I sit here staring at a blank page, unable to decide if it is friend or foe. We have met on the battlefield many a time before, and each time, one or both of us came away beaten, bloodied, and changed; sometimes for the better sometimes not. It is an odd adversarial arraignment that we have. All at once supportive and destructive, a force beyond anything one could imagine. Each day I hear the blank page calling to me with its siren song, and each day I fall into its embrace, only to lose myself; sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours, it depends on what my characters have in store for me; how long I can hold out in the battle against the dreaded blank page. I can hear them calling to me from the other side. Their cries of excitement and support spur me on. They need me just as much as I need them; I need to tell their story, and they need it to be told.
The blank page stares at me, mocking me, daring me to deface it. It knows that the first few marks, strokes of the pen, punch of the keys are the hardest. As I stare into its beautiful and terrifying depths, I realize just how pristine it is. It is clean, virgin, with the potential to be anything, yet now in my hands, I realize it’s potential has been greatly diminished. In the right hands, it could have been immortalized. It could have held the truths of a religious document, a nation’s declaration, or a love letter from a brave soldier to his love, far overseas, kept as a lifeline of hope around the world. Instead, it now sits on my desk, staring up at me, casting seeds of doubt into my mind.
Am I worthy of this piece of paper? As I sit transfixed by its dangerous beauty, it has already begun the war. Its seeds of doubt are rooted in my mind and growing strong. What do I have to say that could be worthy of this piece of paper? What words do I have to place, and in what order, to make myself feel worthy? To feel worthy of taking it away from what it could have been. Do I have the talent to make this into something great?
What if I start and decide I don’t like what I have written and need to start over? I would have marked this page and taken away its potential for no reason. The weight of the page begins to hit me more than I could have imagined. This page has already started to take on a new life.
I find my hands caressing it gently, feeling it’s delicate texture intimately. I realize that I can smell the page as well, a faint dusty, woody scent that I usually would not have noticed. Yet the blank page has me in its grasp, and I am entranced. This formidable enemy knows that scent bypasses the brain’s rational centre and heads straight to the emotional core. As I am bombarded by this sensory warfare, I am transported to a new place; I feel as though I am there, I am no longer at my writing desk.
I am now standing in the middle of a beautiful forest with a light mist floating around me. It is a magical place with life everywhere, in all forms. The air is thick with the scent of earth, flowers, and the ever-present cycle of decay. It is a warm, comforting scent that makes me feel grounded, at home, and one with the earth. I am one with the ferns that grow up around me; I can sense the small creatures running along their leaves. I am one with the water drops that form from the mist gathering on the leaves overhead, only to fall with a muffled splash on the damp leaves littering the forest floor. My mind is filled with the sound of birds and animals saturating the air with their calls. I can hear each one distinctly or all combined in a beautiful melody, it is as though I am listening to my own private, natural jazz ensemble.
I feel at ease; peaceful, as I look at around at my surroundings. I notice the large trees surrounding me, telling me that all would be well. I see each wrinkle in the bark, each mark caused by the animals and birds that call these trees home. It slowly dawns on me that I am standing in a community that I do not understand. There is a whole side of life that I never fully understood. Just as we live in neighbourhoods, so do the creatures, plants, and trees. I may not understand the dynamics, yet now I can see that there is a dynamic there. They rely on each other, love each other and even communicate with each other. The forest speaks a language that I do not understand, yet I can understand it’s imagery. The blank page is showing me where it comes from; it’s family and friends. I remember that this blank page is more than just an advisory full of potential; it once was alive and sacrificed its life so that I may create. The realization that this blank page was once loved and relied upon weighs even heavier on me.
Who am I to deface it?
I try to convince myself that I am worthy, that my words do matter. I try to tell myself that, sure, the blank page could have been something to be immortalized, but the blank page also could have ended up in a worse place. It could have been used as the tail end of an email attachment, which didn’t need to be printed, or hastily given to a child to keep it out of the parent’s hair for a few minutes, only to be scribbled on and discarded. Being in front of me may not be so bad a fate, after all.
My hand continues to slowly caress the page as my mind tries to find a crack in its armour. I can hear my characters on the other side shouting support and calling out ideas on how to start; how to break the blank page’s spell. Their cries clutter up my head as I realize that I have been a bad parent. I have been away from some of them for too long, and now too many want my attention. The blank page begins to draw close for the final attack as it notices my mind is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and despair. It quietly sneaks to a dark corner of my brain and whispers that this is all too much. You have been gone from your babies for too long. Just walk away and try something else. Maybe this whole writing thing isn’t for you?
I feel my resolve begin to crumble. The blank page’s softly whispered words are now forming in my mind as though they were my own thoughts; self-doubt is now starting to take over. After all, this writing thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be. The weight of the blank page’s past and potential future weigh on me heavily as I stare into it, beseeching my characters to band together and help me. I try to tell them that each will get a turn, and I will never leave them, but my voice falters at the lie. I know that some of them will have to be sacrificed in the end, but I vow to love each one up to that point and remember them fondly when they are gone.
My mind begins to wander, trying to grasp the enormity of the task ahead of it. I pull back from the blank page and pour myself yet another cup of coffee. Perhaps taking my mind off of it will help. The idea strikes me that I should organize my desk, yet I already did that while battling yesterday. During the battle yesterday, I cleared off most of my to-do list for the week; it is amazing how productive you become when procrastinating. Yet that was yesterday’s battle, now we are on to today.
I stare out of my office window and watch life go by. What the street lacks in vehicle traffic it makes up in pedestrian traffic. It is quite active for a side street, with people walking, running, biking, and using any other form of exercise possible to get around. My office window is the perfect place to sit, write and be inspired. Each person that goes by is filling the central role in their own story of life, while unknowingly being a walk-on character in mine.
I start thinking about their stories; I know some of the stories of the characters walking by. Perhaps not the whole story, but enough parts of it to give an educated guess as to what is happening and where they are going. Some are new characters that I have never seen before and never will again. I have no knowledge of these stories, but can sometimes piece together from snippets of conversation floating loftily on the fresh spring breeze through my office window. Each character plays the leading role in their life while advancing the plots of others. The world is full of stories if you are able or willing to just sit back and watch them unfold. I watch one of the neighbours walk by with her dog. Her dog is moving much better now that she has been using subcutaneous shots for it’s hip problems. Even the dogs of the street have their own stories, and these are the stories that are used for artificial relationships.
The realization slowly dawns on me that even these thoughts have been brought to mind by the blank page; it is doing all it can to distract me. I need to get to work.
I sit back and look at the old bookshelf in my office as I silently curse my coffee for getting cold. There are thoughts to be had and words to be said about the bookcase, yet my cold coffee takes precedence, at least for the moment.
Upon my return, the blank page is still sitting on my desk, untouched save for the loving caresses earlier. I once again sit at my desk and look out to the street, then find my gaze drawn back to the bookcase and some of the names upon it; Grace, Orwell, Shakespeare, Burroughs, and many more authors that are gently giving their silent encouragement through the ages.
I feel entranced and locked in by its power. It seems so simple, a few pieces of wood bound together to form an object capable of holding items, preferably books. However, upon closer inspection, one finds out what it truly is; a monument. Those pieces of wood form a monument to hold the final remains of many countless battles raged, just as the one I am raging; against writer’s block. Each of those pages had been a blank page at one point in its life, each throwing down the gauntlet to a writer. Each page had been given a purpose, its potential now defined. Each page was a testimony to the writer’s victory over the dreaded blank page. Each page would live on for better or for worse with the markings it was given. Each book a battlefield that witnessed the epic struggle of author versus words. Each book a tenderly loved baby.
My mind wanders to a bookstore, and I am suddenly standing in the middle of the store, smelling all of the books waiting to be read. I look around and, for the first time, see what the bookstore is. It is a sanctuary. It is a place full of Aha! moments, full of dreams come to life, full of idea’s given leave to speak. It is a place where countless blank pages have had their potential defined lovingly by an author who has laboured over them. Each book is a baby that started as an idea and was coaxed into being by the loving hands and mind of an author that tried their best to relay the story as it came to them. For the author is but a utensil that the characters use to put their own stories down on paper. All the author does is listen to the words and put them down as best they can.
Emboldened by the power of other authors’ victory over the blank page, I focus my gaze once more upon my own dreaded blank page. Again, I hear the taunts, and my mind begins to swirl, yet this time I am stronger, I am somewhat prepared. I clear my thoughts and reach out to the first character that comes and wants to tell me their story. To my surprise, in my absence, my characters have organized themselves and are ready to work. As my character begins to whisper its words of wisdom in my ear, my doubts start to fall away, I realize the stories will write themselves if I but listen to what is being said.
I pick up my pen and watch as it floats over the blank page, getting ready to finally make the first mark and define the page’s purpose. The pen hovers, shaking ever so slightly as though it too is afraid of breaking the sanctity of the blank page. My mind is still as I listen to the first words that will be this page’s fate; I realize I can do this. All I have to do is start; make the first mark, write the first word. The pen slowly lowers to begin its work, and I wonder if I brushed my teeth this morning.