For me, writing only aims to do one thing. In theory, this thing is simple, but in practice, it's the sort of thing that, if left undone, has the power to annihilate a person–without really doing much at all. That thing, the thing behind every word I've ever scribbled down, every stray mark or rambling paragraph, is this: slaying the blank page. That's it. Any other perceived purpose is, at worst, coincidental or, at best, supplementary. When I open my laptop to write, before a finger even hits the keyboard, a fresh, throbbing pang of anxiety hits as I ask myself how, dear god, HOW can I slaughter this vile blankness? The dread is immediate. No matter the prompt, when an idea sprouts, I'm swallowed whole by an impossible, bone-rattling terror. At this moment my life's entire trajectory shifts, drastically and instantly. No longer able to give headspace to the triviality of basic human survival, my whole rasion d'etre becomes banishing that blankness before it banishes me. First and foremost, then, writing becomes a defense against that malevolent force whose sole purpose seems to be dismantling my mind, body, and soul.
So then why do you write...?
An excellent question with a very complicated, convoluted answer. Why bother with something that, as it stands, seems so violently against me? What do I have to gain?
Everything. But also nothing. I don't really know. By now, I've more or less gotten over the more horrid side-effects of my fear of the blank page. I've even grown to enjoy writing, for the most part, in all its madness. The relentlessly twisty, turvy road I took to get here is messy, but in spite of this, I write.
I can pin this anxiety on my kindergarten year. My class was the first in a slew of experiments conducted by my elementary school to test the viability and effectiveness of a full-day kindergarten class. At a time when the majority of five-year-olds only saw school for two, maybe three hours a day, my classmates and I dawdled about our classroom for nearly twice that time. Our days brimmed with naps, recess, art-projects, and play-time, but with the extended school day, there was plenty of time to dig our fingers into the more academic subjects as well.
The administration saddled our teacher (the incredible Ms. Judy) with the responsibility of our experimental class for obvious reasons–her prowess as an elementary ed teacher was unmatched at Beacon Heights, her passion for enlightening the youth of Salt Lake City outshining the otherwise glistening, incredible faculty. Situated on the northern base of the Wasatch mountain range, Beacon Heights had become a sort of destination public school for the northwestern Salt Lake Valley. Pooling from a cluster of neighborhoods just south of the University of Utah, it served a diverse selection of children (for Utah's standards), many of whose parents taught, studied, or worked for the university. The administration always aimed to innovate, mostly an attempt to validate the public school system and prove that students didn't need wealth or privilege to go places in life. The students of Beacon heights were bright, goddamnit, and the passionate faculty was more than capable of herding these kids toward success.
As it happened, I was placed in the class chosen as the guinea pigs in their experiment to extend the kindergarten schoolday. Not one to back down from a challenge, Ms. Judy worked to push our class academically while still allowing us the unique pleasures of being five-year-old kids. Her talent lied not in her ability to grill kids to excel beyond their age but in acknowledging and uncovering the latent brilliance kids already possessed– brilliance adults were often too clueless to see themselves. We spent hours on craft projects that were seamlessly (almost deceptively) educational.
One of her crowning achievements, however, was the dedication of 30 minutes of our day to journaling. At a time when most other kids were still learning the basics of writing, she had us, #2 pencils in hand, contemplating our days, stringing together a narrative, formulating complete thoughts, and writing all that garbage down. She sat us down for this exercise daily– this wasn't another one of those month-long units promptly tossed aside when the newest teaching fad rolled around. On the first day of class, we were each given a writing folder filled with lined paper. These folders would be our companions for the rest of the year, so keeping them safe was a top priority. Once a day after lunch (strategically placed, when energy was still high but with the sugar buzz from the cafeteria food effectively burned off), we were prompted to open that puppy up, fill a page (a whole page!!), draw an accompanying picture, and turn it in for review at the end of the week. Mine was bright green (a color I loathed at the time) and, despite my belief that Ms. Judy could do no wrong, I hated that damn thing.
Writing Time loomed and lurked throughout my entire morning. As we sat at our adorable, kindergarten-sized mini-desks to write, the other students had no trouble plugging away at their notebooks. I, on the other hand, always spent the first moments of Writing Time skeptically scanning the room, taking note of the cacophony of bobbling pencil tips and my sharp-focused peers. What on earth are all these kids writing about? They were five years old, for goodness sake, what did they even have to say? Musings on who flirtatiously kicked whom on the playground? What color their lunch-potions came out to be after they mashed everything on their trays into one heaping mass? Whatever they were, those thoughts tumbled from them seamlessly, effortlessly.
But when I readied my pencil? Nothing.
More often than not, Ms. Judy would sweep by my desk and carefully place her hand on my shoulder. "Eyes on your paper," she'd whisper in my ear. Shutting my eyes, I would take a deep breath to steady myself. No matter how ingrained in my routine Writing Time became, the slow, searing sting seeping from my desperate scramble for words never lessened.
Gently, cautiously, I'd pull my gaze down to my folder. The empty page sat facing up to me. It peered into my wide brown eyes and taunted me with its sinister blankness. Fingers trembling, I would lower my pencil to the page. The graphite shrieked as my pencil marked the first letter. Bit by clumsy bit, I would slop together first a word, then a phrase, frantically scouring my brain for something. Centuries later, it felt, I'd have a sentence.
Everything started to blur after that.
By the end of Writing Time, I'd be gaping at the page in front of me. Now full of marks and edits, the impossibility of it all left me flabbergasted. Just as I questioned the fluidity of my classmates' writing at the beginning of the exercise, I pondered the mysterious origins of my words. These words sprung from near nothingness, appeared out of thin air. I must be a magician, I thought, and left it at that.
Throughout the rest of grade school and into high school, I received high marks on my writing. At this, I could only shrug. The conversation at parent-teacher conferences was always the same. "Addison's a bright student," Mrs. Rose, my sixth-grade teacher lauded (with the queenly stature of a witch-goddess–11 year old me was obsessed with her), "but he needs to push himself more–speak up in class, get his work in on time. He doesn't try as hard as he could." She slid writing assignments across her desk, citing my words as proof of (obviously mistaken) intellect, thoughtfulness, and creativity. "If he'd just express these thoughts in class..."
But she was confused; all my teachers were. My words weren't special; they couldn't be! They were gibberish–mere products of a mindless, half-assed improvisation, shining relics of my torturous relationship with pencil and paper. I had no idea where the words came from, only that they hurt like hell. Writing wasn't fun for me, wasn't something I could enjoy–and if I couldn't enjoy it, how on earth could I be good at it? Writing felt like more like a chronic case of psychological constipation, only without the luxuries of laxatives or a high-fiber diet. There was nothing I could do to assuage the head-splitting pressure writer's block presented me, save to write through it–but that process was vague and painful in its own right. I wasn't just going to take the praise, so I denied it ruthlessly. I built a wall around this perceived "talent" and refused to take pride in it.
For years I would resist the kind words of teachers, sinking further into the shadows of the classrooms when they advocated I stand out. But I didn't want to stand out, not for something like that. Rather than wearing me down or buttering me up, their backhanded praise only served to reinforce my protective shell. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that things began to change.
Against my better judgment, I signed up to take A.P. Literature. Knowing fully well the hefty amount of writing I'd be assigned (and the pain I'd endure as a result), I bit the bullet to look more impressive on college applications (which seems like such a silly motivation for anything, looking back). The summer before class started, we were assigned to read a couple of plays (Pygmalion and the Importance of Being Earnest, though that's hardly relevant to this story) and a tidy bundle of classic short stories. Of the ten or so stories assigned, only two left enough of an impression for me to recall writing this, six years later. The first was Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (which, like, duh) and the second was Ray Bradbury's "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains", which became the topic of the first essay I wrote for the class.
The story is written from the perspective of a futuristic, computerized home as it operates throughout the day. Bradbury walks the reader through what seems like any old morning. The house opens the day with an uncomfortably cheery, alarm: "Tick-tock, seven o'clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o'clock!" It beats on, preparing toast, eggs, bacon, coffee, and milk for breakfast, followed by the announcement of the date–August 4, 2026–and its accompanying calendar updates–an acquaintance's birthday, the anniversary of another, and notices that insurance, water, gas, and light bills are now payable.
From the first line, however, it's clear something is off. "In the living room the voice-clock sang... as if it were afraid nobody would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine! " The fully-automated dream home worked on, serving its absent master.
Early on, the house begins its cleaning routine. It gathers and washes the dishes until they sparkle. In a brutish yet vaguely fairytale-like manner, it unleashes an army of robotic mice to pick up and clean the home: "They thudded against chairs, whirling their mustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust." The disconnect between the fanciful luxury these amenities are meant to offer, and the ugly, mechanical method in which they do grows more evident with every paragraph.
As the story proceeds, images get darker, more dystopian–the family's bony, sore-covered dog whining to be let in, black outlines on the walls of children playing, and finally, the fiery destruction of the home as it warned "Help, help! Fire! Run, run!" to no one. By the story's end, it's assumed the family, along with the rest of the town of Allendale, California, has been decimated by nuclear fallout.
The story is dark and engaging, with grim hints of humor sprinkled throughout it. If you haven't read it, look it up. I think you'll find it interesting.
Anyway, that essay I wrote focused on how the use of personification throughout the story contributed to a more profound sense of connection to and sympathy for the house. Believe it or not, "August 2026" was one of the first assigned readings in school to spark something in me–which, looking back, irks me considering I was a full-blown senior in high school–so in preparing to write my paper, I was actually kind of excited.
My excitement was no immunity to all my pent up writing-anxiety, though. If anything, it made buckling down and committing words to paper harder. I wanted to do the work justice. My enthusiasm gave me a more pointed pressure to produce something good. I decided to dedicate a weekend to the effort, shutting out friends and family so I could get to work. The requirements for the paper were pretty standard–a four-to-six-page persuasive essay, double-spaced in MLA format–and the product of my weekend in isolation, I felt, barely matched those standards. My writing process was grueling. Settling for nothing less than perfection, I could spend an hour on a single sentence, feverishly writing and editing and rewriting it until, finally, I didn't hate it.
Though it still felt like grisly, do-it-yourself brain surgery, the sweet perks of the creative process and my excitement for "August 2026" became the discount anesthetics getting me through the procedure. I kept discovering these thrilling little joy-pockets while experimenting with vocabulary, sentence structure, style, and voice. Thesaurus.com and I became intimately acquainted that weekend as I browsed for colorful, 50-cent synonyms to replace the boring verbs and adjectives I'd been using. It never occurred to me that my words could convey more than just informational meaning–that by my hand, words could express feeling, create an atmosphere, and engage. It just didn't cross my mind.
Come Monday morning, I. was. beat. However, I'd just written the first work I didn't loathe, so overall things were pretty neutral. When the scores came back a few weeks later, I was bewildered and subsequently delighted by the news that I was one of just two students in all four of our school's AP Lit classes to get a perfect score. This success had been neither my intention nor my expectation, but that didn't keep me from dancing through the hallways– the graded essay in hand–the rest of the school day.
Pride, in the uplifting, non-narcissistic sense, wasn't something I effed with in those days. It wasn't that I dealt with cripplingly low self-esteem growing up (though I wasn't immune to that either–I was a child of the aughts, after all!), but I never supposed I was very special. Despite all the accolades from grown-ups, I never bothered to recognize whatever vague talent I did have. What I felt after getting that essay back was nothing short of euphoria, and something I had never really experienced before. I couldn't handle myself as I sat down to scan the marks and comments my grader left in the margins.
I could write with confidence that this was the turning point for me... but I'm not a liar, and that isn't my point. It was a turning point, sure–but one of the literal dozens, maybe even hundreds on my road toward wherever-the-hell I am now and wherever-the-hell-else I'm going. "Relentlessly twisty (and) turvy" were the words I used earlier in this very essay to describe it.
The pride instilled in me with the feedback from that first AP Lit essay convinced me that, sure, I might have a knack for writing. It suggested that I could find pleasure in it. But those feelings were vague and inconsistent. Writing still felt much like wrestling a wild boar. The blank page (along with the violent vacuum it created) continued to terrify me.
Hope, if nothing else, was the reward for my little run-in with positive self-regard. Writing didn't feel futile anymore. It would still be painful, but for once I felt could manage. I recognized the value in writing–my writing, in particular–for the first time, and that felt like enough.
The six years since that fateful A.P. Lit course have been bonkers. My relationship with writing has been in near-constant fluctuation. I finished my senior year, churning out modestly well-received literary essays that took far too long to write with too much energy expended. The brutality I subjected myself to was never quite proportional to the quality of the papers I wrote, but writing was starting to get fun, so I didn't care. My writing process grew much smoother in college, mostly thanks to the publications I wrote for–the school newspaper and the semi-satirical pseudo fashion blog I ran with my best friend–along with a handful of academic papers written for class. The newspaper was responsible for teaching me confidence, consistency, and efficiency; the blog allowed me to experiment with voice, style, structure, and subject; and the academic papers forced me to think critically and consider logic–something I'm still getting the hang of today.
Writing all those academic papers taught me what writing all those academic papers teaches anyone: critical thinking, organization, effective persuasion, and clarity. Except for an essay analyzing the feminist message of Beyonce's If I Were a Boy, none of these papers stand out to me, now, as particularly exceptional, but they got the job done and contributed, in their little ways, to the overcoming of my blank page anxiety. It was the school paper that helped clear my fear of the deadline, which, if you've written anything in your life, you'll understand to be one of the most blood-curdling fiends lurking behind what we refer to in modern times as writer's block.
Penning into the void becomes exponentially harder when presented with a time limit. It's the difference between the anxious intrinsic command FILL THIS SPACE! and its frantic cousin FILL THIS SPACE NOW!!! Being assigned multiple stories a week when accustomed to writing one paper every couple of months is a trial by fire, but effective nonetheless. I started out as a staff writer (though I would have told you fashion columnist) at the end of my sophomore year, working hard piecing together stories on the frilly, ultimately unimportant topics of clothing and personal style. I would muse on the meaning of a sweater, critique the collections of international designers, and provide guides to thrifting, vintage shopping, and sale sections. For the pop-culture issue one year, I famously drafted an op-ed defending Miss Piggy as the ultimate style icon. Though these stories lacked the kind of substance to move an audience, open meaningful conversation, or spark any real reflection, they were a lot of fun to write, and by the end of my reign, I was able to pop decent stories out with no trouble. Words no longer took months to find me, and I was able to assemble sentences as quickly as I thought them. It was, truly, a thrilling time.
My put-together, intelligent, hard-working, and overall professionally badass editor actively liked my work, for some reason, so when Student Media promoted her to Editor-in-Chief, I was first in line to take her place as head of the Arts Desk. That job was an eye-opener, let me tell you. Expanding responsibility for my work and my work alone to a desk of multiple other writers' work gave me the eyes of an editor that I sorely needed. With no sentimental attachment to my writers' work, I was able to snip, buff, and polish without the hesitation that stifled my writing thus far. In this daily practice, I learned to edit my words with the same breed of heartless detachment (ha!), which further aided the streamlining of my writing experience.
Transmogony, the pseudo-fashion blog I ran in college with my very best friend, was the last (and arguably the most significant) aid in getting over the weird thing I have with writing. Spurred from equal parts fascination with and disdain for the contemporary fashion industry, Transmogony was a half-mocking, half-honoring exploration of clothing, beauty, lifestyle and the relationships between these things and blogs and in social media.
Borrowing from one of my favorite words transmogrify (meaning "to change, especially in an exciting way") and Hesiod's Theogony (which, if you didn't randomly take a Classical Mythology class in college like me, is an epic poem outlining the histories, origins, and genealogies of the Greek Gods), the name "Transmogony" came to mean a "godly story of exciting change". With this (admittedly pretentious) title, Transmogony sought to make sense of all the wild transformations we continuously face as young adults (and humans of all ages) struggling with identity, finding our place, planning a career/future, navigating relationships/friendships, stabilizing our mental health, and the other little wild geese we try so goddamn hard (usually in vain) to catch.
Voice, more than anything, was my reward for the work I put into Transmogony. The project was for my enjoyment (gasp!), and that gave me the freedom to write what I pleased, when I pleased, how I pleased. Meandering essays on my inability to keep plant life alive, ode's to briefs over boxers, meditations on pizazz, sagas outlining my transformation from outspoken denim hater to denim aficionado–these were the types of stories I tackled at Transmogony. In this colorful echo-chamber of personal narrative, I furiously experimented with form, style, and substance. While these accounts varied in quality (I published a lot of garbage alongside those little golden nuggets) they each sparkled with a unique light and energy. I was never consistent in "keeping up" with the blog, but when I'd rediscover it every few months, I wrote without abandon. It was through Transmogony that I experienced that pure, immaculate joy writing can evoke–uninhibited by expectation or rules or any of that bullshit. Liberating doesn't even begin to describe it.
The crowd Transmogony garnered was modest but strangely devoted to the meager site. We didn't push our brand as much as we could have, didn't utilize social media nearly enough, but we were happy with what we made. The project petered out as my friend and I got older, busier, and more involved in the rest of our lives. Performing a fabricated version "adulthood" became more important to me than the thrill of self-expression, and so Transmogony fell by the wayside.
* * * *
So... is that it? Is that how I conquered the blank page?
I wish I could tell you my anxieties concerning writing have dissipated–that the blinking cursor on a blank screen no longer elicits a collapsed heart or an inverted stomach–but I just can't. I can only say this: writing hurts less and enchants more. I've been able to shrink my demon down, but by and large, it still thwarts me more frequently (and with more impact) than I'd like to admit.
Now, this little essay is stretching further than I planned. I'm rapidly losing patience with all of this extended narration, and, to put it more bluntly, I'm getting bored as HELL. To change pace, curtail the eventual tedium, and lay out the facts, I'm going to experiment and try something new. Without further ado, here's a third-person flash summary of the last two years of my life:
In short: Subject graduates college early/abandons editorial position at university newspaper to move to Portland to live with subject's partner, who has relocated up there. Not a good match. Mistakes made. The relationship falls apart. Meanwhile, no productive creative energy expended meaningfully. Existential crisis #1 hits as our subject realizes they discarded promising career trajectory for a doomed relationship. Additionally, the subject hasn't bothered to do the one thing they feel passionate about since peaceing out from university (esp. writing). The couple breaks up, subject moves home to Utah. Existential crisis #2 is ushered in by epiphany that all sense of happiness/positive self-esteem/love in subject's life was built on things entirely out of subject's control (i.e., doomed relationship). Anxiety, depression, and a load of other bad juju paint subject's life unrecognizably. Subject ignores creative impulses in order to focus on and fix some of the more fundamental issues in subject's life. Six months pass, astounding progress made. Subject discovers self-love, healthy coping mechanisms, heightened spirituality, etc. Some solace is found in obvious places for the subject–in creative projects such as remodeling childhood bedroom, crocheting, altering clothing, and so on. Finally comfortable/happy enough to enter the workforce again, the subject takes an office job at university previously attended. Subject plans to coast there while preparing to apply to graduate school. Existential crisis #3 (admittedly the least devastating to date) creeps in as subject is reminded, thanks to "exciting" university job, they loathe school and never want to go back. Fabricated life plan deflates. The subject is lost but stable. The subject still hardly writes, hasn't finished a piece in over a year. Subject yearns to feel the passion that comes from written self-expression once more. Idly checking the old blog, subject finds an error message where the home page once was. Realization hits that the subject forgot to update credit card info for host website, clearing entire domain of its content. A single tear drips down subject's face, immediately followed by this exclamation: "EUREKA!". The final piece to the puzzle of "glowing up" was sitting under subject's nose the entire time. The subject is pleased. The subject finds a new host website, gets to work.
And there you have it, folks.
With that, the true purpose of this delightfully long-winded, babbling essay finally comes to light: I'm bringing my blog back... whether you LIKE IT OR NOT.
[COULD JUST CUT the rest? Seems like a funny, jarring spot to stop!!]
So let's get down to business:
If you're familiar with the site, you'll notice things look a little different around here. Like, completely different. As in, rebuilt from scratch. On a competing host's server. With a two-and-a-half year buffer during which time I underwent the kind of staggering emotional, spiritual, intellectual, psychological, and aesthetic transformations typically seen in folklore (and if not that, the sort of fundamental changes in behavior and psyche you see in people who've managed to find a therapist they like, a coping mechanism that isn't toxic, or proper hydration). I've had a lot of fun rebuilding Transmogony's aesthetics, opting for a broad, incongruent, and expressive color palette of my favorite hues that somehow complement where they should compete. I redesigned the logo to match the jumbly, playful energy of the paint-splatter background, and I'm pretty proud of the outcome. I like the way Transmogony looks in this change, and I hope you do too.
So anyway, my time here is almost up (read: I'm bored and EAGER to start on my next essay) so I'll try and wrap this up as quickly as I can. This project is special to me, certainly, but in dealing almost exclusively with my self, I worry the subject matter won't translate well, that it will come off as blatant narcissism instead of something more helpful, applicable, or relatable to you. I fought with myself for weeks on whether or not working alone was the right move. I'm a private person, perpetually hesitating to expose any hint of vulnerability. That's why so much of what I've written is so pointedly superficial–directing attention to the outside to avoid what's going on inside. My last break-up was brutal for a myriad of reasons (most of them internal), but more than anything, it unmasked an incredibly ugly reality: I didn't love myself. Naturally, then, the last thing I wanted to write about was me. For a writer whose greatest (only?) strength is the personal narrative, this made even thinking about writing impossible for months.
Ultimately, however, I grew more comfortable with my computer screen through journaling. That's right! In the perpetual ironic twist that is my life, the inciting incident of my lifelong battle with writer's block is what eventually rescued me from this particularly menacing relapse twenty years later. Journaling opened up an entirely new playground for me to write in. Forging a space to discuss my feelings freely resulted in healthier communication and a stronger, happier relationship with myself. I've built myself back up from scratch, and I owe a lot of that to keeping a journal.
It was this wild period of personal uplifting that planted the seeds of Transmogony's reawakening. Naturally, then, this project is firmly tethered to the act of writing openly and candidly of the self. I hope you get that, and I hope you can find value in my shameless self-expression. Sharing these bits of myself has an obvious therapeutic advantage for me, but I wouldn't publicize them if I didn't think they'd at least have the potential to inspire you, too.
And with that, I think I'm pretty much done.
Now let's see where this experiment takes us...!