Pressler -- 1 Writer’s Bloc

Someone forty years old shouldn’t be this nervous. I’ve been standing here in the library’s main atrium for ten minutes, fingers kneading the handle of my leather laptop case as I look toward the breakout rooms. One in particular captures my eye, a small space with maybe a half-dozen people on the other side of the glass door. A modest piece of paper haphazardly taped at eye level says, “South Suburban Writer’s Group.” A sheet of paper has never looked so threatening since my last final in college. The group’s description in the library newsletter was for writers who would gather to read and discuss samples of their original works, and offer critiques for others. Simple, right? Sure. If it’s so simple, why am I trying to blend in with the outdated artichoke-colored chairs in the reading area rather than walking in for my place at their conference table? One answer rolls around in the back of my mind, poking at my awareness. I don’t go in because the meeting is for writers – crafters of the written word, poets and wordsmiths who exercise some genius I do not comprehend. If I tipped my head in the door and asked if this was the writer’s group, one of them would surely say, “Uh, yes it is, but I think you are looking for the South Suburban Pen-Wagging-Posers-Who-Only-Think-They-HaveTalent Group. They meet on Tuesdays.” Real writers can probably spot a fraud clear across the fiction section. Inside that very room they might be breaking

Pressler -- 2 from their high-browed discussion of plot and subtext to wonder if that wannabe standing in the atrium with the cheap blue shirt is going to interrupt their enlightened meeting. Maybe all new writers have this initial nervous phase. After all, it is a challenge in itself to sit down, read a personal piece of writing, and let strangers with no investment in my well-being take a swing at its substance. Perhaps a little nervousness is healthy – it means I recognize the fear that comes with change. If I strolled into that room and read some piece without a concern about the response, then I am probably not open to change and would be better off not wasting their precious time. If being scared and vulnerable is a prerequisite then I am more than ready. I step forward with heavy feet, and a shaky hand opens the door. To my surprise, the group does not chase me out or pre-judge my limited writing skill – at least not out loud. Writers of every shape, size and color invite me in, push out a chair and quickly bring me up to speed on what they are reading at that moment. I might have mumbled about three words of pleasant acknowledgement as I sat down – what a genius! – and brought out a pen to examine the copy handed to me. Hearing such excellent stories flow from these talented authors only feeds into my anxiety. These people definitely have the chops for publication. They are writers that work at this art – craftsmen might be the best word for them, men and women alike. Do I really belong here?

Pressler -- 3 If my memory served me correctly, the Ed Sullivan Show had a trained monkey act performing as the follow-up to the Beatles’ historic appearance. Right now, I think I know what that monkey trainer felt like backstage, witnessing history in the making while worrying if his chimps would start throwing feces at each other. How did he make it through the night? In the middle of a fine narrative about acceptance written with a neotribal theme, I cannot help but notice what seems to be a verb with improper conjugation. Is this possible? I go over it again, momentarily cutting away from the author reading it aloud, and verify that it must be a mistake. With a quiet stroke of the pen I note it and go back to listening, but in my mind I am ecstatic. The gods can bleed! They are humans after all! I muster up the confidence to make a few notes and even form an opinion about the story, which still rated well despite the horrible verb incident. Maybe there is a place for me here, at least as a critic. What’s that old saying? Movie critics are just failed actors? I am sure the same theme works in the literary community, so perhaps, if anything, I can occasionally take writers down toward my level. My courage builds slowly, gradually, as another writer reads her piece, and the critiquing process begins again. Not as easy this time given the quality of the work, but I find a few things to say. But after a satisfying discussion, the alpha leader of the group looks at me and says words that freeze me in my chair.

Pressler -- 4 “Is there anything you would like to read?” Uh-oh. Busted. All my dreams of being the world’s premier critic will be destroyed when they hear my piece. I could pretend I don’t have anything, but my ability to lie is even worse than my ability to write. With a quiet confirmation I fumble through my leather case and prepare to reveal that the emperor has no clothes. Here goes nothing – or slightly less than nothing. I read through a two-thousand word piece with a playful, coming-of-age theme – possibly in one breath. It was such a pleasure to write and edit, back when I thought I could write. Now this group would reveal it as little more than a ramshackle pile of words haphazardly thrown together in some semi-literate arrangement and show than I am a fraud for a wordsmith. It was a fun fantasy while it lasted. I finish my reading, take in a deep breath and mentally put on my blindfold and have my last cigarette. It is a moment where I feel strangely content, having spoken my last words and now prepared to face my Creator with an afterglow of courage in the face of death. I was true to myself, and my death will be an honest one. But the report of verbal rifles does not echo in my ears, but rather a series of compliments and criticisms. One writer chides me for a shameless use of the passive voice. Another author appreciates my portrayal of the characters’ relationships but asks for more descriptions. There are comments – for better and worse – about managing the scene and pacing and such. Their comments

Pressler -- 5 each make a little ‘click’ in my head from clear, crisp sensibility, and the corrections of my own poor conjugation moments are taken lightly. Nobody chased me out of the room, and there were no obscenity-laden tirades directed at my writing, wardrobe or beaten leather laptop case. I almost felt let down. Then all at once it dawned upon me what had just happened. All the critiques I had been given matched the voice and tone they gave one another. They had just treated me…like a writer. Maybe I was just that brilliant, or possibly just that deceptive, but I was one of them. Maybe under my new disguise I could learn what they do and all the things they know, faking my way through the weeks while desperately piecing together a workable literacy. Or maybe I might actually be a writer.

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