by Ron Davis
A coffee cup holding pens, pencils, a Daisy Duck Pez dispenser and, for some reason, a size 9 blue Rapala sits on my desk. Boldly lettered in dollar bill green on the cup’s side is the phrase, “Will Write For Food.” As a motorcycle magazine columnist, feature writer and reviewer, I do that. But as any writer trying to turn words into bank deposits knows, writing for food often means butting up against the most creativity-crushing, soul-sucking, motivation-murdering impediment to writing anything you’ll ever be happy with: deadlines. Deadlines force compromises; you may never find that certain word, that certain slant you know is out there. Worse, deadlines may also lead to dead ends. A stalled vehicle on the side of the road, at night, in the rain, with no cell phone bars—not just writer’s block—writer’s paralysis. In the words of Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man, “Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes, it doesn’t.”
What do I do then? I stop writing. But just walking away to scarf a sleeve of Caramel deLites Girl Scout cookies or watch one more season of Homeland doesn’t work. I head out to the wood pile.
Splitting and stacking wood works, sometimes. Barring no wood pile, I try mowing the lawn. As long I don’t have to worry about garden hoses, rocks and the neighbor children, it’s a meditative state, the sound of my aged mower even sounding like a mantra…Ommmmmm, cough cough, ommmmmm... Walking the dog can be good, too, though there is a certain level of distracting focus and dexterity involved in daintily bagging dog poop. Driving? I don’t think so—too much imminent danger uses too much brain. Riding a bike? Maybe, but motorcycling, definitely not. Huddled over a luke warm cup of coffee while gazing vacantly out the Acoustic Café window has never beckoned the muse for me. And drinking Scotch just makes me want to, well, drink more Scotch.
Shoveling snow, now there’s something to try when nature cooperates, but snow blowers, no. Painting has its merits, but isn’t a half-done wall just another deadline? Cleaning the garage, washing the car, all pretty good, as long as I don’t get too fussy. Reading, I would not recommend—too demoralizing to know some smug writer has actually hit his or her deadline.
For me, to break a stalemate with the keyboard, an activity has to walk that wobbling tightrope between having just enough self-absorption to counter the heebie-jeebies of the approaching deadline, while leaving enough room for my “inner writer” to work. As Michael Perry aptly wrote in Coop, “While the bones and meat wrassle, the mind is free to sort and ponder.”
So, my coffee cup taunts me. Another looming deadline with not so much as a first paragraph, and it’s once more into the backyard where the wood pile awaits. It’s a frosty morning, and breaking the silence, a lone cardinal chimes from the highest branches of a barren ash. It’s working, the oak splits cleanly, and with it the Gordian Knot of another writer’s block. If you’d like to try it, I have about five cords. Bring your own maul.