It’s twilight. I go out, sit in a lounge chair in my backyard, and look before me into the void (which resembles a painting of shades of green; grass and strange flowers you can only see around here and a whole bunch of other tropical vines that anarchically crawl up the fence). And I wait, listening to a silence that’s only disturbed by a handful of bugs, focusing on all and nothing, and I think “Tropics” when what I really want to think about is: “Topics.”
“Okay, topics, rain down on me, shake down like apples during an earthquake, hit my mind like a ton of bricks, strike my mind like an electric eel,” I cheerfully say to myself. I look around. There’s no answer, so I ask, “More clichés?” But none come to me. I inwardly drop to my knees, hands entwined as if in prayer: “I pleadeth with thee to surrender to me.” I want to go back to writing articles, and the topic-finding issue is the one thing that’s been keeping me away from the blog.
First, Walt Whitman comes to mind: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” Hmm. I agree that there is significance in everything and infinite wonders are in the smallest things, but I don’t know how this is helping. It’s just like when I ask my husband:
“You can write about ANYTHING, topics are limitless,” he tells me, all know-it-all-y.
“Well, that’s the problem; I wouldn’t mind you being a little more specific.”
“I dunno: anything.”
I sigh, take a deep breath, and think again. And I think, and I think, and I think hard again until my mind goes … blank. Up there in my brain is an empty space where I’m walking with a realtor who’s trying to sell me the thousand-and-one wonders and virtues of a place where someone once lived. I look around at the bare white walls, trying to find life, or signs of a former life, if only even a spider web. There must be bugs living there, at least. (There are bugs everywhere in the Caribbean.) But no, it’s clean. Bright. And furthermore … empty. “Topics, topics, where are you hiding?” I whisper softly so as not to scare them away. I want to believe my brain is as breathtaking as the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, but there’s nothing remotely kingly in here, or queenly for that matter. I think the realtor is taking her job a little too seriously; the ceilings may be huge and high above me, but even the bugs in my yard were louder. Where’s the promised auditory experience from the sonic resonance of this cathedral? It’s like all the air from a ten-mile radius has been sucked up outside. (This is usually an Avant-courier sign of a hurricane, which would be a definite good thing up here, but I don’t want to jinx myself.) I turn to the realtor, my arms hanging by my sides, staring at her with half-opened eyes as though someone harshly shook me out of bed, or rather as though I am so, so, so unimpressed that it’s boring. The realtor keeps moving her lips but somebody has pressed the mute button.
I get out of my own not-so-remarkable head, get up from my lounge chair and go back inside the house (which is also suspiciously very quiet at the moment in spite of the four kids who live in it). I stop, listen (still quiet) and shrug my shoulders. I grab my dictionary (which is really my brother’s, if I am to believe its tag that reads his name and “3rd grade”) and I open it randomly.
The first word to emerge from under my feverish finger is “Circus.” Perfect: I’ve not been to a circus in over five years. I pick another word: “Record,” and think I might beat one if I persist. Next word is “Surly.” Seriously?? “DAMMIT!” I cry as I slam the book closed. On its cover, next to my brother’s tag, I read “Larousse des débutants.” (It might come as a surprise but my brother and I have one thing in common; we share the same mother tongue: French.) That translates to “Webster’s Dictionary for Novices” but in my ears it echoes as “Inspiration for Dummies”, and I wonder if all the elements really are against me.
I put the dictionary back where it belongs on the dusty shelf, making a mental note to eventually return it to my brother if he ever decides to have a kid. (Ha! Never gonna happen! Not the have-a-kid part; the return-the-book one.) I need to fuel my mind. I go to the kitchen, put a coffee pod into the machine, pour myself an espresso and I look at the black water as it drops into the tiny cup, thinking, “Hey! I could write about coffee.” But I immediately decide against it: I’ve done that already.
I take the cup, go to the front yard, cautiously open the hammock, sit, lie down and rock gently. I sip my delicious coffee, burn my tongue, curse, and close my eyes.
“All right, topics, you can come to me now, strike down on me,” I think. Nothing. All I can picture is a screen on my big, bare, white, cranial walls: I see where the annoying shrieking crickets are (right beneath me), and how my hair looks as the wind currently and gently rushes around (into my face, and it’s not pretty).
I open my eyes, push my hair away, and look into the void. Um, no, it’s not void. I’ve got four kids standing quietly before me with their hands behind their backs, lined up like a row of little soldiers. “Uh-oh, who died?” I ask inwardly. But since they’re all here and I don’t want to wonder, “Who’d you kill?”, I quickly relax. Until they ask me what’s for dinner.
I cook dinner while searching for vagabond topic ideas in peeled potatoes, boiling water, and drops of pepper, and I wonder if I should play a trick on my kids and see what comes out of it. Are they too young to be introduced to fine French dishes? Frog legs or snails and such? Or maybe they can have a mere empty plate à la Oliver Twist? Food for thought, they say. I consider this. But nah! Dinner will take forever; that’s what will come out of it.
While my exquisite cuisine ingredients are boiling, I sit at the piano. This has sometimes shown to be helpful. I hold my hands above the keys and I draw a blank once more. What should I play? I look on top of the piano where it’s usually messy with books and wandering music sheets, but now it’s tidy. It’s official: all elements are against me tonight. I feel like I’ve just found out that my piano has unfriended me on Facebook. “I’m hurt,” I tell it. I close my eyes and think. I’ll make it up and it’ll friend me again; I know some pieces of music by heart. But which one should I choose? Bach or Muse? I decide to go with Tchaikovsky’s Barcarolle and let the brilliance of the play vibrate through me, calling on the brilliance of my own self to shine a lightbulb in my brain. And then I’m stuck after an F sharp. (I can think of another sharp F, but it may be better to let that one remain stuck, too.)
Being unfriended on Facebook has given me an idea and made me realize that picking a word in the dictionary was ridiculous. This is the 21st century; even my kids don’t know how to use this kind of ever-so-dusty and smelly book anymore. I open my laptop and go to Google, and then I find topic-list posts on tens and tens of blogs (probably written by people who themselves were running out of ideas). I read them carefully, now feeling like a single person who’s searching for their soulmate from a catalogue of possible candidates on match.com. Hmm. A match.com for wannabe writers. Interesting. But I have zero experience in that field, and anyway, I get the odd impression that it doesn’t work that way. It can’t. It’s too much like cheating.
After dinner, I go back to the backyard, then to the front yard. I pace and stand and stare and listen and smell. The green shades are darker now. “I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long,” Whitman wrote. Good for you. I don’t always have the luxury of time. But then again, after three days of playing hide-and-seek with my mind, I know the location and position of every single leaf on every single tree, I can tell which of the rocks and flowers have moved to a saner place, I know how many avocados the neighbors took from their tree for their entree. What I don’t know, on the other hand, is what topic will be on the blog’s menu.
My mind has a mind of its own, and the dictionary had it right: it’s a surly kind of people. In a surly manner, it’s turning its back on me right now and it has put a sign on the door: “For the avoidance of doubt, if doors do not open, do not enter.” My mind has been so lazy and so not helpful lately. All it wants to do is read. I feed it tons of books and when I ask for one little bit of help, it’s silent. “Well, hello there! There’s an idiom that says: Get a little, give a little.” (Something like that.) My mind takes it all in, gulping all these beautiful words and stunning stories from marvelous writers. It’s an ogre. That’s it: my mind is an ogre! When it’s done with its rich food, it grieves the end of the fine meal, or naps in order to prevent the pain of indigestion during digestion. Well, duh! It’s not even close to an indigestion just yet.
I dare ask: “Was this book inspiring, ogre?”
It takes a second and then looks me in the eye. I freeze, hold my breath, swallow my fear, and look up as discreetly as possible from the corner of my eye to the tiny drop of sweat that’s rolling down my forehead. And then it says, satisfied, “Very.”
My face lights up, I breathe out and feel my blood flow into my veins again. “Well then, can you inspire me?” I ask tentatively.
“I’ll think about it,” it replies abruptly. I then imagine it gently patting its stuffed stomach and lying down on the long green grass, dancing and curling under the warm soft breeze.
“How about a little exercise?” I ask quietly. “A blog post!”
But it’s gone again. It’s snoring already.
That’s a shame, really, because the other half of my mind — the one that’s not an ogre who wants to just read around the clock — wants to write and feed the ogre with new words and texts. Like fucking wants to write. So bad. Oddly enough, when I want to write fiction, it’s no problem. Ideas rush inside all the time. Then, be warned; my mind is all squeaking, urgent whistles and thick black smoke and shaking and sparkling steel, and anyone who gets in the way of the uncontrollable steam locomotive will be smacked down. Ideas come to me even as I don’t want them to come: while in the shower, at the dentist, at night in my bed, even while making out. “Shut up now, mind! Come back at another, more suitable time!”
But for blog posts, my brain simply burps and sticks its tongue out. And I think it’s driving me crazy …