Friday, June 5, 2009

Writer's Block



I find myself wondering how they do it. Writers, I mean. From where do they draw their inspiration? How do they choose the right words once they're blessed with an idea? I've been staring at my laptop for twenty or thirty minutes, and I am at an impasse. Tabula rasa. Completely blank. It's almost embarrassing. In my professional life I'm a teacher of composition, rhetoric and literature. What would my students say? I'm guessing I'd hear them mutter something along the lines of "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." I hate to say it, but in this instance at least, maybe there's some truth to that expression. Regardless, we're left with the question. How do writers do it?

Take, for example, Stephen King. Debate about the literary merit of his work aside, here is a man who has written somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty novels; this number excludes his many short stories, essays, screen plays and compilations. Granted, his most prolific period coincided with his heaviest cocaine use, but one cannot help but be impressed by an artist with the imagination to pen fifty full-length works of fiction. Consider just a sampling of his subject matter: werewolf clowns, a miracle and a mouse on death row, inter dimensional gun-fighting, alien induced premature aging, the hand of God going nuclear. Damn. The man does four-hundred pages about a curio shop owned and operated by Beelzebub, and here I am struggling to scratch out a few paragraphs about fly fishing. Stephen King I am not.

I suppose I could write about a moment I had on the river just the other day; one of those rarefied moments when an angler looks away from the water and allows himself to take it all in. I was nymphing, and apparently doing a poor job of it as the fish seemed unimpressed. In every way the day was unremarkable, which is why I'm left wondering about the wisdom of writing about such a day. I pulled the cap off my head, swatted at the battalion of mosquitoes and gnats circling my face, looked a few hundred yards downstream, and noticed a tree. Yep. A tree. Big deal, right?

Consider how many trees you see on any given day. Like me, you take them for granted (Arbor Day be damned). When is the last time you were fishing, hiking or even on a walk around the block and heard someone exclaim, "Damn, that's some maple!" In general, people pay no mind to trees (just ask the Lorax). It's the water, which as anglers most concerns us. Fly flingers only bother with trees when they reach out and snag our flies or when we need to pee near the highway.

This tree, however, was genuinely special. Understand that I've spent a lifetime in the woods. I've traveled all over the country, and with the exception of the redwoods or sequoias, the sycamore off in the distance was the most massive example of arboreal ginormousness I had ever seen. Even at 300 yards distance, there was no doubt that it towered over everything around it, and may have been as much as 130 feet tall. I was captivated and compelled to get up close and personal.

The brush surrounding the sycamore was so dense that that it took me over thirty minutes to claw my way to its base. It doesn't help that I am morbidly obese, desperately out of shape, and should probably be writing for Fat Guy Fly Fishing. At any rate, as impressive as was the tree's height, its girth was unbelievable (my wife says the same thing about me, no double entendre intended). It was easily eight feet across. I found myself cursing the cramped quarters, and my inability to take a photograph that adequately demonstrated scale.

As ridiculous as it must sound I have to admit to spending thirty or forty minutes with that tree. By no means am I a tree-hugger. I don't wear Birkenstocks. I use deodorant everyday (at least nearly everyday), and my waistline is a testament to my lack of appreciation for salad. I cannot say why I was so perfectly content simply to be there. I was sitting on the roots of a plant that probably started its life sometime around the American Revolution, and I was positively at ease. There was no need to rush back to river to catch that first fish of the day; no need to do anything but stay right where I was. At that moment, the fish just didn't matter.

When the time came to leave, I contemplated crawling my way back through the brush or pushing forward and trying to make the river. I decided forward had to be easier than going back, and I made the riverbank in only a few minutes (I probably should have stuck to the river on my way down ... duh). Long story short or rather not as long as it could be, I took off my nymphs, rigged up with one of my favorite streamers, made two casts, and caught a strikingly beautiful brown in the shadow of that grand, old tree. I snapped a few pictures, released it, and called it a day. I had been fishing for about five or six hours. I caught precisely one fish.

It was enough.

1 comment:

Colorado Angler said...

You should get writers block more often (for the sake of the rest of us). Nice read.