When the Writing Stops

Everyone who knows me knows that I love to write. I write first thing in the morning and any other time of day when I find a quiet place and even the scrap of an idea or image. I love the tactile feeling of pen on paper, fingers on the keys. But what to do when I’m not writing, other than feeling bereft and vaguely guilty? I’ve learned to do something that has little to do with language. I crochet and attend to the feel of yarn, the difference between Navaho wool and chunky cotton. I walk the dog and take note of how many trees he marks, which spots he chooses for a good back-rubbing roll. I go for a drive. (Yeah, it’s an eco-sin, but I like driving, getting lost on purpose just to see how to get unlost.) I sit on the porch and watch the birds, the dog walkers, the bicycles and cars speeding by. I listen to the suburban world in which I live. I take a break from words.

How can a writer ignore language? Words are our medium, our challenge, our glory when we get it right. But the wonder of words is that they are a substitute for reality. In Kenneth Burke’s  Language As Symbolic Action, he writes about terministic screens, language “through which humans perceive the world, and that direct attention away from some interpretations and toward others.” (My italics) If I scratch my dog’s silky ears, I can write about it, but that’s not the same as touch. There are times when I need to take a break from the words that buzz around me and separate me from tangible reality.

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