The great SuperGenius Howard Stein and I were recently discussing the writing process when I reminded him of his unforgettable advice to writers — found in the Secret of Good Writing — and we both shared a laugh. Then, Howard told me a story about Jerzy Kosinski and writing.
In the 1970’s, Jerzy and Howard were at Yale University together during a conference, and they had a conversation about young writers and writer’s block when Jerzy said, “Nothing is as patient as a blank sheet of paper.”
I find that quote quite mystifying and true. A blank piece of paper is an eternal promise that — once besmirched by ink and a raspy hand and a mottled thought — becomes a precipice from which, in our best dreams, we may never be able to recover our grasp.
On July 15, 2005, I wrote an article — Make Yourself a Blank Page — that, perhaps, now serves as an unwitting, but eerie, progression from Kosinki’s patience observation:
When I was a university student, it was assumed you would be offended by some of your campus experiences — and offended is different than being insulted because the intentions are opposite — and I love it when students are “offended” by something that happens in class because it means something inside of them was challenged or broken and their response to the offense was an internal check of values against expectation. Insults are meant to hurt feelings. Offending someone challenges the mind. Great growth blooms from seeds that offend.
I urge my students to make themselves a blank page of paper when they cross the transom of the classroom. I ask, for the period of the class, they let others to “write” on the blank page they have become and allow themselves to be filled up with ideas and thoughts and values that may be foreign to them without judging any of what is being given.
The trick, I tell them, is to allow yourself to “be written on” without trying to censor the writer. Later, after the heat of class is over, sit down in a quiet place alone and “read” what was written in you by reflecting on the imprint of others. I remind them they do not have to agree with what anyone wrote. They do not have to accept or reject their arguments.
The world is patiently awaiting the necessary destruction of every virginal, blank, page — and we create thought and logic and a compression of emotion by daring to inject the hubristic blemishes of our dreams to stain something so soft and so plainly beautiful in its natural essence — and that is the purpose of living a recorded, human, life.