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Writing, she decided, was like driving.
You enter a small town and behind, beside and ahead of you, a rich landscape unfolds. As you travel deeper into this world, you recognize patterns, celebrate diversity. This finally feels like life. Words flow as easily from your brain as miles slide beneath the tyres of your car. All your hard-won skills become swift and logical action: selecting the gears, steering the story. You place people in your village. For some, you slow and make a careful observation; others are dismissed with a glance. Stare at the front of a house, shop or factory and it will swing around like a billboard, offering the often grubby secrets of each room. Perhaps you wind through intriguing avenues or never turn from Main Street. With greater confidence, you tread on the accelerator and rush ahead faster and faster, the breeze from your car's open windows becomes a biting wind, tears squeezed from your eyes.
Then you flash past the last town sign. It mockingly advises you to drive safely and invites you to visit again. As if there's anything you can do to return!
Then suddenly you're out in the vast, bleak landscape of normal life. A country where most travel only in the transport of another's imagination. A land that flattens and dries.
Sometimes you think you glimpse something. Is that the emerging village of a story, water plunging over a cataract as a poem, perhaps the looming mountain of a novel? No, just a nebulous dream fading into the desert's pale air. Nothing for hour after dreary hour, day and night, week after week, months, years, perhaps forever.
It's the old problem. Clenching fear behind each writer's eager boast. Skull behind the smirking success.
All the bravado comes to this. The empty page. Writer's block. Nothing is in your control. A little ecstasy to hook you, then the shuddering withdrawal. Oh, but the drug of words, the mainline pumping excitement of it all!
That's the cruelty of writing. To reach a place you can never stay.
As lonely as death. When Shakespeare wrote his last play. When Eliot finished his verse and returned to his pinstriped bank ledger. When Wallace Stevens turned from the anarchic Emperor of Icecream to a stodgy Board of insurance directors and Kafka and Cavafy resumed clerical duties, one for the empire of Franz Joseph, the other the Egyptian Water Board. The laying down of the pen. Dying of a brilliant light.
It was odd. Even now, the words didn't feel like hers. More like the work of an eager, talented and slightly absurd younger sister. She recognized themes, distinctive phrases: once fierce obsessions that now scarcely raised an indulgent smile.
Her words had scampered off into the world. Some combinations were welcomed. Others were attacked. Most sank unobserved into a great sea of thought fed by a million tributaries.
Once, she told herself, I walked as a greater version of myself: lodged in a finer place.
Now, the challenge was to uncomplainingly accept her shrunken role.
A widow mourning her loss.