When I can’t write

“She can’t act her way out of a paper bag.” So goes the unkind cliché, applied to what is perceived to be an unconvincing job by an actor.

Well, sometimes, when I can’t write, I feel as though I am enveloped in a Rona-sized, highly durable paper bag, tightly sealed, addressed and stamped. Destination: nowhere.

Surely our work is not our worth. Yet we define ourselves, at least in part, by the work we do. When I can’t write, I don’t do well psychologically. The feeling is one of being constrained.

I have just been through an unable-to-write bout. In this case, it lasted six weeks. The term “writer’s block” does not describe the phenomenon well for me. In an unable-to-write state, I do not experience the presence of an obstacle I must go around or a hurdle I must jump over. I am hemmed in.

If I were a philosopher or a psychologist, I might ask myself how I wound up in the bag, and why. But when I am stuck in there, I’m not interested in analysis. I just want to escape.

For me, there is only one way out, and that is to do what I cannot do. I write. It is a daily practice. I write…whatever. A colourless freefall on the colour red. A clumsy description of the guy at the next table in the coffeeshop. A screed on how the country would be run if I had my way. It doesn’t matter what I write about as long as I put in my time. The words don’t come out or if they do, they come out wrong, and there is no fixing them. No free-associating seems to occur, so no topic can be sustained for more than a few minutes and nothing leads to anything else. I practise every day even though the exercise frequently seems futile. I write because it’s what I do, even if I can’t do it competently at the moment. I doodle a lot. I tell myself something is going on in my brain, although I don’t necessarily believe that is so. From what I’ve read about the workings of the human brain, I’m probably right. Maybe not. Who cares? All that matters is that I put in my time.

One day I hear a faint sound. The bag has ripped a little. Now it’s not too hard to tear it apart and step out.