Finding Seshat in the Summer Dawn
August 10, 2021 § 7 Comments
By Sue Repko
Just give me that first line. That’s what I’d said to myself for weeks, hoping for entrée into a new piece of writing. My creative nonfiction group was meeting in 14… 10… 9… 8 days, and I needed to drop something in the Google drive folder ASAP. But even when I did have some free time, I couldn’t focus enough to jot down a single paragraph. For the past month I had voluntarily disrupted my early morning writing routine to re-connect with family and friends 400 miles away from my home in Maine, in what was known in my imagination as the 2021 Sue Repko Covid Reunion Tour.
In the midst of my trip I lost my voice. For the next week I had to carefully plot out periods of silence leading up to meetings with long-lost friends, so that I could make myself heard, sometimes in a rasping whisper. A writer losing her voice, literally and on the page at the same time? The irony was not lost on me as my writing deadline ticked ever closer. It coincided with the day I would drive back north. I usually get a burst of inspiration from a deadline, but I was still processing the 83rd birthday party my siblings and I had for our mom on the first full day of my tour, not to mention all the other (small) social gatherings since then. Other than the notes in my planner—yes, I still use a hardbound appointment book—I hadn’t written anything new that felt worthy of even the briefest of essays. Just give me that first line, I begged my writer-brain as I barreled along I-95, and I’ll take it from there. By the end of the day, though, the deadline was in my rearview mirror.
That first day back home, I had trouble keeping my butt in the chair. I’d like to blame it on the window installers—the radio station set to the ‘70s, the hammering, the way I had to move from room to room to keep one step ahead of or behind them. But for a person who has a lot of thoughts pinging around in her head at all times, I couldn’t get a single one to hold still long enough for me to type it on my screen.
Well, except for: Just give me that first line.
The next day I awakened with a dim memory of Abigail Thomas and bugs and how she had once handled what some people call “writer’s block,” and I was off to find that essay from this very blog. In “Bugs Are Saving My (Writing) Life,” Thomas wrote, “I’m so stuck. Write about what you notice when you’re stuck, I tell my students. Write about what you notice and see what happens. Nothing happens here except bugs. Oh my god, I think. I’ll write about the bugs!”
Oh my god, I thought. I’ll write about wishing for that first line, the one that will launch my thinking on the page… and let that line open the essay! Take that, writer’s block!
But I’m not sure I even believe in writer’s block. I think of these situations—I have experienced this before—more as resistance. Something in me is resisting written reflection at this particular time. Perhaps all the in-person socializing of the past month had overwhelmed my brain circuitry. As an extrovert, I don’t think “devastated” is too strong a word to describe how the pandemic social isolation weighed on me this past winter. Post-vaccination, I thought I could flip my extrovert switch and interact with ease with many people whom I had not seen in well over a year. I didn’t account for the mental and emotional exhaustion of sharing and listening, all the words, phrases, and sentences bulging with feeling. We had made it. We were still alive. We were here, together. These days, though, gratitude always comes with a caveat: So many are no longer here. So many are still in the midst of a surge somewhere. New variants will be with us for the indefinite future. It’s hard to be too happy for too long.
Just give me that first line. Back home, this was now a full-on prayer, but to whom exactly was I directing my plea? Who is the goddess of writing, anyway, I wondered? Curiosity sent me off to Wikipedia, which led me to Seshat, “the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing. She was seen as a scribe and record keeper. Her name means she who scrivens, i.e. she who is the scribe, and she is credited with inventing writing. She also became identified as the goddess of accounting, architecture, astronomy, building, mathematics, and surveying.” A female writer who was smart enough and talented enough to multi-task across many fields didn’t surprise me in the least—was she the first freelancer?
Another night, another morning, only this time with a name echoing in my mind: Seshat, Seshat, Seshat. And then, in the stillness of the summer dawn, I wrote.
Sue Repko’s essays have been named notable in The Best American Essays three times and have appeared in Hazlitt, Hippocampus, Southeast Review, The Common, Aquifer: The Florida Review Online, Literal Latte, and elsewhere. She has finally (!) finished a memoir about her dad, guns, and an unintentional shooting and is looking for an agent. Follow her on Twitter @suerepko or her website www.suerepko.com.