I follow my own rules for creativity when I’m with my students.
When we free write, the law of the land is don’t stop writing no matter what. Because I am used to this physical commitment, rarely does nothing come out.
So when my mind careened into a non-verbal ditch at an inopportune moment, in order to stay with the game, I kept on by fake writing. Not faking writing, but writing fake words. Pen still in motion. Rule not broken.
This particular Essay Intensive session was being filmed for STUDIOLIVETV; no one wants to look bad on camera. Part of the pleasure of writing is that your blocks and stalling occur in secret. Not so now.
This fake-writing had an old, familiar feel to it. Not because I’m a faker, but because I used to do it all the time.
Fake it on Real Legal Pads
When I was very young, but had sufficient mechanical skill to hold a pen, I would fill my father’s yellow legal pads with invented script. I’m sure I thought I was saying something.
What is a thought before it is a thought? Warm-up—pre-game push-ups.
Now I often encourage my students to fashion their sentences styles off of the Greats, but this was something else altogether: aping the motions, but not the content.
My dad still orders his days on these same legal pads, which appear all around my parents’ house as if from the universe’s conveyer belt. Asking where the pads come from is like asking where the sun comes from. There are always more, as if his desk drawer gestates, then produces them each morning, a hen’s golden (albeit flattened) egg.
“To Do” & “To Have Done”
He sketches out the skeleton of each day: “To Do.” Methodically, he crosses out whatever has been completed. There: done with something. I don’t have this skill. I lose my lists before they can be of use and more often they are merely vistas of disappointment—oops, didn’t do that or that or that.
Do his lists have any enduring significance? Likely not. They become compost for future doings, and the knowledge that one has done something, and so existed according to the architecture of tasks.
Is this different from what writing does generally? Likely not.
Those pads are emotional. My dad’s personal, accidental lineage. Legal pads as objects seem to eschew the heart—they are law, lawyer, logos. But for me they are a testament to one person’s project to exist in a tangled universe where, if we are honest, nothing is really done until it is Done.
Make it with a real Pen Addiction
These days, my dad’s legacy continues in our mutual (current) addiction to Uni-ball Gel grip Signo pens. I unsubtly stole his for years. Now, he supplies them for me and I write with them exclusively—this time, real words, real sentences, real meaning. I do things, too, and occasionally can even cross them off a list that I hang onto for an entire day.
Any other pen than this Signo, comparatively, is a joke; I’d just as soon write with chapstick. We pretend as if the only dealer of these fine things is he: I’m helpless to get them for myself.
This, of course, is a feigned helplessness, performed only to have the pleasure of his gift and his secret knowledge. It replaces my once-feigned writing. My dad, box in hand, crosses off “Buy Sara pens” from his To-Do list, and passes them on. And my students, whenever they can, steal them from me.
So it goes that even false writing, pure motion of the hand making indecipherable symbols, can lead one back to the treasure imminently worth finding.
What invisible legacies are carried in your writing, in your hand?