There’s a wonderful article about writing in this week’s New Yorker. It’s by John McPhee–a man whose essays usually throw me into a frenzy of irritation. But this one won my admiration. It was compassionate. And wise. Replete with helpful suggestions. It isn’t the first piece he’s published on the subject, but it is, in my opinion, the best. It starts at writers’ block, then ranges to rewriting, copy editors, a writer’s despair, the virtues of dictionaries. It’s a charming meditation–ruminative, loving, and, to me, at least, encouraging.
I don’t consider myself a writer, of course. How can I? I’m not paid to do it–although I have been, on occasion, in the past. Still, a person oughtn’t to toss around titles like “writer”–or any other, for that matter–without a certain on-paper credibility. I’m touchy about this. Perhaps because I had a husband, at one point, who used to routinely call himself a “film producer.” He’d never gotten within a thousand miles of a piece of celluloid. But he had aspirations, and felt that one could become something only by claiming to already be it.
“Great,” I replied. “I’m the president. Get me Air Force One”
Needless to say we didn’t stay married.
I do write, though. Obviously. So I relate to certain dilemmas encountered by writers. Block, specifically. But not just that. The elation that comes from writing a good sentence. And despair. Oh, despair. Mine, of course, has applied to far more than the words I pen. But I do get the literary variety. Particularly since I started blogging. I’ve written before about the senselessness I fear is attached to this particular art form. At least the way I practice it. I’ve talked, too, about bloggers I don’t think are senseless. Those I admire desperately. Lisa B. Adams, for example, whose poems and prose about living with metastatic breast cancer continue to devastate and awe me every time I read her.
But me? I’m mostly silly. I write about dishwashers, pipe cleaners, dog hair. I pen odes to Trader Joe’s. I discuss my daughter’s bodily functions at great length. I keep things superficial, anodyne, occasionally humorous. I never talk about my marriage. Or politics. Sex is off the menu completely. On the blog, mind you. In real life–ahem.
See? I’m clamming up.
I don’t even tell you my name.
There’s a level of self-revelation I really should aspire to. It’s what nearly all successful bloggers employ. They talk about their body image issues. Their fear of wrinkles. One mommy blogger I know described in great detail how she made grocery lists while her husband screwed her. Others discuss depression, illness, mania. Me, on the other hand? I stick to cleaning debacles, light chats with my three-year-old, cooking disasters. Does this make me a coward? Blocked? Or just a mildly bad housewife?
McPhee suggests, in his article, that those unable to get a first draft on paper should use a little trick. Just, you know, to get the juices flowing. They should start with a clean page. At the top of it write “Dear Mother.” And then start. Just start. Talk to mom, tell her anything and everything they’re thinking. When they’re done they’ll have a semblance of a first draft. Now cut off the salutation, rewrite, and presto!
I didn’t try it this time. But I know Mom is reading. So maybe I did. My name is Jessica, by the way. Nice to meet you. Maybe on the next date I’ll tell you my last name.
Or maybe I’ll show you my Japanese toilet.
Intimacy comes in many forms.