Tag Archives: writer’s block

Metaphor Monday: Imaginary Floods


Metaphor Monday is back on Monday — the planets must be in alignment!

Our washing machine crapped out this weekend.

Well, it seemed like it had crapped out.

One way or another, it looked like it had crapped out, and it gave us a scare for a good hour or so.

It was Sunday, and Sundays are laundry days in our house. So, after the morning shopping run was done and the kids were down for quiet time (they don’t take naps anymore, but we’ve convinced them — mostly — that quiet time is a thing, and thank goodness for it), we took some laundry downstairs, cranked up the machine, and sat back to relax for an episode of Stranger Things. (Sidenote: Now that Stranger Things is over again, what do I do with my life??)

About an hour later, I realized that the washer was still running. Not only was it still running, but there was still water running through the supply lines. You know, that low rush in the walls that’s completely inaudible until it happens when it shouldn’t? Having experienced three pipe blow-outs in our old house, this is a sound that immediately gives me the cold sweats.

So the water is hissing away in the walls, and in the quiet after the episode, suddenly, I hear it. Sweat breaks out all over. I run downstairs expecting to find the entire basement under a couple inches of standing water — but, no. Weird, but welcome. I look at the washer. The dial hasn’t advanced from where I started it an hour ago. Weird. I open the lid. Water is pouring into the machine. Weirder still. I turn off the machine. Water stops. Turn it back on. Water pours. At this rate, it should have flooded long ago, but it hasn’t. I turn the dial to the end of the cycle. The machine spins up, leaves the clothes damp as expected, and all is still.

I start the machine again. It’s an older unit and has some gremlins (occasionally shuts off for no discernible reason, and every few months, like a 99% trained housecat, will leave a gross little puddle in the laundry room), so maybe it just needed a good solid reboot. No dice. The water runs and runs and the cycle won’t advance.

What I’ve learned in my near-decade (help!) of home ownership is that when appliances or plumbing break down, the solution is either really simple or really expensive with not much middle ground, with a decided tendency towards really expensive. So the cold sweat breaks out again. (I was still sweaty. You’re welcome.) I do what any savvy, 21st-century thirty-something homeowner would do and fire up youtube. Within minutes I have twenty browser tabs open describing how to open up my washing machine, how to rewire it, how to drain it, how to rebuild it out of toothpicks, and a third round of cold sweat is starting up (by now I should really have changed my shirt, which wouldn’t be a problem, except that my shirts are in the laundry that is not getting washed). It’s all very involved, very detailed, very time-consuming, and very daunting.

I dive in anyway, take the cover off the machine and expose a nest of wires and motors and dials and tubes. Not much of it looks like what I saw in the videos or the diagrams, which isn’t that big a deal but it starts the panic. I was looking at the wrong video; maybe I’ve got the wrong problem. Maybe this is way out of my league. Maybe I’m making things worse by even tinkering with the machine.

The Howler Monkey of Doubt starts in. You don’t know what you’re doing. Give up. Suck it up and get ready to pay a repair technician. Also, forget about getting laundry done tonight, and start panicking over what your kids are going to wear to school tomorrow. And what you’re going to wear, for that matter. How many days can you last? How much is it gonna cost to get it fixed?  Do you even have a single pair of clean underwear right now? All I want to do is lay down in bed, pull the covers up over my eyelids, and sleep until the problem fixes itself, which is to say, for EVER.

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How I envision every plumbing project I ever undertake

I sit for ten minutes, doing nothing. Then I return to the problem. I refine my google searches. I think about what the real problem is. I search some more. Within about five more minutes, I’ve got a likely solution that doesn’t even require any tools. The cold sweat is back. It can’t be this simple, can it?

Actually, it can.

I lift the drain hose from its pipe. There’s a wicked gurgling, whooshing sound — I half expect water to explode out of the walls and realize my nightmares — but that’s it. The drain hose was a bit too deep in the pipe, the water level got a titch too high, and a siphon was created — whenever water was poured into the machine, the siphon pulled it right out through the drain. The machine could never get to the proper amount of water, so it could never start its cycle. But there was nothing mechanically wrong with it, so it didn’t shut itself down. Likewise, the drain was functioning properly, so it never overflowed. The very next minute, I restart the machine, watch it fill up with water — and then kick over to the wash cycle.

Problem solved.

Phew. That was a lot to tell. So what’s the metaphor?

There are two, actually. One for me and one for the machine.

Let’s start with the machine. There was nothing mechanically wrong with it, as I pointed out before — just a simple user error that caused it to tall into an actually rather interesting physics loop (it’s called “siphoning,” and it works exactly like extracting gas from your car’s tank). Thing is, the user error that caused the physics problem happened several months ago and the problem never happened until now. Which means that I laid the groundwork for this little headache months ago and spent the intervening time dancing on the edge of disaster, never even knowing what might happen. Like an aneurysm in the brain, the drain pipe in the wall was just hanging there, waiting to form a seal and blow up my Sunday. Maybe the machine getting jostled as I loaded the clothes into it caused it to make that seal; maybe the spin cycle on the machine’s last run knocked it over the edge. There’s no telling, except that whatever it was could have gone wrong at any time.

If that ain’t a perfect metaphor for life, I don’t know what is. Everything, all the time, is hanging by a thread, and everybody is running around with multiple pairs of scissors in their hands. Eventually, one way or another, that thread is gonna get cut, and your washing machine is gonna run for a few hours and (at best) run up your water bill or (at worst) flood your basement.

Which brings me to the human element. What I really wanted to do when the washer broke down was hide from the problem. Think about literally anything else. Hope it would work itself out, or (when that didn’t work) just hire somebody to come in and deal with it. But after taking a few minutes to get my head together and assess the problem like a person who has a brain, I was able to not only discern that the problem wasn’t all that bad, but to fix it myself with almost no strain.

Which is to say that sometimes our problems are not all we make them out to be. Sometimes that crippling writer’s block you’re suffering isn’t the end of your writing career, but just a sign that you need to not focus on that particular character in that particular chapter right this second. Just like my particular appliance issue called for a little less soldering iron and voltmeter, a little more flashlight and paper towel, sometimes the writing life is a little less throw-the-laptop-and-all-you’ve-ever-created-into-the-dumpster-and-set-it-ablaze and a little more maybe-just-go-write-a-vignette-with-talking-cats-holding-office-jobs.

In other words, just go work on something else for a while and let it open your brain up.

Now excuse me while I go draft a scene for my new series. It’s basically Milo & Otis meets The Office.

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Metaphor Monday: The Fly


No, not the 80’s Jeff Goldblum flick, although I could certainly write at length about that one. Talk about scaring the hell out of a kid. I could never look at donuts the same way.

Today’s thought is much more pedestrian than all that, though hardly pedestrian! (Because flies, right? They fly!) Because Mother Nature is apparently just as upside-down and backwards as our wayward country these days, the seasons have reversed themselves and it’s pushing 80 in November for about the third day in a row. Some plants in the yard seem to be blooming again, thinking that Spring has sprung anew, while others haven’t yet finished decomposing from last week’s cold snap. And the bugs are back. Snapped out of hibernation or their winter larval stage or wherever the hell bugs go during the COLD TIMES.

Specifically, a fly flew (it’s hard to communicate how much internal strife I suffered writing such a banal obviosity as “the fly flew”, but there’s not really a better or simpler way to say it, and yeah, obviosity is probably not a word that Merriam or Webster would agree with, but it fits the flavor of the moment for me) into the house a few days ago, and it shows no signs of leaving. It shows interest in leaving, make no mistake. It hurls itself against every window pane, every crook and seam leading to the outdoors that it can find with its millions of tiny fly eyes (that’s flies, right? Millions of eyes? Or did I somehow splice Lovecraft into my memories of intro Biology?). Every apparent egress, that is, this fly bashes up against, again and again, with that strange but unmistakable sound. (zzzzzzzzzzRT zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzRT zzzzRT zzzRT). Every exit, that is, except whichever one it exploited to get inside.

Usually we don’t have to think much about flies. We have four cats in the house, after all, and there’s always at least one of them in a sporting mood, so on the odd chance that a critter, bugger, or somesuch finds its way inside, it doesn’t tend to last very long. But the cats, it seems, have fallen into a faux-winter doldrums themselves, and none of them are interested in bringing down this interloper.

So it buzzes around the house. Buzzing around my head while I fix breakfast. Buzzing just behind the couch while we watch TV. Buzzing under my pillow while I sleep. Buzzing in my brain while I dream. The kind of constant buzzing that you can ignore until the little guy in your brain pipes up, “hey, you’ve been ignoring that fly for a while, and it’s still buzzing around. Don’t flies sleep? Is this, like, the Superman of flies? The SuperFly?” And then you start to obsess. Well, maybe you don’t. I do. Now, when I go home, I’m listening for the little bastard to start buzzing so I can open a door or window for him, or take a swing at him, or throw a cat at him, or SOMETHING to make the buzzing stop.

Of course, the fly doesn’t care about my aversion to his buzzing (unless it’s one of those government-controlled feeding-on-psychic-discord spy-flies, which you know are a thing). And it certainly doesn’t care about actually leaving the house anymore, that’s plain. What it cares about now are the simple things in life. Buzzing at me right after I’ve just sat down and don’t want to get up and chase it around the house. Flying really close to my ear and darting away before I can smack it. Lighting on my sock-clad foot just out of swatting range and just sitting there for a really, really long time. Clattering away in a window on the far side of the room and flitting away to tango with the ceiling fan when I try to open said window.

I haven’t dealt with the fly directly yet — by which I mean, putting on a fire-proof jumpsuit and pursuing it through the house with a lighter and a can of hair spray — because it hasn’t been important enough to me to do so, yet. Taking actual time out of my day is not a thing I’ve yet allowed this fly to move me to do. Just not worth the time.

Yet here I sit, writing about the fly when I could be writing about something more productive.

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Which is where the fly becomes a metaphor. (Did you forget it was metaphor Monday? I forgive you, it’s Tuesday after all.)

The fly is that little idea that gets into your head. You know the one. The one that just sort of nags at the back of your brain while you’re thinking about other stuff, or absentmindedly paying your bills, or wondering what to have for dinner. You distantly hear it banging away at your subconscious, but you don’t want to have to actually deal with it. Maybe the cats will get to it and I won’t have to, you perhaps think. Or — survival of the fittest and all — it found its way in here, so it can find its own way out. Or it’ll eventually starve or cook itself to death in a window: problem solved.

And most of the time? It usually will work itself out. But sometimes it won’t. Sometimes the fly gets stuck in the house and it won’t shut up and it won’t go away until you hunt it down and squash it (or set it on fire, idk how you deal with flies). Sometimes that idea gets into your head and it won’t shut up and it won’t go away until you actually sit down and think about it, hear what it has to say, and deal with the reality that you’re stuck with this thing.

Sometimes that idea is a brand new story that you’ve been secretly dying to tell, and you just didn’t know it. Sometimes it’s a hard truth you’ve been denying yourself. Sometimes it’s that perfect comeback that you could never come up with in the moment (the jerk store called…).

Whatever it is, if it’s stuck in your head and it won’t go away and won’t let you focus on what you’re trying to focus on, there may just be a reason for that, and maybe you need to stop ignoring that little buzz and see what it has to say.

Because something’s been bugging me (I’m sorry). My current project, which is to say, the edit that I started almost a full year ago, is in the ditch. Has been for a while. Maybe it’s the summer move, maybe it’s just lost some of its luster, but it’s only barely creeping along if anything, and I can’t even make myself want to work on it. Muscling through isn’t working, putting my head down and grinding it out ain’t gonna do it. Not right now. The fly in my head is that this isn’t the right project for me right now. I’ve been ignoring that thought and hoping it’ll go away, but it’s clearly going nowhere, so it’s time to face facts.

Maybe I’ll come back to this project. Maybe I won’t. I hear authors of all stripes do this all the time, but it feels like a knife in the gut. The better part of a year to draft it, and over six months again trying to edit it… the sheer amount of time wasted is soul-crushing.

But as the great Kenny Rogers once said, you got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.

And right now, it feels like time to fold this one, open the windows, and let this house air out a little bit.

 


How *you* doing?


Me? Over here?

Oh, you know, just having one of those weeks where it feels like every single thing I write or do or even think seems to me like a sentient pile of bear poop that is, itself, shaped like a bear. A bear with sharpened poop claws and poop fangs just waiting to slice into me for the crime of bringing its poopy mass into existence.

You know, a week where anything I create just gloms together into a seething, roiling mass of crapness. So much crap that it begins to collapse under its own weight, swirling and coalescing into a crappy black hole in my backyard; a black hole into which I might gladly toss my laptop, my current project, my other previous projects, and any and all potential future projects I might have thought about conceiving of. An entire alternate universe of projects that never had a chance of existing; those can go, too. Reality and possibility themselves bend around the gravity of my ineptitude.

Drive it all into the ocean and drown the world in the tsunami.

Douse it with gasoline and outshine the sun with the fireball.

Bury it underground and dwarf Everest with the displaced earth.

Ahem.

How am I doing?

Fine. Everything is fine.

How about you?


Metaphor Monday – The Creative Eclipse


As Neil de Grasse Tyson pointed out on twitter a few days ago, the hubbub over the eclipse is a bit overblown. Solar eclipses happen every two years or so; they’re just not common in your area thanks to orbital trigonometry or some such sciencey nonsense.

Still, it’s a hell of a thing. And but for the things we know about science, it could be thought to be a magical thing. Certainly for many it’s a spiritual thing: a reminder that we live in a world of wonders where the strange and unusual not only happens from time to time, but is actually guaranteed to happen. For those of us in the right place, at the right time, we get treated to a celestial light show that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime.

But it’s funny, isn’t it? All the attention we’re giving to the sun in the past couple of weeks and days, just because the math happens to line up for a tiny subset of the population of our pale blue dot. For the sun, after all, today is a day not a speck different from any other. And for 90% of the planet, today is a day not a speck different from any other.

When was the last time you even considered the sun? Aside, perhaps, from wishing it didn’t shine into your eyes at precisely that angle on your evening commute? When was the last time you thought about when it would be at such-and-such point in the sky, or where the moon was in relation to it, or how bright it might be, or how long you could look at it and with what protective eyewear?

You didn’t, that’s when. The sun went about its business, and you went about yours, and the only time you cared about it was when the sun wasn’t going about its business, which is to say, when it was blocked out and day became night and the lizardmen roamed the earth and every bird everywhere flew into the side of every house in hopes of escaping the impending apocalypse.

But the sun didn’t know, or care, that today was an eclipse. The sun shone down on our insignificance today like any other day, and it was only through the luck of our particular geolocation that we experienced anything unusual at all. We only noticed anything was unusual because our perception of the thing got interfered with.

In other words, the thing was working fine; we only noticed it because it seemed not to be.

Which is basically the perfect metaphor for the writer’s brain.

Your brain, your creative engine, the beating heart of your imagination — it’s a glowing orb of nuclear fusion burning brightly away between your earholes. It’s always there, always kicking ideas out, always doing what it does. (This, I’m pretty sure, is why I’m always having off-the-wall thoughts that I immediately dismiss, i.e.: what if the cars just started floating off the highway right now? What if we all suddenly forgot what words meant and we had to start over from scratch with current technology? What it there was a guy who could literally see time? (For some reason, my creative stream-of-consciousness sounds a lot like my stoned college buddies.)

All of which is fine and good for the writer working on projects and having all the time he (or she, obviously) could want to give vent to those ideas. Like the sun spraying out heat and light and radiation in all directions, the brain just goes on creating.

Until something gets in the way.

Like your job. Or your much-delayed move. Or a shattering sense of unworthiness and self-doubt. These things get in the way of the flow ideas, much like the moon moving across the path of the sun, and screw up the daylight. And then, all of a sudden, we’re like “why isn’t my brain working? Why can’t I get anything done?”

When of course your brain is working just like before; the radiation of ideas just isn’t penetrating the morass of goop gunking up the rest of your head.

And how do you de-gunk the goop?

Well, if I had that answer, I’d have a lot more work done on my current WIP than I do, and I wouldn’t have lost nearly the productivity I lost over the summer. Like the moon drifting through the path of the sun, I tend to think it’ll happen on its own. But also like the drifting moon, it seems to happen in its own time.

Which is a bummer, to be sure.

But — one last thread to connect this metaphor — even a sliver of the visible sun is enough to bring daylight to the world, and even a sliver of creative energy is enough to get you writing again.

In the meantime, get yourself some shades and enjoy the light show.

So, just wait. It’ll pass.

Eventually.

I think.

 


Magic Signs (Are BS)


The stream of consciousness prompt for the week is “sign.” And when it comes to signs, my brain only really goes to one place, and I was all set to write, but I went and clicked on Linda’s post. And I think that’s kind of beautiful.

Creative types tend to be superstitious types, don’t they?

I mean, we kind of have to be, right? This thing we do — creating sparkly new things out of nothing — it’s a kind of magic, innit? Scratch that — it’s not kind of magic; it is magic. An idea germinates in my head over here. I nurture that idea, shape it, water it, and finally put it in words. Those words, like spores on the wind, float into your eyeholes or earholes or whatever and bloom there, erupting like fungus to paint the picture in your mind. And the messed up part is: the picture in your head is almost, but not quite, exactly like the picture in my head. And the picture in the next guy’s head is almost, but not quite, exactly like the picture in your head.

It’s this cascading wave of creation, interpretation and invention, unfolding like evolution at an accelerated pace. Creating art is magic.

And in a world where magic exists, how can we not be superstitious?

Which is why you get authors going on about inspiration and muses and writer’s block and “looking for signs”. And that’s all well and good when the fire is burning and the muse is perched on your shoulder, force-feeding you caffeine and brilliant ideas and you feel the urge to write (or paint or compose or whatever) like you feel the urge to breathe — so strong and involuntary you couldn’t not do it if you tried. Problem is — in my experience at least — creating doesn’t work like that all the time. Or even half the time. Or a quarter. Not even ten percent. Maybe one day out of twenty I get the urge to create like that, where the words flow like a river overflowing its banks. The rest of the days? The muse needs coaxing. The inspiration needs a push-start. And I don’t get signs that I should be writing so much as signs that I need to rethink my major life choices.

Hell, for years I had the inkling that I should be a writer. I need to be telling stories. I feel that creative urge. But I wasn’t sure what. So I kicked back and sat around watching for the sign. And waiting. And watching. And waiting. Watch. Wait.

And the paint started to peel and the kudzu began to reclaim the yard and before I knew it, years had passed and I was no closer to writing a damn thing.

But the signs, man! When the time is right, won’t I see the signs?

No.

Signs are bullsharknado.

There’s no such thing as a “sign” that it’s time to write that novel. We like to think there might be, but that’s because we rightly believe in the magic that makes our craft possible. But signs are a form of communication. A sign means somebody, somewhere, is sending you a message, and I hate to break it to you, but if you’re going to be writing, the only real person you’ll be having meaningful conversations with about your work most of the time is yourself.

If you do see a sign, it’s because your subconscious brain is tired of sitting around waiting for your conscious brain to get in gear and do the thing you’re sitting around waiting for a sign to tell you to do. In other words: if you see a “sign” it’s because you want to see a sign.

Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that if you don’t see a sign, you don’t want to see a sign. The brain isn’t that simple. But your own brain isn’t going to hit you over the head, either. (That’s not good for the brain, incidentally.) But to return to a theme I occasionally espouse here at the blarg, things don’t always mean things.

A “sign” is a sign if you think it’s a sign. Otherwise it’s just a thing.

Which is a little bit pessimistic, but there you are. Of course, the other thing that means is that, literally, anything can be a sign — if you’re ready to see it as such.

I’m rambling now. Time to reduce this grumpy word soup down.

There’s no such thing as a “sign” that it’s time to start that project. The “sign” is that tiny voice in your head that says hey, maybe I should do that thing. The moment you hear that voice? Jump on it. Do the thing.

Don’t waste time looking for signs. If you’re doing it right, you’ll soon be ignoring all the signs anyway.

Except for this one.

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This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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