The Writer’s Block
Wendall Palmer lived alone in an attic apartment above Betty’s Bakery in Greenwich Village, New York. Wendall was a poet. He’d had one collection published by a small publisher, and had come second place in a prestigious prize in the New Yorker Magazine, but he hadn’t written anything in eighteen months. At first he just shrugged off his writer’s block.
‘It will happen’ he had told his friends in the Village Café, when they had asked how his new collection was coming along. ‘I just need to find the right inspiration, you know what I mean?’
His New York friends nodded and told him not to worry, but something in their eyes told him they didn’t believe it, that they’d seen this kind of thing before, most of them being failed artists of one kind or another.
Wendall consoled himself daily with his own words, ‘it will happen, it will happen’ as his dry spell continued. However, after six months without a new poem he was starting to get a little worried. He’d never had this trouble before, not since he’d moved to New York. But now he felt constipated. Stuck inside. Infertile. He began to fret when he was alone. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. So he visited his doctor and friend, Bert Stansel, M.D., over on the East Side of the Village. Bert had moved to New York a year before Wendall to set up his practice. They were old school friends from Wyoming.
‘Get some exercise before you go to bed’ was his advice, ‘this will help you sleep. With some good sleep then you’ll be able to write again.’
So Wendall took his advice and found himself wandering around the neighborhood till the early hours of the morning, night after night. This went on for weeks but to no avail. He still couldn’t sleep and he still couldn’t write. After his walk he’d return to his room and sit the rest of the night staring at the blank white sheet of paper in his typewriter. It began to terrify him.
Eventually, Wendall gave up wandering the streets after he saw an guy get shot during a mugging. The shock started him drinking again after two years sober, but even that didn’t work to get the juices flowing.
He then decided it was stress related so he sought out alternative treatments. He tried massages, and Chinese acupuncture, meditation and hypnosis. He even had his aura cleansed, free of charge, by a transsexual called Suzie, who lived in the apartment under his. But even that didn’t work. So he changed his diet to vegan, then pescetarian, then carnivore, then back to vegan, but that didn’t work. Eventually he began to blame his surroundings.
‘It’s this God-damn city,’ he told his best friend Bert. ‘I love it but it’s just too noisy. I need peace and quiet to think, like I had back in Wyoming. Poet’s need solitude, wide open spaces to explore the Inner Life. That’s how I got my first collection completed back home, I used to spend hours out in the wilderness wandering on my own, writing poems in the sky.’
‘So what you gonna do?’ Bert asked.
‘I don’t know yet.’
But later that night, while Wendall watched a documentary on TV, a solution presented itself. The BBC narrator spoke in rich and knowledgeable tones:
The South Pole is a fortress of solitude, a desert of ice, where life itself struggles to gain a foothold. Being here is so isolating it feels almost like a mystical experience…
Wendall booked his ticket at a travel agent on Washington Place the next day.
When he called his friend Bert afterwards he thought it all sounded a bit extreme.
‘It sounds a bit extreme’ he said. ‘Are you really sure this is a good idea? Maybe sleep on it?’
‘NO, I’ve made up my mind Bert,’ then Wendall hung up the phone
Two weeks later, after numerous buses and boats, trains and planes, Wendall eventually found himself walking on the frozen desert of the South Pole. It was glorious, endless miles of white ice and snow stretched out in all directions. The air was crisp and cool as it entered his lungs. He could feel its oxygenated power revitalize his body and brain with each breath. Surely here, he thought, his mind could stretch out and find a new poem, maybe even a new collection?
He walked for hours in a daze, unable to speak or think. He was awed by the supreme majesty of nature. His mind filled itself with every inch of the pure white newness that surrounded him. The possibilities seemed endless. At that moment he was reminded suddenly of his undergrad philosophy lectures with Dr Jones, and his favourite quote from Heidegger: “higher than actuality stands possibility”. In there was the germ of a poem, a poem about snow and possibility, but…
Behind him there was the sound of footsteps crunching snow.
Wendall turned around to see if there was someone there. But there was no one there, he was all alone on the ice.
He continued walking and returned to his previous theme. Snow. Possiblity. The Inuit he had heard, had a hundred different words for snow…
Again he was disturbed by the sound of footsteps behind him.
Wendall turned to check, but there was no one there, he was still alone.
He returned to his theme. Snow. The possible. The emptiness within. Snow wasn’t just white, not if you looked close enough. It had shades of blue and grey and black…
Again he was disturbed by the sound of footsteps following him. He turned to see, but still he was alone. Wendall began to panic. He began walking faster, trying to keep ahead of whatever was chasing him. What if there was someone here? Someone invisible? Or maybe I’ve finally gone crazy? His thoughts became clouded and distracted again. He completely lost the thread of his theme. He could not return to it. Even here he could not write. Some daemonic force was following him. Perhaps I am cursed? Wendall thought.
He looked out now at the vast desert of snow and all he could see was the terror of the blank white page.
His footsteps quickened as he tried to escape his pursuer but so did those of whatever was behind him. Was it Frankenstein’s monster? Risen from the pages of Mary Shelley’s book?
He began to cry, sobbing uncontrollably, and it froze on his face. He ran now as fast as he could in the snow but so did his pursuer. The crunch of footsteps kept pace with every step, and every stumble he made.
Eventually, he could stand it no longer. His body gave up and he crumbled to the ground. His heart felt as if it might burst it was beating so hard. He turned around to see once more if there was anyone there. And this time he finally saw who it was.
Before him stood his writer’s block, personified as a being of solid ice, a monolith-man. He had eyes but no mouth. He stared into Wendall as if to shout ‘WHERE YOU GO, I WILL FOLLOW.’
Wendall fell to all fours in despair, there was nothing left to do, so he crawled toward his writer’s block and kissed and licked his feet till they started to melt.