Dispatches | October 21, 2003

[By Nathan Oates]

A month ago I had a good day writing. One of those days when the writing just seems to come rolling out, laying itself across the page and you keep writing; each time you straighten to stretch your neck you think, This is good. It is not normally how I feel about my work, but there are days when it happens. That day I felt slightly breathless. I might be good, I thought, hurrying into the kitchen for more coffee, though my hands were already trembling. What if I were actually good? If I were good enough to write like this all the time? Imagine, I told myself, looking out the window at my dog who stood with perked ears in the backyard. Then I hurried back to the computer.

After a couple of hours I stopped myself, thinking of Peter Taylor’s advice: he could never write for more than four hours a day because at that point it became too easy. I felt slightly guilty because it had felt easy all along. I remind myself that it isn’t always like this. Often it feels terrible. And I’ve pushed through all those bad days in the hopes of a day like this, so I should enjoy it, not beat myself up.

Settling down in the next room with another, celebratory cup of coffee, I tried to read, but kept glancing up at the keyboard, the edge of which, if I leaned to the left, I could just see. It looked dead. A metallic, out-dated gray. The worn out nub of the mouse stuck there in the triangular intersection of the G, H and B. Still, despite the ugliness of the machine, the words had, just a little while ago, felt good.

Because she was whining and because I couldn’t read, I took the dog for a walk, going farther than our typical march around the block. She sniffed excessively at each naked spot of grass and I let her, watching the cars full of angry people drive past. From around a corner a jacked up pickup truck squealed, spooking my dog, tearing off through a Stop sign, barely slowing. My dog pressed herself against my legs, looking around for further idiots. Shaken myself, I hurried on, telling myself what that guy’s life was probably like, but immediately I knew it was wrong: simply a clump of clichés. I thought, is this what my writing was like this morning? What about the metaphor on page three? Jammed into a page-long sentence. It seemed impossible that I could have, for over an hour, thought that was a good idea. The sentence, I saw, whispering parts of it, doesn’t make grammatical sense. I’ve been, it occured to me, writing nonsense.

I tugged the dog along back to the house where I couldn’t stop from going to the computer. But I couldn’t bring myself to open the file, because already it seemed clear what I’d find.

On the television the Cardinals were in the process of blowing another game and I found the frustrations of this delightfully distracting. Jeff Fassero came in to relieve in the eighth, and soon the bases were loaded, as though the Ump was just sending the batters on to first as soon as they arrived, scuffing their shoes, in the batter’s box. A double into deep left center drove in two runs. A single down the third base line followed, driving in another run, and the six-run lead the Cardinals had built was gone and it was all the fault of this jackass who was getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. And look at him. The Cardinals were only a half game out of first, but not anymore.

“Come on,” I said, sitting forward on the couch, very little hope at all of Jeff Fassero pulling himself out of the jam, bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth, but still, I made fists and shook them at the television. “Come on, goddamnit. Come on.” And for a few minutes, through that entire at-bat, I was able to forget about the pages, just there in the next room.