If I knew how to sing I would, but I’m no Susan Boyle, so I try to make music with words, but that’s not easy either. I’ve sat in front of this computer for three hours, have had three cups of coffee, checked my e-mail a dozen times, and done all the things a writer does when he can’t think of anything to write about. Today is the deadline for this article. I’ve never missed a deadline.
When I attended the University at Albany, professors Nelson, North, Rozett and countless others said, “When you have writer’s block, just write about anything. Doesn’t matter what it is. Write whatever comes into your head to get the ball rolling, even if it’s stream-of-consciousness.” OK. Here goes.
“George Tiller, shot by killer, dead in Wichita. The Wichita lineman is still on the line. Three six nine. The goose drank wine. The monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line. The line broke the monkey choked, and they all went to heaven in a little rowboat. Glen Campbell. Campbell Soup. Chicken soup. Duck Soup. The Marx Brothers. Groucho Marx. Karl Marx. On your marx, get set, go.”
That’s not working. Let me try another piece of advice. “If you have trouble thinking of something to write, write about writing.” That should be easier.
The average writer makes less than $4,000 a year, and I guarantee you that I am an average writer, in fact below average. But there’s something that urges some of us to write no matter what the cost or how little the reward.
When you love words so much that when they fall, you dive to catch them before they hit the ground and get trampled on and lost forever, it is hard not to write. But is it worth it when you keep dropping pebbles down deep wells, waiting hopefully but futilely to hear a splash? Is it worth it when you cut down magnificent redwoods, but no one hears them fall because they fall in an earless forest?
You go to a meeting and sit in a circle. When it’s your turn you say, “My name is Dan Weaver. I’m a writer.” Then you swear off it forever.
Until one day, you stop at Stewart’s for gas, and you take one look at the woman who waits on you, and you can’t look at her anymore. Her whole life story is in her eyes — the dropping out of school, the child having a child, the many men, the divorces and the dead-end jobs, the 60-year-old face on a 40-year-old body — and you know that the high point of her day will be when the parade of customers lets up and she can go out and have a smoke.
Her badge reveals that she has only one name, but it’s not Hillary, Britney or Oprah, and even if you knew her last name, she would still be Jane Doe.
Someone needs to tell her story.
Then there is Juan Doe. We meet at a diner and he tells me about his years in prison, all because of one Herkimer cop’s testimony. Later, a judge gave the same cop only 33 months in federal prison for suborning perjury, selling drugs, falsifying evidence and more.
Someone needs to tell Juan’s story.
Clara and Marty
On another occasion, you are sitting in your car, waiting for your wife to come out from her job. You see a middle-aged man wheeling an old lady out into the sun, make sure she’s positioned so the sun is not in her eyes, put a wrap around her, then squat down and talk to her. Later, you find out that the middle-aged man is the old lady’s son, and he comes to see her every day.
And you check the next day and the day after, and he is there. He talks to her softly and tenderly, giving back to her what she had given him so many decades ago. It’s like a scene out of that wonderful book “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch, which begins with the mother rocking her infant son and ends with the son holding his elderly mother in his arms, rocking her back and forth.
I call these two Clara and Marty after two of the main characters in the 1955 film “Marty.” Someone needs to tell Theresa and Marty’s story.
The Celtic group Enter the Haggis sings a song that says every old man has a story to tell. But most of us will end up with a brief obituary and a few words carved on a stone that the wind and sun will obliterate in a century or two. Not a cheerful thought.
And if immortality is a pipe dream, then the thought is even less cheerful because writing anything of lasting value is then a pipe dream also. But I believe in immortality and I believe that everyone has a story worth telling. So if I can tell a few untold stories before I die, then writing is worth it even if I do have to work through the occasional writer’s block.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.
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