Here I sit at my iPad in late December, ready to begin my January 17 essay for you. For some reason, no topic has come to mind during these last few days, so I figured that my lying here on my comfy den couch, iPad poised on my holiday-inflated stomach, would inspire me. I figured wrong.
Am I, for the first time, in the deadly throes of… Writer’s Block? No! My topic has just arrived on the wings of desperation. I shall write on that most elusive of topics: writer’s block itself. And I can definitely trace my knowledge of it back to my childhood.
In the mid-1950’s, my father entered every jingle-writing contest he could find. He had an Ogden-Nash way with funny phrasing and won many local competitions with ease. But now Pepsodent toothpaste was sponsoring a national contest with huge prizes. Some of you fellow 1950’s fossils might remember that Pepsodent had a successful television commercial run with their slogan: “You’ll wonder where the Yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” Now they were asking contest participants to tell them in jingle form exactly where that Yellow had gone.
One of my most vivid early memories is of my dad sitting at his portable Royal typewriter at our kitchen table, staring at the fresh sheet of paper he had inserted at least half an hour before. On tiptoe I looked over his shoulder to see what was captivating him on that page. But there was nothing there. He explained to me that this was his first national contest experience, and it made him so nervous that his mind had gone as blank as the page in the typewriter.
I remember him then getting up from his chair, pacing the kitchen, and looking out the window located above the sink. As he gazed out, he suddenly stage-whispered "Sputnik!" and was back at his chair in an instant, typing away. I actually believed he'd just seen that Russian satellite since it was headline news when it was launched a few weeks before.
And when I continued looking over his shoulder as the keys now flew up and back from the paper, I saw where dad's imagination had sent that Yellow: "I am the Yellow in outer space, banished from earth and every face." I forget the rest of his clever jingle, but it was good enough to win him an Amana freezer, a complete World Book Encyclopedia, and other upscale goodies that proudly resided in the Engel home, visual proof that I did indeed have The World's Smartest Father.
No, he hadn't seen Sputnik. But as he anxiously gazed out the window, his recent memory of it made him realize that a space-age allusion could be a contest winner, and that revelation shattered his creative barricade. In the same way, lying on this couch, I realized that my dwelling on the possibility of writer’s block could be the very topic to obliterate it. I owe that breakthrough to the example of my dad. No, I would never be trite enough to state that in my family, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but on the other hand, please do allow me to brag that I am indeed a chip off the old writer’s block.