“Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age/The child is grown, and puts away childish things/Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay
I remember exactly where I was when Alex told me to write. More specifically, he said, “You know what you need to do. Just write about it.” We were crammed on the platform, a block or two from Cornelia Street, slick with sweat and desperate to get on the subway. I nodded and smiled, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth and still don’t.
The truth is I can’t. I can’t write. I’ve found myself in three of the most inspirational cities in the world in the last four months. As a girl who still lives eight miles from where she was born, this experience should be the kind of eye opener that connects me to my writing, but no, it’s not. The thing no one tells you about being a writer with writer’s block is that it’s not that the ideas and inspiration aren’t there. They are there. You feel them crawling under your skin. Fragments of sentences that are so close to perfect, grazing the back of your mind like, for lack of creativity, a broken record. The real problem is that there’s a disconnect; an inability to tune into the frequencies surrounding you and communicate them. Have you heard the story of the whale that was out of frequency? It’s referred to as the loneliest whale in the world, forever bound to believe it is alone solely because no other whales can hear its calls. Sometimes I think about the whale going miles and miles in search. Sometimes I think about how I feel like that whale and I’m struck by how terribly uncreative the thought is. Sometimes I punish myself for not pushing myself harder only to subsequently be frustrated by how hard I am on myself.
I can’t remember where I heard it, but I’ve thought often about the argument that time is not linear, it’s stacked. So in theory, everything that is happening has already happened and everything that is going to happen has already happened and is currently happening. I’ve always interpreted it as everything I’ve gained and lost is always there, just simply with me. This thought has always comforted me. My best friends have moved away, graduated, but maybe if I close my eyes hard enough, sitting on the porch we used to cram ourselves into regularly, I’ll be able to be there again. I’ll be her again with all my friends, listening to folklore for the first time while standing on the table. If I concentrate enough, Rita’s hodgepodge collage will suddenly be removed from the tabletop, as if it was never there, and be replaced by bottles and lit candles and the needle we had used to pierce Hugo’s ear.
But what if I took it further, to another place I never wanted to leave? What if I never actually left New York? Just stayed in the same spot for ages through sheer force of will? If I stayed on that subway indefinitely back then in Manhattan would I eventually go back to the start? Travel through time right back to the beginning? Do you think if I stood here long enough I’d go back to where I was, to who I was? Could I feel the chill of the New York night air pass through my teeth one more time? The sun press against my back? I bet if I sat on the 4 line long enough I would go back again. Would I feel time stacking like some overlapping thing that piles and piles on? Would I feel myself pass right by me, content with the life she created?
I have a hard time letting go of things, especially the past. This is not necessarily conducive to this period of life. I’m currently 21. At 22, I will be graduating and leaving the city and this eight mile radius in which I have spent most of my life. Life will transition into either Chicago or New York, where most University of Michigan graduates move. At 25, I will statistically have the most friends I will have ever in my life. The number will taper off gradually as I get married and have children and move to the suburbs and, God forbid, participate in a carpool. Between 35 and 55, I will have some internal midlife crisis, moving to a farm to complete my first novel or finally deciding to get my MFA. This will be a somewhat successful endeavor. At 60, I’ll retire and apply for that AARP membership. Life will continue on and I’m terrified. I’m not scared of aging or the increasing responsibility or of how life inherently gets more and more narrow as more and more choices are made. I’m terrified that I will be in that carpool line staring off into the distance willing myself to be able to go back. I am terrified that I will continue to remain disconnected and unable to write again. Even more so, I’m terrified that I will always be trying to go to where I was and who I have been, forever wishing I stayed on the subway back then or on the porch with my friends in Ann Arbor.
You want to know the quickest way to feel old? Go to Festifall. See, I had been contemplating whether or not to smile knowingly at the freshmen wandering past or make a run to the nearest injectable place and get Botox, when I failed to notice a bright-eyed freshman blinking at me. “What if I can’t produce content?” she said in a childlike voice that made me sound as if I smoke ten packs a day. She seems familiar. Like she could very well be me. Not me at this moment, but who I was on that Ann Arbor porch three years ago before I ever went to New York. She’s the me that I have to still face as time stacks and overlaps. She’s the me who can’t write a piece and the me that clings to a childish nostalgia. I blink. She then asks me, “How do you get over writer’s block?” My stomach drops.
I wish I could tell you I didn’t lie to her. I did. I told her some bullshit about seeking new experiences and finding new sources of inspiration. What I should have told her is this: “Everyone gets writer’s block. I haven’t written a complete story in months. My latest piece is getting published this month; it has taken since May to write, since most of it is just unfinished thoughts about how I’m absolutely terrified about life. It’s scary and I don’t know when this disconnect with my writing is going to exactly end, but I have a hypothesis. It’s growing pains. Writer’s block is just growing pains. It’s the hurdle between childhood and adulthood. I bet, if I learn to let go of living in the past, then I won’t miss the future me passing right by like strangers on a subway. If I just stop trying so hard to go back to the old me, I will finally hear those frequencies again and finally be able to piece together those fragments of near perfect sentences and write. Write something new.” Or maybe not.
MIC Senior Editor Kat Andrade can be reached at email@example.com