Recently struck with a monster case of writer’s block, which is in and of itself a wall, I panicked, which never helps. It’s like trying to stop drowning by inhaling more water, figuring that if I drink enough of it, it will no longer be there to suffocate me. It’s times like these when I begin to suspect that I may have caught some artistic viral infection. Writer’s block, like the flu, can be picked up from a handshake, a sneeze, a dirty doorknob, some kind of cross-contamination in any number of public areas. People with no imagination or sense of humor sneezing and coughing in my personal space. I could feel it coming on. The mind goes gray, mental constipation sets in, thoughts are desiccated, impacted, stuck and banjaxed. (Been dying to use that word.)
I did what any desperate writer would do. I called upon a muse, a shaman, a guide to lead me through this scorched wasteland of creative impasse. As Homer invites Mnemosyne to help him sing the rage of Achilles, or Dante uses Virgil to guide him through Hell, or Emerson calls upon Swedenborg, or Thoreau awaits the magic of Aurora, I figured why not?
I decided to seek out Orbaneja of Ubeda, the great Spanish artist who, when people stopped to ask what he was painting, would shrug and reply, “Whatever emerges.”
That is the guy for me. Unfortunately it is a bad time for foreigners in these parts, even great artists that have been dead some four hundred years. Getting him into the country turned out to be an enormous hassle. Immigration and customs officials are on the alert, and I was reprimanded for even trying to get a temporary visa for my artistic lodestar.
“He sounds like a filthy foreigner,” one official told me.
“No,” I said. “He is okay. I can’t vouch for his bathing schedule, but he understands the value of creative impulse and discipline. Plus, a little human stink is good for the sinuses.”
“He is from Spain?” said the customs official.
“Isn’t that the country with all the terrorism?”
“You might be thinking of Syria,” I said.
“Five letters, starts with ‘S’ is enough for me,” said the official.
I went home, dejected. It’s a tough state of affairs when the ghost of a Spanish painter is tied up in jingoistic bureaucracy. (Actually when I just typed the word ‘bureaucracy’ I accidentally hit the ‘z’ key at the end. What resulted was ‘bureaucrazy.’ Egads I thought. Orbaneja you beautiful bastard. You are already lifting me!)
At least I could walk out of my house and breathe some fresh air, for now. Physically I am white and nondescript and non-Mexican, for that matter, which probably won’t put me in the crosshairs of anti-Mexican sentiment anytime soon, but when the order comes down to detain and scrutinize all those who look like serial killers (the vast majority are white and nondescript and non-Mexican) then I might find myself in some serious trouble. I retreated back behind the walls of my house.
I don’t fear walls. Of course walls are everywhere, and serve an array of purposes. Walls are used for security, punishment, shelter, support, to hang art from, to delineate, to define, and ultimately, metaphorically, to overcome. I tried to rely on a little proximal magic since my pal Orbaneja was stuck in limbo. That is, I blasted Pink Floyd’s The Wall over and over again for the better part of the afternoon.
“It was only a fantasy.
The wall was too high, as you can see.
No matter he tried he could not break free.
And the worms ate into his brain.”
Yeesh, that is bleak. I skipped to another song.
“I am just a new boy…
A stranger in this town.
Where are all the good times?
Who’s gonna show this stranger around?”
Indeed. Much better. I walked out to my backyard and noticed, to my consternation, that my neighbor, a gruff old codger whose attitude and worldview is cut from a sheet of pig iron, was slowly and methodically piling stone slabs between our houses. He was, it seemed, building a wall. I just wasn’t sure whether he was keeping me out or him in.
“Hey Lee, whatcha doing?” I said.
“Bah,” said Lee. “I’m fed up with you. You are a bad influence.”
“Don’t worry Lee, I’ve been having some writer’s block.”
“My son tells me you’ve been drinking whiskey with him and filling his head with crazy ideas.”
“Walls aren’t very good at keeping out ideas, Lee.”
“This one will,” said Lee. “This is a good wall.”
I went back inside. I considered one-upping my neighbor by digging a moat between our houses next week. I’ve always wanted a moat. Fill it with carnivorous fish and dare people to cross it. Maybe that is the solution to the Mexican border issue. Forget the wall. Build a moat. Dredge a huge canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
We have the technology to raise creatures from extinction. Let’s make some dragons. Fill the thing with saurian beasts of yore. Failing that, we could just build a wall with unused bottles of Trump vodka, the bricks of bankrupt casinos and brochures for real estate seminars. Most reasonable people wouldn’t come within a hundred miles of the thing.
More Alembics to come.