A Writer’s Tale

A Writer’s Tale

Sarah Shapiro sarahkit@gmail.com

A big writer’s block showed up on my desk one day, settling down by my laptop.

Generally speaking, I try to ignore this phenomenon. My philosophy is: don’t say its name and it will go away. Preserve its status as a figment of the imagination, for ice floes drift off to sea, and melt. if you look the other way.

But months were going by, and it wasn’t drifting off.

Since I’d grown accustomed over the years to the glow of the computer screen, I nonetheless continued showing up at  “work” each morning, exercising my civic duty to track current events online. The usual words were all over the place: attacks and counter-attacks, prophecies and predictions, polls and twitters, twitters and blogs, bulletins and headlines, breaking news and shaking news, commentary and updates and Op-Eds. But the words in lights were no longer mine, and it was getting scary.

Silence such as this scares anyone who depends on writing to convince himself, and/or herself, that of course she (or of course he) has significance–real significance, not just the delusional kind. And given the fact that vast regions of many writers’ left brains have been known to turn out the lights and simply shut down (sometimes remaining vacant for decades as their right brains continue stringing sentences together for who knows what purpose) what would I do with myself–not to mention who would I be, and how come, for whom–if I never wrote again?

In the past, I’d been comforted by the reply of the prolific wartime artist Kathe Kollwitz, who upon being asked if there were ever intervals when she was unable to draw, supposedly declared: “Of course I do. Doesn’t the land have to lie fallow sometimes?”

On this occasion, however, the silence was getting less ice-floe-like, and more glacier-like.

This situation went on for I don’t know how long – probably all the way from the New Hampshire Primaries to the Japanese tsunami. Earthquakes and hurricanes were getting me nervous, as were the intifadas, and nuclear proliferation. I kept my eye on whatsername. The others were keeping me up at night. To make a long story short, it was a very big writing block.

Finally Obama was reelected and the news was leveling out. Sandy moved on, past Oklahoma, and past became present and became the past. But though it wasn’t up to me anymore to monitor events every hour on the hour, my brain had somewhere along the line gotten formatted for computer compatibility. The medium had indeed become the message. My neural pathways seemed to have merged, structurally speaking (if not on a molecular level) with those of the Internet. “Only connect!” was our 20th Century motto, and passive surfing had–without my having noticed–afforded me a sense of connection with my fellow man (and with many famous celebrities) minus all the fuss and bother of human nature, mine or others’.

I felt a little lost, almost as if…though this would be overstating it—addicted. With fear and surprise, however, I realized I was, so to speak. Not so much to the news itself, perhaps, as to the medium. The flicker, the flash, the zip, the zoom, the interactive this and interactive that, my cursor, in both senses of the word, flying ‘round the globe at the whim of my Touch-Pad. The symptoms did indeed have me in their grip (so to speak) and were accompanied by the classic set of addictive behaviors: such as startling from embarrassment when co-dependent family members found me online, and sleepwalking towards my laptop in the middle of the night.

Withdrawal was slow, and laborious.

As the echoes died down, piles of garbage were carted out, bag after bag (though some remain in my brain for eternal recycling) I felt empty. Without minute-by-minute updates, I was a lonely soul adrift in space, thrown back onto my inner nothingness.


Whereupon my soul stirred,and opened her eyes.

One by one, like mute lambs coming back home, little words appeared, some of which were…mine.

And here–as if to prove it–they are! In this sentence!

When mushroom clouds rose over our backyard, illuminating our swing-sets, I still had a fight on my hands: to mightily resist the Internet’s magnetism, to avert my eyes from the flash of light, to refrain from the thrill of global flight…and get News of the Day the old-fashioned way, with the mythical neighbor’s barking dog…and the paper boy’s shout to the stars at dawn, and the thump of newsprint upon the lawn.

Otherwise, the written word could be lost to me once again, and this time it could be forever.

Which just goes to show…

…that if you, too, have become addicted to the screen, you, too, can recover, and reclaim possession of your thoughts, and your voice,  and your songs, and do whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing with your irretrievable minutes and hours and days.

About the Author
Sarah Shapiro is an author and editor whose most recently published books are "Wish I Were Here: Finding My Way in the Promised Land" and "All of Our Lives: An Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Writing."