Friday, April 20, 2012

All is well (even if that's not compelling prose)

I’m afraid that as an essayist and blogger, I might find contentment to be my downfall.

It’s true of my journals, also. I set myself a minimum word count of 1,000 words per day, and there’s an undeniable inverse correlation between my level of immediate happiness on any given day and the number of words I’m able to churn out. When people are annoying me, circumstances are frustrating me, fate is confounding me, or opportunity seems not to be availing itself to me, I have plenty to say. I can write for hours on days like that. The worse mood I’m in, the more I have to say in my journal. One thousand words is nothing when I’ve descended into what cartoonist Pat Brady calls “the dungeon of resentment.”

But somehow my fingers run a little less fast and loose on the keyboard when things are looking up.

It’s not particularly logical. It seems as if there should be just as much to say about life’s more positive times as its lesser moments. I should be able to enthuse for page upon page about how great it all is. I certainly could back in high school and college, when a good day with friends or an auspicious first date could fill up my one-thousand word quota almost before I reached the end of my opening paragraph.

It’s different now, though. I sit down to attempt a new essay or newspaper column or blog entry and find myself feeling strangely devoid of commentary. “All is well,” I think to myself. “The kids are happy and healthy. We have housing and gainful employment. As far as I know, no one plans to serve us with a subpoena this month. What’s to talk about?”

Well, there’s always the option of commenting on how good it all is. But after one beta reader of my running/parenting memoir scribbled in the margins, “Enough with the gratitude!”, I’ve been a little wary of that theme. Gratitude, I’ve come to suspect, is a fine emotion with which to govern one’s soul but not such a fruitful one when it comes to incisive prose.

And no, I have definitely never reached the point of desperation at which I’d trade happiness and contentment for more writing material. Not in the least. I still suspect I once lost a job due to contentment – my overall happiness with my workload and the company in general made me too unambitious for that hard-driving, fast-innovating corporate environment – but not having enough difficult material at this particular time of my life to fill out a few essays is not, at heart, a complaint.

Life is good. It doesn’t make for compelling narrative, which is one reason that I devote the bulk of my revenue-producing writing to features about other people – I can’t rely on my own circumstances for enough hard-hitting material these days – but I’ll take it. No complaints here when everyone in my close circles appears to be happy, healthy and emotionally well-balanced. Circumstances will change; fate will throw its inevitable curve balls; and I’ll find myself writing page upon page to exorcise my darker emotions once again. But at the moment, writer’s block is a welcome, if paradoxical, sign that there’s just nothing wrong. All is well, and even if those are the only three words I can find to write on any given day, they’re good enough.

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