There are some things I really want to write about, mostly things about the Jewish conversion process, and I have all sorts of ideas about essays -- personal researched essays, in which I have found out about things that I want to explore in an academic sort of way but also want to use a personal voice in. I love reading those sorts of New Yorker-ish essays, and I think being able to write one would be such a pleasure and would also be a good way to explore some of what I'm thinking about these days.
And yet I seem unable to write at all. I feel quite stymied. I don't know if it's that this is a different genre for me and I'm just not sure how to even start. Or maybe it's about timing: either I'm so new to Judaism that I don't know enough to be able to say anything, or I'm so in the midst of my Jewish experiences that I have no critical difference. Or maybe it's all about some deep fundamental ambivalence about the whole conversion process that perhaps I'm not even aware of?
But I realized last night that partly my writer's block is about fear, pure and simple: fear of not being a good writer, a smart-enough writer.
I was reading Jonathan Rosen's The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds, which I am enjoying even if his musings on the internet seem dated (it was published in 2000), and I ran across the following sentence:
Every generation is born innocent, and if that is bad for history, it is nevertheless necessary for life. (64)
Wow, I thought. That's a good sentence. I like the juxtaposition of "bad for history" and "necessary for life," and I like the alliteration of "nevertheless necessary," and I like how smart the idea of the sentence is. I could never write a sentence like that.
And then I wondered why I couldn't write a sentence like that. I can do juxtaposition and alliteration!
And here's the answer I came up with: I could never write a sentence like that because it's such a broad, firm statement, and I immediately start wondering whether it's actually true or not and how Rosen knows that this is true when one might easily decide just the opposite. That is, it's the smartness that I don't think I could pull off. I think I'm plenty smart! But I've never been good about making sweeping statements about How Things Are. I can talk about How This One Thing Is In This One Context, but not about How Things Are in a broad way.
I felt pressure to do the latter in my dissertation, and I came up with a really good term to refer to this big phenomenon that I named as A Thing. But I didn't really believe in my own term, and I know that this is the major reason that I published several articles from my dissertation but never the whole big shebang as a book. With the articles, I could say things that I really believed about something smaller, but with a book I would have had to say something big about something big, and I just didn't have it in me.
Of course, what I want to write is a personal researched essay, and so I don't have to say Big Things. But of course Rosen was writing personal researched essays, and he did say Big Things, and perhaps that's why he's where he is -- an author -- and I'm where I am -- a teacher. And I love being a teacher, but I want to be a teacher and an author.
Anyway, I'm clearly struggling with a fear of writing but also maybe, more fundamentally, a fear that I'm not smart enough. Part of the problem is certainly that I am not doing "real" writing (as opposed to the piddly writing I have to do for school) on a regular basis, and that absence has allowed the fear to grow. I think that the only thing to do is to power on through somehow.