Why I Can’t Write

by Dar Streedbeck


It’s not that I can’t write. It’s that I don’t … much. . .

I won’t subject you to an interminable list of all the usual excuses that knock me off course, but vomiting pets would be right up there this week.  Although that’s not really true, since I never actually had to put down a pen or keyboard at those precise moments.

As a freelance writer, I used to be able to generate multiple ideas per day – so many ideas, so little time.  I was prolific. Now I scrounge through my day in my mind, and see nothing but mundane topics. Such as my dear, now-cone-headed kitty who just cost me hundreds of dollars because he thought swallowing that shoestring whole, one inch at a time, was way-y-y too yummy to resist.  (Bonus:  I got the shoestring back. I would have taken the vet’s word for it, since it was as I’d suspected, based on the orphaned mate  I found.) I don’t know what the dog’s excuse is, other than indiscriminate taste for questionable tidbits she finds outside.

Remember the time management categories? Urgent and important? Urgent but not important? Important but not urgent?  While I would consider actually putting some words on paper important, it seems there are always other things more urgent.

… Such as checking our bank balances. My college-age daughter finds it too difficult and time-consuming to use that nice unblemished check register in her wallet. Mine is a scrawled mess, but at least I use it (well, except for recording my daily $3 lunches).  She claims working at 5 pm most weekdays makes it difficult to check her bank balance before the 7 pm cut-off.  I can’t seem to get it through her head that spending 5 minutes at 4:35 would save her (or in many cases, me) $32, which after taxes takes her 6 hours to earn.  What is so hard about this concept?

… Also urgent is pawing through that pile of bills and paying most of them.  But which ones? There’s a time-consuming rub.

… Or checking my email hoping for that life-altering message I’m awaiting from a prospective employer.  I’m not talking about the messages offering “Work from home” or “Make $2000 a day from your computer!” No, I keep looking for rare, potentially life-changing messages I’m hoping to receive from actual employers with brick and mortar structures to which I can drive locally. Unfortunately, finding the real kernels, which invariably appear in my Junk email, requires sifting through a lot of chaff.  The messages that make me catch my breath with hope are invariably buried among dozens of ludicrous ones:  “RESPOND VERY URGENTLY TO DEPUTY GOVORNOR CBM” (how do you pronounce that?) … “Male enhancement for pennies a day!” …  “Do It Yourself Mole and Skin Tag Removal”… “Support department – read ASAP re: your policy!” (from a company I’ve never heard of – I peeked). I scrounge through messages from “Dan,” “Elizabeth” and “Connie,” but none are from Dans, Elizabeths or Connies that I know.

I gasped in horror one day when I came across an email in my Junk folder from three days prior, asking to schedule a phone interview for a job for which I’d applied. Before that, I didn’t spend much time cleaning out my Junk email, until the volume of unread messages registered in the several hundreds (about seven days’ worth), then indiscriminately deleted them all. I’ve since reformed, and make sure the clutter is cleaned out daily. Most of the messages I can clearly skip without opening. The “iffy” ones I mark as “Not Junk” to open and usually delete later. Thanks a lot AARP! I really didn’t need to know that ‘super-agers’ are 80 while their brains are only 50. Or that all us ‘boomers should be tested for Hep C. I forget why. An hour later, after sifting through and discarding 65 of 68 messages received within the last three, I’ve forgotten what I was looking for. Or what I should be doing instead. Although my Junk email will be overflowing again in two more hours, I finally minimize it to try to focus, once I remember my original purpose.

… Focus… Focus… I write two whole pages in one glorious long-hand burst, then loose the muse. So I edit, and edit, and re-edit ad nauseum. Then I sit at my desk and type it up, lovingly polishing it more, over and over, unable to find the thread to take me to the next yet-unwritten paragraph. Well, it’s a good start, but re-reading it again, I realize it needs to go somewhere, yet no direction is suggesting itself. It’s too short to end here, and needs a good kick of an ending, wherever that may be.

I leave it to gel while I take the dog out, again. When I return, Lucy, the large cat with seniority, has taken over my desk, not that she always waits for me to leave. She’s a fluffy 12-pound fur-ball that commands all four square feet of desk surface, save for the keyboard I hide in the drawer. If I don’t, we have editorial differences … which is why I bought a laptop.

A laptop sounded exactly like what I needed. I visualized lounging on the couch, and cruising the internet or applying for jobs, without the inconvenience of having to hold myself upright in a chair. Unfortunately, typing anything longer than ten to twenty characters on a laptop is a new problem. I really can’t believe my 50 wpm typing skills vanish when my hands are on a keyboard in my lap. Instead, the cursor spastically and inexplicably jumps around as soon as I take my eyes off of it, or even while I’m watching. I type six words error-free, then the cursor leaps back to the middle of the third word, highlights and deletes the entire line, then substitutes the next four I type, unless my brain catches up to my fingers and I can stop it in the act.  Why?  I’m holding my wrists airborne and not touching anything but the keys, very gingerly.  Am I putting too much english on them?

So instead, I sit down at the snack bar to edit my manuscript by hand and await inspiration. The least-enviromentally-friendly-thing I can do is think I’ve finished polishing and print it, even if it’s still just a fragment.  Invariably, I keep reading and re-reading it, and finding typos and minor changes to ding up the page, while scribbling more paragraphs in the margins. While I fully believe the purpose of editing should be to say things more succinctly, the longer I edit, the longer it gets.

After I print out two more “last” versions, I get up to check the mail and feed Jack (aka “Little Shi*”), the hungry junior cat, before he finds something shoestring-like to eat. (Rubber bands aren’t safe in our house, either. He’d probably eat al dente spaghetti.)  I’ve been trying to ignore my young foundling’s naughtiness for the last hour – a sure sign he’s hungry.  He’s like a toddler.  Fill up his tummy, and he’ll lie down and nap for a while, instead of tormenting Lucy … or climbing to the highest shelf he can see, never mind if he has to climb on top of the refrigerator and break pottery to do it. … He carries his favorite toy, a dose cup from cough medicine, around the house like a dog. He’s now dropped it into an empty soda-case box.  He can’t figure out how to get it back out, but is having a ball trying … which keeps him occupied for eight minutes. Now he’s chased another dose cup under the refrigerator, and is sprawling on the floor fishing for it, while ‘perping’ his frustration.  Nope, I take it back. He’s now found a chunk of dog food, and is batting it around the kitchen floor. The kitchen floor I should probably sweep and mop today … or maybe tomorrow.

What doesn’t keep me from writing is cleaning.  Well, unless I get started and then I can’t stop … until it’s time to feed someone or walk someone. But also, because I’m outnumbered.

Cleaning was so much easier when it was just one cat and one litter box.  My daughter left for college two years ago, and the next week I decided my life needed a dog. Sadie contributes baseball-size dog-hair-bunnies to the mess, hence her alias, “Fur Factory.” (I don’t understand, because she’s not fluffy or curly. I never had hair problems with a cat, other than the occasional one in my food or a hairy favorite chair.) And I’ve only recently convinced the dog that she doesn’t need to bring juicy mouthfuls of her food from the kitchen to spit out on the family room carpet to devour, then return for another.  Now she just chomps on her kibble next to her bowl, after scattering them on the linoleum. Irritating as I find stepping on shards of dog food in bare feet, I feel compelled to say “Good dog” periodically while she noisily chomps and scatters in the distance, lest we return to damp dog food on carpet – this is improvement (sort of).

I sound like a mom with several small children.  Have I morphed into crazy animal lady? What happened to all that “empty nest” time I thought I’d have now to write?  I impulsively filled it up by adding two more creatures. Maybe I have a future writing for an animal lover’s periodical or blog.

Welcome to my fur-infested world!  Empty nest, my eye!

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