Most times when I can’t write, I write about writing. And when I can’t write about writing, I write about not writing. It is a ritual that can be described as seducing the muse. I might be unable to write what I had intended, but I always have the satisfaction of doing the work. I know that I tried and even if my attempt was not enough to woo my muse, it was an attempt all the same. So next time when I come knocking, she will remember I was the guy that hung outside her room, way past both of our bedtimes. Whistling and throwing stones at her window — and praying they do not break the glass because I don’t want to offend her while begging to make out. She doesn’t always respond, but I go again and again. There is something about an unrelenting persistence that breaks the hardest rock. Water they say is soft, but with persistence, it can carve a gorge out of a rock and even make a way in the wilderness.
There is this story I heard when I was a child. About a man who wanted to cut down a tree but instead of going right ahead and swinging his axe at the goddamn tree, he spent hours sharpening it. Later on, I discovered the story was fashioned from Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Writing about writing or not writing is the four hours I spend sharpening my axe — or rather pen. But since I mostly write on my laptop, then keyboard ito is. But do keyboards even need sharpening? — preparing for the mighty piece I want to cut down.
Writing about writing or not, is cleaning the bedroom, doing the laundry and dishes, cooking, and making sure the house is close to perfect. So when the muse comes, it will settle down. No distraction. Ready to make love and be loved.
There is this ritual Christians do. In church, worship session is seen as a preparatory class for the Holy Spirit. Hence the song, “Lord you are welcome, in this place.” Singing that song during worship is laying the ground for an interaction with God.
Likewise, there is this thing drivers/riders —cab, kekenapep, Okada, bus etc. — do. They don’t just enter the car and zoom off to eternity. They start the engine, and fire it for some seconds. Warming it up. In Marine engines, the process is called ‘priming.’
This process cuts across many channels. In sports, you do warm up exercise to loosen tense muscle. Because if you plunge right into the activity, cramp, muscular strain and tear, and broken bones are few of possible injuries that can happen.
Writing about writing or not writing is my preparation for writing. It’s the opening line in a poem, the first solo piece in an orchestra, the preview of the movie. It is wetting the ground and setting the stage for the main performance. When the main performance fail —as they mostly do— I leave content that I did not really fail. I left the audience with something, I set words free.
As I write this, I know I shouldn’t be writing this. I had a torrent of ideas during the day, I grabbed the closest piece of paper and jotted down some, and others, I typed on my phone.
As I write this, I should be developing those ideas. Give them wings to fly. But as most ideas are, submissively rebellious, they decided to go into hiding. Even though I whistle, send text messages, trolled all their social media timelines. None of them responded — they probably got jealous that instead of one, I have a torrent of them. So I show up. I do the work. I realize that even though I cannot write about what I should be writing about, I can still write.
Footballers do not play competitive games every day. The most they do on average are two games a week. An average of 200 minutes, less than 3 hours. But they spend not less than 4 days weekly on the training ground. Burning hours. Learning new trick, perfecting old tricks, studying tactics. Looking at videos of past games to analyse individual and team weaknesses. These behind the scene are not known to fans. Behind the scene is not pretty.
Writing about writing or not writing is showing up. Because luck they say is when preparation meets opportunity. And the muse most times prefer to swing by when I’m sweaty and certain that she will not. She is not a friend of lady luck, that’s why she comes most times when I am doing something else, because she too craves for attention and when I ignore, she goes into hiding when I arrive to work.
There is this page I follow on Facebook — Writing about Writing — that always sends me packing whenever I am online. As if monitoring me, whenever I log onto Facebook, I check my notifications and I always see something from Writing about Writing. Reminding me that I should be writing and not lurking on Facebook, as if people don’t write on Facebook.
I leave with the resolve that even though I cannot write mind blowing process and spellbounding essays, I can always write about writing or not writing. And when I play with words often, we get in sync and as team mates in a football team trust each other on the pitch. The words and I develop stronger bonds and on those rare moments where the muse shows up before I do, magic is born. Because I did the work, so there is a happy ending.
So how do you write when you can’t write?
What do you write about?
Do you weep and let blood fall on your dairy?
Do you write a letter for your eyes only?
Do you just fold everything, read a book to refresh you mind, or just slump into oblivion?
Kekenapep – tricycle
Okada – motorcycle