Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "The Writer's Block Blues"

THE WRITER'S BLOCK BLUES, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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Monday, 14 January, 2002:
"The Writer's Block Blues"

"I work
Best under pressure, and there'll
Be lots more pressure if I
Wait till tomorrow and don't
Start in today..."
==="A Book Report on 'Peter Rabbit' "
from "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown"

"I thought writers' blocks applied only to fiction --- to novelists. If you're just writing non-fiction, all you have to do is put down the facts and do some organizing, right?"
So much for the sympathetic ears of friends.

Actually, I don't write that way. I've never been a disciplined writer, and I've never been a RE-writer at all. When I wrote stories, if an idea came into my head I'd just roll it around the inside of my skull a while (once for several years) till I could feel all its parts and some significant sentences, and when it was ready I'd dash to the typewriter and spill it out on the page, filling whatever were gaps with either the inevitable phrases, or some spontaneous inspirations. Maybe that's why nearly everything I would have called a "novel" remains unfinished.

But after so long doing reviews, I've usually worked the same way. Some time, usually watching the play or walking home from the play, or maybe that night or the next morning the inevitable lead-paragraph summarizing the most important thing that has to be said about it will fasten itself firmly into my mind, and then the rest of the review becomes an exercise in explicating that paragraph and including whatever other important remembered details corroborate the initial statement. It's easy........
If that lead paragraph jells.

But I am three reviews behind, and not a single syllable has asserted itself.

My mind's on Walkabout, spending most of its waking life busily NOT-Thinking about those huge, fuzzy-white unwritten reviews skulking around just outside my field of vision, whining that everyone connected with those shows is depending on me to say the sooth concerning their hard work and achievements. Every moment that ticks away since those curtains came down is an embarrassment to me --- and to them. "You know, he only refuses to write reviews of Really Bad Shows, don't you? Guess what that means!" And still my mind is full of so many irrelevant things that there's no room left in which to do the work. It's time I tried to kick out the jams.......

Okay, it's January --- the armpit of the year --- again. The joyful holidays ending the past three months have only, just as always, demonstrated that there's never enough money --- especially not in the joyful holiday season --- to participate in the holiday spirit by Giving anybody anything, though friends persist in corroborating that shortcoming by lavishing gifts on a glumly unreciprocal me. The ground is still unfrozen, the snows all start as rain and end in frozen slush and frequent freshets that never justify the gloomy gray overcasts with the blanketing purity of blizzards that once made making tracks to the subway an adventure.

Inside my empty mind I sit in the middle of the maze of my life, remembering all the many major dead ends I've walked back from, all the crusades I've declared to echoing silence, the facts I knew that turned out false, the beginnings turned sour, the lies I only understood later were not even true when uttered, all, all the mistakes committed in blind earnest, the total commitments of my life to lost causes and dying dreams.

And now I have seen three wonderful shows and yet can't think of a thing to say about any of them.

Would it be different, I wonder, if I took what I do less seriously? I know that plays are made from People, who are in continual need of corroboration of the worth of their work. I know for many of those I write about there will be no other feedback. I know how crushable an ego can be, and the clearest way that can be accomplished is by a vacuum where a reaction should be. And since anyone who steps onto a stage or works behind it is a friend, my silence about their good work is even more a reproach to me than it is to them. My laughter or tears or applause, considering what I do, are not really enough. At the very least, I got those free tickets by promising to publicize whatever it was good that I saw. Now all I remember is the feeling good about what I saw, not any of the details I can freeze into prose.
I am betraying all my friends.

As you can see, this isn't working.
No matter how hard I strike the flint against the steel, the sparks aren't catching, the tinder smoulders but goes out.

The year ended days before Xmas with two plays near the ends of their runs, with a week of "vacation" in the limbo-land of television and a vcr bringing me eighteen movies --- from "Body And Soul" and "A Night in Casablanca" to "Bedazzled" and "The Player" with "New Faces of 1952" "The African Queen" and "Touch of Evil" following Olivier's "Othello" somewhere in the middle --- and the new one began with two readings of new scripts back-to-back, "Contact" "Tartuffe" and two/thirds of The 2nd Annual African American Theatre Festival. And there are scads of shows, important shows I am neglecting, all over the landscape --- while I keep expecting a month-long nagging cough to break, while I slather nearly two-hundred-beans-worth of ointments twice-daily on a persistent rash, while I sink myself into reading "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" given me by a loving friend, and while I open each day thinking "right after dealing with the e-mail I'll tackle those reviews" and close each day with "well, maybe in the morning... "

And the words never come alive and demand to be written. "I had a real good time" is Not A Review.
Maybe tomorrow.......

"I work
Best under pressure, and there'll
Be lots more pressure if I
Wait till tomorrow and don't
Start in today..."

Love,
===Anon.


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