Come along in then, little girl!
Or else stay out!
But in the open door she stands,
And bites her lip and twists her hands,
And stares upon me, trouble-eyed:
“Mother,” she says, “I can’t decide!
I can’t decide!”
First canto of “From a Very Little Sphinx”, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Oh, hello there. It appears I’ve decided to come in. Just, before you ask “Does this mean you’ve finished your book?” I’d like you to imagine a woman seven or eight months pregnant, and think really, really hard about the likely outcome of asking: “When are you due?” Only, the length of time I’ve carried this particular book seems so absurd I’ve started to feel like Gandhari in The Mahabharata… If I give my head a good hard whack, will the damn thing finally come out, a monstrosity that turns into 101 books? Gods no, no, no… I’m already looking forward to retiring from novel-writing and doing nothing but playing music for the rest of my life.
Don’t take this to mean that I’m in any way sick of my novel(s). I love this world and these characters with a passion that burns in perfectly inverse proportion to the hatred I bear for a little thing called cognitive dysfunction — and its even more pernicious partner-in-crime, depression. It’s been a while since I’ve written an “FU, MS” post; this is partly one of those, but I have a lot of friends here in the depression community — and artists galore — so hey, I have something for everyone!
Last year, one of the keynote speakers at the writers’ conference I attended made a bold, if unoriginal statement: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block.” (I’m pretty sure Terry Pratchett said it first.) I’ll admit my first thought was: ‘I’d like to lend you a few brain lesions, sister, and dare you to say that again.’ But then I looked around at the attentive (even hungry) expressions of the others in the room, and was struck not only by the number of people who believed they suffered from the same supposedly nonexistent affliction, but my own feeling of solidarity with them in their suffering. Because it’s not just about the brain not being able to make connections — about working on a single chapter for months because the words will not obey their proper logical order — or the sickening screen twisting your vision in knots. Those are all physical manifestations of disease. What everyone could relate to in that room was something psychological, and it does exist; we’re just calling it the wrong thing.
I personally haven’t used the term writer’s block, ever, because it sounds vaguely disgusting, like something you might fix with a suppository. I don’t know that I call it anything at all; I just say ‘I’m unable to write’. But it’s human nature to describe and classify everything, so we need a better term… And if I didn’t have MS, I could come up with it! Just kidding; my brain fog isn’t that bad today. Wait a minute… How about ‘soul fog’. Honestly, it’s shorter and snappier than ‘a crisis of literary self-confidence’? It’s more specific than depression, which I suspect is ultimately at the root of the problem. And it doesn’t limit it to just writers, because I’m pretty sure artists and composers experience the terror of the blank page, or canvas, or soundscape. We need something that applies to self-expression of all kinds.
For me, it’s the thing that makes me physically ill every time I open up a blank blog post. Or a blank message on email or Twitter. Or try to type a comment on the blog of someone whose work has moved me. I am unable to get past my own voice, my own identity, all the things I know about myself that I despise, that no one must know, the deeper illness that will make anything I have to say insignificant, unclever (or too clever), and superfluous, no matter how many people ‘like’ it. My most terrifying blank page is the mirror.
I do not believe I’m alone in this. But no matter your medium — writing, music, sculpture — how you break through the fog is the same. You make a mark, anything. You set down one word, one line, one note, and the others follow until you say the work is done.
There, that wasn’t so bad. I would have liked to return bearing verses, but I’ve not been sufficiently motivated to write poetry for some little while. At the same time, other people’s poems slip into my head constantly, including many of yours. Thank you for that. In fact, I’m happy to close this post as a Valentine to all the writers and artists here on WordPress who help me get out of bed and elect to forgive myself and live another day. It’s wonderful that there are far too many of you to list; I hope you know who you are! And to the readers who have yet to share with the world that first word or line or note… Well, at this point I usually just play a song.