Why I Don't Write More Often (An Apology)

by Calvin Roberts


I had not written in a long while because this place inspires a magnificent laziness to which I succumb easily and without a fight. Days come and go, so the calendar says, neither short nor long, slow nor fast. They just are, and then they were, and a week has passed before you know it, and then a month (can you believe it?), and then a year (yes, I can).

The other day a postcard fell out of one of my books, a collage of photographs showing some nice, old buildings and bridges around Budapest. The postmark is smudged so I have no idea when the postcard was mailed or has arrived. You urge me to "write again soon," but I am sure that I haven't. Inexplicably, a mild enthusiasm overtakes me, so I dab a smidgen of toothpaste on the back of the postcard and stick it to the door of my locker, as a reminder to write. That was about three months ago, but today, I think, I am ready to give it a try.

It takes me about ten minutes to find a sheet of paper which now faces me defiantly, its white expanse the size of a shopping mall's parking lot. The pen, as long as a lance, and just as unwieldy, was hiding even better than the paper, and is unwilling to yield ink without being strangled.

In the library just across the yard - and three countries away - there are typewriters available, boulders as weighty as anvils, their keys unworkable without a heavy hammer, but eager to jam or chew up the ribbon at any moment.

Don't worry, I am not giving up, not yet, but let me tell you that the table and attached chair are made of steel, commissioned, I am sure, with concealed torture in mind, and designed by a sadomasochist.

My cubicle-mate's breathing roars like a pair of blacksmith's bellows applied, and he turns pages of his book with such a mighty snap that it is a miracle that they don't break free and fly away.

Air-conditioning drones endlessly. The air is so cold that if this place wasn't so thoroughly desiccated there would be frost all over it. It is not easy to write with one's gloves on.

PA system is cranked up to the point of distortion, announcements are rendered unintelligible and, consequently, must be repeated until they are eventually deciphered.

And the light - don't get me started on the light. Early sagas have been inscribed on the reindeer's skin under better illumination.

Notwithstanding the preceding catalog of vexing impediments which would surely dissuade a weaker spirit, I discover myself, finally, ready to write this cursed letter. No! I find myself hell-bent on composing a small masterpiece of personal correspondence; a dispatch possessed of power to atone for the eons of my silence; an epistle of uncommon beauty which you will treasure, and read again and again.

Unfortunately, I encounter yet another difficulty, although I hope not an insurmountable one. Namely, what in the world should I write about? Life in a Federal Camp is not exactly a cornucopia of amusing tales begging to be told.

Should I write about the long hours I spend contemplating the crushing banality and intoxicating boredom of my existence?

How about a paragraph or two of existential meditations on the deficiencies of the company I suffer in this overcrowded cenobitic community?

Maybe a page on the subject of my living quarters in this warehouse, which I share with hundreds of others, our commitments adding up to centuries, if not millennia?

A short essay on food and the perverted talent of those who can come up with a dozen names for a combination of ground turkey, rice, beans, tortillas, and jalapeno peppers? Or a somewhat longer essay concerning the things I lack, miss, wish for, need, want...? (Its title - "My Life: An Orgy of Deprivations")

The weather? You did say that I can write about anything, even the weather. Well, what about it? It is hot and dry, or it is wet and cold. Or foggy. Or windy. Sometimes all of the above in one day. Remember that old saying that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it? This climate change phenomenon gives it a nice twist - apparently, we all do something about the weather but hardly anybody wants to talk about it.

It is obvious that writing subjects are actually in great abundance, but most of them are of sensitive nature and could easily lead into tiresome tirades or, worse, lengthy diatribes laced with profanities. Not to mention the ever-present danger of slipping into incoherent ramble. Therefore, they are best left unexplored.

Besides, getting all of this stuff out of my head and onto the page is an endeavor tantamount to an extraction of a particularly stubborn wisdom tooth.

Also, a tricky business of arranging my scattered thoughts into comprehensible and grammatically acceptable sentences has to be carefully considered, and painstakingly carried through.

And, on top of that, my atrocious spelling should not be underestimated, and must be remedied with painfully frequent, and sometimes embarrassing, consultations with my Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus. The blasted book, as cumbersome as the previously mentioned typewriters, mocks me by listing words sometimes pages away from where I think they should be. I get trapped in it like the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. Will I be vanquished by the Thesaurus? (Gave myself a good chuckle with that witty nugget based on Greek mythology.)

Well, I can just imagine the sighs and groans, the rolling of the eyes, the oaths. I forgive you for thinking that this is yet another elaborately crafted excuse for not writing. But, I promise you, I will try again, and, one of these days, you will receive a proper letter. If the Post Office doesn't lose it.


Calvin Roberts