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OtterSummer 8.25-The Chair

The Grand Otter had a fire in her belly last night. She’d posted a longish rant about bullying early in the evening, then, following a suppertime conversation about it, she stormed upstairs, saying that she was going to write. A short time later, she came back downstairs with considerably less enthusiasm. I supposed she’d hit The Wall.

For me, The Wall always appears shortly after I feel creativity’s fire in my belly. Following that first moment of sublime inspiration, I go splat. And that splat can convincingly argue that I am not the writer I imagined myself to be, encouraging me to shuffle back to some complacent corner and withdraw from the dance. I figure The Wall might inhibit everyone’s creative spark, so I asked.

Sure ‘nuff, The Otter had hit The Wall. I invited her into my office and pulled a well-worn volume down from the G section of the fiction side of my library, Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns, and read my favorite passage to her as inspiration. I had no idea if she would find it inspirational, only that I was sure to. Fortunately, I had the passage marked:

MURRAY (Casually; gesturing with his coffee cup) Tell you the truth, it’s even a little better for me if he goes. I mean, he’s a middle-aged kid. When I signed with the network he sat up all night figuring out the fringe benefits and the pension plan. And he started to make lists this year. Lists of everything; subway stops, underwear, what he’s gonna do next week. If somebody doesn’t watch out he’ll start making lists of what he’s gonna do next year and the next ten years. Hey, suppose they put him in with a whole family of list-makers? (Angrily) I didn’t spend six years with him so he should turn into a listmaker. He’ll learn to know everything before it happens, he’ll learn to plan, he’ll learn how to be one of those nice dead people Are you listening?

SANDRA Of course, I told you, Murray, I . . .

MURRAY Then stamp your feet or mutter so I’ll know you’re there, huh? (Still speaking quite calmly) I just want him to stay with me till I can be sure he won’t turn into Norman Nothing. I want to be sure he’ll know when he’s chickening out on himself. I want him to get to know exactly the special thing he is or else he won’t notice it when it starts to go. I want him to stay awake and know who the phonies are, I want him to know how to holler and put up an argument, I want a little guts to show before I can let him go. I want to be sure he sees all the wild possibilities. I want him to know it’s worth all the trouble just to give the world a little goosing when you get the chance. And I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason why he was born a human being and not a chair. ... He has a good eye. And I don’t want him to leave until I’m certain he’ll never be ashamed of it.
Herb Gardner, A Thousand Clowns

I wanted her to understand that others had wrestled—were wrestling—with the same fundamental inertia she was feeling, and that we each sometimes need reminding that we are not a chair, but a human being. It’s almost ironic that I should be preaching this particular sermon, since I am the sinner most in need of this particular salvation.

The Grand Otter has all the makings of a terrific writer. She’s pretty wild yet, but she has that sense of how to make words work to express her feelings. Grammar’s further from her grasp than it is even from mine, but developing that ear seems far more important. But to develop an ear, a lot of writing just has to occur, and The Wall seems dedicated to preventing that from happening. So I pull a worn volume down from a shelf and read a silly little part of a scene from a play written long before The Otter’s father was born, and she got it, anyway.

She escaped from my schmaltz and fled back to her room where four walls awaited her return. Every room has those walls, and the purpose can’t be to ignore them or flee from them, but perhaps to integrate those inevitable constraints into the practice of doing what she does, to prove to herself that she was not born a chair.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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