I was once tempted by a $24.99 coffee mug which said, “I Write Because Punching People is Frowned Upon.” That’s not really why I have a stack of “MARY BETH ELLIS, FREELANCE WRITER” business cards I’m too ashamed to hand out to actual people. It’s one of the reasons, but not the encompassing one; if I wrote solely to avoid punching, I would have a trail of commas and adjectives from here to the International Space Station.
I write because I cannot add in my head, because peas make me throw up, because I would like to own a hedgehog someday, because I don’t know how to tell my nephews that I would lay down my own life for them and so I pet their heads instead, because the current state of country music makes me angry in ways I cannot yet express, because I will never ever properly fold a fitted sheet, because people are shot while attending church services, because I once saw a flame-colored mountain flower stubbornly sticking its head out of the nothingness of a forest fire’s aftermath, because I hated the way my hair turned out on my wedding day, because my students’ writing terrifies me, and because my own writing terrifies me even more.
But, mostly, because I hope. Every time I sit down to another empty document, I hope I will fill it with something which is at least better than the nothing already there.
There is a reason why the finest sportswriting surrounds baseball and horse racing and no other: Both hinge on hope, more than brute strength, more than luck. A postseason from which one’s team is eliminated is, technically, nothing. But it’s also not nothing; it’s an offseason, already the beginning of the next.
Sometimes I scrawl through journal pages when I can make myself get the notebook open, but my handwriting is little more than wavy lines, tangled at the bottom and nearly flat on the top.
Recently, one of my friends gave me a life-size refrigerator sticker of Han Solo frozen in carbonite. The concept is indeed hilarious. I shrieked and thanked him and we hugged and as soon as he left I mailed it to someone else, because I knew that every time I pulled the silver handle in search of some leftover meatloaf, I’d come face to face with the current state of my career. It’s dead but not dead, the Schrodinger’s cat of writing states. Such are the 2017 Reds.
People tumbling over cliffs don’t concern themselves with whether it’s too late for the breakfast menu at Frisch’s; they’re wondering if they’ll survive the impact. They are having a midair moment, moving through nothing.
We are in midair at the moment. We have no idea of the state of the impact, come March. We may ponder, on the way down, why we fling ourselves over the cliff to begin with.
I think I know. And it has nothing to do with bobbleheads.