Copyright ©2013 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.
"Creativity is always a leap of faith."
"A blank page is no empty space. It is brimming with potential."
--A. A. Patawaran
"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there,
written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible."
"There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man
that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes."
~William Makepeace Thackeray
It was sharply cold, that Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. Part of our family, blood and extended, had gathered to celebrate the long holiday. Our youngest daughter visited from Colorado and brought with her that alien culture which maintains that frigid temperatures should be no impediment to outdoor activities. It was largely at her insistence that we fled the warm confines of our home and made the trek to Alexandria.
Alexandria, Virginia is one of those really interesting places, if you have any sense of history. It started out as a warehouse for tobacco located on the Potomac River around 1730. By 1770, it had grown to become a thriving commercial and shipping center. The historic part, called "Old Town," is lined with mostly brick buildings that have been renovated and retrofitted into a mile-long shopping and dining district, flanked by neighborhoods consisting of picturesque homes, some of which are more than 200 years old. It is a pleasant place to go and while away the hours of a day off.
We began our explorations at the far eastern end of King Street, where the waters of the Potomac River slide by on their way to the Atlantic. We drifted in and out of stores, occasionally making purchases, and keeping track of each other's movements via text. It was in the second block that I made my discovery.
The sign over the door read "Paper Source, Inc." Since I am a writer, and writers still use paper, I dropped in. The shop was exactly what it advertised. The walls were lined with racks holding samples and reams of various kinds and colors of paper, from the basic stuff you'd find in any copier, to the really fancy stuff. I saw, and touched, some of these, parchments and the luxurious linen papers with gold-embossed designs across the tops. As I moved among the shelves, I was overtaken by an irresistible urge to write.
Writers, as a group, are an eclectic bunch, as individual as an acre of snowflakes (and every bit as flaky). For most, I suspect that the hardest part of writing is getting started. Sometimes it's that way for me. Many are the hours I've spent staring at a blank computer screen with a deadline looming, bereft of an original cogent thought.
But paper is different. When I see a blank piece of paper, I am somehow motivated to fill it with words; to give it meaning. It is, I fear, likely the same emotion a woman feels when regarding a man. While a blank computer screen can be problematic, somehow that expanse of papyrus descendant triggers my spark.
I've never been intimidated by a blank piece of paper. And the fancier the paper, the more elegant the words become. I don't know why this is so. One would think that a blank page is a blank page, whether it be digital or dead tree. Perhaps this is why I am motivated to carry around a small Moleskin notebook. I love to write, and I hate to waste a useful thought that might flutter away forever unless I write it down somewhere. I find that if I don't record those thoughts when they occur, they fade quickly, never to return. That ratty old notebook, held together with a rubber band and hope, is filled with scribbled notes that in another context might be mistaken for some elaborate code. Some of my best efforts began life as a few scribbled words, or a session of stream of consciousness writing, a marathon of disconnected ramblings out of which, if I am fortunate, a solid idea or two might emerge.
Writing, after all, is an exploration into unknown territory. One begins by throwing words down. Many times, like an Indiana Jones-like trek into the jungle, you have to backtrack and open up a new path, hacking away at vines and branches as you push deeper into the unknown. At some point, the ideas coalesce, the jungle fades away, and you're gifted with a clear path to that El Dorado which every writer seeks, "a good piece of writing." Like exploring the Amazon, writing takes a certain kind of courage. We have to be willing to lay our soul out before the world, while steeling ourselves for the fangs of the predator (that beast we usually call an editor) who waits to strike and suck the blood of creativity out of this masterpiece we have birthed.
But despite the exasperations and frustrations attendant to such an avocation, a writer persists because the journey is still exhilarating. I feel those stirrings whenever I see a blank piece of paper.
I know that the only way to fill an empty page is the same way to fill an empty heart:
With words which spring from a love of life.