For six years, I have been writing electronic letters to someone I have never met. The entire time we’ve corresponded, I’ve been in Brooklyn; he has been in prison. Our sentences have swum in many directions, but lately we have both begun to grow introspective. Sometimes he is the gasoline to my words, getting them to move quicker out of me. However, recently I expressed an affliction bubbling in my brain, referred to as writer’s block.
I wrote to him, “Actually, I don't believe in such a thing. I mean, a writer writes. Right? And yet, here I am contradicting myself. A brick wall against my chest. An accidental overdose of words without even swallowing anything. Focusing too much on meaning and not enough on purpose.”
My fingers press down on letters, creating meaning, and then I erase. The words go away as though they never existed. Maybe this is why I find more ease when writing in my notebook. There is no delete. Everything remains.
We speak about nicknames, my electronic pen pal and I. He shares his with me and I tell him the ones I’ve been called. I write, “I like the idea of a word that has no meaning, which makes NEW meaning from how it defines.”
There are many questions I want to ask my electronic pen pal, which I leave stewing inside me. Some I am just not ready to ask; some may not have an answer.
Another kind of block.
Even while writing this, I pause more times than I care to announce. Staring at these words. Feeling unqualified to be writing them. Contemplating other labels I can quickly stitch to my skin to replace what I thought I was.
I’ve begun to ponder letting go of pressing this word to me: Writer. It is a noun. A person. But it is so much of a verb too. An action. A state of being. Of doing. I talk to my students about STOP signs and all the words, images, thoughts which stand in our way of becoming. My STOP sign has always been red. With curly hair and very thin lips. (Me.)
I thought being inside something would make me feel less blocked. And yet, I wonder if maybe it has led to the cause. This two-syllable label gives me heartburn. I yearn for the days I was less self-conscious. Or I yearn for the days I will be self-confident.
Years ago, I performed a piece where words were written all over my body. Parts of my poems, secrets I’ve hoarded, words I’ve been or still are.
On one of my arms were the words, “what I was and what I am engage in a battle.” There is a tug-of-war with our past and present and I don’t know about you, but I feel this pull every single day. It is the cellular structure of my writer’s block, and yet sometimes the cure.
Thomas Page McBee wrote, “The more you’re exposed to different narratives, and the more you see there’s not one way to be anything, the more you question and interrogate your own way of being in the world.”
Maybe I just need to interrogate myself more. Not be so afraid of my questions and just ask them. To learn about others allows me entrance into learning more about myself. This may not aid my writer’s block, but perhaps it can keep me here just a little longer as I work on figuring out the answers.