I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. -Annie Dillard
So, there I was with a two-year-old on my hip, standing in horror at the backdoor of my employer’s house. How was I supposed to know the door would lock behind me? The kid just needed air. I didn’t have my house key or wallet. I had my phone, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to call the paranoid parents to alert them that I had their waif and a problem my first day on the job. The other option was to ransack my mom’s PT Cruiser for a solution. I don’t think I’d ever seen her car so clean—all I found was a CD case. Well, I thought to myself, it’s worth a try. I sat the child in the driver’s seat and snapped the hard plastic until I had a sizable shard. Peeling back the doorjamb near the handle while balancing the kid on my hip again, I maneuvered my new weapon past the latch. Viola! The struggle never happened, and I was awash with relief.
Today, I venture to propose that writing itself can be like breaking into a house. It requires creativity, deniability, and epiphany.
No one really means to get locked outside of a house, any more than he means to serve the cruel master of writer’s block for eternity. It just . . . happens, and the sudden resolution to gain entry must be married with ingenuity. Blinking cursors are deadbolts. The only way around them is creativity because in writing, the master key is never an option. Master keys are copiable farces in publication. Credit cards, too—they may be effective in gaining access to some houses, but purchased essays are but another circle in uncreative hell. Possession (as they say) is ninth-tenths of the law. With brilliant ideas, bobby pins, and CD shards, suddenly life becomes a lot less frustrating—even with a proverbial baby in tow.
But no matter how laudable victory may be, it can never be known by the outside world, lest the inquisitive discover the scandal of sweat behind laurel leaves. The challenge of writing is a deniable venture, much as is breaking into a house. Nevertheless, a lurking fear will haunt he who passes through fire. Perhaps someone (oh, rue the day!) will ask, “How did you manage to get in the house after all?” or worse, “How long does it take you to write, exactly?” Soon, one must contemplate the art of breaking out, for words are wretched forensics; the best ones are birthed in the throes of desperation, in the final moments before success. Was not Whitman’s barbaric yawp far indeed from his song’s beginning?
Finishing a bit of writing is a “praise God” moment—the kind where a spotlight shines and the Hallelujah Chorus rings out. My, can you imagine Handel’s moment of epiphany? Observing an impenetrable door swing inward—invitingly—without use of a battering ram—is to conquer the world, if only for a moment. The words slip on paper like the toddler does down my leg to crawl on the carpet he knows and loves, happily unaware of his recent peril, comforted by familiarity. He’s home.
Doors are meant to be opened, yet so many pass them by without even trying to test them. Ought they be forced? The cause is worthy, no matter the frustration—no matter the naysayers who say it cannot be done, the naysayers who give up and feign disappointment after pronouncing judgment against CDs and hairpins. They do not know that the rules of convention are not the law of pen-strokes. Break into your house, if you dare! Deny the difficulty, and usher in the infant. Nothing ever happened.