Where I think out loud
As you can see, by the continuous lack of posts on my blog, I have been quiet…artistically mute…blocked. Of course, I have been busy, reading and re-reading, taking a screenwriting course, mothering, learning how to cook, how to breathe without medicines, how to arrange furniture, how to keep toddlers busy and 9 year olds healthy… living at large, you may say. But I must confess to you, reader, that I am blocked for words in my core.
Is it fear? Is it a stage fright- like paralysis? Is it a creativity problem? There I went and tepidly started Julia Cameron’s “The Writer’s Way” ( a separate post on that to come soon). Those morning pages have become inconstant and a struggle itself, as if forcing myself to write about not writing, which turned into nagging about my life, about the intruders, the “crazymakers” like Cameron calls, all those people who, in short, keep you from being your creative self and attempting creativity. The “crazymakers” are everyone around us! Of course your children, your husband, your family, your job, your need to exercise and anything that keeps you from writing is a “crazymaker”.
Thus, the title of this post, has to do with two things that happen to me when I am experiencing writer’s block: I tend to blame others and I re- read Cortazar, my Writing God.
His short story: “Don’t Blame Anyone” a.k.a “No se culpe a nadie” is my favorite Cortazar of all times, El Mago (The Wizard) at his best. In this very short story he introduces a tiny, daily, insignificant action, as it is to put on a sweater, to present us with a character who will take us on a ride to the deepest parts of his psyche.
“No se Culpe a Nadie” a.k.a “Don’t Blame Anyone” is about a man who is getting ready to meet his wife at a store to buy a wedding gift. It is a cold afternoon and he decides to wear a blue sweater to match his grey suit. (In the early 60’s, even Cortazar’s men wore suits)
He puts on the sweater, one arm first, but he has trouble forcing the arm through the sleeve. When the hand finally goes through, he looks at it and sees part of his hand deformed and one finger with a pointy black nail, that almost resembles an animalistic hoof. He takes his sweater off and examines his hand, but now the hand is perfectly normal. He starts the action of putting on the sweater again, but again his arm gets stuck along the sleeve. He tries the other hand through the sleeve, which also gets stuck and then the head through the other hole. In agonizing detail, Cortazar describes what this man goes through to figure out how to get out of his own sweater, realizing in the end, that he must have put the head through one of the sleeves, getting stuck on it. But it is too late, because the deformed hand, that made it out of the sleeve, is attacking him. Finally, still inside his sweater, he falls 12 stories down the window unto his death, while trying to get out of the sweater.
It is a story about escaping and about the desperation of not being able to. It is about asphyxia. Scholars say that the sweater represents his life. A life of social norms and standards that he cannot fit into and the more he tries, the more he has trouble breathing. The more he tries to escape, the more he traps himself.
Cortazar calms me out of my mediocrity, his imagery, his mastery in writing details, inspires me to venture into writing, trying to decipher my own inner world. His imagination is an overwhelming example of the limitless capabilities of our creativity.
But, and this is why he is a Wizard, words are not chosen randomly by Cortazar and images are most of the times, symbols of our own humanity. So, if it has been said that the sweater is a symbol of this man’s life and the trap is what he experiences in his mind, then what if the hand that comes through the other side of that sweater, looking back at him in a deformed, monstrous shape, is a symbol of our power to create or destroy? The hands create, mold, shape. The hand is the symbol of our power to construct our own lives, the way we want to, according to our needs and aspirations. The hand can create and protect or it can destroy and attack. The fight to come out of the sweater is a symbol of the fight that takes place inside all of us, to create, to destroy, to follow social morality, to break free from it, to be or not to be. We are all inside a blue sweater at one point of our lives, struggling to get out and seeing ourselves from the outside, not liking what we see.
Cortazar doesn’t preach. But he invites us “to see”, “to think”, “to imagine”. He is La Maga, from his own break-through novel “Hotchpotch”, a guardian of creativity, a cardinal believer in imagination. He tells me to open my eyes and my ears, to put my fingers on this keyboard and let them “create” a connection between my imagination and your reality.
Cortazar played with imagery with such mastery, that he needed to invent words, because what was in his imagination, no one had ever named before. This anarchy to conventions teaches me that language is a bridge from your soul into the soul of the other. However you use it, it will come through, but what’s important is to use it. It is the essence of our humanity. Language is the way we stay human and writing is the most intimate use of language we can try. Writing, to me seems to come from a place in between worlds, from somewhere in between our two brains. The one who is reading you, is listening to you in his silence. That space, that silence where the reader hears the author, is the endless place, where anything can happen.
Cortazar also reminds me to take my heart along the way, because only with my heart on the tip of my fingers, these fingers typing these words, other hearts can listen, understand and follow me into any abyss I may fall into.
Today, reading Cortazar, a famous quote that I heard from one of my writing teachers, comes to mind: “What comes from the heart, goes to the heart”.
My writer’s block is my sweater and the more I try to fight it and force it out of me, the more blocked I am. Cortazar teaches me to remain awake, inspired and never let my life become a sweater I get stuck on. He teaches me to get hand, paper and heart and forget about words, forms, structures, Julia Cameron, blocks… He is my Writing God saying: “Hand, paper and heart!”. The silence from the reader will do the rest.
Hand, paper, heart. … and… “Don’t you Blame Anyone”
My favorite Cortazar book:
“Salvo el Crepusculo” a.k.a “Save Twilight”
This is a book of poems, songs, notes and letters. Cortazar was a big fan of jazz and music and spent a lot of his time listening and playing his trumpet. There is a prose poem about his wife’s face as she listens to music with headphones and he marvels at her face as she listens and lets herself be transported by it.
The English translation by Stephen Kessler is as precise as I have seen. I am attempting my own translation of some of Cortazar’s poems as well as Pizarnik, Borges and Bioy. … maybe you’ll find me on Amazon one day.