It’s freezing in this room, although outside I’m sure it’s much worse. I resist the urge to flip over my phone and check exactly how cold it is. Looking outside the window, I see the road is damp, the sky a uniform light grey. The leafless tree branches wave back and forth and then rest.
Even my keyboard is cold. I take in a deep breath. I can keep this up for 30 minutes. I have set my timer, have cranked up the radiator, and closed the door. I told Naomi and Yoav that ‘Mom is writing now’ and Yoav even encouraged me with a “Aw, that’s really good,” which I try not to hear as condescending. I’m on my 2nd coffee of the morning. A strong latte with soymilk. It’s waking up my brain. That’s good.
Last night I was interviewed by one of my students. He chose me as ‘a writer’ to talk to in order to figure out his own plans of writing. How much we actually spoke about writing isn’t really clear, but that’s fine with me, as it’s his interview and his own life he’s working on. We spoke about spirituality and life and death and seeing ghosts and books that inspired me which I was surprised he’d never heard of.
When I talk to intelligent people, a part of me assumes they will be readers. And I’m the one who always tells my students that “to assume makes an ass out of u and me.” Still, how can you become a writer if you don’t read, I wonder. Perhaps I’m being overly judgmental and old fashioned. Maybe it’s a good thing not to read very much and believe that you are producing brand new material for the world – something that no one has ever discovered or thought of before. On the other hand, the scientific method does start with a literature review so we don’t all go around reinventing the wheel. A part of me is envious of the innocence of youth, so fresh and pure and trusting of the universe. So confident that their voice is ‘the’ voice of unique thoughts.
I sit here in my cold office at home and ruminate about how all that I’m thinking and writing has been said before. It’s all dribble, nonsense, who will want to read this – it’s all been done and said before. If the cover is well done and the pitch is good, the marketing fabulous, then perhaps people will read it after all. And of course, all that is said in deep cynicism, which I proclaim to have sworn off of years ago.
The room is gradually warming up although my fingers on the keyboard feel stiff and cold. It’s possible that they are so cold because they have forgotten how to type for more than a few minutes at a time. They are used to pressing buttons on a phone, to answering short emails, to short bursts of communication on social media and whatsapp chats, but they may have forgotten the lost art of telling a story.
Writer’s block, they call it. I’ve had it. It came after my burnout, after my trip to SE Asia which was fabulous, and scary and warm, sometimes far too hot, and eye opening, through our return to the Netherlands and then bam, the pandemic began. Corona was no longer a beer, it was more of a wild bear bigger than the saplings in the forest, faster than the wind, running after each one of us, ready to trample us, to rip out our guts in one fell sweep of its big black claws.
I sat in my house, back in the spring, paralyzed; my fight or flight stress response had chosen ‘freeze.’ I couldn’t imagine any kind of decent writing that would come out of this situation that we are all in, the whole god-damned world at once. What can I say that’s unique or special? Should I write about the pandemic? A part of me thinks, Hell yes! Writing about anything else is stupid, and totally uninteresting.
In 20 years from now, my kids will be sitting together at a dining room table somewhere, retelling the story of that year – 2020 – when they were in a partial lockdown. The first months where we chose to have no one come into our house from outside the family. The time when we went from talking about wearing masks, discussing how effective they were, to me making ridiculous masks from old socks, and Naomi getting upset that I had cut up some of her socks in the process, to wearing masks at any crowded places, to having to wear masks in shops and on public transport, to buying masks regularly at the supermarket.
They will sit in their houses, filled, (I hope), with friends and family and laugh about this period, when my mother and sister became puzzle experts, when I learned to do watercolor painting over zoom with my sister, the artist, in Israel. When Naomi was the only one who could actually go to work, since she was training to become a nurse, while Theo and I stayed working from home, and when Yoav had to take a gap semester from law school because his exchange at Cornell was delayed for a year.
So, it’s been half an hour of writing. The timer has gone off. I managed to get some words onto paper. They may not be the most brilliant of words, but I’ve made a chip in the solid block. It’s no longer as blocked as it was.
Who knows, I might even give Vicki her voice back in my novel. She wants to tell about the time when she was worried about her pregnancy. How she called the doctor who told her to just drink something sweet and lie down. And how she called the midwife, who said she couldn’t come over until Sunday evening but it was probably nothing. How she called her husband who was watching their boys at soccer practice and then he was going to join his own friends to play rugby and he sounded a little impatient and said that if she was really worried then he’d come home, but couldn’t it wait, and how Vicki said very quietly that she would wait, she didn’t want to spoil everyone’s fun.
And how she sat in the back garden, sipping some overly sweet iced tea that made her remember the glucose test she’d taken a few months earlier when they forced her to drink liquid sugar until she’d wanted to throw up.
The parrots flitted back and forth between the trees in the neighborhood and Vicki wondered why they stayed in this damp country instead of flying off to warmer lands. And she fell asleep in her wicker lounge chair dreaming of a turquoise sea and a palm tree and a white sand beach and a tanned boy who would tell her to turn over so he could rub suntan lotion on her back.