considering the sometimes obsessive and always-annoying male fixation with other… areas of the female body – namely those of the gluteal and mammary variety – I can understand the skepticism.

However, I speak with total sincerity when I say that I am invariably drawn to the eyes of a person when I meet them.

Indeed, when I met my late fiancée Raven, they were the second thing I noticed. I say second because at 6 foot 3 inches and 250 pounds of muscle, she was… rather difficult to miss. Her eyes were the deepest shade of green I had ever seen. In fact they were so green, she was constantly being accused of wearing coloured contacts.

While it may seem novel at first, evidence shows that I am not alone in this fascination for a being’s ocular apparatus.

Our literature is replete with references to eyes. Don’t believe me? With just a cursory amount of research, I was able to dig up over a hundred different phrases used in our everyday parlance, all surrounding the eyes.

To provide some examples:

We can be up to one’s eyeballs with work.

When wronged, we sometimes demand an eye for an eye.

An easy task can be done with one’s eyes closed.

It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

One might tell someone that they are easy on the eyes, or even that they are eye candy, though in the blink of an eye one could end up with a black eye.

The apple of my eye, keep one’s eyes peeled, eyes are bigger than one’s stomach and scales falling from one’s eyes makes me think that the creator(s) of these phrases have a knowledge of human physiology that can charitably be described as… thin.

When imagining something, we say that we can see it in our mind’s eye.

People can be in the public eye. (Though one hopes the public has more than one.)

If we meet someone new we might say that we caught someone’s eye, which, it must be said, is quite disturbing.

A mysterious person may be described as more than meets the eye. (Note: Anyone over a certain age is incapable of reading that phrase in anything but a robot voice.)

When we wish someone to be forthright with us, we demand that they look us in the eye. (Was there another option? The spleen perhaps? The elbow?)

There are also times when one might be tempted to give someone the stink eye, though… the less said about that, the better methinks.

We have jaundiced eyes and red eyes, roving eyes and bedroom eyes. There are big eyes, evil eyes, naked eyes and private eyes. Hell, there are even eyes in the sky!

The obsession with all things optical is not limited to humans. Animals often appear in these phrases as well, from those with eyes like a hawk, or eagle-eyes, to the poor unfortunate soul with raccoon eyes, or the always lamented snake eyes. Is this the end of the eye references? In a pig’s eye!

Waxing philosophical for a moment, we’re all familiar with the idea that the eyes are the windows of the soul. I’d have to agree, though it does make one wonder where “the basement door of the soul” is located. Upon further reflection, it’s probably a query best left unanswered.

Ladies and gentlebeings, I could go on like this for days without batting an eye, drawing up a list of recondite references and obscure idioms as far as the eye can see, but I have a feeling that before long, you’d be ready to roll your eyes and turn a blind eye to such nonsense. After all, it’s all fun and games until someone loses and eye. Then it’s a sport.

The importance we place upon the eyes is not an accident, nor is it incidental. The eyes truly are windows to the soul. They reveal a great deal when we take the time to study them closely.

Within a person’s eyes you can truly see love, hate, fear, courage and even the spark of life. Those who have been unfortunate enough to have witnessed the death of another have often spoken of a dimming of the eyes as the end comes. The change is so subtle that it barely registers on a conscious level, but the effect is immediate.

The light of life has faded, the brief candle extinguished.

The eyes tell us so much, and yet we focus ours on everything but the eye’s of another person, preferring the artificial optics of a mobile device or computer screen.

Raven was a very quiet person and not terribly demonstrative as a rule. However when we were together, I could read her every mood, and almost her thoughts, just from her eyes. We could have entire conversations across a room, just with our eyes. It became a fun game for us to play when we were out with friends. From those green jewels I could see the depths of love she felt for me, for her family, and her friends. I could see the pain that filled her heart whenever she saw suffering or tragedy. More than once I found myself moved to tears by what I saw in those eyes.

Dear reader, forgive me for suddenly turning serious on you, but I would ask a favour if I may be so bold:

When you spend time with the special people in your life, particularly if you’ve been blessed with a partner-in-love, take the time to study their eyes. See what they reveal about their moods and their feelings. Make a game out of it, trying to guess what the other is thinking, just from their eyes.

You might just discover a special kind of magic, right before your eyes.