Years ago I worked in a factory. One day I was in the break room with one of the office guys and we heard the noon train passing; he told me he always thought of the same thing when he heard a train whistle. He always remembered a day twenty years earlier, when he was driving back from a sales call and saw a train jump its track and hit a Buick that was waiting at the crossing. 

Two women were in the car, returning from their weekly trip to the prison to give inmates Bibles and tracts. At the moment of impact, the trunk popped open and thousands of pages of God’s good news shot into the air. Neither passenger survived, which is of course the terrible part, but afterward, all he could think about when he heard a train whistle was the testaments exploding in a majestic fluttering arc over the intersection. 

“It was mesmerizing. You can’t make that sort of thing up. It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You’re a writer. You could do something with that.” 

I’ve never been able to do anything with that.

Writer’s block is an artist’s version of the “I have nothing to wear today” dilemma. Of course there are things to make art about. The universe hands you five or six of them an hour. All you have to do is pay attention. But on the bad days, plucking them out of the air and putting them into their appropriate medium feels like translating a James Joyce novel from Chinese to Klingon. You feel a responsibility to do something about all this confetti and it’s haunting when you can’t.

So I just keep trying to catch what I can as it comes down from the sky, telling myself that I’m a writer, I could do something with this, someday I will.

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