What is it about a blank sheet that is so challenging?
There is so much ink and pixel-space spread for millions of miles in my infinite brain, as I think of a billion things. So much colour, so many images. I read so much, listen to so many things and see all that goes on around. Yet when it comes to collecting one thought and making a statement – the blank sheet is the most daunting.
With more backspace and delete key-presses than those of the twenty-six letters, a thought gradually takes shape, desperate to make meaning of all that has been experienced. In a single sentence, it struggles to reach the grammatical symbol of permanance – often interrupted by bastard commas and semi-colons and m-dashes that are really n-dashes but I treat them as such and they reach their ultimate nirvana. The thoughts become the slave for the tools.
Some experiences are particularly hard to express as their effect numbs me by the moment. A click here and click there; at the beginning of a sentence that should have started differently and a click at the end; hoping for a rhetorical device. Oh, just select it all, cut and paste it to the end – it should be edited later.
To write a thought as it comes is the easiest, but I am now constrained by the presence – or the lack of them – of my devices; the drafts compete with the number of people who read the draft that gleefully made it to the publish button. It is one thing to write with unshackled freedom – it is another, to make meaning. But then meaning is only as much as you can make of it. Not everything means anything to everyone.
But the blank sheet challenges me still and threatens me to remain as such – blank: what if I couldn’t fill it up with black pixels or ink? And then as I push my weight southwards on the two hind legs of my chair – it dawns upon me that the blank sheet is really my friend – urging me to say; to speak of all that I experienced in a day or more. My feet, I believe, are floating – allowing the rest of me to float with them. The blankness envelopes me – purifies all. It reminds me that being defocused is the first step to find focus.
At dawn he will spot the vine of smoke
rising from your chimney, and when he stands
before you shivering, draped in sparkling frost,
a smile will appear in the beard of icicles,
and the man will express a complete thought.
~Billy Collins, Winter Syntax
And it provides freedom: from making meaning to everyone. It helps me find meaning – for me.