I haven’t been able to write.
If you’re not a writer, that probably sounds melodramatic. If you’re a writer, you probably
d understand how upsetting it is to write
those words, to be unable to write.
|Photo: Aaron Burden on Unsplash|
Like a lot of writers, I would imagine, I sometimes go long stretches without writing, because I don’t have anything to say. This dry period feels different though. I want to write, know what I want to say but somehow the words aren’t coming. Work on my next book stalled after the first paragraph. I tried to be patient, gentle with myself, solicitous of my fragile talent. I’m just tired, I told myself. There’s been a lot going on, I reminded myself: our dad died, I started a new job, there were the holidays…
|Dad circa mid-1950s|
I dreamt of Daddy the other night. I was walking through a crowded train station, carrying a heavy box in my hands, close to my chest. I have no idea what was in the box, but it was heavy. Everything was in black and white; the hard, white light falling from the skylight above made everything gleam like metal. Then I saw him, walking in the crowd towards me. Everything was in black and white, except him. He was all sepia tones: brown suede jacket, khaki pants, sharply creased, highly shined brown shoes; his brown face and terra cotta lips shone. Dad. As he passed me without speaking, he smiled. As I continued walking in the opposite direction—I knew, somehow, I couldn’t turn around and follow him—I slowed my pace. I remembered when I first moved back to NY after college, I was working at Macy's. Occasionally, I’d end up on the same train as my dad going home at the end of the day. He walked fast and always seemed to be ahead of me as he got off the train. Knowing I couldn’t yell out to him, I usually just trailed in his wake catching up to him in our building’s lobby as he waited for the elevator.
Though Dad’s smile had acknowledged me, his look had also warmed me, made it clear I couldn’t follow him, that I had to continue on my path as he continued on his. I started to walk faster and when I looked down at my hands, I realized they were empty, my heavy box gone.
When I woke up, I pondered the dream. Dad seemed to be telling me he had to go on his journey and I had to continue on mine. It was time to let him go. Oddly, I’d thought I had but maybe not. Maybe my own unacknowledged grief was what was holding me back, stealing my words.
That day, I made flight and hotel reservations for 2018 AWP Conference& Bookfair where I will be joining fellow writers, Alan Lessik and Kathy Anderson, in presenting a workshop on WritingLGBTQ Fiction Based on Real People. I used some of the money Dad left me to pay for the trip. That night I was unable to sleep. I was effectively alone. Stanley, exhausted from the marriage of Prozac and Vodka, had plunged headlong into sleep an hour earlier, Riley curled at his side. Toby dogged my steps as I walked into the library and began to look for a book to read. I hadn’t read a book in I don’t know how long. It made sense that I hadn’t read. And not reading seemed related to my not writing. For, if I couldn’t lose myself in the words, the story of another, how could I lose myself in the story I needed to tell? I pulled Graham Green’s “Travels With My Aunt,” off a shelf and began to read. The first line was “I met my Aunt Augusta for the first time in more than half a century at my mother’s funeral.” My new book opens with a funeral so my pulling Green’s book off the shelf seemed more fortuitous than random.
After our dad died, our youngest brother Kenon, told us about the day mom and dad dropped him off at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh his freshman year. Kenon became unsure as they were getting ready to leave him and head back to the Bronx. My father pulled him aside and told him, “If I didn’t think you could do this, I wouldn’t leave you here.”
Kenon had chosen his path and dad delivered him to the head of it. When he'd hesitated beginning his journey, dad had nudged him forward. Just as he seemed to be nudging me in my dream.
I went for a walk today in the snow. As I stood waiting to cross the street, I looked up at the sky, the snow-covered roofs edging the snow-filled sky. I remembered standing on that same corner and looking up into a fall sky, the leaves on the trees red-orange-red, so that I had felt as if I had been staring into the heart of a fire. C. had been alive then, and I had felt warmed by his love, brilliant as that tree.
A childhood fancy captured me suddenly, and I lay down in the snow and, moving my arms and legs in a sweeping arc, made a “snow angel.” I tired quickly and lay still for a moment within that casket of snow and ice. A memory of C.—of C., naked and beautiful, holding a single yellow rose against his chest—reached up and tugged at my heart, pulling me to my feet, leading me away. I left grief behind, buried in a shallow grave.
I watched the snow fall. I watched a snowflake fall for each life that had been lost. I watched a snowflake fall for each tear that had been shed over a life that had been lost. I watched a king’s ransom in snowflakes, like diamonds and pearls, fall soundlessly to the ground.
—Excerpt from “The Cross,” Damaged Angels