Seeking Inspiration

          I interrupted my self-imposed blogging schedule because I lost home internet service for a week. I posted a brief message of the forthcoming hiatus by taking my iPad to a public wi-fi place.

          Losing home internet for a while can hardly count among life’s tragedies, but its loss highlighted how much I use it. I am not an online game player or a browser, stalker, or contributor to chat rooms. Nevertheless, I use the internet many, many times throughout the day. Its loss disrupted my rhythms, and that included my rhythms of writing.

          As a student, as a lawyer, as a legal academic, and now as a blogger, I have written frequently, but the rhythms of my writing have varied. I grew up before computers and my childhood home did not have a typewriter. I did not learn to type until I taught myself out of necessity in college. Papers needed to be typed, and I could not afford to pay a typist. My parents gave me a typewriter—an extravagant gift for them. I bought a how-to-type manual and practiced on the Remington every day until I had achieved the barest modicum of proficiency. But the typing itself took such concentration that I found I could not compose on a keyboard. For years, I wrote a first draft in longhand using—I admit somewhat pretentiously–a purple-ink-filled fountain pen. I almost always got stains on my hand, but I was almost proud of the marks because they signified to me that I was a writer of some sort. I typed the second draft, and then via pen made additions and corrections to that draft and then typed it again, and so on. I wrote my first “book” this way—it was really a monograph about the military chaplaincy—and this rhythm continued for quite a while.

          Of course, the typewriter gave way to word processing, but even after Wordperfect was initially installed on my computer, I continued to write the first draft with a pen. I told myself that it made me careful because in inputting the second draft from a longhand version I had to consider every word that I had written, but I knew that this was inefficient. Eventually, however, from editing and rewriting on a computer, I found that I could compose directly on a keyboard, and the purple-inked-filled fountain pens have been consigned to stray drawers.

          Thus, a major rhythm of my writing changed, but another one did not. I have always been a drib-and-drab writer. I have read many times about what I think of as real writers who closet themselves somewhere and stay at their desk for four, six, or eight hours writing. I have never done that. I write until I complete a thought, or I get stuck as to what comes next—seldom more than a half hour and often less. I then distract myself with some other project hoping that the next writing thought will come. Often the distraction has been some household chore—cleaning dishes, snapping beans, raking leaves, brushing a stripper or varnish on wainscoting or an old desk. When I have been really stuck, I have taken walks, gone for a run, or played tennis. When I was writing my many unread law review articles, I would start writing at daybreak and be at the keyboard well after dark, but the composing would only come in those small spurts.

          I write about different things now than I did as a lawyer or an academic, but I still seldom write for an hour or even a half hour in an uninterrupted stretch. I almost never produce even a page in a sitting. A paragraph, maybe two, and then a break. The nature of the breaks, however, has changed from years ago. Increasingly, I turn to the internet for the interlude. I don’t play games online; I don’t search for YouTube videos. But I do go frequently to news websites because I continue to be a news junky.

I grew up in a household where I read two newspapers seven days a week as well as a weekly paper and various magazines. I have maintained that news-reading habit, but how I read the news has changed. Of course, in those dark ages before the internet, I would read a physical newspaper, the kind where the ink comes off and hands have to be washed after the reading. For a long time, I thought the only valid way to read the news was through a physical newspaper, but in the backwater where I started spending summers decades ago, it was difficult getting the New York Times or other big city newspaper, and I began to read the paper online. Since both the Times and my writing were on the same computer, I began to go frequently back and forth between them.

Since then internet news sources have proliferated. I now distract myself not just with the online paper but also with a New York Times briefing, a New York Times digest, news summaries from Axios and Skimm, and the websites of Politico, RealClearPolitics, FiveThirtyEight, and TalkingPointsMemo.

Of course, when I was deprived of the internet recently, these rhythms were interrupted, and I found it difficult to write, but the deprivation did more than disrupt writing patterns. It made me feel isolated, and that too made it harder to write. This blog does not have a theme other than stuff that interests me, which I hope on occasion interests some readers. I have no grand scheme other than to be original and not simply to repeat others. When I finish a piece, I await inspiration for something new, but those triggers come much more readily when I am having a myriad of experiences. Travel almost always opens my mind. A museum visit, a play, a movie may make me think new thoughts, but often the inspirations have been quite mundane—a sign in a shop window, an overheard conversation at an intersection or in a restaurant, a food display, a doctor’s visit. I only sometimes directly write about these things, but often one thing stimulates thoughts about other experiences or ideas that I want to write about—a snowfall today may make me think about snowballing as a kid; a comment about the electoral college may make me want to delve into the formation of the Constitution; passing a coffee shop may set me ruminating about my caffeine addiction.

Covid-19, however, has confined my life and blighted others. I have fewer experiences, big or small, than before the coronavirus, and it has been harder to write as a result. The loss of the internet may have bothered me at any time, but now it was added onto the socially distant life that had already made me feel isolated. The internet did come back, and it will be with me, but it made me think hard about when, if ever, we will be able to freely partake in the life that we had before the pandemic. It may be a long time before I will again have the life of regular large and small stimulations that I have enjoyed. It’s a depressing thought.

Emotional states—anger, nostalgia, feeling cute or pedagogical—have helped me to write. Feeling down has not. I need some inspirations. What should I write about?