A Blog About Nothing - Umberto Tosi
But what if I respond: "Nothing! Nada! Zilch! Bupkis!"?
Honest, perhaps, but sounds rude. A brush off. What a curmudgeon, that Tosi guy, a prima donna!
Worse yet, it comes off as feigned humility. Shrug. Gee. Little me? He's so humble, that Tosi guy.
Still worse: Instead of bullet points, I give you a full accounting, a quarterly report on my works-in-progress, launches and lunches, with recipes.
God forbid, you should think that I am really doing nothing. You should find me out as an idler, a time-waster, an Internet triva-addict, a gamer, a social media gabber.
You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one terrified by the hole in the doughnut. Truth is I'm compelled to tell people what I'm doing to reassure myself more than anything else.
I break out in a cold sweat with every blank screen, including once a month when I write this blog post. My bullets points turn out to be hollow dum-dums of wishful thinking framed as goals and projects - labels on empty bottles until - and if - I fill them with something, anything, invariably unintended.
My inamorata, the distinguished surreal imagist Eleanor Spiess-Ferris says that starting on any canvas takes "an act of faith" - notwithstanding the hundreds of her works that hang in collections and have been shown in galleries, museums and universities. Literalist that I am, I keep looking for proof. I thumb ahead for clues I never find.
I can fear the blank spaces or air-embrace them, but not avoid them. The wise assure us that we need a blank slate in which conjure anything new, for how can it surprise and delight, terrorize or inspire if it is plainly visible already?
The end of the line is either a black hole or the Buddhist concept of emptiness, nothingness - of "no thing" - Śūnyatā! So I gather from having read my Stephen Hawking and listened to all those itinerant-gurus' and Alan Watts' talks since back when. Śūnyatā is not to be confused with nihilistic nothingness in a universe devoid of meaning, as much as it is fun to scare oneself and find a suitable excuse for another Martini. We've got a pandemic, climate change, the rise of global fascism and economic Armageddon for those purposes nowadays.
Blank page phobia is more personal, however. It's like: What if I have nothing (more) to say? The only way to answer that question is to go ahead and say something, anything, just like in everyday conversation, even it it's "Hey what have you been doing lately?"
Worry about what people will think fades in the comparative isolation of this COVID moment. Hard to believe that it is, after all, transitory. I'm finding some compensation in this solace, would that it were necessitated by less tragic events. Again, back to old-time religions that preach days of rest and reflection, sabbaticals, disengagement from daily grinds in order to reflect and receive.
In any case, I converse with few people from self-imposed quarantine, which I fortunately share with my inamorata keeping a semblance of mutual sanity. I've taken part in only one official editorial Zoom meeting during the past few months, with my colleagues at Chicago Quarterly Review planning our next issues. That's it, aside from Skype calls with my daughters, and shared time with my aforementioned inamorata.
The rest of the time, I interact with fictional characters who never leave. Shy folks, they are. I didn't see much of them until the parties were over and the house was empty of other visitors. Now they sit at our dinner table, watch TV with me, look over my shoulder as I browse on various devices. They don't ask me what I've been doing, nor indulge in other chit-chat, even though I interrogate them relentlessly. They say, hey, there's something you can use in my story. Make a note of this so you don't forget, even if it might seem trivial.
Thus I get things to throw at that blank wall.
Who's afraid of the big bad Śūnyatā? I am. But it's also a great relief when I can clear enough junk from my head to let those characters reveal themselves - to be given something to write about after all, if I can keep it. I'm hearing Louis Armstrong, stoned: "... Leave your worries on the doorstep. Just direct your feet, to the Śūnyatā side of the street." And I leave you here as summer's end with two more quotes:
- "By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility. We can let fear rule our lives or we can become childlike with curiosity, pushing our boundaries, leaping out of our comfort zones, and accepting what life puts before us." - Alan Watts
- "Faith is holding onto uncertainties with passionate conviction." - Søren Kierkegaard