Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The End of Writer's Block

I rediscovered, yesterday, one of my very favorite authors, Isaac Asimov.

I picked up his book, The Left Handed Electron, in Powell's in Portland while browsing through the physics aisle, and in a moment remembered what a wonderful and engaging writer he was. I read many of his science fiction stories and books as a teenager. I went through my science fiction phase with my usual eclectic focus, reading the Foundation series and volume after volume of his short stories. Fortunately for me, and for many others, I suppose, he was very prolific, so there existed volume after volume for me to pick up. At some point I left him; I found Robert Silverberg and Arthur C. Clarke who were both sexier and more futuristic than Asimov, if not nearly so fecund.

He is, of course legendary for being so prolific, and for writing on a wide variety of topics. This I knew even then. I knew he was writing at a pace that was faster than I could read because I could see the list of books on the inside cover grow with each paperback purchase. And, though I knew that he actually wrote about 'hard' science and was vaguely aware that he was a professor of science--biochemistry--at a prestigious medical school, that side of his work did not especially interest me.

Well, it does now. And it is specifically his writing style that makes it all the more interesting, and, dare I say it, understandable. It feels like he is sitting across from me and speaking to me personally. I can hear, not his voice, but his emotion, his passion for science and the explaining of things that he does so well. For this reason, I love also the work of contemporary science journalist Robert Krulwich, but his primary medium is television and radio. Asimov is man of words. Maybe, even, too many words, but it is his passion for them, and their use in the wonderful process of explanation that defines his work that has inspired me to write on.

In spite of the fact that this very essay and so much of the rest of what I write is mere ephemera, of little use to anyone other than me as a therapy, I cannot escape the passion for words and my desire to tap them out in some selfish pursuit of explanation. While I am fascinated by science, it human nature that I wish to describe, in my poems, memoirs or essays. It may be a simple as what it was like to have been me. I know that I can always write about that.

Now, whether or not anyone that I know will read this or even care is not so important to me; it is the process of writing itself that liberates me and motivates me. Long has this been so.

When I was seven, I had the idea to write about my life. This idea coincided with two events: the assassination of President Kennedy and the felling--by storm--of a huge tree that had been in the school courtyard just outside our second-floor second grade classroom. My recollections of these events, I can recall reasoning, was something I wanted to share with others. Thinking about them, it seemed logical to set them in the context of my life so far, so I went home and told my parents--specifically Lynda--that I wanted to write the story of my life. From this experience, I learned two things. First, the wrod for it was autobiography. The fact that I remember learning it ought to tell you a lot about me. Second, I learned that it was foolish idea.

'Why, you have nothing to write about!'

I'm sure there was a good bit of bemused laughter at my chutzpah later in the evening, but her gentleness did not prevent her from telling me what she thought to be the truth. And that, of course, was that I had nothing to say, even if hadn't come out that way, nor been intended to hurt. And, I suppose, hurt is too strong a word. It simply closed me off to something I was intuitvely seeking, and like most things that I have sought for a lifetime, I have come to understand the value of writing in and of itself, for myself alone if need be.

The subsequent critique of 'too many words' was similarly offered as my oh-so-very literate Mother's reasoned--and, to her, reasonable--advice for any author who was to gain her favor. Later in life, a look at her bookshelf was enough to convince me that she valued dense prose, but at the time, to a young writer, it meant simply that I had nothing to say and, as if that premise needed proof, I had already used too many words in pursuit of that very vanity. How ironic, now, but honestly, dampening to the creative spirit necessary to write. No wonder then, that for most of my life it was Lynda who was the artist; my ambitions had been suitably tempered by the force of her flame early on.

But now that flame, her flame, is finally extinguished. At last her light no longer casts upon my own, so I may now emerge to write about that damn tree if if so desire, and everything that led up to it's tragic demise as part of my autobiography. If, that is, I could remember more than what I've just written. Imagine, if you will, what I might learn about myself if I written my first autobiography at age seven?

I'm not being deliberately critical of Lynda, but I am finally saying that this may just be the end of writer's block.

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