Dorothy Cannell: For the past couple of weeks I’ve been wracking my brains about what to write this month. Ideas flitted in and out only to be discarded as mundane, already likely to have been written about by someone with a more interesting take on it, or something that wouldn’t take up more than a paragraph. Last night at eleven thirty I decided to take myself in hand and brave the keyboard. My approach would be a frank admission that my life is steeped in the ordinary. Not boring to me, but hardly a grabber for others.
Contrary to the fantasies indulged in before selling my first book, my life as an author has not been by any stretch of the imagination a metaphorical swan down a red carpet. In fact I quickly discovered that being introduced at a social gathering as a writer invariably left me feeling like a popped balloon. Here are examples of responses fielded back to me.
“Oh! But have you ever had anything published?
“That would be a vanity press, right?”
“Do you write under your own name? (Never heard of you.)
“Where could I find your books?” (Bookstores, on line or libraries being an unfathomable stretch.)
“Yes,” pause, “I read one.” (Silence.)
“People are always telling me I should write a book and I think about doing one in my spare time. This is the one that raises a nasty little imp in me tempting me to reply that I frequently think about getting a P.H.D. in ancient Hebrew in my spare time.
My favorite deflator of ego came from an acquaintance of mine, a newly retired English teacher. We were at a coffee morning and someone asked what plans she had in mind. “Lots of ideas, but ‘Gordon’ had been encouraging me to write a novel. He said that after all if Dorothy can do it I certainly could.” On reflection I had to concede that he possibly had a valid point. She undoubtedly had a far better grasp on the finer points of grammar, spelling and punctuation than I posses.
As best as I can remember the above text is in the ballpark of what I wrote last night. The crucial word is the one beginning with ‘r’. I had recorded only to the A drive (floppy disk now sadly becoming obsolete and my computer won’t respond to the ‘stick’ things). An ominous grinding noise, followed by nothing coming up on the screen, alerted me to the possibility of a PROBLEM. I summoned my electronic advisor (a.k.a husband) and received the dire pronouncement that either the disk was bad or worse yet that the A drive was dead. Either way what I’d written was irretrievably gone. The good news was that after ten minutes he found me a workable disk on which I am writing this and he also backed me up to the hard drive.
Losing even a paragraph usually puts in a complete funk, but this time was different. I’d realized on waking up this morning (it’s amazing how sleep so often clarifies things) that what I’d written was the entry to the fact that what I’ve been suffering from is writer’s funk – the paralyzing feeling that I’m done, finished, washed up. This has happened to me before, most scarily when in the middle of a book. Somehow I always get past this, usually by dint of telling myself that if I absolutely cannot finish it I’ll have to return the advance to the publisher, meanwhile I will commit to writing three sentences a day. Not a word more unless I decide I want to keep pegging away. I don’t think of these times as writer’s block (although maybe it is) because I always have some story drifting in my head; it’s that wretched confidence thing. And I know I’m not alone in this because several of my colleagues and friend have talked to me about the drag of being in the same situation. And what of aspiring writers? Do such episodes cause them to throw in the towel? I hope not, because the rewards of creating a world beyond our everyday existence are so joyfully rewarding, whether or not they every find themselves in print.
Back to this blog. What hampered me was the conviction that no single happening had occurred within my life during the past few weeks could be stretched into being sufficiently interesting or entertaining for anyone find worth reading. What I had was a hodgepodge of small happenings that couldn’t be woven into a cohesive whole. This morning I asked myself why on earth that mattered. This is not a term paper. And then came the realization where the funk comes from – focusing on how readers will respond to a particular piece of work, will it measure up for them with what I’ve done before, will it incline them to pick up what I do next? The time to focus on that (if at all) is when the project is put to bed. In the meantime all that should matter is what has relevance, amusement, poignancy and hope of enlightenment for me.
So here are two items from the hodgepodge. Pressure being off, they are now rattling away in my head, prodding me as snippets often do to be given their turn.
I have never seen anything more beautiful than the trees following the ice storm. Felt I’d been
transplanted a crystalline wonderland. We were fortunate in having a generator and urged friends without to come and stay with us. All refused not wanting to abandon their homes for fear of frozen pipes. I was reminded of captains prepared to go down with the ship. Rather than complaining about the discomfort, their focus was admiration for the workers intent on restoring power. Heroes indeed. Thank you.
I received a Christmas card from my older son’s second grade teacher. Her name is Edie Stubbs. I was a room mother that year, showed up at Halloween with cookies to be greeted by her with a vacuum cleaner in tow. “I’m a modern witch,” she announced, “no time for brooms.” In later meetings I discovered that in addition to a sense of humor she had insight into who my son was, was amused by his foibles, sensitive to his needs and encouraging of bringing out all of his strengths. “I call him the professor,” she told me.” So’s here’s a shout out to her and all other teachers who go above and beyond.
And now I need to go and comfort my husband who has likely taken to his bed anguishing over the A drive problem. Life as I occasionally remind myself isn’t all about me. Happy New Year to you all and thanks for being out there.