The Blank Page


Life is a succession of transitions.  No great secret of the universe, I know: an election determines Barak Obama to be U.S. President, you move into a new apartment, Bob Dylan goes electric – sunrise, sunset.  At the brink of each new frontier, searching for our place between moving forward and turning back, we stare long into the abyss.  Some folks see their future as a successful medical doctor or teacher or engineer; but what does the writer see?  A great “Inky Black” of nothingness?  A world of typewriter ribbon (where available), pencil shavings, and a callused thumb-and-forefinger?  Paper cuts?  Rejection letters?  Or, (har-har) a paycheck??

I see the blank page.  Always a blank page.

To many, the blank page is tantamount to a red brick wall, but to me it means promise, potential, adventure.  It leaves room for the loops and swoops of handwriting; or maybe it leaves itself open for art – a skyscape, a portrait, a charcoal rubbing, or even lyrics.  It is a symbol of clarity – a pulpy reminder of the “Om” – a place to meditate.  Sometimes I find myself liking the blank page too much – the blanker the better – and I get swallowed up by the idea that anything can be there but nothing is.  If anything, it is a place that isn’t my apartment, a place locked high and away from the rain (and sun) down in the street.
But that’s dangerous thinking.

Or is it?

Recently, my apartment has not had that “magic” that writer’s try to keep locked in.  You know what I mean.  Most writers have an office, a kitchen table, or at least a strip of wood that they drop on their laps, turn to their fans (or, if starting out, loved ones) and say “this is where the magic happens.”  Norman Mailer worked in his Provincetown attic, Hemingway had two desks (one for standing and writing, the other for sitting and writing) above his Key West garage, and all poets corner themselves in coffee shops or strip clubs.  Until recently, I had such a place at home: a humble desk made too long ago by someone I’ll never meet.  At this modest facility I composed my play, Quiet Cowboy, and hatched countless one-acts of varying oddity and length.

One day, inexplicably, it vanished.  Not the desk, of course, but the “juju,” the “mojo,” the “great flash of fire” – it’s as if my imagination went up like a match to tissue paper and the little puff of smoke in the aftermath took the shape of a skull and laughed – nay, cackled! – before dissipating into the ether.  The apartment, not the paper, became my new brick wall.  Not one to be discouraged, I kept at it, diligently putting words down on that consistently blank page, learning again to hate each forced letter, phrase, and phony exchange of dialogue.  I would read my so-called progress and balk nightly.  Well, I thought, so much for that MFA.

But then came vacation.  I wasn’t going anywhere, but a close group of creative friends decided on a week-long jaunt to LBI.  My good friend (and publisher/designer/writer/hula-hooper-extraordinare) Jen asked if I could watch the family bird … at my house.  I agreed cheerily, and he soon arrived (chirpily) in his very own travel cage.  His name was Bananafish, and his passion was to peep, toot, whistle, and chat away in my loft.  At first, he seemed put off by this, an unwelcome transition.  But we soon watched movies together (Bananafish likes Red River with Monty Clift and John Wayne), enjoyed spinning a few records (like me, his appreciation of John Prine and Tom Waits is boundless), and basked in each other’s appreciative company.  Before long, we were making music together – I played at the guitar, bongos, and toy accordion with all of my heart (and skill, of which I have less than I do heart) while Bananafish found joy as an accompanist.  I whistled tunes like “I’m Lookin’ Over a Four-Leaf Clover” and the theme song to The Great Escape, and when he didn’t look puzzled, the good ol’ B-fish (as he came to be known) would sing out a reply.  We greeted each other each morning, and as I came home each night his chirps called to me from down the hall.

In a matter of two or three days it struck me: the musicality, the magic of my apartment at large, was back.  There were songs and stories in the rhythmic “beep, beep, beep” of the microwave, in the scraping of plates, at the running of water, and with the wind rushing through trees outside my window.  I could write at the old, anonymously-built desk again.  In all, I found my muse again thanks to an animal companion.  And although the little critter is back at Jen’s (likely chirping up fugues like nobody’s business), I still have a compulsory whistle around the house.

Did Mailer’s poodle stir up tempest after tempest of novel-writing?  And how about Hemingway with his infamous cats – could they have helped him recreate war, big-game hunting, and fishing with the elderly?
Meanwhile, I sit and sing and stare at the blank page.

And look at how it fills up.

5 Responses to “The Blank Page”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Wonderful entry. Matt. The page fills a note at a time, a loop at a time. Mailer had a poodle? E.B. White had dachshunds. Just whistled one of your songs to the B-Fish and he danced.

    • matthewhinton Says:

      Thanks, Jen. Yes, Mailer had a black poodle named Tibeaux (Tibo), short for Tiberious. He once got into a fistfight on a NYC street when a pair of sailors made fun of Tibo during a regular walk – they called him a “bad word”. Mailer handed the leash to another sailor, and went in swinging … he recieved a pretty severe eye injury from that scuffle; no word on who won, though. Glad the B-Fish is still dancin’.

  2. Patricia Florio Says:

    Hi Matt,
    I wanted to say congrats on the site, and comment a bit on what you’ve written.

    My son Jude rescued a dog named Daisy from the North East Animal League. We haven’t had a dog around the house in a good many years. But we did lose Sasha, our Egyptian Mau, in January 2010, almost making it to seventeen years. Towards the end you just wanted to see her in peace, although I never wanted to let her go.

    I write memoirs. I’m not suggesting to you that that’s a bad thing. Lots of good writing material comes out of an Italian family like mine. But ever since Daisy has been around, there’s an animal muse getting inside my head, pointing me toward humor — and I believe I’ve come up with a wonderful — wel, I think it’s wonderful — called “Daisy the Dog Whore.” If you’d like some day I’ll share it on your blog.

  3. Juanita Says:

    Maybe it helped that your muse was not just ANY animal companion, Mr. Hinton, but one imbued with the heartbreaking magic of Salinger’s iconic story…

    Nice work, dear.

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