Things seem to run in seven-year cycles.
Fourteen years ago, on a cold November morning,
I gave up writing. This after a publishing streak where I went national.
(John Cleese: For every success, there is a corresponding failure). At the moment of my success, I suddenly became a crashing failure in keeping the success up. Suddenly, the "helpless, can't write!" syndrome.
I did eventually pick up, but there had been a seven-year drought. "I am a blocked writer, Martha!"
A fireman with no hose, a traffic cop with no whistle, a smoke shop with no matches.
For seven years, I was dangerous to myself and others..
Try as I might, I couldn't be at least as good as my last piece. In fact, I got a severe mental block and couldn't get past "See Spot run" because spots seemed suddenly before my eyes. Blank paper. And for years.
It began to affect my teaching. Students began to notice my by-now apparent loss of identity as a writer (I couldn't get it up, editors jeered).
There was only the palliative of teaching.
"You don't know who you are, jeered the Newfie chick. "I come from a family of twelve--and at least I know who I am. Stop wandering aimlessly. Stay on topic."
I had given up writing, surrendered the vows, was close to losing my identity.
I went to a shrink, and he suggested I was "success shy" and kept writing on his pad.
"But Doctor, this is what I do. And now, I can't do it any more."
From my Liverpool doctor, the answer was laconic: "Do some weed. Become a communal farmer, become a real asshole."
I knew I was already good at this. Just ask my wife.
I was at least blessed with a wonderful partner. We were soon at an island cottage, where even there, I would stare at blank paper. "I am a blocked artist, Martha." "I know." She was a patient woman, but I could almost read her thoughts. All artists are assholes. Why did I marry one? Such a success at college. Such a success at teaching. And now turning over a new leaf only to find it was the same old leaf. And soggy.
"You're going to have to get a job, baby.
The artist thing isn't playing itself out. You've dug your last hole, Mole (I think she got that from Willie Elder, the MAD genius).
Well, at least there was the driver- instructor thing after the college burnout. This I could do. Seven years of it, till we moved back from the cottage, back to the house. I found some old envelopes in our dusty attic, where I kept searching for something.I began to write on the dusty back of them.
Migod, a short story. I had to tell Martha.
My wife loved the script and was soon carrying a copy in her purse. Her father was a published writer.
I got the call from the Globe and Mail exactly seven years after my breakdown.
The recovery was complete.
But it has now been another seven years, and the chassis is starting to creak!