Archived Opinion

This stranger snuck in quietly, and just won’t leave me alone

This being a Sunday, the day on which I generally take care of household chores that have gone unheeded during the hurly-burly and rushed pace of the workweek, I was dusting the combination living room and kitchen in the cabin where I live. It seemed to me every surface was covered not so much with dust as with a motley collection of dime-store eyeglasses. I must have moved a dozen to swab surfaces with my dust cloth.

A need for eyeglasses is a new development in my life. So new there is no single place in the cabin for me to deposit them, meaning they are dropped willy-nilly about when the immediate pressing requirement for them is done.

I noticed about half a year ago that I was getting more headaches than usual on press days at work. These are headache-inducing days at the best of times, making it difficult to distinguish the regular headache of getting a newspaper out the door from the headache of dwindling eyesight — a headache by any name still being a headache, as it were.

On press days, however, and almost overnight it seemed, the print size of the dummy pages seemed to have been reduced. I squinted accordingly and by the end of each workday I found myself with rip-roaring headaches to nurse. I finally distinguished these new headaches from regular layout-day headaches by the sheer frequency and viciousness with which they occurred.

I resisted eyeglasses until the weekly dose of pain overcame my vanity and I trotted down to the nearest drugstore. Looking around to ensure that no one I knew was also in the store, I stood in front of the eyeglass section with the magnification chart that assists aging men and women self-fit themselves in glasses. This chart helped me determine I needed 1.5- to 2-magnification. Now I own a variety of glasses in various shapes and colors. The only commonality among them is that they each were cheaply purchased and I can never find a pair when I need them.

My surprise at needing reading glasses was surpassed by my shock at turning gray. In theory I knew that these things would happen, that I would age and that parts of me increasingly would change or malfunction, but frankly each shift or mechanical failure comes as a surprise.

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I found my first gray hair in my early 20s while looking in the mirror in the bathroom of the veterinary clinic where I worked for a couple summers. I immediately plucked it out. Now if I plucked out my gray hairs I would shortly be bald — I’d do better to pull out the ones that remain brown.


I was recently reading a magazine about writing, Poets & Writers, and one of the authors was writing about finding space for inspiration. He quoted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on creativity. Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. The magazine writer noted that Csikszentmihalyi lays out the five stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration.

Equally interesting to me is that Csikszentmihalyi also identifies four obstacles to creativity: psychic exhaustion, easy distraction, inability to protect/channel creative energy and not knowing what to do with that energy.

Being a professional writer means that I write whether I feel creative or not. In many ways that’s a good thing — necessity is the mother of invention and all that. I’ve often discovered that meeting a deadline forces me out of the creative doldrums. Sometimes, however, I’m just out of the groove. I’d equate that feeling to Csikszentmihalyi’s psychic exhaustion.

Other writers are generally sympathetic to the creative doldrums. I’ve heard fellow newspaper writers, too, walk into the newsroom and complain that they just can’t seem to write on that particular day. Problem is, once everyone has grunted understandingly, the newspaper still has to get out the door. So you dig deep and force it out no matter how unappetizing the final product seems to be. As I also read recently, you can’t fix a blank page. If a writer can just get something out there’s always room to pretty it up before the big performance.

So why am I sharing all of this writerly angst? Well, sometimes I just have to fake it until I make it. I suspect psychic exhaustion, my new favorite catchphrase, is currently at play.  

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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