11 September 2015

Imperfectly yours [A note on Writers' Block]

A short story written five years ago for 'The Daily News' about a year after I started writing a daily column titled 'The Morning Inspection' for that paper. It could be read as a note on that mythical disease called "Writers' Block".


I start typing between name and disclaimer. There are days when I know before hand, sometimes even as early as the previous day, what I will write about. Most days, however, I really don’t have a clue. Most days, if you ask me ‘what are you writing about today?’ around 9.30 a.m., I would probably smile and say, ‘don’t know’. 


This is true. It is not about writer’s block or being ‘out of it’. It is not about the lack of inspiration. Not about having run out of things to write about. 

If the universe can be seen in a grain of sand, then it is theoretically possible to see anything in anything, everything in something, everything in nothing and nothing in everything. I know this and therefore I know it is all about opening and opened eye or closing a closed one; a simple exercise that is guaranteed to generate a decent enough choice of topics to write about. So, theoretically, the ‘don’t know’ response can be a result of there being too many things to write about. 


Over time, we all learn how to get by. This is a confession, a how-I-do-it of a kind. 

‘The Morning Inspection’ has a history. There was a time when my morning was made of Amitha Abeysekera’s ‘This is my island’ in the Island, first in the Sunday paper and then in the daily. Sometimes he was flat, especially when he tried his hand at fiction, but the vast majority was made of good reads. It was an important part of my education. Years later, the Island carried another column called ‘Morning Spice’, authored by ‘Ginger’. Snippets. Interesting facts. Thoughtful comments. Some wit. Healthy cynicism. Humour. Eminently readable. Then there was the Rajpal Abeynayake Column in the Sunday Times and later in the Sunday Observer and now in the Sunday Lakbima News. More spice than Ginger and heavier than Amitha. All three unique and fascinating too. 

I was without a regular job. Freelancing doesn’t pay much. There’s no job security. No EPF or ETF. No vehicle allowance. No festival allowance. No distress loans. No loans, period. No perks. Times were tough, so I met the Chairman, Lake House, Bandula Padmakumara to ask if I could write for the Daily News. He asked what kind of stuff I would be writing. I told him that I have a decent idea about what can be written and what cannot, so I will try to stay within the boundary line (there have been times what I have wandered outside and the editor has put his foot down; I never complained for in most instances I understood the logic of the decision). I told him about Amitha and Ginger. He asked ‘how many articles a week?’ I didn’t think: ‘six a week’. ‘Can you produce that much?’ he asked. ‘I will try’. That’s how it began. 


As I stepped out of Lake House that day, I asked myself whether I had just made a complete ass of myself, whether I could indeed deliver six pieces a week. I didn’t calculate, fortunately. Had I done so, I would have told myself something like this: ‘you will have to write around 300 articles a year!’ Had I calculated, I would have been floored by the number and that would have been the end of that. Instead I stepped on a grain of sand and took a quick tour of the universe. I concluded ‘possible’. 

At 9.30 a.m. I don’t know, but an hour or two later, I do. All I have to do is to look around and pick some random grain of sand. Well, not random, but let’s say ‘one of many grains of sand that just happened to be close enough’. There are grains of sand in the inbox of my email account, for example. Friends and readers frequently comment on something I’ve written, wanting to share something or suggesting follow-up issues to write on after reading a particular article. People give me words, thoughts, things worthy of celebration, those who need to be censured. A grain of sand could be a news story. A murder, a name, a random comment by a random person, or a celebrity for that matter, a newspaper article, a photograph that you want to look at for hours, a painting, the one-great-line of a third-rate film etc etc. Something on the roadside. A cartoon. A comment by a child. A melody from a long ago. An old man’s complaint. 

No, I don’t know what I would write if you asked me around 8.30 a.m., but I do write something eventually. I get it out of my chest through my fingertips. In a way, utterly self-indulgent. I console myself by saying ‘it is entertainment in part and partly information’. I might be kidding myself, though. 


I was inspired by other people, people of repute and accomplishment, keener observers and thinkers. Books I’ve read. Teachers. Events that passed me by or engulfed me. Things I saw and heard on account of being at a particular place at a particular time and not out of design. 

These thoughts will be published, if all goes well, on September 10, 2010. That’s an anniversary. It would mark a year of morning inspecting. Leaving out the 10 or so articles that were ‘stopped’, I’ve written (I counted) 285 since that day. Or the fact that I was there with laptop and fingertip ready when life happened and therefore was able to record. I don’t know. 

It’s all about a single line or a single though. All I do is pick up (metaphorically) any ‘something’ that happens to cross my mind. All I do is describe it. I think what one wants to say gets said regardless of the topic you are given. ‘Topic’ is mere wrapping paper or a coloured piece of string that makes for a neat package. A word is not a wrapping paper. It is ribbon. A grain of sand and a universe. Made of lovely people who’ve indulged me throughout my life. 

Or just over the last year. Or last month. Or just a single moment. They know who they are. I know who they are. They know me. We all know it’s not about us. Just grains of sand and universes. I just describe things every morning. As best I can. 

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