Monday, May 04, 2009

the curse of the blank page

Once upon a time ... okay it was a few weeks ago ... my managing editor told me that he once wrote an entire column about the blank page. Well...I supposed if nothing else, rather than a lack of creativity, we could consider this simply a tip of the hat. Indeed. That sounds better than a lack of creativity.

I can't say if all writers fear the blank page. But I always have. Blank canvas always sounds better than blank page. The phase "blank canvas" is filled with possibility. Will you be a Monet or a Seurat or will burst through boundaries like Pollock? "Blank page" is ominous. It says, millions and millions of writers have come here before you. They have filled this space with brilliance. Now ... what have you got to say?

Where painters may see a canvas just waiting for color, or those writers who are immune to the idea of a blank page see simply some white background on which to put their words, I see a vast, empty space.

And I have to fill it. And it better sound good. Or I'm going to be in trouble.

My adolescent years are probably at the very least, responsible for 30 percent of the all the vanishing trees. Back then, my friends, there were stacks of wide ruled paper and pencils. No flashy laptop computer screens. So when it came time for book reports, poetry, letters, short stories - even drawings, I would write (or draw), crumple the page, throw it out and repeat the process at least 17 times before finally committing something to paper.

To this day ... the lack of a good lead, even just a relatively stable column idea will leave me staring at my screen, my fingers mute. My thoughts clogged in my neuro-gutter.

Blank pages are scary.

They're empty and they're stark white, unless of course you use that fancy patterned paper, but either way - they're empty and they are begging for you to put something down on them. And what is put down is going to matter because it will leave the transparent world of thought - and enter the tangible world of reality. But as I ruminated on the blank page - and as I've probably bored you with it - I realized ... we walk around, every day, living, breathing blank pages. Every day. And these days, we're seeing that more than ever. Even after 100 days of a president in office. Even after the celebration of a country's independence. Entrepreneurs are being forced to scrap business plans and get back on the horse, seek out a new idea, develop that idea amidst what is bound to be significant risks and hope for the best. One after another, we're being forced to face the blank page in an increasing world of unemployment. Ultimately in some way, shape or form, our jobs identify us. And losing one during a time in which any job and every job is a rarity and a prize to be won - some of us are being forced to work where we never thought we would, just to make ends meet. Or worse, figure out how to live a life that was once stable -in the unstable and uncertain.

And blank pages come even more frequently in small, everyday ways. When we lose a relationship, the vastness is painful and scary and unwelcome. And taking the chance to get into another one, in this case, is the same. We run through a seemingly endless checklist of what-ifs and what-abouts and afraid-ofs that, should they work out for the better, only lead to a big blank page sitting in the shadow of to-do items like the pre-rehearsal dinners and pre-weddings where what we're really doing is setting ourselves up for taking the first step on a big blank page.

The things we've never done before. The things we've been avoiding. The things we have to face each and every day. Every fear. Every trepidation. Every dare to hope. They're all blank pages that fill us with that feeling that forces us to keep a small bottle of Pepto-Bismol or in some cases, hard liquor, in the house.

But here's the thing about blank pages.

They're filled with the things we've always wanted to do. The hopes and the dreams and the double dog dares. The overcoming the trouble. The trumping the pain. They're scary. You can douse the nerves with Pepto. Or you can choose to feel the fear as a swarm of butterflies. You can write it down and erase it and write it down again. But you'll probably just get an ugly looking page with lots of smears and smudges. Or you can just start putting things down. You'll find you move on to the next page a lot quicker than you thought - and you can write down the learned lessons from the pages that came before.

How about that? I found something to write about after all.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at

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