Last night we were hanging out with our neighbors Mike and Betsy Fitelson (a somewhat unprecedented event, despite the fact that he’s a fellow journo and they live in the apartment next to ours). Midway through, Mike said something I’ve often tossed off just as easily: “I don’t know what writers’ block means.” Given a deadline, a topic, or even a blank piece of paper, you just do it, he said.
I nodded, because in general it’s true: I’m generally a graphomaniac, not the opposite.
But right this second I’ve found myself stalled, near-unwilling to commit the characters I’d so happily unearthed from history to narrative life. This is unlike me. Part of it’s the lack of a short-term deadline, though that excuse has evaporated of late. Another part, as I told Mike, Betsy and my fiancee Rachel last night: “I think I’m terrified.”
How dare I try to bring these lesser-known figures to life? How dare I try to contend with, and in the process redefine, familiar figures like Andrew Jackson? How dare I try to make them relevant to young men and women still in Iraq, to those just returning?
Kind of late to tremble on those questions. In addition to my contract with Cal Press, I just accepted money from two foundations after telling them: ” The book’s scheduled publication date, in January 2009, is quite intentional: after the Presidential election, but early enough to have an impact on the floor of Congress and the general public, all of whom can benefit from the light to be cast by the book. The idea is to loosen the story of such dissenters from the ideology that all sides attach to it, using humor and full-throated accuracy to give the whole picture. Clinicians working with veterans and educators with college students can benefit from this resource —— but less so if it arrives years after all those veterans are either safely home or dead.”
Such language, of course, panics me more. Maybe I’m trying to flood my system with stress hormones, to keep myself on mission. But how to jump-start the dream?