I stand at the counter and ask for an Americano. I really want regular coffee but today the house coffee is Ethiopian. In fact, every day at this cafe the house coffee is Ethiopian. It is how I learned that I must order Americanos here. The woman asks the man who just came out of the kitchen where the au lait is on the screen. The big yellow square, he says. My wife has ordered a cafe au lait because she too does not like acidic coffee. We sometimes come to the cafe together to write. Most times I write and she gets distracted by the voices that surround us in the cafe. On most other writing days, which is to say days that I do writing, I am by myself.
I am presently in a Period of Gaps. In a Period of Gaps I go long stretches without any days in which I write. I have lost any sense of rhythm that serves to keep me producing. Most days during a Period of Gaps, even if I do go write, or stay in and write, the writing session bears almost no fruit. I write a sentence, a few, maybe a paragraph, or even a page of nothing that will inspire my future self, nothing I will continue. I go on like this, longing for the days of writing past.
Here are some things I have figured out about my writing self:
• I cannot write a story in which I am writing towards something, like an idea or a scenario. The knowledge of what I am writing towards crushes all sense of wonder.
• If I write one page in my notebook I feel I have had a successful writing session.
• I can leave certain tasks to my future writing self. I notate these in my notebook with carets, wiggly underlines, blank spaces for future vocabulary, and marginalia.
• If I am in a Period of Gaps I need to continue until the period concludes.
• A Period of Gaps always concludes.
• The fear of a Period of Gaps sometimes summons a Period of Gaps.
• A given writing session lasts an hour or less. Rarely two hours.
• When I look up something on my phone during a writing session, the writing session has broken like the membrane of a hermetically sealed chamber. The session is over.
• When my wife is distracted by the voices that surround us, it is only a matter of time before I too am distracted. Then we are both distracted and the writing session is over.
I purchased a bicycle because we moved into a new apartment two months ago. In this new apartment there are four closets. Two of them can house at least half a bicycle. My bicycle can fold in half and, thus, fit into one of these two closets. This apartment is in a building too big for the road, which has mostly houses on it, but the neighborhood is filled with trees. I can ride to a park or to the cafe and have little fear of being struck and trampled by a vehicle. I come home from work and then ride my unfolded bicycle, having retrieved it from the closet, down our road to the humanist church-like meeting place, where I turn and head into town. Having secured my bike to the bus stop sign, I order an Americano and go upstairs and sit at the counter and stare at my locked-up unfolded bicycle through the broad windows of the cafe. I also open my notebook and re-read the last few pages to see if my past self has left me anything to work with. As I am in a Period of Gaps, the answer has mostly been no.
Right now my only hope is a story I began and abandoned about a man who is followed around by a group of bumble bees. I have crossed out the last two pages of it. It is halfway interesting until the last two pages. The next day I will attempt to bring it someplace new is this Friday. If I can find a way through the story I believe I will have ended my Period of Gaps. When this happens, I will not find reasons not to write. I will make excuses for the other things in my life to be put on hold instead of writing. I will enter a Writing Time. In a Writing Time I will write if not everyday then every other day. In a Writing Time I will lament for my past self who has endured Periods of Gaps and fear for my future self who will find himself in one. But then I will turn back to the notebook and find my spot that I might have held with my finger, place my pen near it, and keep going.
Brian Mihok is a writer, editor, and filmmaker. His work has appeared in Fast Company, The Disconnect, Vol 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. His novel, The Quantum Manual of Style, was released from Aqueous Books in 2013. He currently edits matchbook, an online literary magazine, and is associate editor at sunnyoutside. Find him at brianmihok.com.