The ritual was painstaking. It never got any easier. First the freezing cold shower to make his skin tingle with shock, jerk the lethargy out of his bones, bump his soul into existence. Then, turn the dial to piping hot, leaving him red raw, aching, reduced to a whimper. Next, lower the temperature back to freezing cold with one swift move, no transition. Repeat, repeat, again and again until his body was finally numb and silent. Submissive. Ready to receive.
Out, dried and sat at his writing desk, he thrived in a sudden rush of energy. Every tick counted, every tock could make the difference. One minute. That was all he had. His allocated allowance. One minute and something had to be on that page in front of him or he would have to go into the shower for another round of the ritual.
Warmth reluctantly returned to his body. His legs began to itch, revolt in confused agony. His arms, burning, and there were parts on this soul where he could peel the skin clean off. Once again, he wondered why he could only torture himself into creativity. ‘No pain, no gain’, he shrugged. His rigorous routine came with welcome side effects. He always felt fresh and clean and he liked that. Some of the writers he knew had a rather unpleasant whiff about them. A stale scent of despair and world-weariness that lingered and refused to budge. How could they hope to reach the sublime purity required for creation?
‘Write, please write’ he urged himself.
His stories always evolved around water. Rivers, ponds, lakes and lochs, the sea from every possible angle. Water featured as the main character in his books. And water was dangerous. Always. In one of his more popular novels, a pair of lovers had to cross a vast ocean to be together, losing limbs as well as hope in the process, before finally experiencing a brief interlude of happiness next to a thundering waterfall. In the end, they drowned. It was inevitable. A group of wild swimmers in another one of his stories, adventurers at heart, also drowned. The circumstances, rather mysterious, the location fantastical. He was famous for the unnatural amount of heroes and heroines who found an early death in water. Nobody could drown people as elegantly and eloquently as he and in the most exquisite settings.
‘Why do you, a born and bred Londoner, never write about the river Thames?’
My characters drown in good, clean water, he thought. I give them that. One would have to be very cruel to let them fall off the Millennium Bridge, waiting to be found by half drunken mudlarks in the small hours of the morning. ‘I like the unknown’, he answered and his remark pleased the journalist.
Over the years he had built a solid reputation as ‘The Water Writer’. His natural genre, created and perfected by him. And still, people kept asking the same stupid questions.
‘How come you are so fascinated by water?’
He couldn’t possibly tell them about the ritual.
‘Water is crucial for survival’, he explained at a book festival to a mesmerized crowd and they lapped it all up like puppies. ‘Far more important than people’, he continued. ‘Without water, there can be no people. It deserves centre stage. Water determines fates.’ The audience, convinced he was talking about droughts, global water shortages and climate change, gave him a standing ovation for addressing humanity’s plight.
He never answered questions about the real source of his inspiration. That would be most unwise, he thought. He had decided a long time ago that he would shroud himself in as much mystery as possible. Wasn’t this almost expected from successful writers? Nobody needed to know. He simply followed the ritual, showered over and over again, then began to write, write water books, one after the other and leave it at that. People would not like to hear the truth. That the thundering waterfall smelled of chlorine and came out of his limescale encrusted power shower head, and not a secret, serenely scenic location in the Scottish Highlands.
‘It’s all in the books’, he usually replied with a shrug of the shoulders. ‘They speak for themselves.’ His readers would happily nod with fake understanding.
Seconds ticked. Tocked. Tick. Tock. He looked at the angry skin on his hands. Dry and flaky. It hurt to hold the pen, scrape across the page. Confirmation of the effectiveness of his ritual. ‘Write’, he leaned into to pain. ‘Write now’. Last chance.
Damn. The minute was over. He’d have to return to the shower. Fifth time today. Cold, hot, cold, repeat, repeat, again and again, or the stories wouldn’t come today. He could not risk that. ‘The ritual is non negotiable’, he reminded himself. If he interrupted the circle, he might break it forever and he couldn’t live without words, his water words, swirling through his head and pulsing though his veins like blood, but better, so much better.
He made a vow. In his next life, and knowing the spiteful sarcasm of karma, he’d come back as a writer – that would be just his luck – he would find inspiration elsewhere. The ritual was just a bad habit he couldn’t shake off any more, because he had trained himself to make it work. It was his drug, so inoffensive at first, but now a self fulfilling prophecy, a curse. Water could do that to him, to anyone, really. Water, nothing but a drip, a drop, a trickle, gentle wave and then, without warning, just like that, a beast, a horrific tsunami of destruction.
Wouldn’t it be nice, he thought, if next time round, he could find inspiration in some of the more traditional sidekicks? How about whisky instead. After all, the word ‘whisky’ came from the Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’, ‘water of life’. He had learned that much on his travels, while researching Scotland’s picturesque waterfalls. Could he perhaps start this new water ritual today? Just a little tweak. Water of life, instead of cold, hot, cold all over? It would undoubtedly improve his mood, his skin. What could possibly go wrong? Another idea hit him. How about women as inspiration? They were tidal creatures, weren’t they?
‘Don’t mess with the ritual’, he screamed out loud. ‘The ritual cannot be changed or altered in any way!’ He had to write something now, or… No! Not again.
With aching fingers he opened his laptop and started his daily blog. Title: A warning to all writers. First paragraph: Think very carefully before you start a ritual to overcome writer’s block. You may be hooked on it for a lifetime. It’s not a friend. It’s your blood brother. So, please, please, choose wisely!
Britta Benson is a happiness & poetry blogging, circus skills instructing & common butterfly following German, a writer, performer & linguist thriving in Scotland, her chosen habitat since the year 2000. Read more of Britta’s work at– Britta’s Blog – Letters from Scotland and Odds & Ends.
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