I meet up with a couple of people once a week, if we can manage it, in order to write together. We have done this for years. Sometimes what it written in the sessions becomes poem or story, other times it stays just as it is and serves no particular purpose. We like to do it and it is a convivial form of writing practice.
Today I brought along my Writer’s Block which is actually a block of ideas, images, words, all designed to “jump-start your imagination.” But sometimes the very notion of all the possibilities scares me. They are doors I don’t feel able to walk through. Then at other times I can open any thought, any image at random and go into it. Whatever “it” is welcomes me with open arms, but it can feel strange leaving at the end of the allotted time, as though walking out of a relationship just begun, ended before it has been given the chance to flourish. When I think of the many writing sessions I have undertaken, on my own or with others, my sense is that I was bridegroom and the words and images were brides who all said yes and opened to me, and I left them all stranded and perplexed. They waited for a while and then shrivelled away, disappointed. I could have gone back to any one of them and made something but they all wanted, expected so much of me and I couldn’t settle for anything smaller than they were, nor could I give the commitment wanted of me. Perhaps this is how it is to be a philanderer.
I wonder if it’s reproach I feel (mine or theirs?) as I open the door and catch sight of their faces; is it that I know how much is involved in the engagement and that I haven’t a hope of fulfilling my obligations or that I can’t spare the emotional and physical energy for even a brief affair? It is the hope they place in me that scares me, the fact that they have not stopped wanting.
786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination, says the block. The image of a car, yes? This is what came suddenly to mind this morning; a car that can’t get started on its own because the battery is flat, so you attach the leads to a vehicle whose engine is up and running. You jump start, the engine revs and you go for a bit, sometimes slowly, sometimes roaring along the motorway, doing the ton. Then you stop, turn back, go home, always before you reach your destination. You had set out for Cornwall, Ireland, France, Africa even, why not? But you don’t get to any of these places, you turn around and go home.
Then I opened the block at an image of a mangled and broken-to-pieces car. There were men in protective jackets and helmets gathered around, attending to it or attending, perhaps, to the people inside it. Synchronicity. And that’s another thing: so many of the journeys seem to want to begin with a trip down Misery Lane or Disaster Highway. On the other page there is simply “9.11”. I have never, will never want to use such an event to jump-start. Not that I have anything against it on principle, but I have nothing meaningful to say about it. Well maybe I have got something against it on principle. Why should I use this kind of disaster as a vehicle for one of my abortive journeys?
So I turned the page: “Write about the worst lie someone told you.” I could have made that one up, I suppose, but if these jump-starts are any good they usually draw from the source of lived experience – a slide into the ditch of Misery Hollows. I am not in the vein.
Flicking to the next thing brought something a shade lighter: “Write about the worst driving you’ve ever done.” No great incidents there, nothing that involved anyone getting hurt, nothing more than an unsightly dent in the side of my car, and not even another driver involved. Actually, no story. But yes, of course story (I know, I know) – context! Can I be arsed, though? I was driving the car in the grounds of Sussex University where I’d been at the bookshop looking for a couple of creative writing books because (being a teacher of such) I wanted to keep my finger on the pulse. Irony? And I simply edged the side of the car along a place where I was not aware of an obstruction. No, really.
One last flick of the block: “Invent a character who sees a phone number on a restroom wall.” What is a rest room? A euphemism, like all these words. Anyway, the next bit: “Describe what happens when he or she dials it.” This is quite good because in this day and age once could do that while still sitting and finishing one’s business, because of mobile phones – though the image they helpfully provide shows a set of push-button numbers, the kind you would once have found in telephone booths, the sort with letters grouped in threes underneath each number.
And why would this character, he or she, dial a random number in this way? Pluck something out of the air and see where it leads? For the same reason, perhaps dear reader, as I open the Block looking for the jump-start. Because there are times when one has to go somewhere – anywhere, begin a conversation, take a risk. There may be danger. There may be the fulfilment of a dream. There may be nothing. I thank you.