Thursday, August 24, 2006

Aspirin as an Effective Treatment for Writer’s Block

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead. - Gene Fowler

Writing is easy. It is not simple, but given the time and a life, or an imagination, or, better, both, there is sufficient fodder for writing. William Sansom told us “A writer lives, at best, in a state of astonishment. Beneath any feeling he has of the good or evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all.” This is true. Given such astonishment, all there is to writing is looking at the world with that astonishment, discovering what of that experience is communicable and putting the words into an order words have never been in before to say something no other person has ever said or say it in a way that has never been done so a reader can see something completely new in a way which makes it feel familiar or something familiar in a way that appears to make it astonishingly new. That is it. That is all. The hard part is finding the time.

Most writers do not write full time. As perhaps one of the most important professions over the ages, it is one of the least paid. Poets would be within the court of the king but serve at his pleasure. So we now serve at the pleasure and vagaries of the public. We have bridges and streets named after us but rarely do we get paid in a way that allows us to write and write and write.

To pay the bills, to give my wife the time needed to get her practice off the ground, I teach writing at a public school. A public middle school. Five classes a day and sometimes seven. I train students to pass state tests. That is my job.

I cannot do this. Instead, I prepare them for college, for Advance Placement classes, teach them to do literary analysis and critique, to think. We read Plato, Alan Watts, Bradbury. We barely open our textbooks but we write poetry, publish poetry, win contests and, in the end, gain some of the best writing scores ever seen by this state. From parents and students, I receive thank you cards, presents, pictures. From administration I receive time-outs.

In between, I keep records, meet deadlines, appear mean, being cruel in order to be kind. I tell them no, no no, when the school rules tell me I must, to students who do not want to be in class, in school. I tell them they may not go to the bathroom, must make their bodies slave to a clock, be chained to the forty-seven minute increments and a chime, we separate things not naturally separated and learn this now, that then and stop at a bell. We become subjects of conditioning and divorce our bodies from nature, marching in four minutes from class to class.

I eat at certain times, as do they. I use the bathroom after holding it too long, as do they. I switch gears at the sound of a bell, like them. And, like them, never do so smoothly or wholly. I hold off drinking and hydrating so we can get through classes, as do they. They are training their bodies to do what mine does not, live by a clock and all day, I think, as I teach writing and hold my bladder, what I want to be doing is writing and drinking. Water and words.

I hate this. It is detestable. It feels criminal, violent. Friends tell me I should be honoured to teach. I am so honoured I can barely purchase a house in the county in which I teach. I should be enthralled to make such an impact on my student’s lives. I am but need not be in such an environment to be effective. They tell me to be happy I make such a difference in their lives. I tell them to get the degree and do it themselves if they think it so important.

I cannot not meet the needs of my students. I don’t not know how to do something in a way other than well, no matter what it requires. The weird students flock to me. The writers stick to me. I’d stop today. Now, if I had the chance.

You must do it, I am told, because you love kids so. I am told this repeatedly. No, I answer. I do it for the money. Mind you, I would teach for free any children who wanted to learn and had interest. But the job I do for the money. I get quizzical looks, strangely cocked heads on people suddenly looking like confused puppies attempting to understand a strange new word. It pays better than adjunct work at the community college. It pays better than private schools. I had never planned on teaching in the public schools but then I had not thought of my wife in medical school. I went to college for an advanced degree. It was not the one I wanted but it was the one available where I was at the time and would fit my work schedule. I was going to travel Asia with my Sweetie and teach English as a Second Language. Then she decided to go to med school. I took on teaching because, it seems, there is only thing I was qualified to do by my degree: teach.

More time is needed. It will end, I’m told. I’d like to believe that but it certainly feels as though it will not. I am trying to give it more time, but frustration wins over patience. The day to day absurdity seems to pummel any sense of equanimity into paste where one day looks like the next, and each is a place I don’t want to be.

I think of leaving, going to Europe or Japan. But, what about the books I’m working on? The theatre I hope to create? I cannot afford a second household, have found work which pays only what I make now or less and this is not enough for a another home, no matter how modest. I look for work where I live but incomes are low, will not allow time for writing. Even with the few weeks-off teaching appears to give, I find I must take classes, gain credits, recertify. If anyone tells you teachers have scads of time off, tell them it is a fallacy. Then kick them.

And I must write. I do so early in the morning before school. I get up and write. I do so at night. On weekends. Hold poetry readings, perform, record poetry, write essays, write plays and do all this around teaching school. I must, or else all I do is teach and shall find I have become nothing but a teacher; else I have given up what I am, to live in order to work only. Otherwise I am but an income and, at that, not a great one.

And I am exhausted. Still, I know I will not give up that which is congruent with my self to become fully incongruent. Yet, I go to bed at night, thinking, feeling, if I did not wake, it would be not so bad. If I did not wake, I would not have to go to work.

I wake in the morning wanting to say, starting to say, with my head on the pillow, “It is a new day, with a new sun. I can make this day what I choose it to be…” but always come up short and, despite my best efforts, silently exclaim, desperately, “Crap, I have to do this again.”

I think things I should not. I wonder, do we have aspirins in the house? How many? A bottle? Two bottles? How much would be enough? I could calculate this but am afraid to learn just how little.

I didn’t know aspirin could kill. My daughter taught me that and paid the price with an ulcer. She took half a bottle. Too many and it would have been enough. How many for me? I think how easy it would be to take them and lie down, enjoy fully my sleep knowing it would not end in classes the next day, the same damn thing again and again and again. The same pressure over and over. To get into bed knowing there were no more staff meetings, professional development plans, parent conferences. Sometimes, I am hard pressed to see why this is a bad idea. Sometimes is more and more often.

My doc tells me it is the epilepsy. That it drives one a bit crazy, especially if one is a control-freak. I’ve read up on this. Epileptics tend to be very physically healthy. They live to ripe old ages but often do not make it with their minds fully intact. If they do not make it, it is often due to suicide.

I use to say I could never end up famous. As a poet, I just was not crazy enough. Look at the really famous poets and one will discover most of them are off more than a bit. Drugs, disease, mental illness. Perhaps there is hope for me yet?

I have not mentioned this to anyone. People ask me how I am. I answer fine. I have, at times, given rather strange responses to that question only to hear, “Glad to hear it,” “That’s great,“ and the ubiquitous, under-meaning “Good.” All rather funny after answering “I lost my head to a marauding swale,” “Deplorable,” or simply “Tired.”

The question is asked pro-forma. When asked the question “How are you” in any of its many similar forms, people are expected to answer in the positive or, if not positive, to give light, short, nearly cliché complaintive responses. “Ready for the weekend.” “I need a vacation.” We all are liars. Anyone asked who actually, honestly answers the question is looked at blankly, the way we look at and listen to a developmentally disabled adult while we think how we can’t wait to escape. We consider them a bit off, fringy, whining, needy. When asked how we are, we can lie or whine.

But I am high-functioning and this is not always to my advantage as I get the job done and done well regardless of how I feel. Depression does not decrease that functioning or, if it does, such decrease is not of any noticeable amount as to call attention to my health or well-being. I can appear cheerful, calm, happy. And so it goes.

On occasion a friend notices I am not as well as I seem, as together as I pretend, asks why I said nothing. I answer that I did not want to seem as possessing any of the above mentioned qualities. I do not want to be needy, whiney. I am chastised. Told the question was asked sincerely. I have no doubt. Told I am wrong to dissemble and that it does not give the friend a chance to help. Told such behaviour is selfish. True, perhaps. I believe the sincerity of what is said. Yet, in answering truthfully, what is gained? Are any problems solved? And if others then worry? How shall that be a help? How shall I knowingly worry friends with that which they cannot help, cannot change?

And so I have not. Until, perhaps, now. I have written this. And what should be done with it? I should do the equivalent of burning it, trashing it by hitting the delete key, by not saving. Don’t save it, don’t save me. Maybe I should actually print it and take the physical being of the words and paper, burn them and send them skyward as wisps and smoke to disperse into air, thinner and thinner till naught can be seen of it above and what is left upon the ground is unrecognizable as anything but that which once was.

Perhaps I should put it away for a year, look at it then and see what time has wrought, imagine how I could feel as I did, laugh or sigh. And if I feel the same way, cry over my old words for all the good they have done me. Or publish it before I change my mind.

Sixty-eight five hundred milligram tablets.

1 comment:

werewulf said...

Time's up. I read this the night you posted it and said to myself, "Wow, that's heavy. I need to post something witty and wise in response."

I still haven't thought of my witty and wise response except to remind you of the poster of the seventies of the kitty hanging off the tree limb... Hang in There, Kitty!

All I know is that the day you really sit there and look at that botttle and it's time for you to empty it. Remember the friends you have who will be affected. Friends who will never know what happened. And then put the damn bottle back!

Hugs from your Twin,
Greykell