Writer's Block

My best friend from college is a fabulous writer. No, let me clarify–she’s an effing fabulous writer. But here’s the rub–she can’t write.

Dell is a nerd. She’s a beautiful, spunky, lightening-bolt exuding literature nerd who owns it and wears it with pride. It’s the Romantics, specifically, that get her the warmest in the loincloth…Byron, Shelley, Keats … that particular batch of dead white guys. My high school bestie Rita, on the other hand, is a groupie of the Bard. It’s all Shakespeare, all the time over in her world. Me? I went in more for the multicultural lit–anything from the magical realism of Allende and the late, great Marquez to Walker’s seminal and also very magical Celie. But I digress–back to Dell. The Romantic period was hers, to read, to write, to imagine. And she wanted to stay in it forever.

In the interest of not making this a lengthy exercise in drudgery for you, my friendly neighborhood reader, allow me to provide a synopsis of Dell’s post-college pathway. 23, marries hometown boy from a generations-old local family. There’s even a family business involved. House with a wood stove in a one-lane town. No Trader Joe’s anywhere in the broadcast area. Four kids in seven years. A few goes at local theater and one very valiant effort to get an MFA (the college was just too damned far a commute from the one-lane town, and with four small kids, even a trip to the grocery store is like a circus act). And so, now Dell is fenced in and yawing for space like a penned-in wild Appaloosa.

Enter the blogosphere.

A great idea, brilliant. Her style suits to a tee the shape of a blog, plus it offers her an anonymous means of self-expression that in its flexibility allows her to also keep the complex machinery of day-to-day family life running at home. And if it makes money, well hell, there’s a group spa day in the cards to boot.

Dell contemplated and concepted her first post for a good while before sitting down to write, and so on the day of its long-planned birth into the electronic world, I couldn’t wait to dig in. She’d recently had a bit of a difference of opinion with a classmate’s mom about something, and that was going to be the focal point of the entry. The idea was that she’d let loose and release into space her pissy pith on this relatable, down-to-earth topic for all to hear. Considering the bubbling cauldron of pent-up creativity she’d been harboring, I could only imagine the glee I’d feel in seeing her go totally postal on my iPad screen. So needless to say, I was jazzed to receive the privileged title of First Reader.

Afterward, when I gently suggested to her that she could really let go to a greater degree, that her writing was bordering on nice and unassuming when I knew what she really wanted was to let all Hades break loose, she only had one thing to say … “I know.” She knew her piece didn’t say anything, that she wasn’t sharing the real ire that was stewing in her gut. She could see more clearly than anyone that her words were as light as the lowest-grade fiberboard at IKEA. (Author’s note–that last line was tough to write. I do love me some IKEA.)

The reason? Dell’s husband was, per Dell, going to know about the blog, and as it turns out, she was uncomfortable writing freely when she knew he was … well … listening. She could not express herself in the way she really wanted to, nor could she write about the things that were truly weighing on her. It was like having a censor standing next to you 24-7. And so, in this regulated environment, her self-expression is stunted once again.

It makes me realize how lucky I am, because in addition to having a job that allows me to stretch my wings professionally, I’ve got the Silver Fox, who uncomplainingly and open-mindedly critiques anything I ask him to, including a couple of racy love scenes in Overture, and doesn’t bat an eye–at least overtly. But what do you do when your partner becomes a barrier rather than a conduit to your creativity?

Dell is kind of trapped. I’m reluctant to even use that word, because she’s a free woman in a free country engaged in a loving relationship, whereas elsewhere in the world our sisters are being stoned simply for being looked at in the wrong way. But all the same, she’s not in a position to be herself. Like me, she’s 40, and instead of feeling like she’s packed a lot of great shit into her adulthood thus far, she’s trying with all her might to sneak some minor manifestations of her long-lost personality into the crevices of her normal life … her gilded cage. But unlike the unforgettable Dr. Angelou’s caged bird, she’s forgotten how to sing.

Is this what mid-life crisis is all about? Is it a sudden “oh shit” moment in which you realize you’re four decades in and haven’t even started your car yet on the highway of life? Or is it a yearning that you’ve left to simmer on the back burner for so long that it begins to char pungently enough that you can no longer ignore it? Or, as in Dell’s case, is it the homemade cookies that you hold off on eating until it’s the right time (and until FitBit tells you you can), but that when you finally jam your hand down the neck of the jar, you realize have gone stale?

The seriousness of this issue for my friend is in its perpetuation. The longer she exists this way, the more entrenched she becomes in a lifestyle that doesn’t fit but that she can’t see around. And even when she does peek, the woman on the other side of the chasm looks less and less like her every time she casts her eyes upon her. It’s odd–Dell is home, but still lamenting that she may not be able to go home again.

I’m not saying that Dell is not happy being a mom, please understand. I’m merely suggesting that the stay-at-home mom, just like the working mom or even more so, needs an outlet. Whether that outlet appeals to the girl she was or the woman she looks toward becoming, she, like Celie before her, needs a lifeline to self hood. She needs a cookie. You–you reading this post–you need a cookie. I need a cookie. I’m going to go get a fricking cookie. Catch you later.

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