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23rd July

Taking the plunge

From time to time, when I sit before my empty screen, I find it impossible to write. Images arise in my mind: an old Mexican woman carefully placing the avocados she sells on a piece of cardboard in front of her or the red and white lanterns of a Korean temple gently swaying in the spring breeze. And there are fleeting thoughts on different issues: about how stories are the maps that guide us, the comfort of rituals, and my fear of being lazy.


But images and thoughts by themselves are not enough. I must connect them in a way that shows what I want to say. Still, why do I care what I jot down in the first draft when no one gets to see it? Once the stream of thoughts flows, I can prune and tweak and polish to my heart’s content.


What holds me back? Am I so intimidated by that empty screen that my mind goes equally blank? Is it a kind of literary vertigo?


I write to find out what I think, but could my reluctance to transfer my thoughts onto the page mean that I’m afraid of them? Am I curious and at the same time apprehensive about those thoughts?


Is my inner critic censoring me? Over the years, I’ve learned to ignore its voice, but writing is the most personal way in which I express myself and that makes me more receptive to its undermining comments than in other endeavours like my art projects.


Perhaps it’s all far less complicated than that. Perhaps it’s like that slight hesitation a swimmer feels before plunging into a pool. It may be the thought of the water being too cold that makes them pause or the initial unpleasantness of getting wet, maybe it’s a subconscious fear of drowning. It might even be an instinctive caution that makes us wait for a moment before acting in certain situations. Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors had to make sure that the coast was clear before stepping out into the wild so they wouldn’t be devoured by a giant hyena, a tiger, or a shark. Perhaps staring at the blank page incites a similar fear of the unknown.


Next time I sit at my writing desk I should look at the empty page like a clear pond that’s free of predators, including my inner critic. And if I do get caught in the web of misplaced words and jumbled sentences, I will manage to wrestle myself free. I always have.


Better still, I should not think at all and just take the plunge.

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