Interesting how reading an obituary can give you some insight into something like writer's block.
I never heard of Chet Cunningham. He died March 14 at age 88. He was the prolific author of 450 books. He started writing in 1968. You can read his obit here at the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-chet-cunningham-20170324-story.html
What caught my attention in his obit was the following quote about writer’s block:
“I don’t believe it exists,” he wrote on his website. “Ever heard of a carpenter not going to work because he has ‘carpenter’s block’? If a writer can’t write, it’s because he doesn’t really want to, he isn’t ready to get it on paper or he’s just plain lazy.”
Oftentimes I ponder this when I feel like I am suffering a severe case of “writer’s block.” Am I being lazy? Do I really just not want to write? Am I just not ready to get it on paper? It is the idea of being lazy or just not wanting to that bugs me. How many times have I not sat down at the blank page simply because I “don’t feel like it?”
A carpenter must work because that’s what a carpenter does. And if he doesn’t, he may not be able to put food on the table. As for writing, it seems for me that it is a self-indulgence, a non-essential treat. I enjoy writing usually. It’s the “usually” part that bugs the heck out of me. Sometimes I feel like I’m a just kidding myself. Other times I feel like it is a privilege and passion I cannot ignore.
I have been blessed with some talent for putting words down on paper. I must face the fact that most of the time I am an ungrateful child of the universe, not appreciating this apparent talent I have been blessed with by not using it with all my being.
And so this past week I have been revisiting the sources of inspiration and support I have absented myself from. Workshops and writing groups and reading and working in my garden. It is amazing when one retreats into one’s own little partition of the universe, how much one can see and find.
So thank you, Chet Cunningham. I may not write 450 books, but I will take your advice and savor some of that work ethic growing up in Detroit instilled in me. I will remember that writing is a calling. It is not self-indulgent to hone your craft and take writing seriously as an essential treat one should not live without. But not too seriously as to take the fun out of it. All creative endeavors should be fun or what’s the point?
This morning the Riverside Press Enterprise ran an article about the time we came close to losing the Mission Inn, Riverside's crown jewel of architecture. It is now one of the main reasons tourist come to Riverside. Below is a snapshot of the article.
Immediately upon seeing, I remembered this happening. I remembered how close we came to losing our beloved Mission Inn. I remember all the controversies surrounding those who tried to save the Inn with mixed results. The City, a large hotel chain, and another group couldn't pull it off either because of lack of funds or a public outcry over the changes they wanted to make. In the end, however, a wealthy entrepreneur named Duane Roberts came to the rescue and the rest is history. The Mission Inn is once again a world class hotel and resort, the center of our tourist and civic activities. But how close we came to losing it is all but forgotten by many.
This made me think about all the times I have been driving down a oft-travelled thoroughfare and have come upon an empty lot where once stood what was, I know, a very familiar structure. A farmhouse perhaps, a 7/11, a post office, library, office building or gas station even. But do you think I can bring to mind exactly what was there? Not on your tintype, Nellie. Its gone from my memory. Sometimes, if I remember when I get home, or ask someone of the same vintage as I, I will recall what was there. But not always.
The above all makes me wonder just how fickle and finicky the mind and memory are. Time seems to heal all wounds, I suppose, but doesn't it leave some trace for it to be remembered by? Not always. Sometimes it is just gone. Some things are probably best forgotten. They were ugly or scenes of crimes or just plain inconsequential. At least to my life and times, I guess. But I do wonder sometimes if I am simply loosing it. And, yes, as this little incident shows, I am loosing certain things. But the nice thing is if it is important or interesting, the old memory will be jogged restoring my faith in my archival abilities.
Today is Monday and Monday, as it often does, comes laden with a mixed bag of blessings and challenges. It is the beginning of another week, a "mini-blank slate". We get to design our week even though sometimes some things get assigned for us.
Today I am enjoying the quiet morning at home after walking Ching and Mig and a nice walk in the misty, overcast first day of spring. I am half-listening to the NSA director and the FBI director testifying on Capitol Hill about leaks and rumors and Russian espionage. I am also preparing myself to attend the funeral service of another elderly friend who passed away last week after a long struggle with Alzheimer's Disease. For those of you who may remember him, it is the gentleman I called Mr A. The family asked me to be an honorary pall bearer. I am honored.
Later this afternoon I have an appointment with the Auto Club to finalize plans to go to Italy for two weeks to attend a wedding Florence after visiting Rome and then afterwards, visiting Venice. I never thought that I would write those words.
The odd thing is I find myself with a vague disquiet, a nervous stomach and a feeling that I would like to just "hole up" like I did yesterday afternoon. I hesitate to admit that sometimes I would rather just let the world go on without me and stay home to garden, meditate, write and probably sleep. My grandmother used to warn me not to give into my natural propensity toward inertia. I chuckle, but she had a point.
So now, still early morning, I will rally myself and take on the day. A shower always helps. And just ignoring my "don't feel like it" voice and power through. Getting started is sometimes the most difficult part of any day, any week, any time in life. But start I will and I will look back and wonder what the issue was that caused me to ever just do it.
Paranoia is Nothing New
Over fifty years ago my grandmother worked in a dry goods store as a sales clerk at a store called Mulholland's in Birmingham, Michigan. Birmingham even then was an upscale suburb of Detroit. Well, it was not really suburb at that time, but one of the nearby towns where well-t0-do folk escaped the city. As the city grew, it became another suburb. My grandmother went to work there after my grandfather died and she had to go back to sell the house at the lake and go back to work. I'm not sure if it was because of necessity or out of boredom, but it was a job I think she liked in either case.
Selling yard goods and sewing materials and the like, my grandmother encountered a wide assortment of folk, mostly women in those days, who shopped there. Mulholland's was a "mom and pop" sort of place where the staff really got to know there customers. My grandmother, being a natural born storyteller, collected stories that she would tell at family gatherings.
One such tale was of the rich widow who lived alone in a big old house near the center of town. One day, as my grandmother told the story, the lady came into the store and asked for the heaviest material they had.
"Right over here," my grandmother said. "This is muslin, pretty heavy duty. What do you need it for?"
The lady felt the material and held it up to the light, then toward the front window. "This'll do."
Still curious, my grandmother asked, "Are you making something special?"
"Oh, yes and no," she said in a hushed tone. "My son bought me television set. I didn't want one. The radio is just fine, but he insisted."
"Well, that was nice. I'm sure you'll enjoy...."
The woman cut my grandmother off. "No! I'm sure they're watching me. I need this to cover it. I need to make sure they aren't spying on me."
My grandmother stifled her surprise, amusement, all the mixed emotions that came up with this encounter with outlandish paranoia. She measured out the muslin, folded it up, and charged her out without further conversation. Handing it to the lady, my grandmother thanked her and wished her a good day. The lady sighed with satisfaction and left.
For some reason I thought about this story in light of recent items in the news about listening devices and appliances potentially being able to spy on us...like TV's and microwaves...anything with internet connectivity, you know. Likely it is somewhat true. I have an Amazon Echo. Alexa waits for my requests. I kind of wonder what she does the rest of the time. If my life were more interesting, I suppose I would be heading to a store like Mulholland's to get some heavy sort of material.
Funny how after fifty years more or less, nothing much has changed, just the nature of our devices.
Today I was asked to talk about Facebook with a group of seniors who meet monthly at my church. They always have interesting topics. I was flattered to be asked to be sure. I am not necessary an expert at Facebook, but those of you who know me, know I am what some would call a Facebook "power user." That is what they used to call someone who knew a lot about and used a wide variety of the features of a computer application: power user. That I would cop to.
Anyway, that is not what my insight today is about. As I led the session, I found myself enjoying telling the folks about the various features of Facebook. We talked a little about Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, but mostly it was Facebook they were curious about. I felt good being able to clarify how you "friend" someone, how someone might find you on the site and ask you to be their friend. I cautioned them about accepting friend requests from people they don't know or recognize without vetting them. We talked about liking and following and poking and how to prioritize your timeline and how to unfollow and unfriend and even hide post, etc.
It was fun.
But there was one question that came up and persisted that I wasn't able to answer readily during the session: how to do deactivate or delete your account? That, was a stumper to be sure. When I went home I did some research and found out how you can do just that. Facebook doesn't make it easy to delete your account, but deactivating it works more easily. Below is a picture of where you can find these answers. But in this whole process, I wondered why it was so important to know how to get rid of or out of or away from Facebook...or anything. Then it hit me: we all need an "exit plan"!
Whenever we try something new, there is that little voice that says to us, "What if things go south? What if I want to get out of this situation? What will I do?" We need to have a plan B, a backup course, a safety net. It is only smart. I am thinking about that TV commercial where two people are meeting for a first date and the woman sits down as the phone rings. It's her girlfriend calling to give her an out. That's her backup plan. Those are very comforting when we are in unfamiliar territory. "How do I get back to safety?"
So I no longer found myself mystified by questions like those about Facebook I heard today. An exit plan is a good thing to have. Sometimes they can be as simple as the lady in the commercial. Others might be more complicated like deactivating Facebook. Some are even more traumatic or challenging as when you are faced with a serious life choice. Plan B. An exit plan might be all you can hang onto. That is why they invented roadmaps and how-to books and consultants and friends. Hold up a minute. Look before you leap. Is their a fire escape outside of that tall building?
Having an exit plan is all we need. It makes taking chances just a little bit easier.