That phrase has been in my mind for weeks, months maybe. Everything and nothing.
I haven’t been writing because I have felt I have nothing to say. Yet, every time I think this, that phrase percolates up to my consciousness: Everything and nothing.
It’s true. In fact, I have everything and nothing to say. Maybe everything is nothing, in fact. What is there to say? What is there to write except the minutiae of daily existence?
Sometimes when I write, I feel silly. Why describe the surface of the exposed rust-grey metal heater beneath the fallen paint chip? Why describe the fat paint chip, years of coats of white and off-white and near-white paint? Why tell how it made me feel when I saw it on the floor beneath the heater vent? Why say that the archipelago of rust-grey metal connecting like the poetic, random meanderings of a coastline, made me sad for reasons I can’t quite articulate?
I can tell you why.
I feel if I write at that level, at the level of what I really feel and see, I will in a way go crazy. I will not be able to find meaning in it, to map it, if you will. To make it a whole, to make it cohesive, to make it something people will want to read. To make a story.
I don’t know what the story is. I almost never do. And so, I’ve felt I was not, am not, a story teller.
Almost nothing strikes terror into my heart quite so much as the request, “Tell me a story.”
And that makes me sad. It make me feel deficient. What’s a writer without a story?
Unless I can make non-sense make sense.
Everything and nothing is what I have to say, to tell.
Last night in the car on the way to the movies, my daughter played Cat Stevens’ “Where Do the Children Play” on the car stereo.
I said, “Listen to the words.”
At the red light, I glanced at her. She was gazing out the window.
I said, “Are you listening?”
She shook her head and said, “No, I was spacing out.”
I said, “What were you thinking about?”
She laughed ruefully and said, “It was really weird. I was suddenly thinking, what if when you were driving and you turned your head, it would snap your neck? Then, if you forgot and you turned your head cuz someone said something to you, your neck would snap.”
A minute or two earlier, I had brought up the shootings in Florida. In relation to Cat Stevens’ “Where Do the Children Play.”
I had said something like, “Yeah, where do they play? Not only where do they play, but when are adults going to take children into account? Look at this shooting nonsense, what the hell.”
Next, she was randomly thinking about people driving along minding their own business in their own lives and suddenly having their necks snap because they “forgot” it was possible that would happen if they simply turned their heads.
Everything and nothing, right? She thought this was a random, unconnected thought.
It actually wasn’t. It was actually relevant. I was going to say, “Look how unruly our minds are. How they don’t make any sense at all. For example, last night, my daughter…”
But guess what? It did make sense. I just didn’t see it initially.
Maybe the missing paint on the heater vent makes sense somehow. It made me feel sad. I can’t seem to keep up with the housework, the house repairs, the job, the obligations, the memoir I promised my daughter I would write this year.
I haven’t written on Medium or anywhere else for months, and as the time passes that I don’t write, I become more and more divorced from my own life and feelings.
Yet, if I really wrote what I see and notice day-to-day, I feel I would be overwhelmed. What to keep? What to chuck? What to do with the tumbling assemblage of images, thoughts, regrets, memories? The assailment of pain, guilt, shame, fear, sorrow, hope, love?
The cynicism I feel these days about “love” — at least with the opposite sex? My confusion about what’s best for my daughter, my family. My timidness at creating and carving the life I really want. My gratitude for my job, which is sincere, yet conflicts with my feeling of desperation as time runs through my fingers, and this job takes it, and I know my life is winding down, is already winding down, as I face my 50th birthday and am still not living my dream of being a writer. A real writer.
What would happen if I did? Really write?
It would be everything and nothing. And maybe that’s okay.