The Unwritten Novel

I sit down at the word processor to begin my second paper for the South Georgia Writing Project. This one would be easy. We were to write a paper exploring the similarities and differences between two subjects. I had decided to compare and contrast my idealistic views of teaching, which I had brought from college, to the realities of the eighth grade classroom. I turn the power switch to "on," pop in my disk, and begin to write my paper:

I walk into the immaculate room and regally sit down at the large, well-
organized, perfectly manicured desk. Placing my briefcase in the middle of
the desk, I open it, retrieve the morning paper, and leisurely peruse the day's
events. After completing the morning paper, I prepare for the day's activities
by writing the date and the quote of the day on the board: "Success is ninety
percent showing up" (Woody Allen).


I hit the hard return and sit for a moment contemplating paragraph number two. Many thoughts cruise through my head, none of which pertained to paragraph number two. Did I remember to call my mother and tell her the kids and I are going to be out of town this weekend so that she won't panic and call the police if she can't reach me? Did I feed the bird today? Will I be able to fit four quarter of Spanish into my schedule by next summer and still be able to graduate on time? Do Michael and Lisa Marie really "do it"?

I glance over at the clock sitting on the table by my bed. No! It can't be! Forty-five minutes have gone by, and I still have written only one paragraph. There must be some kind of mistake. I get up, walk over to the phone, and dial the TIME number. The recorded message confirms my fear. I have been sitting in a daze for forty-five minutes . . . forty-six . . . forty-seven.

I replace the phone and lumber back to the desk. Okay, okay, this is simply the wrong subject. Surely it will not be too difficult to think of something else about which to write. After all, this is easy, a piece of cake. That's it! I'll write about the similarities and differences between my mother's idea of baking and mine. With relief I center the first line and type "Home Cooking." I again hit the hard return and begin to write my paper:

The smell of fresh baked bread brings numerous images to mind.

One then, could I just have one image? Please? Nothing, not even a crumb comes to mind. What next? I am beginning to get worried. Why is this becoming such an ordeal? There is nothing to writing a comparison/ contrast paper. It is probably one of the easiest of the form papers to write. Haven't I told my eighth graders over and over that "there is nothing to it"? All that is necessary is to decide on a topic and brainstorm about the similarities and differences.

I pull out the text given to me on the first day of the program. Though I have already read the examples of papers, I hope that something will trigger my brain into an idea for this assignment. I give the text an obligatory glance-over and place it back inside my bag. What can I write about? My mind begins to drift again, and I'm back in Key West. I wish I were back at the Casa Marina enjoying the view from the balcony. That's it! I'll write about the way I travel now as opposed to how I used to travel. The comforts of the Casa Marina as compared to backpacking America's trails would be an excellent topic--a sort of retrospect on what is gained and what is lost when one is elevated from staying in youth hostels to $200-a-night resorts.

I sit confidently at the keyboard and begin the perfect contrast/comparison paper:

View From a Balcony
I peered over my Ray Bans at the young, grungy girl sitting on the pier off the Casa Marina's private beach in Key West. My first thought was: What in the world is she doing here? My second followed quickly: She must be the daughter of one of the guests. With fashion being what it is today, one never knows who is whom. I pushed the Ray Bans up the bridge of my nose to a more comfortable position and returned my attention to the fast-melting Margarita sitting on the table the concierge had ordered set up for me when I first came down to the beach that morning. Though I quickly dismissed the girl from my mind, there was something unsettling about her presence, something beyond her grunge clothing and malnourished appearance.

What is this? What's the matter with me? Why can't I even write one decent essay? Why is this so hard? And why oh why did I show Dr. Smith my essay on the war in Vietnam? It would have been perfect for this assignment--a true comparison/contrast paper. Maybe I could pass it off as a new paper if I convince him I would put as much work into revising it and adding his suggestions as I would into writing a new paper. No, I don't think he'd go for that. What was different about writing that paper and this assignment? Well, the Vietnam piece dealt a lot with politics and media coverage of the war. What is something political that is interpreted differently now than it was in the past?

Time is running out! Think . . . think! I've got it! I'll write a paper exploring the ways in which the connotation of the word "feminism" has changed over the years. Now, where to begin?

The word "feminist" evokes some strange emotions and opinions these days. If you don't believe this is true, just casually comment to a group of people that you are a feminist and stand back. The men will probably take a step backward and look at you in horror as if you had spun your head around a couple of times like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and demanded a live sacrifice. The women will either look uncomfortable and make a hasty exit or will stand there with blank looks on their faces pretending not to have heard. At any rate, expect a phone call within a few days inquiring about your sexual preferences or expressing concern for your eternal salvation.

When did the term "feminism" take on such an ominous meaning? When indeed! No, no, no! Not again! I really thought I had something this time. I can not believe this! I thought this would be so easy, but here I am still sitting at the word processor where I've been for the last four hours and still nothing that passes for even a half way decent beginning for a paper has appeared on my screen. How can this be? Where have I gone wrong? All of these sound like perfectly reasonable subjects for a paper, but somehow between the idea and its implementation I have lost something.

What to do now? Should I give up and go watch Ab Fab on TV? Should I light a candle and invoke the muses? Should I drop to my knees and pray for divine intervention? I pause for effect. No light of revelation floods my room. The screen of my word processor remains as blank as my mind. No phantom ghost writer delivers me from my dilemma.

Okay. I know when I've been defeated. This paper has gotten the best of me. I still can't believe I can't write a simple comparison/contrast paper. I guess it's much more difficult than I thought it would be.

Kathy Hand