If you spend hours looking at a blank page, you’re probably thinking too hard about what you should write.
I look at the words on the page and sigh. It took me hours to decide to write that. Of all the things I could’ve written, and all the things I wanted to write, I wrote about not knowing what to write. Somehow, I’m not surprised. It’s just the sort of thing someone like me would do. I can almost hear Dawn telling me, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, Mara. Anything goes.”
“But I want to write something worthwhile.”
Imaginary Dawn doesn’t say anything else, just giving me her trademark therapist look; the one that reminds me I’m overthinking things. Which may be true, since I’m having an imaginary conversation.
I continue to gaze at the more-or-less blank notebook page in front of me and allow my mind to wander. I become distinctly aware of the uncomfortable, patchy bark of the tree I’m leaning against; I can hear the indistinct roar of the rain-swollen river not much farther down the path I abandoned to sit here. If I close my eyes, I can focus better on the sounds of birds chirping and insects whirring. If I open them again, I can see, beyond my more-or-less blank notebook page, deeper into the trees, where the light becomes green and the blue shadows merge into a dim blanket laid over the fallen yellow leaves littering the ground.
Once again, I can practically hear Dawn say, “Good. Just focus on things that you can sense around you. Close your eyes if it helps.”
“What’s the point?”
“It will help you direct your thoughts.”
Well, around me, even though it’s still summer, I can sense that autumn is in the air. Despite my therapist’s advice playing in my head, I can’t direct my thoughts. They move on, and now I’m wondering if I should look forward to the changes that are coming, or dread the cold lifelessness of winter. Everyone tells me the one thing, but I lean so far to the other.
I can’t decide, so I do what’s simpler and start thinking about other things. Worse things than winter. Darker, colder things. I know they’re worse because, in my experience, winter always comes to an end. Even when the world is bound by snow and ice, the sun rises time and again and slowly, surely, determinedly, spring brings life back to the world.
Sure, it’s summer in the world around me, well past winter, but inside I know that spring hasn’t come. The sun set a long time ago and I don’t remember anymore what it feels like for it to rise— to slowly, surely, determinedly melt the ice that’s formed inside myself. That’s how I know it’s worse than winter. And that’s why I’m supposed to write. “It will help you get through the hard times.”
And so I write.
If you spend years looking for someone to fix you, you’re probably hoping too much that there’s someone who can.
How depressing. “Is this what you meant, Dawn?”
I don’t know what she would say in response. I carefully set my notebook down on the grass and lay my pencil neatly on top of it. I straighten my legs and realize how stiff I’ve gotten from sitting with my knees drawn up for hours. The sun is getting lower in the sky, but I know that there’s no reason to worry about going back. No one will miss me.
Instead, I watch the blue shadows in the trees lengthen and darken. I shift just a little, about as much as I have the energy for, in a vain attempt to stop the bark from jabbing into my shoulder blades. I’ve always come here, to this exact spot, to write like everyone tells me to since Dawn suggested it. It always seems to turn out the same way, though: I’m uncomfortable, tired, and I can’t write a single word that’s not meaningless or far too meaningful. I’ve always thought that, maybe, if I could write something a little more in-between, my life could be the same way. Instead of feeling the meaninglessness of it all or being worried that everything is more meaningful than I have the capacity to worry about, maybe I could lead a life that I am satisfied with— a life that’s a little more in-between. But it always turns out the same way. Uncomfortable. Meaningless. Worrisome. “No one’s life is perfect, Mara.”
“I don’t need it to be perfect. I just want it to be… in-between.”
Well, I think I understand, now, that maybe there really is no in-between. So maybe this will be the last time I sit here to write, because I know I’ll never be able to write about that in-between place. I’ll never live in that in-between place.
With another sigh, I pick up my notebook and stand up, stretching my legs and listening to the increase in bird chirps and decrease in insect whirs as I disturb the peace. Without really wanting to, I step back onto the path and look both directions. One way leads to the river, volatile and dangerous, and the other…
Actually, I realize, both directions are about the same. And I’m not ready to face everyone again when they’re not even as predictable as the river. So I decide to walk to the river instead. I know I shouldn’t, since I haven’t written what I was meaning to write yet, but the temptation is too strong. I want to see and hear the river— I want to understand it. If I could understand the river, then I think maybe I wouldn’t have to leave it behind. “We’re worried about you, Mara.”
When I come to it, I think perhaps I should have gone the other way after all. It’s just a river, practically a wide stream, but the rain has made it dangerous. I can almost hear everyone telling me to be careful. To fall in, somehow, and be carried away, snuffed out like a little light, would be too easy. Much too easy.
I watch the water raging by, wondering at its ability to carry so much passion in its every move. I know I’ll never understand it. Suddenly, I don’t want to write anymore. Really, there was no point in writing anything in the first place. They told me it was supposed to help, somehow, but now I know it never will. Nothing will. Not Dawn, not writing meaningless things, not writing meaningful things. I almost throw my notebook in the river, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it.
“We decorated this notebook for you to write in!”
“Oh… thank you.”
I sit down next to the river instead, close enough to fall in if I was careless. Too close, I think, hearing everyone worrying in the back of my mind, but I don’t move. I watch the water go by and allow my mind to wander. All I can hear is the river. All I can see is the swift-running water biting at my bare feet, daring me to make a move. It doesn’t make a difference if my eyes are open or not.
I pick up my pencil once again and look at the page with only two things written on it. One of them is meaningless, and the other, too meaningful. Slowly, I write one more thing on the page. Maybe they’ll understand. Then I lay my notebook carefully back down, pencil neatly on top, far enough away from the river that I don’t think it’ll fall in. But I’m not so careful with myself. I know how close I am to the river.
It would be much too easy to lose my balance.
I spent a lifetime watching the river. I was ready to fall in.
Author Notes: I wrote the first version of this story at the beginning of 2019; this is the second version written about a year ago.