My visit from the Muse of Life Columns

Finding a topic for my piece

I was sprawled over my desk, a broken man. My column — this column — was due in only a few hours, and yet for the past hour I’d been staring at a blank screen, the blinking cursor taunting me like a schoolyard bully. I would hazard a sentence or two only to backspace furiously, unable to escape the clasp of writer’s block.

“Come on,” I groaned, exasperated. My editor would kill me if I didn’t think of something, stat. Besides, if I couldn’t come up with anything good, the legions of people who read my columns — i.e. my grandma — would be mightily disappointed. But as much as I huffed, my screen remained blank. The sweet Muse of Life Columns refused to pay me a visit.

I thought back on the previous week, trying to recall any life-changing experiences I could write about. Nothing particularly earth-shattering had happened — my friends and I went swimming, I’d watched a copious amount of “The West Wing”and I got destroyed in a game of pickup basketball. But these wouldn’t do — I needed to find something bigger: something brash, something bold, something sexy. What had happened in the past week that changed my life?

Desperate for some creative succor, I texted my friends for assistance. “Emergency,” I wrote. “Need a topic for my column. Give me something big.”

Alex replied soon after. “You’ve got to write about whatever’s on your mind. What are you thinking about right now?”

“Easy,” I responded. “How I don’t know what to write this stupid column on.”

And at that moment, it happened. With a terrific crack, the black thundercloud of writer’s block was pierced by a brilliant beam of sunlight. Appearing out of the cloud’s opening was the Muse of Life Columns herself. She placed her hand on my shoulder and, leaning in close, said, “Here I am, Jack. I’ve found you.” She flashed me a misty smile. “Your topic will be this: how you can’t come up with a life-changing topic.” And then, just as quickly as she’d arrived, she vanished.

So … yeah. The topic of this column is how I couldn’t come up with a topic for this column. I know — probably not the most enlightening epistle you’ve ever read.

But maybe there’s a lesson here. In today’s world, social media feeds us depictions of our friends living out exotic, exciting, eminently meaningful lives. Perhaps in response, we often want our experiences to consistently contain some sort of grand meaning. Classes needed to be eureka-inducing, conversations needed to be electric, books needed to be transcendent.

In the same way, I’d fallen victim to this mindset when drafting this column, initially attempting to paint an ordinary week with some gaudy coat of significance. In that draining process, I’d overlooked the power of the quieter moments: the time spent with friends, the games of basketball, the adventures of “The West Wing.” After my fruitless struggle, I realized that we don’t always need the epic and the sexy and the column-worthy. The quieter moments are more than enough. 

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