Starting Off Stuck

I’m starting this bit of writing, this whole enterprise (endeavor, extravaganza, disaster, etc.) stuck. I don’t know what to write. I just exhaled and made a “fluppping” sound because my lips sort of buzzed and flapped. Stuck.

It seems impossible to be stuck. I have a million things in my head and heart to write about. I have tremendous motivation — financial, personal, psychological. I want to help people. I want to change the world. I want to have an impact. I’m 56, it’s time to do something big, damnit! And here I am stuck at the very beginning.

Well, not quite stuck at the beginning anymore — I’m on the third paragraph and at 100+ words not really stuck, but not really saying anything either.

When I was sitting stuck, 120 words ago, I had a thought, which was to get out my Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt Oblique Strategies deck, and pick a card.

For those not familiar with the above mentioned, it is a deck of cards that have prompts written on them. Developed by music producer Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies found use on David Bowie albums, U2 records, and still turn up in recording studios from time to time.

You pick a card and implement the prompt. Now, the deck doesn’t have writing prompts. Whatever is on the card is deliberately oblique — the cards are subtitled, “Over 100 worthwhile dilemmas.” So, rather than clear instruction like, “Write a story in which something seemingly innocent symbolizes something much darker,” an Oblique Strategy might be …let me just grab a card here… hmmm. “In total darkness or in a very large room, very quietly.” Hmmm…

In a recording studio, you might immediatly turn off all the lights and listen to the playback of the song at low volume. Or maybe set-up microphones all over the studio and have the lead singer cut a vocal while sneaking around in the dark. For a visual artist, maybe it’s a painting done in blacks with a tiny brush, or maybe it’s working in the dark, or maybe you apply it more literally: you paint a picture of a large dark room with many small quiet animals in it. A mouse. A sloth. A bat. Hmmmm.

For a poet it could be a first line, or one could cut up the words on the card and re-arrange them into something else (another Eno Bowie technique for writing lyrics). A dancer — choreograph something in the dark? Turn off the theatre lights and make the audience strain to hear the slap of feet and the creak of joints?

My head lights up with ideas as it tries to solve the worthwhile dilemma! I love my Oblique Strategies cards! But where to use them for this blog post?

It turns out the moment I reached for the cards, in that split second of movement, in which, unbidden, an image of me opening the box and flipping over a card appeared in my head, another thought hit me, which was: Write about being stuck. Write about starting.

And where else can one begin this sort of venture, this expedition, except at the beginning, except that the stuck point?

Accept the beginning. Accept the stuck point. Start from stuck. Admit it. Confess it. There is no shame to hide, although it feels that way. Shame. Of course shame. After all, we’re creatives, right? We’re suppose to always have ideas. We’re suppose to know what to do. And when we don’t, we feel broken. A misfit toy. The water pistol that shoots jelly, ashamed and stuck with the other losers like the Charlie in a Box. Maybe I’m confusing my issues, my personal myth (“You always have an idea, Luke”) with the way of the world. I don’t think so. I think shame is the bag into which an artist stuffs all their baggage.

Over 650 words. I think I’ve said something finally, but I’m not sure what. Regardless, for this endeavor, for the purposes of this enterprise, I’ve made a start.

Remember, Luke! Remember: There must always be a start. It can be awful, it can be great, it can be anywhere inbetween, but it has to BE. Something to criticize is better than nothing to notice, and it’s impossible to improve on nothing.

Begin!

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