Sunday, September 7, 2008

Blocked No More

What is my blog going to be about this week? The blinking curser moves on the blank screen and I watch with my blank mind. Whenever I feel so-called writers block, there are two ways out. They both start with E, and are sort of complimentary and opposite at the same time.

What are they? Eating and exercise.

Since I’m in Chicago, eating means a short trip across the street to a neighborhood restaurant. I have my notebook and pen. Sure enough, as soon as I order, the doors in my mind open up and ideas begin to tumble out. My french toast comes and I balance my notebook on my knees and write between bites. I’m not a syrup person. The ball of butter melts and slides over the triangles of grilled bread and I know the other E will come in handy to take care of all those calories when I finish.

This restaurant is filled with memories as is everything else in my old neighborhood. This particular spot used to be a different restaurant where I waited tables when I was in college. Random thoughts and memories pour out of my pen. Though I have lived far longer in Los Angeles than in Hyde Park, between growing up here and maintaining a connection, it still feels like home.

The french toast is gone in no time. If I were in L.A., I’d head for the gym for the exercise part of the unblocking, but here I just hit the streets. No car, all feet. There are choices about where to walk. I could go to the beach and walk along the jogging- bicycle path that leads toward downtown. I could go to the Museum of Science and Industry and walk around inside and see cool things like a giant heart and hatching baby chicks. Instead I head along 57th Street toward the University of Chicago campus.

As usual there is lots of action on the street. Is it my imagination or is there a higher level of excitement in the air. It’s not just my old neighborhood, but Barack Obama’s current one. Though I think he’s off somewhere else just now. When I look in the window of the Medici bakery, the counter staff are wearing shirts that say Obama Eats Here.

He’s not the only famous name connected with this piece of real estate. When I was a kid the bakery and the Thai restaurant next to it were Steinway’s drugstore. It had a small cafeteria and was where we went for cokes after school. There’s an oft repeated story connected with that cafeteria. It seems that one day a group of men were huddled in one of the booths, talking and scribbling on napkins. Apparently, they had been sitting there too long and the manager threw them out.

Who were they? How about Enrico Fermi and his colleagues. And their napkin scribbles were the atomic bomb.

Their lab was a few blocks away tucked under the athletic field stands. The stands and field are gone, replaced by a library.

It is quiet inside the confines of the campus. The students aren’t back yet. I stop at Botany Pond. And sit on the arched bridge that was a gift of some graduating class. Another spot loaded with memories. I used to bring my fox terrier here when I was a kid. He loved to go wading in the water. Much later, I brought my son here when he was small and he fell in. It’s only about a foot deep, so he was more embarrassed than in danger. My YA mystery BLUE SCHWARTZ AND NERFERITI’S NECKLACE is set in Hyde Park and has several scenes at this lovely little pond.

I pass through the heart of the campus and exit onto 58th Street. The Oriental Institute is open so I stop in. A lot of Blue Schwartz takes places in this museum and I remember stopping by and checking out the exhibits when getting the book published was still just a hope. I have spent so much time imagining Blue and all the action that goes on in this small museum that even now when I look around, I half expect to see her sneaking through a door.

On the way back, I swing by 57th Street Books. As you can see by the photo, it is located in the basement of an apartment building, but don’t let that fool you. Even though the windows offer a view of people legs as they go by, the inside is inviting and goes for rooms and rooms. Okay, I admit it, I checked the mystery section for HOOKED ON MURDER. A copy was sticking out as if someone had just looked at it. And I went in the kid’s section and made sure they had a copy of BLUE SCHWARTZ. Of course, I didn’t leave empty handed. I really did need another crochet book. This one even had a pattern for crocheted sushi. How can you pass that up?

By now ideas for all sorts of things beyond this blog were floating around in my head. Between the notes I had and all the ideas, I couldn’t wait to get home to the blank screen of my computer so I could fill it up. The double Es always work.


Linda O. Johnston said...

Aren't our subconscious minds great fun to stimulate, Betty? Walking sometimes works for me, and taking a bath at night always does. Driving does, occasionally, too. I was discussing just this subject with an acquaintance at breakfast at Panera Bread this morning, and we agreed that sleeping is another way to receive an inspiration.

Betty Hechtman said...

Yes, Linda, sleep works. I find it helps if I tell myself what I want to work on before I fall asleep

Camille Minichino said...

LOVE the nugget about Fermi, of course! It's enough to inspire me.
Thanks Betty.

Betty Hechtman said...

I thoughtyou would like that, Camille.

Kathryn Lilley said...

To Eating/Exercise, I would add Showering. I always think of something in the shower. I'm also going to add playing the Xylophone and Yodeling, just because I want to make the acronym SEXY.