Saturday, February 1, 2014

writer's angst

As if collecting the bits and pieces of a broken glass on the kitchen floor, today I sweep up the shards remaining after I stayed up past my bedtime last night. I shouldn't do that, but I did.

Yesterday's activities led me to stay up late ... late and writing and thinking and writing some more.

I met Larry Parnass, the executive editor of the local paper, in a cafe that lies about equidistant from his work and my home. We had made a cup-of-coffee bet about whether President Barack Obama would mention the recent death of folk singer Pete Seeger in his State of the Union Address. I lost the bet -- Obama did no such thing -- and I went to the cafe to pay up.

The cafe itself was awash in colossally-white people who seemed to be doing things like "networking." They were all -- I swear it, all! -- wearing the kind of casual shoes you can buy in stores that have "hiking" in their names ... not really hiking shoes, but looking as if the wearer were an outdoors enthusiast ... striding the sylvan paths, eating impeccable food and healthy, dontcha know ... healthy and (sotto-voce) well-heeled in a way that would never mention its economic comforts.  People sat with their laptops open or with sections of the New York Times held earnestly before their eyes.

The coffee and pastries really were good and soon enough Larry and I were ensconced in an easy conversation that blotted out the WASP-y surroundings that I couldn't have recognized if I weren't similarly infected. We chatted newspapers and personal lives ... it was very comfortable. The Gazette -- the local paper -- is small and hometown and feeling all the Internet bruises that larger papers are. I like it, but its demise seems to be foreordained.

Finally, Larry got around to what I had half-suspected he was going to get around to -- how would I like to write a monthly column for the paper for which I had written several columns before? I would have carte blanche for subject matter and the newspaper would remunerate me with a free subscription ... which constituted a pay hike, since everything I had previously written was for free. Anyway, because I am retired and because I write daily as a matter of habit and because I like to shoot my mouth off and because not paying any bill (the newspaper subscription in this case) is good news on my fixed income, I said I'd do it. The ship may be going down, but it is a ship I am happy to go down with.

But the moment I said I'd do it, I felt a sense of angst and helplessness: What the hell was I going to write about? Never mind that I get up every morning with one topic or another tap-dancing in my mind ... seriously, what was I going to say? Where did I get off making a promise of the sort I had?! It was one thing to write freely but the matter seemed to take on a whole new quality when there was a promise and a deadline involved.

But then I got home and discovered there was in fact something I wanted to write about -- the complicity of religion in blood-soaked military adventures. The minute I discovered an actual-factual bit of subject matter, my mind was like a dog on a bone ... gnawing, gnawing, gnawing ... shaping the argument, trying to whittle it down to 750 words, finding ways to make it straightforward instead of just solemn. And that kept me up well beyond my bedtime. The deadline may be 20 days off, but I felt compelled to get it on the rails -- to make some initial effort, to see if it held water, to wonder whether the objective could be reached in so small a space. I wouldn't blame anyone for describing my concentration as "anal-retentive."

By the time I looked up, I had written a rough attempt, had been in contact with a fellow in Mexico who knew something about the St. Patrick's Battalion, had sifted through old emails that were relevant to the topic and was, for the moment, finished. It was 11:30 ... way past my bedtime.

And I woke up this morning paying the price.

Sleep is no joke.

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