The Internet was down. That’s like the beginning of a modern horror story. In a daze, I padded around the house in search of something to do. I had the urge to make the best and most noble use of my time. I’d do something smart! Something good for me! So I glanced across my bookshelf where a bunch of unfinished and unopened books sat. Same old ones. The bookshelf is where they go when there’s no hope left for them—or rather, me. Anyway, it was sort of like being hungry, looking in the pantry and only finding cans of spinach. And I wanted potato chips.
So I tried to get into a video game or two. Ah, Tetris, my old nemesis. Ah, Mario, you old dog. But wait, who talks like this? Why am I talking like this? Losing the Internet does things to the brain. I leafed through a magazine. I ate a banana. I checked the Internet again. Nothing. Damn.
I decided to sweep the steps outside. June has thickened into July, and the heat makes everything outside want to come in. As soon as I opened the door, an enormous spider charged the house. Like some kind of Beast War Transformer spider. I closed the door. I’d had enough of sweeping.
I remembered I had a tub of Legos. I’d found it at the thrift store. Four bucks for a tub filled with hundreds of pieces. It was a steal. Maybe I’d build something awesome. Maybe it would be my hidden talent. I’ve been searching for my hidden talent forever. Playing guitar turned out not to be it. Golf neither. And yep, still can’t cook. But I’ll find you hidden talent. I wonder where you’re hiding. Probably the liver. That’s the jack-of-all-trades organ where everything extra goes.
So I decided to make something.
I sat down on the carpet cross-legged and started picking through the bricks. I needed an idea. A something. A starting point. I stared blankly, thinking. It’s like that question when you don’t know what to have for dinner. You go back and forth suggesting stuff, but nothing sounds good.
Okay, you’re on death row and it’s your last meal. What are you going to pick?
I still don’t know. Sometimes dinner is really hard.
Same with these Legos. It occurred to me that I hadn’t sat down to make something since I was a kid. Did it come easier to me then or was I just less self-conscious? Maybe I’d just request coffee and cigarettes as my last meal.
It seemed a lot like writing. Choosing the pieces was like choosing words, snapping together a brick at a time to create the architecture, a sentence, a paragraph. Sometimes starting seems impossible, but you just need that first word. I picked a small chair out of the bin. Start with a chair. That felt right.
The chair was a piece belonging to another Lego kit, perhaps for a racecar. Even though I just had my chair breakthrough, immediately I felt discouraged. I could never build a racecar. I’m missing all of the pieces. I’m not going to be able to build anything cool or awesome. It’s those thoughts. Christ, it is just like writing. A racecar, a brilliant essay, a free trip to the Bahamas, a brand-new cast-iron pots and pans set. It can all be yours here on The Price is Right!
Supposedly, there’s three voices in your head: the creative voice, the editor, and the critic. I wonder if there’s a game show host in there, too, parading each of the voices around. I’d like to pull the game show host aside for a moment and see if we can just skip the formalities and games thing and go straight to the whole-spinning-the-wheel part. That’s all my creative voice wants to do, is spin the wheel, because that shit looks fun.
Of course the editor is a stickler to the rules and is never going to let me skip anything. And the critic is asking why I’m even on this game show in the first place. Geez, you sure gotta fight to spin the wheel around here. Remember that game show Supermarket Sweep? That was where people raced around the grocery aisles trying to fill up their shopping carts with the big money hams. I wonder if the editor or critic would notice if I snuck off to go play that game instead.
Forget the racecar. I decided it was better if I didn’t know where I was going. I started building around the chair, plugging in random blocks here and there. Maybe I should have plotted out and arranged each of the colors and bricks I was going to use in advance. Once, in one of my writing classes, a student described her extremely complicated and intricate pre-writing process. It involved an outline, word association, and free writing. The professor listened, gave it some thought, and then asked, “what does pre-writing even mean?”
That professor was kind of a dick, but the point is, just write. Be like Nike. Just do it. Just build it. The thing, whatever it is. I kept snapping together the bricks and a shape started to take form. But as I built higher and higher, it started to fall apart. I had to go back and add reinforcing blocks to hold up the newer ones. Then as I took it apart to add blocks, I forgot how I had it, so I improvised and built it a different way.
The editor in my head was all hand-wringy and neurotic and sweating. The critic was howling in laughter that I was building such a stupid thing. And the creative one was mostly enjoying it but also thinking about looking up wallabies on the Internet later when it came back.
Yeah, wallabies. They’re these little kangaroo-looking things. They’re pretty cool and you might like them.
Finally, the foundation and shape of my Lego thing was solid. It was time to add a few flourishes. I dug in the bin for some bricks with some designs on them. Less is more. Don’t go crazy with the good stuff. Like adjectives. Everyone loves those. My parents have these beef-flavored dog treats that are supposed to be used for training dogs to do commands. But of course, they just give the dog the treats every time she floppily smiles at them sideways. They call the treats “crack” because apparently these treats are addictive to dogs. That’s what adjectives are: dog crack.
I added a few more bricks here and there and then I felt done.
It was a throne. Or maybe a super-tricked-out beach chair. One that could fly. Actually, it was one of those real fancy ride-on lawnmowers. Real fancy. You can’t get this one at the Home Depot.
Now it was time to hand it off to the critic to gleefully take the whole thing apart.
William Faulkner once wrote that you should kill your darlings. If you just love something you’ve written that much—a sentence or paragraph or entire essays—the thing you think is the best part, that is probably the very thing you should strike out first. I had a writing professor misquote Faulkner’s words by accident. She said “kill your babies.” I think I like it better that way.
1. So you want to make something.
2. Start with a chair.
3. Forget the racecar.
4. Be like Nike.
5. Take a break. Think of wallabies.
6. Use the dog crack sparingly.
7. Kill your babies.
(8. Check the Internet again. Nothing. Damn.)