Writing used to come so easy to me; stories, jokes, poetry, it didn’t matter. I could sit down with a blank piece of paper, no particular idea in mind, and in a half hour or an hour have something I liked on the page before me.
Those days seem like another lifetime now. I still have ideas swimming around my mind, but can’t seem to get a hook on one. Every time I try, it seems to slip away before I can reel it in.
I look in the mirror and it’s the same old me staring back. Only something seems to have changed.
I feel urgency now, knowing that at 55 the long part of the road is behind me and there’s no telling how much further along I can travel. The modest hills that confronted me in the past now seem to loom ever nearer, as the dark, impenetrable peaks that all men must cross one day.
As long as I can remember I have wanted to write. Nothing has made me so happy, made me feel as special as when I was hauling bucketfuls of words from the well of my imagination and creating something that would bring enjoyment to others.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’d have written even if I knew no one else would ever see a single word. To me, writing has always been as natural as breathing. It was something that I was born to do, that I could not have stopped if I wanted to.
And there were times I wanted to.
Sometimes people will tell me that they feel connected to my writing because it is raw and real. They say they can laugh alongside me, or feel the pain through my words.
Maybe each letter I put to paper was a teardrop from my life of anguish – both real and perceived.
There was never one thing that drove me to write. Sometimes it came because I felt like I would burst if I didn’t bare my soul, or I had a need to confront one of the many injustices of the world.
One person might stumble upon some authority figure doing wrong and walk away, shaking their head. That’s just how things work, they might lament.
I have never been able to see injustice without calling it out. Sometimes I have made a difference; more often than not I have regretted the inability to turn a blind eye to blatant wrongdoing. I have spoken what I saw as the truth even when I knew I would pay a cost.
Like the time I turned my back on a nationally syndicated newspaper column that appeared in nearly 90 newspapers. I agreed to write it, with the stipulation that I could write about any issue – and not be pigeon-holed into commenting only on American Indian topics.
Of course I soon discovered that my column wouldn’t run unless it was about an “Indian” issue – casinos or powwows.
To me, it was simple. The editors violated our agreement. I wrestled with that dilemma for about a month. I knew that if I spoke up, I’d probably never get the chance to write a syndicated column again.
But I also knew that I had to look myself in the mirror, and I have never been comfortable being used as someone’s toy.
I wrote my editors a letter, telling them they needed to look somewhere else for an “Uncle Tomahawk.”
The line amused me, but not them so much. I lost my syndicated column. That was nearly 20 years ago, and no similar offer has come my way since.
Sometimes writing has been the bane of my existence.
However, for most of my life it has been the salve to caress the heartbreak in my soul.
The heartbreak now is that I know something is different. I sit before my computer screen these days and sometimes the words won’t come forth.
The creativity that once flowed through my veins like a mighty river now drips reluctantly from my thoughts like the last, lonely drops from a turned-off garden hose.
And I find myself wondering if I can ever get back to that place where once I lived. That sacred world when I had more words than time, where I still thought that – through my writing – I could, for a moment, at least, lift some of the suffering from the shoulders of the world.
Or has that time passed me by? Does the idea of my own mortality weigh too heavily on my mind? Can it be that I fear to start a new project, because maybe I will not have the time to see it through?
Is old age the one foe I know I can’t challenge with mere words?
I feel old today. Maybe tomorrow will be different. At least I can hope. John Barrymore once said that a man doesn’t grow old until his dreams are replaced by regrets.
I have the regrets, so I can only hope that new dreams may yet awaken within me.