My eldest daughter, Emily, who is a 10, celebrated her 11-11-11 birthday this weekend with a dinner in D.C. where we were dressed to the nines, slapped high-fives, and thanked our GPS systems that we weren’t at sixes and sevens.
Champagne flowed, and all of that, which is by way of saying that this resurrected column — of 11 years ago! — will have to do this week:
When Emily phoned recently to tell me of her first case of writer’s block, I sympathized. “That’s why I went into journalism,” I said. “The stories are already there. You don’t have to make anything up.”
“Give me a break, Dad. When you write about us, your children, our words are stretched, we’re taken out of context, and sometimes you flat-out lie.”
“But that’s my creative side, Emily, my column.”
“No, no, you needn’t speak. Having had a case of writer’s block now, I know why you write about us and twist things and embellish for humor. To understand is to forgive.”
Her assignment, for a 12-page paper, had been to critique the methodology of research and the assumptions behind it that went into a book about working-class women going back for their graduate equivalency diplomas. “It wasn’t about the content, the women’s stories, which interested me, but about how the researchers framed their research. Was it credible, was it not — that kind of thing. Boring stuff, frankly, but I needed an A to keep my 4-point. That put added pressure on.”
“All work and no play makes Emily a dull girl,” I said.
“Exactly. Chicago was having a St. Patrick’s Day parade and DePaul, where I go, was celebrating its N.C.A.A. bid when I was in the library doing research — three eight-hour days. I had all these notes and quotes. I felt very prepared. Then I sat down to write, and nothing came. I had nothing to say, and I usually have quite a lot to say.”
“The trick,” I said, “is to empty your mind.”
“But you weren’t there! Seriously, I thought I’d lost my mind. I threw myself onto my pillow and cried, and told Anderson to take all the books away, then I told him to bring them all back. I cut up a handout on oral history research into tiny little triangles. We still haven’t got them out of the rug yet. I had violent dreams about the professor. . . . It was a total panic attack, a nervous breakdown. Then, finally, Anderson suggested I forget about it all, have a glass of wine and some cheddar cheese and crackers, and call in sick the next day and do the paper.”
“So, we drank the wine . . . chardon