My Best Sneeze
When days go by, and I don’t have the chance to sit down and write, my brain starts to cramp up, a creative Charley horse that bunches up right behind my eyes. It makes me cranky, and the longer I go without putting pen to paper, the more short-tempered I become, however hard I try to hide it. For a long time, I didn’t realize it was this word constipation that was causing the problem — I thought it was a side effect of my chemical imbalance, or too much sugar, or a subconscious dissatisfaction with some aspect of my life. But no. It’s simply that my need to write is like the build up of a massive sneeze; first it tickles way back in my head, and that part is almost pleasurable, but then it swells until it’s all I can think of, and I’m looking up at the sun, looking under the lamp shade, doing whatever I can to bring it to the surface and expel it, but I just can’t get there, and then it suddenly departs and leaves behind a serious let down I can feel deep down inside my face because I’ve got all these words, just crowding together and taking up space, and it’s because I’m always writing. I never stop writing, whether the words ever make it on to a page or not.
I write about the way the curtains always have a three inch gap, and the way the streetlight shines in through it, laying a perfect rectangle of light across the bed at night, how it falls across his hand and his freckles and the way they glow, how it makes my breath catch a little in the back of my throat because it looks just like love.
I write about the desert floor of my grandfather’s face, the faded blue sky of his eyes, the way the years have made him smaller, and how big I feel beside him now, a monolith looming over a single pebble, how we occupy the same space but rarely touch and the way he used to let me lie beside him as a child, when I would stretch out in the shadow of him and sleep under the ledge of his protection.
I write about the way the winter sun bathes the world in a soft pink light in the morning before anyone else is awake, how this acre of land is sewn into my bones, the treeline as familiar as my face in the mirror, holding me here like a hand on my chest, a hand pressed over my heart.
I write about the way we ride through town, a cold rain creeping up the windows, a cold fog waiting in the wings, and the hawk that sits on the power lines running alongside the highway, the way we turn the music up too loud and sing along, making up words when we don’t know them, how the swell of my voice pushing past my tongue feels like communion, how it hangs in the air like holiness.
I write about the way things get stuck in my head, how I constantly have strange words and phrases and names clanging around in the spaces that echo back on themselves, how I go to sleep thinking amygdala and wake up thinking Bonnie Bedelia and carry onomatopoeia with me as I eat breakfast and do the laundry, the way they press against my ears from the inside out until I have to hold my nose and shut my mouth and breathe out hard to disperse them.
I write about the way they grow like trees, how he’s an oak and his strength stretches up toward the sun, big branches you can climb up, hang swings on, his feet pressing into dirt that smells like rain, how she’s a willow, a delicate dancer on music masked as wind, bent at the waist with her hair in the water, and their limbs are a tangle of wonder and pain and tiny green buds that dream of summer storms.
I write about the words of others, how they wrap me up in a live wire of inspiration, electricity running in between my fingers, gratitude like lightning, how in a stranger’s world you can feel you’re home, slip off your shoes and curl up on their sofa, how in front of their fire you can throw a match on the embers of your own dying dreams and warm your hands with their reignition.
I write. I write. Everything is a story, everything deserves to have its tale told, in one sentence or five hundred pages. I believe some people write because it’s pleasurable to them — it’s an easy flow from pen to paper, from heart to keyboard, a mid-meditation exhalation — and when they have something to say, they simply say it, write it, type it, jot it down in a notebook with bent corners and coffee stains. But for some of us, it’s as involuntary as a breath, as a shiver, as a sneeze; words wind their way up the strands of our DNA, adverbs and nouns and metaphors encoded there, spirals of things to say and ways to say them, a hereditary code of storytelling. If I don’t write, I don’t feel real — writing is the sequence that makes sense of my life, that offers perspective, hands me relief.
Writing is my best sneeze.