As I have been writing these bi-weekly columns for more than 30 years now, I occasionally think about quitting. Every time I have to write one.
Sure, I still feel the impulse to sit down at my computer and rap out another in a series of Steve's Unfortunate Events or a complete work of fiction, but in 30 years I have developed 10 schwillion ways to dodge the impulse. Sit down? No problem. At the computer? OK. But then the old bob-and-weave begins. Let's see. I can research an idea. I can surf the net. I can read emails. I can have a snack. I can see how many times I can type pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp pppppppppppppppppppppppppp pppppppppp before my pinkie gets tired. I can try to remember the last time I dusted. I can count my arm hairs. The distractions are endless.
On the other hand, after 30 years I automatically feel the stress building toward deadline. As every newswriter knows, every deadline is like a little "end of the world." Whatever you intended to finish before deadline, but didn't, doesn't matter anymore; it's over. It's all over, and you only had one shot. You missed it.
As I sit, the tension pulses, pounds between the need to keep goofing off instead of writing a column and the inexorable march of time. I've wasted hours (hours!) and still can't bring my brain to heel. "Why?" I ask it. "Why?"
It says, "Pretzels." I go into the kitchen, rummage around, come back with a bag of pretzel rods and a glass of water. It says, "Chocolate-covered pretzels."
I want to scream because gee, those WOULD be good, but we don't have any and it knows that just as well as I do and then suddenly across the brightly-colored cellophane pretzel bag a shadow falls. It's the deadline, looming, looming
"All right," I tell myself, slamming my hands onto the keyboard and sitting up straight. "Time to fly right. Let's get this done." I type a couple of sentences, read them over, clear them and start again. This time I only type a couple of words. I remember that old joke about the writer who typed "The" on his paper (that's how old the joke is) and just kept staring at it. He got up, went away, came back the next day and stared at it some more. Finally he typed three more words: "hell with it."
I notice my pretzel bag bears the signature of Salvatore Cipriano, who is CEO of the snack company that makes these particular rods. I think some woman wrote it for him because it's pretty legible. I'm tempted to read the entire bag, front and back, but Salvatore will have to wait; I'm on deadline.
I rewrite the same sentences I began with before, then clear them and work on a different idea. The first paragraph comes easy, and now I think I've got it, but the next sentence comes out bit by bit - like a hairball. I read it over 72 times. I do not think this is going to take me anywhere, but I force myself to stay on track, one sentence following another. When it's halfway done I email the editor and say, "My column is coming! It's coming! I'll have it in an hour!" She responds kindly, in English, but my brain translates it to two words: "Tick. Tock."
I am almost out of time and don't have an ending. I ask my brain. It says, "I got nothin'." The deadline is before me, hooded, dressed in black and carrying a sickle-shaped sign that says, "The end is here." This time, I'm sure, I've done it - wasted the time I had, spent it in idleness and self-indulgence, let the clock run down, failed to deliver. I want to weep with self-loathing. And then my husband comes in and tells me he and Frank are going to make a ship out of a refrigerator box, sail it to Grass Island and claim it for Bear Point. He says something ridiculously quotable, and I am saved. Once again, Steve proves to be stranger than fiction
After more than 30 years I continually wonder whether I want to keep writing columns, but why not? Fortunately, for me it's easy.