I’d like to say the reason that I have not posted in three days is because I had to make an impromptu trip with Liz (my daughter) to Portland, Oregon. But the truth of the matter is: I’m suffering from writer’s block (insert dramatic music, here). Sure, the drive time between Chico, CA and Portland, OR, is eight hours. Round trip that’s sixteen hours (historians can do simple math); add in sleep time for a one night stay, eight; plus dinner, breakfast and lunch, three more; that’s twenty-seven precious hours of what turned out to be a thirty-eight hour trip – not counting the time it took to tour the University of Portland and sit with an advisor. As much of this is true, I still should have (heck, could have) found time to jot down something.

But I did not: writer’s block.

I’m not jiggy with writer’s block, heretofore now referred to as WBS (Writer’s Block Syndrome – there’s a syndrome for everything these day, isn’t there?). In the history of Joe scribbling, I have rarely, if ever, suffered from WBS. My pen is prolific. Take what’s in the brain then dump. Allow your thoughts to ooze, slide down the arms, hit the keyboard, and voila: instant writing (which is what I’m doing right now by the way). I was once a radio station news writer intern where five minutes and weak story line is all I had to get something together. I can write, and usually it comes fast.

But the Portland trip interfered with that and I am left as to wondering why. Was it the road, the mind numbingly, rattled-lurch chore of twists and turns via Interstate-5 which then left my mind – dare I say it – devoid of any thoughts? Could there really be nothing in my head except, “Oh look, another pine tree.”? Indeed, checking that GPS device for the nearest Starbucks (thank you, Eugene), seemed to fill all my time (just twenty-three more miles to go!!). Conversations with Liz went well; boys, college, music, dreams, careers, England, etc.

But to arrive in Portland, experience its magnificent river parks, great restaurants, and gentle rains with nothing to write about, well, was a bit disconcerting. Maybe I was in absorb mode, taking in Portland because I have never been there.

Nah, my head was devoid of something to say that’s all there is to it. But that last sentence deserves a little bit of background. There was a stretch during the writing of my master’s thesis where nothing came forth. I mean nothing. And it was kind of spooky. All this research conducted, all these ideas in my head on what to write about and yet nothing came spilling down the arms to the keyboard. WBS is one thing, WBS and History is quite another.

I recognize, of course, the universal nature of WBS – all writers experience it. But WBS for a historian is altogether different. One, most of what we write about already happened: there’s a script of sorts. Two, most likely, our audience is already known: other historians and scholars, and they know about the script. Three, and the biggie, is that History requires a type of writing that insists upon thought, deep thought, often interrupted by the insertion of proof (if Danielle Steel was required to footnote her thoughts, she’d have never written a novel). The past explored by scholars certainly necessitates story conveyance which means a historian has to write with two sets of eyes. One set is focused on the proofs of the past. The other set on telling a good story, or the narrative portion of the show. Not all historians can do this. It’s tough not getting cross-eyed; too much of one at the expense of the other can make reading such histories either a total chore or a total farce. Ultimately, history is the writing of an argument in essay or book form, where the judge and jury are a few thousand other historians and scholars: which can be a bit intimidating.

Maybe this is where I am at. I wrote a thesis, a fairly good one. I overcame the writer’s block to do so. But a thesis is one thing, a dissertation quite another. Maybe I am intimidated by the idea of it, by the task which is set before me. I must somehow muster the strength, wisdom and dexterity to wear two sets of eyes. I must research, think, and argue about the culture of a people located in a certain period of time that no longer exists. And I must do this without my wife and kids and country. Maybe the Portland trip, the discovery of a new city, the investigation of a new university (Liz’s possible future), the mind-numbing drive, and the insertion of a serious bout of WBS will serve as a signal flare, reminding me that writing – in reality – is a most solitary task.

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