As I write these words I sit before my laptop computer onboard a cruise ship off the West Coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C., headed for Juneau, Alaska. The hour is late and I have no idea what to write.
This is what writers occasionally go through: “I must write; but what?”
Though it’s not always like this, it happens frequently enough. And, despite the breathtaking beauty of my current locale, I’m not inspired. I’d so hoped.
The urge to write is often like an itch between the shoulder blades. One desperately wants to tend to it, but can’t. It becomes a nuisance. Just 700 words tonight, that’s all I need. But where are they? Not lingering idly in my cranium.
Still, I’m compelled. And also bewildered, like that fellow who confesses to Christ: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
He appears caught in a dilemma and I know the feeling. I’ve done this before, you know — gone cruising. Five times to Alaska (it never gets old), and cruises from New England to Canada’s maritime provinces, and a circumnavigation of the Baltic.
No sailor by any stretch, this former Army GI — who tossed his cookies for 23 days aboard a troop ship in 1965 from San Francisco to Incheon, South Korea — is a Southern California native and has always loved the sea.
Tonight whilst sitting on my veranda I watched the last hint of gloaming disappear from the sky; a large whale of some sort spouting not a hundred yards from me; and a flash in the northern sky that I mistakenly took for a nuclear-tipped missile, courtesy of Kim Jong-un, reentering the earth’s atmosphere.
Thankfully, it died as space debris. And, alas, no Aurora Borealis. Not tonight.
As a writer, I often feel compelled to write even when I have nothing to say. This is one of those moments. I am mute. What I advise others in this situation is if you have nothing to say, for heaven’s sake don’t open your trap.
Tonight I violate my own code. French mathematician and theologian, Blaise Pascal, once said of humanity — though he could have been referring specifically to writers: “We are the glory and the bane of the universe.”
Tonight I am less than glorious. Did Beethoven have something to say as he sat laboring over his Ninth Symphony? If he didn’t, he faked it rather well.
I sometimes feel sorry for myself as I write. I can’t coordinate my hands to properly strike the keys of my laptop. I used to type a hundred words a minute. I now struggle for 10.
I’m forced to think slowly, whether I want to or not. Perhaps that encourages deeper introspection. I have Parkinson’s disease.
Still, after I employ my single-finger, hunt-and-peck technique I can read a finished product no matter how dreadful it might be. Poor Beethoven, his life’s great tragedy was that he lost his hearing. He never heard the Ninth — the greatest piece of music ever conceived by the human brain. He didn’t hear it. I’m certain it resonated through his soul, however. As Shakespeare once mused, “That stinketh!”
Novelist Mark Sullivan found himself with writer’s block prior to writing his best seller, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky.” I’m reading it on this voyage. “On the verge of a breakdown,” he writes in the forward to his book, “I bowed my head and begged God and the universe for help. I prayed for a story, something greater than myself, a project I could get lost in.”
His prayer was answered. Ahh, the “ask God for divine intervention” gambit. It’s as old as the hills. I’ve used it many times … including this very column.
What have I composed over the past hour? You be the judge. No concerto, no ode, no sonnet this. Only the blatherings of an aged man — owing his life to God’s mercy. My wife, Hedy, murmurs softly in sweet repose. Like Eve, I’ve given birth to a … column. How exactly? Providence dear reader, unvarnished Providence.
JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.