Writer’s Block?

Try Saying Annoying 10 Times Fast

I cannot get a handle on this. This is annoying. I mean, what I can’t get a handle on is the actual word, annoying. The term has been brought into my consciousness and will not leave it. It swirls around my head all the time, creating a scenario where everything in my life is annoying. The word is stuck in my craw, as my mother used to say. It is stuck everywhere: my head, my shoulders, my eyes, my knees. I said the word ten times fast, just for fun, and it is now lodged in my nasal passages. It is driving me crazy. I mean, what is driving me crazy is my inability to get beyond this word. It is just a word, right? A fucking word. Why has it taken over my life? Why has it triggered, I mean, activated, a perpetual state of annoyance?

The man standing at the convenient store checkout, buying all the lottery tickets in the case, pulling his dollars out of his wallet, slowly, and then scratching off something while he bogarts the line and I stand behind him, incredulous.  How could he be so unaware that he is holding up the works?

I do a quick etymological search about the word. It might share roots with the French word, ennui, boredom. Or it might be related to noise or nausea. Nothing definitive about its origins. Where does annoying come from? Not from the man at the convenient store taking his sweet time. Today he wasn’t annoying. Or should I write, today I wasn’t annoyed.

Does it take two to tango when it comes to annoyance? I mean, if the man was annoying one day and not the next, how can I write that he is annoying? It has nothing to do with him.  I wouldn’t be annoyed if he (or something like him) weren’t there. Get my point? It takes two.   Happiness doesn’t require that. I can be happy without a prod. I think. Can I experience annoyance without something in my way? I don’t think so.

If I weren’t writing this piece, I sure would be less annoyed. But in every step these days, this nasty word explodes in my soul. My goodness, one might say, why continue to write? I cannot let it go. I cannot let this word, this idea, escape me. Even if I were to stop writing about this, whatever this is, I am positive it would not let me go. I have no choice. I want to find an answer in this writing, a definition, a reason, a purpose, a brilliant understanding. It ain’t happening.

I have a very annoying editor on my shoulder, making me a very hesitant writer. Don’t say it that way. That’s a stupid word. What’s your point? What is it exactly you are doing here and why? Why bother? The sentences come slowly. Deletions come easy. The editor forces me to look out the window, a lot. What’s next? Anything? My fingers pause on the keyboard. See? I’m not really writing anything here and thank goodness an email beeps in and I can diminish all of this.

Note to author: Delete the above paragraph. How many times have you whined about this? Not good enough. Stop. It is tiresome, yep, annoying.

Ross Gay wrote a very short essay entitled Annoyed No More. He is describing his teenage daughter and her friend having a conversation about someone who is annoying. “…and when I asked what was annoying about this person, they said, ‘It’s just annoying.’ And when I said, ‘well, do you know why it was annoying,’ they said, ‘Because it was annoying. And when I said, annoyingly, ‘I get this but what about their behavior made it annoy you,’ they yelled, ’The annoyingness!’”

It is all a bit of fun and I thought, when I read it, that it is a bit of a fluff piece, not too substantial.

Because of my obsessive struggles with this writing, I, suddenly, saw Gay’s piece in a new way. Aha! He, too, is trying to get a handle on this word, this emotion, and rather than let it drive him crazy, he delights in the word’s elusiveness.

Am I finished? Do you know how many different things I have done with this writing? I attempted a snarky tone, an arrogant tone, a humorous piece, comparing myself to a Looney Tune character.  I imagined a scientist lecturing. I cried to a therapist. I set up a hierarchy of annoying situations in my life. I could not make anything work until I had that quiet insight.

There’s my resolution. I have suffered through the word annoying for over two weeks in order to understand Gay’s writing differently. I saw something in a new way. Was it worth it? Am I satisfied, annoyed no more?

Well, I am now saying the word elusive ten times fast. The u sound in elusive comes out of my mouth gently and the word slows down as I count to ten, unlike the oy sound in annoyance that crescendos with each utterance and remains stuck, gagging me, somewhere between my nose and my throat.

The Sound of My Sap Dripping

“We are basically professional receptors of gifts given by the subconscious. One of our acquired skills is sitting for hours, positing the will of the subconscious.”

George Saunders, Overcoming Uncertainty in Writing

I

The morning routine between Suga and Gerdi is a private affair.  It is a combination of a wrestling match and a pep talk. Suga taps certain spots of Gerdi’s mind, like Gerdi used to do to her body when she studied Tai Chi. Gerdi slithers further under the quilt to dream about the possibilities. This is not a metaphor for sex but we can continue to think about that.

Gerdi and Suga plan their day in those moments under the covers. A new word, a new color, a new project.

Gerdi brings her first cup of coffee back to bed with her, along with her phone. Suga retreats behind the news headlines. Gerdi takes her dog for a morning walk and thinks about another way to approach a problem. She eats her breakfast granola in front of the computer so she can follow up on her brief glance at the headlines. Email. Facebook. Lunchtime. Wordle. Errands. Too late in the day now to consult with Suga about this morning’s plans. Suga is missing, sluggish, asleep. There isn’t even a consensus between Gerdi and Suga to dust the very dusty house. Gerdi has a glass of wine and Suga goes to bed for the night, replaced by a blood-colored sweet sap of empty calories.

II

The most glorious thing is to wake up slowly every morning. I look at the digital clock. It is 7 am. I think about my writing projects and what I want to change. I think about the paintings I am attempting. I come up with some different directions, different colors, different words.  I shelter back under my quilt and deeply relax my jaw muscles into my pillow. The next time I wake, it is 8:30.  I sit in bed and sip my morning coffee, look at the news, and ice my not-yet-arthritic knees. When I feel like it, I get up.

On my first day of a retirement, a position I signed onto with no regrets, I went online and started job hunting. When one has worked, as most of us have, for over fifty years, it feels odd to not have a job with a paycheck.

III

They have put me, me, at 126 pounds and 70 years old, in a ring with this thing that looks like it might weigh 700 pounds.  I walk back to the corner to my coaches, hunched over their phones.

“Um,” I say, rubbing the tip of my nose with the back of my hand. “Is that my opponent?”

They look up. They check their phones. They nod.

“I can’t fight it. That’s ridiculous.”

They shrug.

“What if I refuse?”

“You won’t get paid.”

That is the whole reason I am doing this. To get paid. There is this phenomenon on Tik Tok where old women are filmed fighting in boxing rings, with boxing gloves and little shiny boxing shorts and wife beater tee-shirts. The whole world is following it and everyone wants to be on the show. I mean every woman over 65 because the pay is worth making a fool of yourself. Isn’t that what we do anyway when we get older? Embrace our foolishness. The clips are very funny.  I, however, had never seen a fight with a huge thing. Maybe I should ask for a bonus.

“What if I lose?”

“You only need to go two rounds.”

“What if I die?”

“Do you have a will?’

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Find its weak spot.”

“Like it’s testicles? Is it even a male?”

“Pull its plug.”

“It’s deflatable?

They shrug.

“Does it have a name?”

They check their phones. “Sabastianna Angueroxidio Polentio.”

“Is this a joke? Am I supposed to be like Bette Davis?”

“Who’s Bette Davis?”

“I mean Betty White.”

“I love Betty White. You mean like in that commercial where she eats the candy bar to slake the hangry?”

“That’s an interesting solution. Here, take this protein bar and give it to your opponent.”

“I don’t even see a mouth on the thing.”

Then the announcement came. (They really stage these things to look real. And now that I am here, it feels very real. You should see the audience.)

“In this corner, appearing for the first time on W.O.L.F (Watch Old Ladies Fight) is Sabastianna Angueroxidio Polentio.”

The audience boos, loudly.

“In the corner, also appearing for the first time, is Fionella Upthegrove.”

The crowd cheers. My coaches push me out into the ring.

IV

In late March, which is now, you can see the sap rising up tree trunks. The gray bones are streaked with deep black stripes. There are tiny light green, barely visible, dots on the still stark branches. In the distance, shoots of red becomes visible. I watch a young girl dance with awkward abandonment; I drive around joggers and bicyclist and walkers; the geese come honking in. The sap is rising. I think probably that my sap has risen, and may not rise again, like it does for the bursting leaves or for the wild dancers and committed athletes. But I’m not sure about that and with that uncertainty, I keep trudging along, trying this and that.

V

I had just read this wonderful piece where the writer imagines her bravery as a sassy woman, painted nails, swaying hips. Emulating that cool idea, I tackled it. What does my sap look like? I wrote III, trying to capture the image of my fight with Sabastianna Angueroxidio Polentio. While fun to write, it was just stupid.  I wrote the piece with Suga and Gerdi next, thinking it, my relationship to sap, might be more like an early morning snuggle, which loses its power through the everyday.  Still, not taking me anywhere.  I wrote IV to re-group, re-consider, to bring the topic at hand, my sap, outside, to where the sap really is flowing. I like that paragraph. I came across George Saunders’s essay, The Uncertainty in Writing, in the nick of time. His essay helped me embrace the mess of all of the above.

VI

I tried to write a piece about being annoyed, or being annoyed no more, inspired by another essay on the topic. I couldn’t do it, even though I used to tell my writing students that you can write about anything. I couldn’t get a handle on the idea, on what it meant to be annoyed. My daughter asked me if that was writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block. But here I am again.

VII

Today, the sun came out and I climbed up a 10-foot ladder to clean the ceiling fans.

Did I just write a perfect first sentence?

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