You know how, when you finish that memoir, novel, book of poetry, and all of a sudden, your realize it’s done? Over?
Maybe your writing is in the hands of an editor. Maybe your work is already published (Hooray!). But now?
Perhaps you’re all-too familiar with this phenomenon called writer’s block. Maybe you feel the agony of it now because any new characters at your door aren’t knocking loud enough for you to hear.
You miss forming words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into a manuscript. You long to taste new words on your tongue and massage them between your fingers. But they are out of reach. I’m included in this category of empty blockheads.
Perhaps, for novel writers, we should start with a real block. Each of the six sides holds the secrets to starting anew.
Side one: Think of a cool protagonist.
Side two: A badass antagonist.
Side three: The inciting incident. Is it dangerous? Emotional?
Side four: The setting. Dark? Beautiful?
Side five: Devise a plot around sides one through four.
Side six: There’s a theme in there somewhere. What is it?
Don’t know about you, but I’ll be tossing my block around for a while until it hits me in the head.
Last night, Thanksgiving evening, I relaxed on the couch with my turkey sandwich and watched the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” Especially in this political climate, the perfect way to end the day of gratitude.
And so, with the new release of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” I believe this writing to be timely.
Little did I know that on a special day in November 1993 (note fanny pack and hairstyle) I would unexpectedly be invited into Mr. Rogers’ world.
I was attending an early childhood conference in Anaheim, CA and decided to bring my mother along for a little getaway. Mr. Rogers would be the keynote speaker that evening.
That morning, Mom and I cruised the giant exhibit/presentation hall. That’s when I heard the familiar voice – not through the television, not through a microphone, but behind me.
Rounding the partition, I found the man himself speaking with David, his assistant. I suppose they were discussing setups for the evening’s presentation.
Thrilled beyond reason to meet a man who cared deeply about the well-being of children, I introduced myself – told him about being a director of a child development center, about being a mom, and thanked him for his continuing service to children. Then, in his gentle way with words, he thanked me.
That’s when my mother said, “I’m just the grandmother.”
Mr. Rogers’ eyes widened. He spoke to Mom for a while about the importance of grandparents in the lives of young children. She stood a little taller. It was as if he knew she needed to hear those words.
“Mr. Rogers,” I said. “I so wish I would have brought my camera along to show the kids at my center.” (This was before iPhone and digital cameras)
“Oh, that’s all right,” he said, and turned to his assistant. “David, can we borrow yours?”
After David took our photo, Mr. Rogers added, “Now a picture with grandmother.” (It is one of my favorite photos of my beaming mother)
After the photo op, Mr. Rogers asked David to please send the pictures to me. I received them within a week.
The speech he gave that night was, no surprises here, about love. It was also about the importance of inspiring children by showing them the things you love to do – reading, playing an instrument, singing, etc. – anything that may encourage their sense of wonder.
On a shuttle from the conference back to the hotel, attendees were buzzing about Mr. Rogers. Here’s an amazing account from another person who had an encounter with Mr. Rogers.
(paraphrasing) “Years ago, my four-year-old daughter and I ran into Mr. Rogers at the airport where he sat eating an ice cream cone. My daughter ran up to him. As he spoke to her, I assumed he felt a bit guilty for eating ice cream in front of her because he asked if she wanted a taste. So,” she told us on the bus, “I ran up to him at the conference and told him how my daughter never forgot that day at the airport. And do you know what he said? He said, ‘And how is Elaine?'”
Mr. Rogers had remembered that little girls name.
Today, I wish the politicians who bully and berate others could have a healthy dose of “Mr. Rogers.” Because, what they don’t understand is this – the children are listening. Are these the behaviors we want engrained in our youth?
When I think back on that special day in 1993, I try harder to focus on kindness. And when I do? I stand a little taller.
“There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” – Fred Rogers
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Carefully manipulating the foreign attachments to his body – one feeding tube and a blood pressure line attached to his ankle, the IV taped and secured to his right arm, I picked him up.
I sat on a small couch, my back to the window, the three month old baby on my lap facing me. Through his gurgled wheezing, he looked at me, this stranger in Child Life volunteer garb.
I told him many things; about how I was glad his surgery was over; how he sounded better than the week before. I perched him on my shoulder so he could look outside and told him the sun was shining but the air had a nip of cold attached to it. He whimpered at the new position.
I settled him back on my lap.
We talked about how it’s not always fun to be alone, how we need to be understood and cuddled sometime. I told him he had a lot of growing to do, a lot of people to meet, about the new adventures yet to come.
I looked into his eyes and saw myself there. I wondered then, if he also saw his reflection in my eyes and if he, too, felt the human connection.
Had I not looked closely in his eyes, I would have missed it.
Thank you, little one, for allowing me to see myself in your eyes.
I don’t know about you but I find it extremely hard to think about nothing.
The lights are out now. I guess that’s supposed to help.
I’m laying on the yoga mat (didn’t do Yoga but “all-in conditioning”). Body is tired and yes there is a bit of “melting” going on if sweat pooling beneath a torso counts.
Think of nothing.
I’m not good at this. All I manage to do is think about how to think about nothing.
What are the other seven people thinking about in their “nothingness”?
How does anyone think of nothing?
I try not to think about the errands I’ll be running when class is over, about what I’ll be photoshopping when I get home, about how to improve the playground that I’ve set up for my grandkids in my backyard.
I stare at the back of my closed eyelids.
Better. It’s dark there.
I’m thinking about how dark it is. But there is nothing to touch, nothing to see.
I’m a little bored.
And then I see it.
A wee wisp of floating light.
A silk scarf in space illuminated by a moon that sits somewhere out of my line of sight.
Or is it a star sliding sideways in slow motion leaving a jet stream of light?
Nah, it’s an angel thread,
an angel fiber,
I’m still thinking. I’m thinking of the perfect word to describe that thing floating in my blackened vision.
“Start moving your fingers, your toes. Open your eyes,” she says.
I’m glad. Who knows? I might need them when the time comes. I also happened to notice a lot of cigarette butts on the steps. Guess some folks listening to Led Zeppelin wanted a last smoke before entering through the pearly gates.
As you can guess, I didn’t climb the stairs. I still have a lot of blogging to do. 🙂
Yes, I have. But before I tell you what I “have,” I want to share something with you.
A while back, a friend mentioned how it isn’t helpful to say negative things about our “conditions.” You know, like, “My left shoulder sucks,” “I have a bad heart,” etc.
Instead, be positive and supportive. (They might hear you speak negatively about them)
I thought about that when I tore the meniscus in my knee. So, instead of saying “I have a bum knee,” I said, “LeftKnee, don’t worry. I will take care of you.”
After all, I’ve known Left Knee all my life and it’s worked as hard as Right Knee. So I joined a gym and strengthened the muscles around it. For the last few years, pain free.
I thought about my right big toe that lacks cartilage in the ball joint. I said, “It’s okay, Big Toe. I’ll buy you comfortable shoes and I promise… no burpies at the gym that will force you to painfully bend.”
So, now I say this.
You’ve worked hard for me all these many years. Now, you are finding it hard to get moving. I get it. You’re tired. You can’t help causing me fatigue. So, dear Thyroid, the fact that you exist under the Hypo (meaning below) Bridge surely makes you frustrated. I just want to reassure you. You are not the only Thyroid who must endure the trolls beneath that bridge.
Thyroid, please know this. Trolls can act scary but they are actually harmless. So, before you give up and succumb to the trolls demands, I want you to know something.
Each morning I am swallowing a little orange pill. Trolls don’t like little orange pills. It makes them claustrophobic which means that in a month or so the trolls will nudge you away from that confining crevice beneath the Hypo Bridge.