Write Something. Do It. (Writer’s Block: Hemingway’s Cats and Cleopatra’s Nose)

By Michelle Railey

You remember what it was to write. You can’t do it anymore, God knows, but still. You remember the feeling your fingers made, the clicks of the keyboard, before that the flow of the pen and the rapid turnover of loose-leaf. Writer’s cramp. You remember getting it all out, there, in the space in front of you. Because you had to. There was no other choice.

And, still, you know what it is to spend every day in lists, ideas, and memories. The way Dickinson’s “certain slant of light” can meet Hemingway’s “clean, well-lighted place” and how they both can bounce off Abbot Suger’s perfect ethereal blue. Memory, atmosphere: all so evocative. And you have a million slants of light in your head, begging to be recounted, to be spun into statements on the world, or life, or what it is to be a human living now.Your fingers stutter on the keyboard.

What’s a pen?

I’m out of milk, coffee, and toilet paper. I should get some.

And the bills that need paid are…

Upcoming birthdays…

Work, work, work.

More things come to mind: a précis of the politics of the week. A book review. The fact that X restaurant charges too much, has nice lighting, big tables, and mediocre drinks. President Trump’s tweets. The proper way to line one’s eyes after 40.

Should my tires be rotated?

Is there a God?

What the actual fuck, Syria and Myanmar?

The fingers type, there are words. Is it writing? No, of course not.

You, again, try: you blink hard. You dump the past into your hand like Yahtzee dice. You exhume the most painful moments you can endure to relive, asking yourself “what was the point?”

You imagine being Jeanne d’Evreux reading her famed Book of Hours: was it really all a ploy to make her more fertile?

(Write something. Do it.)

I can’t.

The time your brakes broke on a major highway and it was raining. The time you drank too much and looked at twinkle lights wound on a fake ficus tree and thought it was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. The stories of Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Persephone. Hell, rewrite The Theogony.

Annotate Trump’s tweets.

(Write something. Do it.)

I can’t.

I kept journals, endless streams of interior, vain, small, and pitiful but voluminous journals. For years. I dumped all of them (ten year’s worth) in a dumpster in a bad apartment complex where used condoms and fast food containers vied for space near my clean car’s tires. Gone now, the worries of a 12-year-old, a 16-year-old, an 18-year-old, a 22, 25, 29-year-old.

All for the best, but…writer’s block speaks…was there anything there? (Ask the landfill.)

The lists, the thoughts, the way you love a fire in the night, the news today, the loves you had, the bar at which Hemingway wrote and at which you sat (Petoskey), the ornate Victorian wood…

“Writing is architecture. And the Baroque is over, ” Hemingway once wrote his mom.

(Write something. Do it. )

I can’t.

Hemingway’s cats have five toes. In Key West. That’s a thing.

(Write something.)

“If Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter, the whole face of the world would have changed.” (Pascal). But Pascal had only the coins to go on and the coin-engraved representations of Cleopatra would have been engineered to capitalize on anything Ptolemaic, including the nose.

(Write something. Do it.)

You think of the Zelda biography and Alexander McKaig’s description of the conversation between the Fitzgeralds and he: what is more truthful, a photograph of a woman with a large nose or a portrait that minimizes it but captures her personality?

Cleopatra’s nose. What is truth? What is beauty? And why do we care?

(Write something. Do it.)

I can’t.

The sound of rain on the roof of a pop-up camper, canvas, you were seven. What it is to be “saved” by your grandma in the kitchen when you’re 14 but doubt it before you’ve left the house? Why people suffer, what love is, the smell of kitten paws.

(Write something. Do it.)



“We seek in vain to convey to others the treasures of our heart but we have not the power to express them, and so we go lonely.” (Maugham)

Write something.

Do it.

Hemingway’s cats in Florida have five toes.

One of these days, the words will come.

Write something. Do it.

There’s a note, that when played, hurts my soul in the most beautiful way.

Write something.

We only live once. How do we make it matter?

It’s a lot of pressure for words.

(Write something.)


Because language is what we have.

We seek in vain…


Type fast. The keys click. Write something. Do it. I can’t. Write Something. It’s what we have.


It’s what we have.


Write Something. Do It.

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