I excuse myself from the little office that is nothing like a prison—though, because I have not been able to write, the little office has begun to to take on the scent and weight of cement and my feeble mind bristles at the bootstamps of the jailer who is invisibly circling, circling, circling. Why must I always try to write in the midst of devastation, when the words move like sludge beneath a city teetering on collapse?
A few weeks back, a student of mine sent a letter that merely said: ‘Creativity is emotional bravery. In the new year, I hope we all can be more brave.’ The thought has been ringing in my ears—yes, I think, it is courage I am lacking when creativity fails me. But I do not have the good sense to know against what I should pit my courage. In the middle of the afternoon, where do I find the source of darkness so I might throw myself at its breast?
Inevitably I end up in the past. I begin to remember things. For instance, I suddenly remember that this time last year, the mountain had no snow. It felt incredibly bare. The way my dog ran was frightful, swerving, mad, full of freedom and the spring of his own body, startling the other hikers. I was glum, still looking for the snow. He was recklessly happy. When we got home, I discovered that ants had come into the living room. Goddamn. What could I do but accept it. Did you know that ants have faces? I watched them, thinking: They are such little persons. I thought probably, morally, spiritually, they are better than me. What could I do about the ants? I left a heap of crumbs outside the front door near and went painstakingly behind them, washing their footsteps from the wood floor with a vinegar-soaked rag. After a week of doing this, they left on their own accord. Still, just for being human I felt like a sinner. I found myself saying over and over You must pray you must pray you must pray. Then it all enters me. A torrent of thoughts and movement. I hold a blanket to my face like a veil and sob. I am irreparably far away and lost, a shapeless ooze with a good smile, with blundering hands, with a fat tongue for nothing, with too many corn chips poking in my gut, my flesh a paperweight while elsewhere the world is in flames, needing heroes. I cry perhaps a half-hour, and then it finishes. I reach for a page as I would for a tissue and put some wet words down on it.
That was a year ago, when everything was all right. I write these memories seated on the floor of the kitchen, but it does not register as writing. They are just memories. Later, when someone asks Have you been writing I will say no, no, I haven’t written for years.