Kittens, Crabapple Jelly, and “Nearly Dead”
(Or Writer’s Block)
I’m not the first person to wrestle with writer’s block, or to complain about the wrestle. And I’m not the first to realize that the best way past it is simply through. Just getting it done. Which is pretty much all I learned from my petty research on the subject (my sources include Google and a biography on Margaret Mitchell).
Studying writer’s block did little to help me overcome it. But it was a fascinating diversion.
My sister, who I think is a very good writer, recently shared that while she is wistfully aware that writing is one of the major reasons for her mortal existence, the thought of actually doing it makes her nauseous. I get it. Hungry to create, but so afraid of failing that I sabotage the joy of creating. Or avoid it altogether.
My sister and I are not the only ones who psyche ourselves out. Knowing that I’m in good company does comfort me a bit.
I’ve been writing this particular post for weeks– no, months– coming up with four or five wordy, complicated, entirely confusing drafts. I moved the most finished ones from WordPress to my notepad because it hurt my soul to think of deleting them, after all my labor. But I’ll probably never use them— drafts filled with ruminations about Beautiful Feet on the Mountains, Paint Night, Open Boats, and the mysterious differences between artists and “makers”.
Right now?* All I really want to write about is crabapple jelly, my kitten, and how fainting should qualify as a near death experience.
But You Don’t Say It (or Crabapple Jelly)
There’s not much left to say about writer’s block. But crabapple jelly? Mmm. I could almost wax lyrical. Crabapple jelly is a lovely, mystical outgrowth of the ancient, somewhat controversial Apple tradition, whose roots reach back into history, beyond Johnny Appleseed and the English midwife’s cottage garden, through Newton, Ivanhoe, the Norse gods… and at last to the Trojan War— possibly into Helen’s own back yard. Crabapples are the Apple Original, the mother Pomme. Beyond Trojan heroes and villains, the Apple’s role in the Garden, if it had any beyond nouragement**, was blessed. But that’s a tangent.
Also, I understand that besides being a sweet-tart preserve, “Crab Apple Jelly” is an anthology of sweet-tart short stories by Frank O’ Connor. What a lovely concept… sweet-tart short stories. I think I’ll make crabapple jelly, and then savor short stories and toast in front of the fire some cold November morning when the girls are at school. Read some, write some. A way past writer’s block! Via crabapple jelly.
Cat Gotcha Tongue
What would I say about my kitten? Well, I love that she purrs. Purring is magical, like crabapple jelly– just one more proof of God’s hand in the creature.
I also love that she wends. Between my feet while I’m doing dishes, between blankets and pillows when I’m making the bed, between the banister rails when I go up and down stairs (she’s stalking me, thinking she’s a leopard). I love that she is especially clownish and wild-eyed lemur-like when she wants to be picked up, and that of all things, she loves to have her tummy rubbed (more magic: possibly she’s not a leopard or a lemur, she’s a Labrador). I love that I cannot pin down what she is after all– milkweed stardust fluff eider-thistledown, leopard lemur Labrador– and that there is no possible way to discern her thoughts, though clearly, she has them (she is a regular schemer).
I don’t love that in a wild, leopard-lemur-Labrador-like move, she knocked down one of my blue sparkly glass things and broke the lid (her concern was not entirely believable). But I’ve forgiven her, and will continue to put my hope in more magic. Apples in a basket.
Not Dead Yet
And what have I to do with near death experiences, or even fainting for that matter? Not much, besides the fact that I’m wriggling past writer’s block (with cat-like tread, she said), and fainting and death are something to talk about. Last July some dearly beloveds and I nearly went down in a vintage boat (circa 1970’s) on Flathead Lake in Montana. It was a sobering moment (though not too awful; we had on life jackets and could still see the shoreline). But fainting in September– months later and for other reasons– was a lot scarier and significantly more uncomfortable than facing the possibility of going down in a boat in July. Partly because the boat in July didn’t completely sink, so… drowning remained theoretical, while the fainting was for real.
Still. Fainting bypasses theoretical drowning and ranks second after choking in all of my near-death experiences so far (I almost died by carrot twice). I’m not a fainter by custom, trade, or penchant—I object to pretty much anything along the whole Fainting-as-conspiracy spectrum, from the breeding of the ultimate scapegoat (***), to the cinched-tight corsets of Scarlett’s genre. I hope I never faint again, nor choke on a carrot or even a bit of apple either. May we all remain forever novices to swooning and choking. It’s not cute or fun in any way.
Back To the Block
This naturally brings me back to Writer’s Block, which is, metaphorically speaking, a sort of Near Death Experience, a more than theoretical Sinking Boat, an almost literal Choke. Assuming we ever get past it (because if we don’t, it is Actual Death, Snow White’s last suffocating gasp spent beneath glass without the benefit of True Love’s Kiss). Having researched writer’s block (you smile, and you’re right; I might as well have been ironing the cheesecloth for my crabapple jelly), I have garnered perspective and advice for us all on the subject. Which I’ll share, with a challenge. And then I will leave us to our own devices.
Advice On Tackling Writer’s Block (And Other Creative Paralysis)
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London
“I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” — Barbara Kingsolver
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” — Ray Bradbury
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” — Maya Angelou
And especially this:
“Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously” — Lev Grossman
The Challenge (Heigh ho)
To myself and anyone else aspiring to create wonderful things– who also has happened to read this (maybe my sisters, brothers, a handful of friends, a cousin or two), I extend an invitation and challenge: Just do it. Just write (0r whatever it is you are longing to do but are not doing because only heaven knows why). Pre-dawn, midnight, or like Lev Grossman, in ten minute snippets and other stolen moments, just do it. Go after inspiration with a club, chain your muse to your desk, write nonsense if you have to, don’t take anyone’s advice too seriously, and remember to never take counsel from your fears (I think that was Stonewall Jackson).
My daughter invited me to join her in a challenge to write 50,000 words of fiction during the month of November. I’m already behind in the challenge, but actually, I’m days ahead of where I would be had I not started at all. Amongst my paragraphs and pages of gibberish so far, I think there are a few gems. Out there, with you, dearly beloveds, are a whole lot more.
*This post convalesced in rough draft form for weeks through October; I almost deleted it but couldn’t bear to give up on one more. So I’m publishing it. Having made the crabapple jelly ages ago. It is delicious.
** “nouragement”: Ogden Nash’s word (Love Under The Republicans– Or Democrats) which I take to be a perfect hybrid between nourishment and encouragement. Nash uses it sarcastically; I don’t.
(***) The ultimate scapegoat: Fainting Goats. People bred goats with a genetic disorder that predisposed them to fainting when stressed to serve as decoys amongst herds of sheep. If wolves threatened the herd, the sheep would run and the goats would tip over in a stiff-legged faint, serving as a perfect distraction for the sheep getaway. Grisly and sad, and one more nuance to the ancient term “scapegoat”.