I’ve never been particularly daunted by a blank page, whether it be an empty sheet of paper or an empty text box. Once you learn that the worst thing you can do is nothing, I’ve got no problem with just sitting down and typing out a few hundred – or few thousand – words to get things going, even if it 90% of it ends up in the Recycle Bin in the end.
I’m also a big fan of editing as I write. A lot of writers don’t have any particular love for the editing process, as they’re either too married to their work and don’t want to cut a single word or they’re overly critical and decide to pare it down too far. I’ll admit that I’m often terse in a first draft and will routinely go back and expand upon review, but even in that I’ll take my time, choose my words carefully, and often go back and revise, sometimes paragraph-by-paragraph or even line-by-line, before moving on.
I live my life much the same way in that I very carefully pick and choose how I express myself and to whom. I’m the kind of person who spends more time listening than I do speaking – partly from just being genuinely interested in what people have to say – and when it comes right down to it, I’m much more comfortable expressing myself through the written word than in person, as it gives me time to order my thoughts to a degree that you just don’t get in person. At the same time, the spontaneity of interpersonal communication has a certain life to it that can’t be aped by a static page, even with the addition of a comment box; the closest you’re going to get to that is a chat pane or an IM window, and even that is a pale imitation of the real thing.
Still, some things are easier to talk about when it’s just you and a computer screen. At the same time, in certain instances you can stare at a blank page and despair, but not because you don’t know what to say: sometimes you know exactly what needs to be said but don’t have the heart to say it. Speaking it aloud – or typing it out in this case – gives it the kind of weight and truth that things lack when they go unsaid, and once it’s out there you can’t ever hide it away.
The irony here (and yes, I’m actually using irony here correctly) is that I make my living through the application of pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – yet I find myself paralyzed by the prospect of writing at this moment, which would require me to share something personal and true and forge a connection through these words that you’re reading right now between you and me, wherever – or whomever – you may be. That fear of making it real holds me back.
One of our cats is dying.
I stare at that sentence and I want with all my might to highlight the line of text and hit delete. As if that would erase the truth in it, or postpone the inevitable.
In the end, it’s still real, still happening. Even so, the inevitability looms over both me and my wife. We’re taking him to the vet tomorrow to get him checked out, but both of us know what they’ll tell us: it’s only natural – he’s 14, and he’s simply tired and old. That’s not terribly aged as far as cats go, but before we rescued him he was subject to years of neglect; it’s true that we’ve given him the best part of his life in the years since we brought him home – nearly half his lifetime – but it doesn’t change the fact that the grief is still there, circling like a vulture.
It’s not an easy thing, coming to grips with an unavoidable truth such as the death of a beloved family pet. It may seem melodramatic and overly sentimental to many, but it takes a certain kind of masochistic compassion to be a pet owner that you simply can’t comprehend if you aren’t one.
George Carlin said it best: every pet is a tiny tragedy waiting to happen.