“The reason for your complaint, it seems to me, is the constraint which your intellect imposes upon your imagination….you reject too soon and discriminate too severely.”
-Friedrich Schiller to a friend with “writer’s block,” as quoted by Alison Bechdel
For the last month I’ve walked around a little apartment complex pond almost every day. It’s not, you might say, a particularly nice pond: it’s surrounded by buildings and edged in a little cinderblock wall that’s fallen away in two places. Sometimes I walk around it, snapping through my To Do list in my head and probably on my phone, and never see much. Never feel very there. Other times—well, ducks have started sleeping in one of the wall’s gaps, and muskrats dug a den in the other. At night the water looks black like the inlet of some dark sea, or else like itself, the weight of dense sun-happy weeds catching ripples from flickering fish. When the wind’s down, the surface and the sky play back and forth, mirroring each other, and when it’s up, the surface shimmers apart the buildings and trees and clouds. Sometimes I’m swept away.
Schiller is talking to his friend about writer’s block, about the trap of rejecting sentences and pages as not good enough before they have a chance to breathe. But I think it goes far past having trouble writing. Bechdel finds Schiller’s line in Freud, who uses it to explain free association. The twitch from the surface down into the weeds, a muskrat diving, except this muskrat-of-our-minds doesn’t stay in the pond. It moves from aches to a memory of apples, from lips to the taste of sour cream to a dinner cooked once over an open fire, my family sitting in a loose circle and watching the sky more than each other. Maybe we free-associate ourselves: ripple to the thoughts and connections that land like dry leaves in the water of our pond. The leaves float, sink, deepen to mulch. Or at least, we can let ourselves do that. It’s through the quiet decaying collection of all these many things that a pond makes rich soil. We can garden, too, can order our thoughts, trim our aggressions and prejudices, plant a new perspective. But playing Schiller’s line back and forth in my head, I wonder if we ground down into the earth of where we are and what we are more through our imaginations, through the image of all this, than through our intellects.
That’s what I think. What I want is to let things be, and to be in them, to stop pulling myself away from one place toward another that’s supposed to be better. And Schiller suggests the force that holds us back: the beatings of that measuring stick that make if and maybe and look curl up and hide. Is this good enough? Do I have time for it?
I wish I could describe where you are: the end table, maybe, with three books and an old glass of water, or your phone with its cracked screen (see how the cracks hold strings of changing color?), or the sky outside. Is it all the colors that we define to grey? Is it bright? Raining?
Imagination, subconscious, the weeds and the rain. A duck sleeping, head to wings, and one eye shifts open. A muskrat trailing bubbles as it swims.