It's Wednesday. The day of the new chapter. I just started a fire in the fireplace because I'm sure it will inspire me to write. Isn't that what happens in movies? Flames flicker as memories are unearthed; dreams, revealed; writer's block, unblocked. So romantic a notion, if you're Cate Blanchett.
All I want to do in front of the fire is sleep, or stare into space, or fluff pillows on my couch, or sweep up the embers that occasionally pop outside the fireplace screen, or fan the flames, or reposition the logs with my iron poker, or wipe down the mantel so it is free of soot, or eat a pound of 80 percent dark chocolate as the wood smoulders and the sparks fly. That's what a fire in the fireplace makes me want to do: clean, sleep, eat, organize. Here's what it doesn't make me want to do: write.
Sh*t, f*ck, c*ck, p*usy, d*cklicker. Sure, judge me and my choice of words. And then you try to write a book. I have nothing important to say. That's the first thought that pops into my mind. Everyone has said whatever I want to say better than I could say it, even if they have never thought it. I'm a performer. I need an audience. In the moment, right here and right now. When I write a funny line, I want to hear applause. Without it, I am crippled. How can I write a book when each word I write I have to say out loud, pause, imagine a response, acknowledge the response in my mind, gesture to the imaginary audience with appreciation, and then write the next sentence? This book is going to take years. And I'm already a senior citizen.
I now understand the notion of a muse. All the great painters have had muses, nude ethereal models that have been the source of the artists' inspiration whenever they begin to doubt themselves. That's not the kind of muse I need — a penis hanging between the legs of a beautiful Abercrombie & Fitch boy will not motivate me to create. What I need is a laugh track piped into my office. Surround sound of whoops and cheers and cackles. Years ago, in my twenties in Toronto, I volunteered to read books for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The book I was assigned was the weighty novel "The Brothers Karamazov." I had to read for five hours at a time, in a small, windowless, soundproof room. There was a mic, a table, the book and a chair. There was no interaction from any human being with the exception of a disembodied voice as I entered the room. "Andrea, we're recording," and then five hours later, the same disembodied voice, "Andrea, that's it for today." In between those two lines of communication was five hours of solitary confinement.
Here's what happened to me during the course of reading the 600-page book. As soon as the door of the studio was closed shut and I found myself alone, staring at the print on the page, my entire upper lip slowly became numb. As soon as I started reading the first paragraph, I felt my upper lip falling asleep, as your arm does if you are lying on it for hours. Just dead weight. My lip dead weight as I pronounced all the Karamazov brothers' names. The good people at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind never commented on my sloppy articulation.
Fortunately, my upper-lip paralysis has never happened since. There's a reason for that. Now when I record anything, whether it be commercials, books on tape, or animation, there are glass windows in the studios, and I can see the bobbing head of the director or technician and these visible reactions are all I need to ensure that my upper lip stays mobile and lubed.
Here's why I believe I was stricken with an immovable upper lip when I read in that windowless, soundproof room, trying to bring the book and characters to life: There was no one cheering me on. I was alone, in my head, with no distractions. And that is not a pretty place to be. My mind, a gridlock of self-doubt, is so powerful that it anaesthetized the very tool I needed to create.
I am certain that my success as an improviser with Second City came from the fact that there was no time for second-guessing as I performed on stage. Thoughts and ideas came into my head, I said them, there was a reaction from the audience, and the audience's instant validation encouraged my free-floating spontaneity.
I have given real thought to the idea of hiring a young man who loves to laugh, who is a fan, who thinks I'm funny, and have him sit on my couch in my living room as I stand and pace improvising in the moment — delicious dialogue, hysterically funny and uninhibited ideas, free of self-doubt. He records my every word and then he transcribes what I say and, voilà, a book is written. I might do it. But now I'm alone in my office in my little home in Toronto. I see the occasional squirrel and the occasional duck outside my window. I wish they understood English. And were fans. Think of how much I would have written today. A menagerie of animals cheering me on. Wait, isn't that what kept Snow White working away as she waited for the Seven Dwarfs to come home for lunch? Skunks and birds and bunnies outside her kitchen window kept her company, encouraged her as she swept the floor in her cottage and sang in her sugary-sweet soprano. Her animal muses inspired her as she prepared stew for Dopey and Sleepy and Happy. They made her believe that her Prince Would Come. Snow White didn't have alone time to second-guess. If she had given any thought about the trappings of her life, a confined life rivalled only by that of the 78 wives of Warren Jeffs, she would have been out of there in a heartbeat. Her muses kept her focused on the task at hand. How do I keep the Johnnie Walker away from Dopey? she might have queried. Or, What am I doing slaving away for seven irritating, overly sexed three-foot-tall men? Shouldn't I get overtime? And I wish everyone would stop calling me Snow White. I'm not so pure. I have really dark thoughts. For one, I hate Happy. F*ck Happy. No one can be that happy all the time. I am going to put rat poison in Happy's porridge and then there will only be six dwarfs and more room for me on the tiny f*cking bed.
But Stinky the Skunk and Binky the Bunny made sure that Snow White would not fall down the hellhole of despair. Stinky kept Snow White singing and sweeping and delighting in the fact that she was the matriarch in a home consisting of seven grateful misfits. And over the years, we have benefited from her muses. We have read her story and believe that our prince will come one day also. It took a village of animals and dwarfs to get Snow White's message across. An appreciative audience egging her on.
Now I feel better. I thought I was alone in my need to have a cheering section. I'm going to stop comparing myself to Margaret Atwood. She's an amazing writer, but I'm better on television. We all have unique gifts. And we all have to do whatever it takes to make them materialize.
I'm going to have a nap now, in front of the fire. But when I wake up, I'm calling this young kid I know, who in fact looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, and I'll pay him to strip and laugh as I dictate my book to him. I'm looking forward to completing a chapter and hearing my muse's laughter and staring for a long time at his penis. I'll do whatever it takes to complete this f*cking book.