Page Fright
October 17, 2011
When day three of my writer's block (or, as I like to call it, "page fright") hit, I made an appointment for a massage.

Last birthday, my dear friends, who were much concerned about my mental state as writing the book wore on, gave me a generous gift certificate for a local spa. I clung to that gift certificate as chapter after chapter and block after block came and went, knowing that there would be a time when it would be most needed.

This was that time. Two chapters left to write and a few months to do it in might seem like ample time, but when your brain is in the obdurate, constipated grip of page fright, no time is enough time. I recognized the signs early enough and did my usual wailing and renting of clothes, swearing up and down that there was no way I could finish the book in time. I went on daily five-mile walks, cooked food, lost my appetite, bitched on Twitter, and sat at my computer, trying to make sense of anything I had written.

I was dealing with the opposite of "blank page syndrome." I had "page full of crap syndrome," which is when you have document after document stuffed so full of senseless blather, you no longer know what you're trying to say.

"Stop working." "Close the computer." "Go to bed." "Have a beer." "Relax." That's the usual prescription. For the writer it's both impossible to follow and impossible not to follow.

One particularly bad night, I followed all but the last part of that advice. I simply couldn't decompress enough to relax. Even with the work stoppage, the closed computer, and the beer in hand, my brain and frustration wouldn't shut up. I was keyed up and irritable and completely convinced that I could make everything work if I just TRIED HARDER AND LONGER. I was also pretty convinced I could make everything work if I just THREW MY LAPTOP OUT THE WINDOW.

So I booked a massage.

Massages have worked for me in the past. I'll be lying belly-down on the table, forehead smashed into the padded face rest, nose clogging and unclogging at intervals when suddenly, my brain starts to move its sluggish coils. Phrases drift into my head, and I start to make connections and have various breakthroughs. On this particular day, the major breakthrough centered around what my agent had talked to me about a few days before. Of course, being me, I had internally rebelled against her suggestions because I didn't get what she was talking about. And, being me, enlightenment came a few days later just as Doris was clucking soothingly over the knots in my neck.

Massages work so well at releasing my writing that at some point, they become completely UNrelaxing. Because there I am, making all these connections and forging absolutely brilliant turns of phrases and I CAN'T WRITE ANY OF IT DOWN! I spend the rest of the massage trying to memorize key words and phrases, lest I lose any part of it while my chakras are being aligned and my dosha is being corrected.

As my massage therapist helped me into a deep tub called a "furo," I fought the urge to break away from her tranquil tones in order to scrabble in my purse for a pen and a receipt to start jotting stuff down. (I used to carry a notebook around for such occasions, but the longer the notebook stayed blank -- except for grocery lists -- the more likely it seemed that it was a talisman against me having breakthroughs, so I stopped carrying it. Now my breakthroughs get recorded on blank back pages of books and wrinkled receipts.) I stepped into the tub, whose abbreviated length caused me to bend my fully submerged knees in the comforting fetal position, and sank my shoulders low.

There were slices of cucumber for my eyes, and slices of apple for my stomach. There was a cup of lemon touched water and hot herbal tea in a handleless earthenware cup for my thirst. There were rose petals in the tub for my decadence. A cold, wrung washcloth kept the cucumbers in place on my eyes, and a folded up towel cushioned my head. I gave into the soft darkness and flickering candlelight and thanked my friends for this moment.

After helping me back out of the tub, Doris pressed a drugstore bindi to my forehead (which I promptly lost in the steam room three minutes later) and told me not to wash my oil saturated hair for 24 hours. "The Ayurvedic belief is that the oils need time to soak into your cells," she said.

Given that my breakthrough as scrawled on a library check-out receipt amounted to, "Picky eaters lie about food. Why lie? Audrey Hepburn in Charade. Lie means fear means anger means Dark Side means Yoda," I needed all the help I could get. All afternoon and evening, I let the oil do its soaking, squeegeeing the back of my neck from time to time and sleeping with towels draped over my pillow. I wanted to shower before the farmers' market the next morning, but I wouldn't be done marinating for another five hours, so I bunned my hair and bought my vegetables, trailing smelly clouds of Pitta-balancing Ylang-Ylang and lemon.

And all of that led to me writing -- among a whole mess of other good stuff -- this sentence, "I'm going to strike a blow for all pickykind and say that if you won't date a picky eater, you are anti-Semitic."

Are you hooked? Suffering Succotash is coming summer 2012.

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