Writer’s Block (Excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from my first attempt at a short story, which I hope to be finished soon. I would really value any comments or feedback you have on this, as it sets the stage for the rest of the piece. Do you want to read more? Too verbose in some places? Let me know! -Dave

          My first session was pretty smooth, I thought, but life is complicated and I’m a bit complicated too and so I never went again. She, Andi, the counselor, thought I was depressed. You’ll be O.K. in due time, just push on for now, She said. I said I’d try, but its been four months since and I don’t feel any better. And that, the not feeling better, has consequently made me feel worse. Last night I figured I didn’t have much to lose and that I might as well try writing it all down for strangers like you to read. I called Andi to ask her about this[1] and she said It couldn’t hurt. So: The following are my memoirs regarding the events between December 10, 2010 and November 28th of the subsequent year, presented to you as both an attempt at catharsis and in hopes of developing your understanding of the human condition. Thanks again for the encouragement, Andi.

                                                                Writer’s Block

          His eyes revealed The Plot Line. It’s emergence was unintentional, as I’m told is the case with most masterpieces. This augured well for my novel’s future. For years my novel had existed vicariously through a profusion of lists[2], and I’d always had a good idea about the general plot structure. It was to be about relationships and their hidden complexities; an attempt to grasp at the intangible and package it neatly for the world to digest. It would begin with a relationship between a father and a son, which would then develop into a closeness between the father and one of his son’s friends that became questionable in its moral tenability over time, given that the friend would be in his early teens and the father would be somewhere in his mid-to-late 40’s. There was to be a lot in the local news about molestation and castration and other sick things that no good parent would want their child to be convenient for, close relationships between grown men and pubescent children being high on the list of things too easily morphed into this disturbing realm of possibility, and so the relationships would be cut off by the domestic authorities. The story would be driven by intricate plot lines, which would admittedly be convoluted, but I was confident that the reader would press on once they had been captivated by my opening line:

MAN VIOLATES AND MURDERS TWO CHILDREN, HIDES BODIES IN RIVER the headlines shouted to Linda, who couldn’t stop thinking about her son Nick’s safety at the Grinhold’s home.

All of this was my collection of novel-related thoughts in its entirety, representing 38 years of sparse imaginings.


          When Ryan came in, late, complaining about the bus driver’s ineptitude, I was not thinking about the novel. I was thinking about whether or not I should bother going out and buying a Christmas gift for my mother-in-law, Sarah’s mom, who was then being eaten alive by dementia and wouldn’t remember the gesture anyway[3]. No decision was come to, though, because Ryan sat down and asked me about calculus.


He was walking around the kitchen making a snack, mixing business and pleasure. “Yeah, calculus. How much do you know about calculus?”

I know a lot about calculus, and Ryan knew this. I’d shared with him the stories before. When I was in 5th grade, my family moved to Allendale, IL. I went to a small school that was pretty subpar over all, the students were dumb and the building was crumbling, but somehow the district had scored themselves a great math teacher. During 11th grade I had my first class with him, AP Calculus, and fell in love with the subject. Later, when I was at Barnard, I was friends with a math major who would occasionally come to me with his questions (though I was a psych major and stale numerically). I would make jokes about it: Oh yeah, I remember Reimann and Cauchy. How they doin’? Oh, you’re struggling to find the continuity, differentiability and integrability of a power sum function? Well aren’t you in for a treat, because it just so happens that I’m the King of Calc!

I’m good at calculus, I said. I know a lot about calculus.

“Then can you help me on this homework? We’re doing stuff with limits and my teacher didn’t explain how to find them very clearly.”

Limits have always been pretty easy for me to understand, so I asked Ryan for his worksheet, and began to teach. I taught him about how a function will increase or decrease toward a certain number, exponentially in some cases, and how it will begin to slow down as it reaches the limit. I explained that though the function may sometimes be able to reach the limit, such a case is very rare and it is more likely that the function will continue on forever. This led to an inquiry about the nature of infinity[4], which I aptly shirked. We then returned to talking about limits.

“So the function can approach the limit, but never touch it?”


“And the function will keep getting closer and closer, forever?”

“Exactly.” I was proud of myself.

“So for number six part b the limit is 4.25 because the function will never reach 4.25. It can get all the way to 4.249999, but it will never be able to hit the limit.”

“You’ve got it.”

He smiled as his eyes, as though rewarding me for my erudition, revealed to me The Plot Line. It rolled Itself before me like a brand new red carpet, presenting to me a world of intriguing characters, captivating scenes, and gut-wrenching dialogue. It beheld names and settings, captured emotions and subtle hints of inter-character backstories. Before me, in the eternal black pupil of my only son, was my bestseller.


1I do not count the phone call as a second session. We talked only briefly, 5 minutes and 24 seconds, and she did not ask nearly as many questions as she did the first (and only) time. If you don’t agree with me, if you believe this 5.4 minute conversation makes the cut as a second Session, then we’re really not starting off on a very great foot and it may be best for you to put this down now. Trust is essential for what’s to come.
2“Things To Do Before I Die” (1972), “Top 10 Things To Have Finished By The Time I’m 20” (1979), “Best Novels Ever Written (2002)” (1983), “My Biggest Dreams” (1992), plus some others that are somewhere up in the attic.
3This is just a small example of the thoughts that I don’t share with Sarah. Since my only meeting with Andi, though, she, Sarah, has been intentionally more open about listening to whatever I have to say, sick as it may be. I find this to be wonderful overall, though it can be tempting to exploit. This temptation is just another one in the barrel amongst those that have gathered since Nov. 28 and, frankly, I would be better off without it.
4You know, God and stuff.


2 responses to “Writer’s Block (Excerpt)

  1. I liked the conversation between parent and child (it brought back some memories). I like the tone…it’s light, but you talk about heavy topics. It was difficult for me to jump between the sections. I wasn’t really sure if everything went together…a little disconnected.

  2. I enjoyed the part with Ryan and the talk about calculus, and how all the pieces fell into place.

    as to the first part, I don’t know what to say, because after reading it once I didn’t fully get it, and I do not feel like reading it again. There is something repelling about it, but I can’t put a finger on it. Maybe it has to do with the “heavy topics.”

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