I have a list of suggested topics for writing. A long list. Three and a half pages printed out, 141 items. None of them so far have inspired anything.
The list arrived from the leader of our writers’ group about 3 weeks ago, in plenty of time to write something about one of the topics for next month’s meeting. I looked it up and down, thought to myself that it should be easy to pick something, and left it at that. A few days later I scanned it again, still nothing really stuck out, but no rush yet, plenty of time.
I decided that I was adopting the compost heap approach. I read about this recently, and it seemed to me a very apposite analogy. You fill your head with random ideas, angles, scraps of information, turn them all over occasionally, and after a period you have a rich and fertile compost from which a finished piece of work can grow.
Sadly, on this occasion there were no seeds in the heap. Or at least, there were plenty of seeds, 141 of them, but none were germinating. No problem, still two weeks to go.
At last, I decide that time really is running out. In desperation, I revisit the list. Still nothing leaps out at me. All of the seeds are obviously the type that can remain dormant for years, and need just the right conditions before they will germinate. No good telling them that writers’ group is on Saturday, this Saturday coming.
So I decide that I will have to write about one of them, however difficult, and however tenuous the link is between the finished piece and the title. I start at the top of the list. The Narrow Bridge’. I type the words into Google, First hit, surprisingly, is our own Narrows Bridge here in Perth. Can’t immediately think of anything to write about that, so I look further down the page.
There is a piece about a bridge over the Narrows in Tacoma, USA. This was a suspension bridge, known as Galloping Gertie, because of its tendency to sway alarmingly in strong winds. There is a Youtube video, which I watch. At the beginning, the bridge is gently swaying, but gradually the swaying increases, until it is undulating like the ribbons used by rhythmic gymnasts. It’s amazing that something made of concrete and steel and bitumen can move so gracefully. Aeroelastic flutter, it’s apparently called. Eventually of course it all gets too much and the bridge starts to break up and collapse into the river. I’m amazed to find that all this happened in 1940, and that the bridge had only been opened a few months before it collapsed.
Still, this is mostly a visual thing, and not really enough for an article. I go back to Google, and look further down the page. Narrow Bridge is also the title of a recent movie, about sexual assault in the Jewish church. Is there no religion free from the stain of sexual assault I wonder? Or maybe there is just abuse in every walk of life, and we find it more shocking and upsetting when it occurs in what should be the safe and nurturing environment of a church. The title of the movie comes from a Hebrew song, ‘The world is a very narrow bridge, but the essential thing is not to fear’.
The next two or three pages are all variations of the same subjects, so I go back to my original list. Shoelaces. Perhaps there is something interesting to be said about them. Google again. I learn that shoes have been found with holes in them, indicating that they were laced, from as early as 3,500BC. However, because shoes and their laces are usually made of materials that degrade easily, such as skins and plant fibres, old examples are not often found. I also learn that the stiff metal or plastic parts on the ends of shoelaces, which stop them from fraying, are called aiglets, or aglets, depending on your preference for spelling.
I do find another site entirely dedicated to shoelaces, mostly of how to thread them through the holes in the shoes. There is a myriad of patterns and ways of doing this, far more than I had ever imagined. Again though, this is mostly visual, the pictures are interesting, but not really material for an article.
I re-visit the list. I even consider if I could make a story by combining some of the titles.
As I floundered ‘Deeper into the Swamp’, I saw an ‘Empty House’ at the ‘End of the Line’ of trees in front of me. Was my ‘Experience, Extraordinary’ as it was, about to end in rescue, or was the ‘Eye of the Storm’ not yet passed? My breath came ‘Fast and Furious’, ‘My Feet’ sucked ever deeper into the mud, as I reflected that this was anything but the ‘Field of Dreams’ I had been led to expect. I had thought everything would be ‘Fine and Dandy’, but things were definitely ‘Fraying at the Edges’ now.
At this point I can go no further, neither in my writing, nor in the story I am trying to put together. The next title is ‘Across the Road’ and I can think of no way to get a road into the middle of the swamp.
I give up. A whole three and a half pages of topics, and I can’t find a single one to write about. Writer’s block with a vengeance.
Then it occurs to me. There are only three days to go before the next group meeting, and so far nobody else seems to have sent in their work either. A case of simultaneous writer’s block for everybody in the group?
Julie Livingstone 2014