Wednesday, May 17, 2017


A Desolate Place

A Personal Essay by Dinah Clottey

Writer’s block is so easy to get into yet so hard to get out of. As a writer, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into a dark place. Caught up in the blackout inside my head, I’d lost sight of what it was I wanted to write about. So I built up gigantic walls around me and continued to surge towards the darkness. When I was inside, it became normal, and so I lost myself. There was nothing to inspire me inside the cave so I could do nothing more than follow the same patterns and stare at the same blank page. By isolating myself I was only feeding my writer’s block, stuffing it with more empty ideas and prolonging my stay. The cave was a deserted island: bare, dismal, bleak, and empty. The cave was my prison.

I spent a lot of my time underneath these cavernous walls. The encompassing stone was jagged and pieces of thoughts laid littered on the ground. The walls arched unevenly high above the surface, con-caving upwards into a lopsided bowl. The air was frigid and cold, void of any heat or light. The only sound was the drip drip drip that came from my only source of cognizance. It sat in the deepest part of the cave, trickling and oozing far back in my consciousness. On the surface, the cave was nothing but dirt and stone. However, beneath the surface, I knew there was life.

It became routine for me to spend my days engulfed in this chilling darkness, hibernating. Sometimes when I slept in the cave, I imagined seeing light. All I had to do was close my eyes and I’d be surrounded by the ambient glow of colors, thrown into a wheel and jumbled all together. I tried to decipher the colors by doing my best to tug and separate them. But my efforts were often fruitless because no matter how much force I used, the colors just swarmed back together, entangling into another impenetrable puzzle. I was in a dream within a dream and I just couldn’t wake up. That light, those colors, were my escape and my way out of the darkness. My way out of writer’s block. And every time I got close, the image would just move further away and I’d tumble back into the dark, waking up and being shrouded in blackness once again.

In this cave I didn’t know how it felt like to have the wind caress my skin and the sun flood my pores. But it seemed dangerous out there. In this cave it was familiar, satisfactory, safe.

This cave was my writing habitat. Dark and dry and so predictable, that’s how I learned to write. I’ve had to conform to standards for so long that at some point in my life I just locked myself up and decided to keep doing the same old thing. I was no longer of my own body. I was void, a hollow shell used to fill up the space I walked in. I knew this; I knew what I was doing to myself by staying in that cave. But I wouldn’t let myself leave and that was my problem.

One day, when I was in the middle of my writing routine, something unpredictable happened. I was sitting on the rocks per usual with a pen and paper in hand, staring at a blank page and caged in by the same cavernous walls. Then something washed over me. Inspiration? That’s what I wanted to instinctively call it, but whether it was the draft that seeped through the air or the ambiguous liquid of my consciousness finally getting to me, it felt unfamiliar. In that same instant a voice appeared in my head and said, “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.” I identified the voice as Stephen King from his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I wanted to dismiss it, but sitting at the same place with the same pen and the same blank piece of paper, the saying appeared inside my head again. Why was I here? Why was I so scared?

It’s so lonely inside this cave. I realized in that moment exactly what King was trying to say. Being in the cave, surrounded by cavity and nothingness, was cowardly of me. I was a coward. I also realized that the only thing I’ve been doing was waiting, waiting for some idea to cross my head and make a story out of. How stupid I’d been, acting like a sitting duck in a dark cave, thinking that nothing could get to me. I was scared about how others would view my writing, of putting myself out there and being faced with countless notices of rejection. I was scared to leave the cave because I didn’t know what to expect. Everything would be so new and foreign and different to me. The very thought made me tremble. I remember dismissing my cup, made out of molded stone and rock, and walking over to the water area. I caught the liquid of my consciousness that spat out from the walls with my bare hands and chugged down the soothing liquid. And I thought, I don’t want to be here.

I went to sleep and the ambient colors appeared in my dream again. I decided to do something different. Instead of trying to separate them, I tangled them more into a disheveled mess. The colors mixed and mingled, becoming darker greens and lighter browns compared to its bright yellows and oranges from before. It wasn’t pretty, but it was mine. I’d finally created something of my own.

When I woke up that morning, instead of being greeted by the darkness, I am greeted by the light. The rockiness of the ground is replaced by the luxuriant surface of luminous greenery. The jagged walls and ceiling are now a seemingly endless sky, clear and blue. I got out. I am finally on the outside. I am no longer under the abundant mass of darkness or the void that kept me in and kept everything else out. The blockage is gone. In this moment, I am free.

The blockage only disappeared once I decided to diverge from my routine and try different things. I was no longer feeding my writer’s block, nor was I forcing myself to get rid of it. By digging into the back of my consciousness with my own hands, I naturally, and peacefully, escaped by allowing the idea of freedom to enter my head in the first place.

Being inside the cave was the most boring time of my life, but it taught me something; I never want to be inside that cave again. So whenever I feel myself sinking into the dark cave of my hollow ideas, I drop everything and let myself be inspired. The most effective way is to go out there and explore. Instead of being scared of the outside world I embrace. I snatch it by the collar and scream, “Are you ready world? Because I’m comin’ for ya!” Then I grab a pen and paper and embark on the advent of my next story.

Adam's Rejection (Excerpt from The Day Girls Started Chasing Me)

A fiction selection by Dinah Clottey

"Open it! Open it!" my mother yells right up against my ear.

Right now we're at the kitchen table and I have a laptop in front of me that will reveal the results on whether I got accepted into Stanford or not. I'm extremely nervous. My palms and neck are caked in sweat and I can feel my heart beating a thousand beats per minute. I felt as if though it could burst right out of my frail chest at any moment.

"Hold on, mom. Just give me a second!" I reply.  I'm opening up the common app. As the page emerges on my screen, I see it.

Standford Results

God, I'm so scared! Take deep breaths Adam, it's all going to be alright.

In and out . . . in and out.

As I release another breath, I let the mouse hover over the link before clicking it.

To Mr. More,

After careful consideration of your application, I am sorry to inform you that we are unable to offer you a place in the Stanford class of 2018.

I feel my heart stop. My throat begins to constrict as I try to hold back tears. I can't believe it.
I got rejected.

"What does it say?" my mother asks excitedly from my side as she bends down to peer closer at the screen.

"I didn't get in," I tell her quietly. 

I still sit frozen in my seat. I felt as if the first 18 years of my life just compressed itself into a bat and hit me in the face. All those AP classes, all my hard work, all that stress . . . for nothing.

"Oh honey, I'm so sorry," my mother pouts as she wraps me up in a cuddly hug. "You've still got Colorado State."

That didn't make me feel any better. Anybody could get accepted there. But Stanford . . . Stanford was my dream school.

"I'm gonna go to bed," I tell my mom as I robotically remove myself from her grasp and walk out of the kitchen. 

That night, I pictured things going differently when I opened that letter in my dream. I got accepted and I spent the next four years happy, successful. In that moment, I wished that I'd never wake up.

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