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My Kingdom for a Story

Riva Pomerantz

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fiction is a funny animal, oh-so-different from its more staid cousin, nonfiction. Nonfiction has form, shape, and color just by virtue of its topic. An article about herbivores is automatically going to sprout from — well, herbivores! So you interview a couple of farmers, a zoologist, do a Google search, get a statement from Daisy, and voilà! An article appears.

Then there’s fiction.

It’s a foray into the unknown, a communion with creativity. And completely, maddeningly dependent on inspiration. Which is why it’s so scary to write fiction on assignment. I speak from personal experience, as you may have surmised. And if I sound a bit on the raw, haunted side, it’s because of a recent brush with fiction fright. A month and a half from now, when all of you eagerly rip the plastic off the Pesach edition, devouring its contents like Schmerling Pesach chocolate, do spare a sigh for the courageous writers among us who strove to supply you with your literary fare, come what may.

And of that which may come, perhaps nothing is more fearsome to the down-to-the-wire writer than … nothing at all.

An eerie, blank nothingness. Bleak, dreary shades of gray. Here and there, a thought flits by and is quickly extinguished.

Nah, that won’t work.

Ugh, so clichéd.

Nope — that plot’s not going anywhere. Too pareve.

So in the peanut gallery of the mind, the spectators wait, hoping to pounce on the next juicy idea and tear it to shreds — or spin it into a wonderful story (pretty please!). But alas, disaster strikes — a creative drought! The once-moist soil grows rocky and parched. Where vibrant flowers abundantly bloomed, drab, drooping stalks wave mockingly. The air is dry and stifling. The mind is at a frantic standstill.

Where have all the ideas gone? Has the creative wellspring dried up, G-d forbid, or have its waters been somehow diverted? I will the thoughts to come. I cry. I beg. I pray.

I ask for an extension on deadline.

Please excuse Riva from handing in her assignment tomorrow. She has a bad case of writer’s block.

Thank you.

I sniff the air hungrily, a writer without a story, ever vigilant for the slightest wafting idea. Something — anything. A man shuffles past me on my way home.

Man. Shuffling man. The shuffling man who walks up my street because he — he what? Where’s the story?

I sigh and raise my antennae higher, trying not to notice that the extended deadline is tomorrow and I am no closer to a story than I was last week. I am a fisherman in a fishless sea, waiting for a bite.

Can you spell “desperate”?

I am very pious when deadlines abound. The Ribono shel Olam hears from me a lot every day as it is, but when fiction is due, my tefillos get ratcheted up a good few notches.

“Please, Hashem,” I say, “send me a story. So that I can inspire and entertain Your nation this Yom Tov. Please … I have nothing!”

When Noach sent the yonah, the dove, to check if the floodwaters had subsided, she returned with an olive branch. Rashi comments that the dove was actually making a beautiful statement with her choice. “Better I should eat the bitter bark of the olive tree and be nourished directly from the Hand of Hashem than be fed sweet delicacies by the hand of man,” declared the dove.

I often think of the dove (maybe because my delicious infant son, Moshe Yonah, spends countless hours in my arms, especially at night, which may or may not be affecting my creative muse!). As a writer, I’m nourished solely by the Hand of Hashem, who channels His wisdom and creativity to and through me. I can beat my head against the wall, kick and scream, but until I am served up that beautiful, shimmering idea, from the Master Writer, I am empty; my page remains blank.

And so, dear reader, after all this rambling on fiction freeze, what do you think? Did HaKadosh Baruch Hu graciously grant me a small sip of creativity from on High? Will there be a story from Riva Pomerantz in Calligraphy this year?

Guess what? I’m not telling!




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