Burning Down the Block
Sarah walked in, slamming the door behind her as usual. She flipped on the overhead light. I squinted, spinning around in my office chair to glare at her. She ignored my glower as she tossed her back pack onto the couch. Rolling my eyes, I began to turn around. I heard her flop onto the sofa behind me.
“Dude, are you still trying to write?” I turned my head just slightly and watched for a moment as she looked for the TV remote.
“Yeah.” I rubbed my forehead, staring at the computer screen. That stupid flashing line mocked me from the top of my Word document. I narrowed my eyes at it. Damn line thing. I don’t even know what you’re really called!
Sarah sighed, flipping through channels. “You’re going to drive yourself crazy.”
My gaze dragged from the screen. I spun around in my chair, almost tipping over. A second to recover before scowling at my roommate, chewing at the inside of my lip. Sarah continued her channel surfing. It must be nice, I thought. She didn’t worry about this sort of thing.
“Well, whatever,” I managed. I hunched my shoulders as I rose to my feet. I crossed the room and turned off the light. With my creative atmosphere back in slight order, I returned to my desk. I shoved aside a few empty soda cans with my feet before taking my spot again. “I’m not quitting until I type something.”
“That’s what you’ve been saying,” Sarah replied. She got up and crossed into my work area. I glanced at her from the corner of my eyes then slumped onto my desk, casting papers and empty chip bags onto the floor. “You just need a break. Come watch TV with me or something.”
“Nope, sorry.” I lifted my head. That line was still winking at me. “I need to get something done.”
Sarah’s face fell. Defeated, she turned back towards the apartment’s living space. “Okay. Well, I’ve got Biology homework to get done.”
“Right.” I tapped at the keys on my keyboard, making gibberish.
Sarah retrieved her bag and went off to her room. Left with only the light of my computer monitor and the white noise from the TV, I sighed. I deleted the jumbled text from my screen and propped my chin up on my knuckles. For weeks it had been this way. I would type two sentences and instantly wipe them from my screen. Documents had been cast in the abyss of my recycling bin without remorse. I imagined my computer was teeming with the hollow shells of my abused stories. I was helpless to stop it. I had tried not writing, prompts, going to the park, going for walks, listening to music but it was all in vain. I leaned back in my chair. I pondered for a few moments over my options. There was still one thing I could try.
I sat up, minimizing Word and opening up Google. I typed “how to beat writer’s block” and hit search, fingers crossed. The page loaded, revealing the same batch of failed techniques. Curse you, Internet. Even you have failed me. I scrolled down the page, but as I expected, it was no use. Just more relaxation techniques and writing exercises. I opened a new tab, heading to YouTube for some tunes. As the page loaded, however, an idea dawned on me. I doubted I’d get any results but nonetheless typed the same phrase into YouTube’s search bar. I hit the button.
I quirked an eyebrow as a page of results appeared. I began scanning, clicking on videos that looked interesting. The first one was some professor going over the same old stuff. The audio was too quiet in the next one. I already felt my heart sinking. I clicked on few more, finding nothing helpful. Finally I found one narrated by the author of a self help book. I watched, eyes glazed over, as he began to talk about walks and free writing. It was the word “visualization” that got me to snap out of my trance. I leaned forward as the man spoke, head tilted. He talked about imagining the block, letting it become something I could talk and reason with. As the video ended I scratched my chin. It was something new, at least. Worth a try.
I walked into the living area and turned off the television. I dropped onto the worn sofa, pulling my feet up so I could sit “Indian” style. I sucked in a deep breath, held it for a minute and the let the air out slowly. Visualize, I thought. I shut my eyes, sinking down into the old cushions. I rested my head on my shoulder. Don’t think about anything.
Pretty soon I had drifted off into my imagination. I was wandering through an empty space, scanning for anything of interest. I shoved my hands in the pockets of my old black jeans. I scuffed my purple high-tops over the ground as I strolled along. Suddenly, my foot landed on something. I kneeled down and after a moment’s investigation, found it was the torn fragment of a book cover. I picked it up, studying it with knit brows. The corners were singed. I tossed it down and it floated slightly beyond where I stood, landing among a pile of papers and books, all appearing to be torn and singed. I traced the trail of papers with my eyes, observing that the smaller piles staked up to form a mountain of literature.
Okay, this is something, I thought. Might as well see what’s at the top.
I clambered over notebooks and pads of yellow paper. Words, sentence fragments and complete paragraphs were everywhere, most scratched out with black ink. It reminded me of my desk at home. I hiked my way upward, glancing over my shoulder every once in a while to see how far I had come. Papers fluttered downward like feathers every time I moved. Occasionally I would feel my feet slide as the books slipped.
I finally made my way to the top of the mountain. Laid out before me was a flat space which appeared to be made of blank, lined paper. But that wasn’t what really caught my attention. Looming on the other side of this paper mountain summit was a hulking creature. It shifted, groaned and stood. It began to lumber towards me, the ground shaking as it walked. I looked up and up some more, jaw dropping and eyes widening. The creature was a dragon completely made of folded paper.
The dragon looked down at me, its eyes flickering like the stupid line on my computer screen. Its twisted card stock tail lashed from side to side as it scrutinized me. I tried to keep from shaking as it bent its neck to look at me closer. It flashed a smile made of calligraphy pen nibs rather than teeth.
“Really? You imagine a dragon? How cliché are you kid?” The dragon gave a throaty laugh and sat back on its haunches. It stretched its clawed toes and sighed, black smoke rising from its nostrils. “Relax. You act like I’m going to eat you.”
“Isn’t that what dragons usually do?” I relaxed my shoulder slightly, though it was still pretty intimidating being in a dragon’s presence. I watched as the creature tilted its horned head.
“Listen, you wanted to talk to your writer’s block so here I am. What do you want?” The dragon leaned forward, squinting down at me. It scraped it claws against the ground.
“Oh, right,” I said, shaking my head. I took a moment to gather my thoughts. I swallowed hard, smoothed out my t-shirt and looked up at the dragon. “Right, uhm, let’s see. The video said-“
“To ask your block why it’s blocking you, huh? Yeah.” The dragon chewed at the tip of one of its claws. “Kid, you suck. You wouldn’t know an original thought if it bit you on the ass. Your use of the English language might make a third-grader proud, but that’s about it. You are too melodramatic, you have no concept of plot and your idea of a climax is when they kill Kenny in South Park. Let’s face it; you will never be a writer.”
“No, I don’t suck.” I clenched my fists and furrowed my brows. “You don’t know anything. I love to write. I may have a lot to learn, but I also have a lot to say. That counts.”
The dragon chuckled. “Oh, I think I know. This is your imagination, your head. I know everything about you.” It beamed as my face fell. “You don’t have any talent, kid. You’re never going to stack up in the literary world. I mean really, you’re just not that good. I bet I could write better than you.”
I narrowed my eyes and clenched my fists. “Yeah? You think you’re so good? Well, guess what? I imagined you, didn’t I?”
The dragon shrugged, its paper wings crinkling as it did so. “The only decent thing you’ve thought of in months.”
I could feel my cheeks heating up. I arched my brows and took a few breaths to even my temper. Then, with a smirk, I placed my hand on my hips. “I bet I could come up with something better than you.”
The dragon dipped its head and gave a wave of its claw. “Go right ahead and try.”
I gave the dragon a scowl before looking down at my shoes. I smiled slightly at the predictability of my idea. It was something at least. I closed my eyes for just a moment longer than the standard blink. When I opened my eyes again, I was wearing a suit of armor made entirely of hardback book covers. Colorful illustrations and book summaries covered my arms and legs. Instead of a sword at my side there was a giant pen. I grinned smugly at the paper dragon. It jeered back.
“Well isn’t that cute? You like fairytales or something?” The dragon stood, stretching its white wings. “You going to slay me?”
“That was the idea,” I admitted.
“Okay then,” the dragon laughed. It shook it’s head, its paper body crinkling. “Show me what you’ve got, kid.”
I looked down at my pen, then back at the dragon, then at my feet. I pulled the pen from my side and pointed it at the beast. It stared at me in amusement. It’s eyes glinted as it motioned to the notebook paper ground. I blinked in confusion for a moment, then caught on. Of course, I thought, rolling my eyes. I mused over my idea for few moments, and then began to scratch down a sentence.
“I am a knight.”
The dragon jeered, eyes scanning my poor penmanship and sorry sentence. It sucked in a breath, opened its jaws and let out a stream of flames. I watched the flames, which were made of a jumble of letters and words, lick at my sentence. The embers died away, leaving a new sentence burned into the paper.
“I am a failure.”
I scowled, taking my pen and slashing away at the words. I growled under my breath as I jabbed my pen into the ground to make the period. Failure? What about that A I got on my essay in middle school? Or the poem my teacher loved so much that I wrote in the ninth grade?
“I am the best writer ever.”
Maybe that was pushing it. The dragon sighed, blowing flames from its nostrils.
“I am the worst writer ever.”
I could feel my heart pounding. I could tell my face was red, even though I couldn’t see it. I pulled my mouth into a hard line, biting my lip. There had to be something to beat this thing. I actually felt my head starting to pound as I racked my mind. Then I grinned. With a flourish of my pen, I began to scrawl out my sentence.
“I don’t believe in dragons.”
The beast’s face fell. It drew its head back and bared its pen nib teeth. “Don’t believe in me? Alright then.” The dragon let out a stream of fire.
“Sorry, this is my imagination,” I stated.
I shrugged my shoulders and watched as the dragon’s flames reversed. The fire went down its throat and the dragon’s eyes crossed. The creature exploded into a flurry of burnt paper.
With I sigh, I opened my mind. I surveyed my darkened apartment; the piles of trash at my desk, the dishes stacked by the kitchen sink, and the battered couch. I looked over to my roommate’s door. It was closed and I could hear the muffled sounds of music drifting from beneath the crack. I glanced back over to my computer. The monitor was still casting its bright light over my desk. The line at the stop of the word document still flashed at me.
I slowly got to my feet, crossed the room, and began to pick up the trash around my work space. I dumped the rubbish into my waste basket, wiped my hands and sat in my rolling chair. I stared for a moment at my keyboard. Then I began to type.