Here I am, pen in paw. Autumn sun is dappling my desk. A perfect place, a perfect time to write. But paw and pen remain suspended. Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing in this notebook. Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this scene. Perhaps it should be from a different point of view. Perhaps this is the wrong novel. A drop of ink plops onto the page, spreads and I contemplate folding it in half and creating a Rorschach pattern, subjecting myself to a bit of self-analysis.
Truth is I am frightened of making the wrong decision. So frightened I freeze. The tiniest question can swell itself up and taunt me from the writing pad, prance about in the wet inkblot, bullychant: You’re going to make the wrong decision. You’re going to make such a mess of this. Everyone is going to think you are incompetent. Nanananana!
Tante Mathilde was a great one for perfection. Don’t open your mouth until you know the whole poem perrrfectly. Mistakes were slapdash, slipshod and lazy. Mistakes were unpatriotic and would call the whole Mole family into disrepute. Even coughing or sneezing were signs moral degeneration. Tante Mathilde NEVER made mistakes.
Mistakes were locked up in Tante Mathilde’s day, sent to institutions, never mentioned. All those steps between start and finish never existed. And the finish of some other mole’s oeuvre was so far removed from the start of one’s own that it was beyond emulation. Dear Tante Mathilde, how many of your trials went onto the bonfire so that they might never be seen?
Mistake – I try to roll the word around, make it my chum. Mis-take, Mi-stake. I try to squeeze it to Risk-take. It won’t quite go.
Am I really such a tremulous mole? I find my chest puffing up at the thought of it, my snout quivering with indignation. Shying away from a sentence? Where is the brazen activist
of yesteryear? Deep in my little moleheart there lurks a Garibaldi. I have been known to carry placards, stood firm against hecklers, made rousing speeches. Does courage only come when an injustice hurtles straight to my firebrand belly, ignites it and makes me roar.
Would it be so terrible if this were the wrong notebook? Isn’t it my notebook. Can’t I cross things off or tear things out or stick things on? Is there such a thing as a wrong scene – or is it just a step, a way of testing or material that might be used later? Wrong point of view? Perhaps, but at least I’d know. Wrong novel? It will only descend into chaos if I fail to take it in hand. Wouldn’t it become the right one because I made it so?
The next time I feel timorous I shall head to a cupboard deep in my burrow. I shall hunt out a pair of broomsticks, an old sheet, a pot of paint and a brush. And you will see me at the barricades proclaiming the wise words of Anne Lamott:
‘Perfectionism is the Voice of the Oppressor, the Enemy of the People.’*
*Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.