Crisp. Clean. White. Pure.
His stare remained steadily fixed on it before him. Ghostly, it returned his stare, but gave no indication of anything whatsoever. It was being everything but cooperative.
He continued to look upon it with awe – at 8 1/2 inches in width and 11 inches in length it was everything and nothing. At least it had the potential to be everything, to be anything, but right now it remained nothing – a haunting rectangle mocking him with its possibilities. Nothing else he had ever encountered had its ability to rouse in him both the greatest anxieties and the greatest joys. (Well…other than her).
He turned it on its side, flipped it over, inspected every minute detail of its existence, yet it remained empty. Establishing that fact, he continued to retain the god-like ability to determine whatever end he deemed fit for it – whatever positive, worthwhile, heartwarming end, or whatever lifeless, soulless, dark end he wanted. The decision was his and his alone. Yet he remained immobile, incapable of making even the resemblance of one. And so he continued to stare, fully aware of its capabilities, but with ever increasing questioning of his own.
Soon the strength of his concentration began to conjure up vivid memories of being in the 6th grade, staring at the fake wood grain of his desktop. His eyes fixed upon the patterns unblinkingly until whatever was hidden within revealed itself. More often than not, the scene was of dragons and knights fighting epic battles. Buoyed up by the clarity of his success from those many years ago, he returned to the present and focused his unwavering attention on the paper, fully prepared for it to cough up its secrets.
But nothing came.
The paper sat, relaxed, in stark contrast to the black leather top of the antique desk. While he valued such extreme ends of the spectrum in real life, in literature he found them endlessly boring. Nothing of the grayscale came to him. He tried re-focusing his attention on the desktop, staring into the blackness, but all it revealed was an endless succession of rings from stale cups of coffee.
Momentarily broken, he took the pencil he had been cradling in his right hand and placed it on top of the paper, hoping for some sort of an osmotic process to take place between the two. The pencil was one of those things that had its complexity long lost in the technological world, he thought. While most considered it among the simplest of tools, he certainly couldn’t make one, nor could anyone he knew. He remembered reading a pamphlet once which used that premise as a defense of the free market system. Although he couldn’t recall any details of it now, he was fully convinced that it made sense at the time.
Pushing his chair away from the desk, he shook off these distracting thoughts, regained control of his pencil, let out a moan, and pulled himself back in.
The desire had reached the point where it was so overwhelming that it clouded his ability to fulfill the original desire. “Desire, much like inspiration, is a funny thing,” he thought. He wanted to write, he desperately, longingly wanted to write. He had done it many, many times before, and even though his successes had outnumbered failures, it was still no easier to begin the damn thing. While one could attempt to set up the correct causes and conditions, there is no way of telling where, when, or how inspiration would come.
It was usually around this time that he began to worry that he only had a finite number of words in him, and that they had been exhausted. He began to equate words in his mind with the characteristics of ink in the pen. Once brain cells died, they could not come back — why would his talent be any different?
Writing was the only activity in his entire life which was able to make him truly lose track of time, to lose track of the painfulness of impermanence. In all other activity no matter how pleasurable or painful, it was always on the forefront of his mind that “this will end” and soon be no more than a half remembered, often idealized memory. But when he was writing, during that fantastic time when his pencil filled up page after page, was the only time he felt he truly existed. And nothing else did. He never actually remembered writing any of his stories. He vividly remembered the anguish before each piece, and the exultation after finishing, but never had any memory of the writing itself. Once he even set up a camera to prove to himself that it was him who had actually done the work.
This is the point he is currently at – he is hearing each and every tick of the clock as it counts off his limited time. If only one word would come! Just one word. Many of his pieces began with just one word. That word would develop into an image, which led to a sentence, which created a world. All he needed was one word.
At that moment the heater kicked on and joined in with the clock, cutting through the possibility of silence.
The paper sat unmoved, protesting. He sought to convey in words that which couldn’t be conveyed in words, which, of course, made it difficult. What do people like to read these days? Fantasy… escape… supernatural… there was a possibility — the supernatural. He had long ago seen the gods knocked from their heavens and allowed spirits to dissipate, but it was a fun convention to play with in literature. It was easy — you didn’t need to have a logical, coherent explanation whatsoever, just make up anything you want and let the willing suspension of disbelief do the rest.
But… no. While many had tried to tell him of “deep” explanations behind these concocted worlds, he found it impossible to dwell intellectually on elves, mythical creatures, and lead characters who had fuzzy feet. To be sure, some were an entertaining distraction, but a useful cog in the search for meaning they were not. Besides which, when it came to the supernatural people wanted the safe, antiseptic, sweet tea version — like stories of vampires who move to the suburbs and worry about being “green.” No, supernatural was out.
Even if only one person understood what he was trying to convey, it was better than re-vomiting 20,000 words easily re-digested by the masses. At least for now he convinced himself to hold onto some sort of artistic integrity. Ha. He choked on the thought of it, and laughed at what an elitist, pretentious ass he must seem to be.
Suddenly he flung the pencil in disgust across the room, cursing it out as it lay motionless, now on the far windowsill. He buried his face in his hands for a moment before slowly dragging his fingers down, as if trying to remove a mask. He opened up the drawer and took out another pencil.
There was always her. He could always write about her. She was the main character in a few of his stories, but he always managed to fit her into all of them somehow. The thought, the image of her was always enough to fully captivate his interest, but how to reshape her so others would continue to find her interesting? He had no new ideas. She remained a far-off inspiration, but that was it. Whatever eventually came of this current effort, he knew she would appear, but in the periphery.
Desire was turning into desperation.
Laying the pencil down once again, he picked up the dictionary he always kept next to his desk, (he was an embarrassingly horrible speller), and began flipping the pages, randomly stopping at words — turgid, right of passage, Pentateuch, nasturtium, gutsy, dais — none of them registered anything. It seemed his imagination had cut out on him while he wasn’t looking.
Tossing the dictionary aside, he turned to the bookshelf and retrieved a novel by his favorite author. Flipping through he stopped at several passages he had previously underlined. He loved the rhythm, the cadence of it, where each word was ripe and about to burst forth, but could only exist when surrounded by the carefully chosen ones on either side of it.
This, however, was another mistake. In the end it only served to ratchet up the anxiety — he would NEVER, EVER be that good. Each sentence of this work was a treasure, and he couldn’t even think of one interesting word.
The radiator began to hum, letting its intentions be known, and the heat promptly shut off. Each tick of the clock began to echo.
Opening the center desk drawer, he replaced the paper on top of the pile, carefully lining them all up, and placed the pencil back to rest with the others (sans the expat on the windowsill). He would try again tomorrow.
Slowly and silently he let his breath escape.
At least there was always her.
– June 2010