In Pretreatment

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Writer’s Block Circa 1900

I remember when a guy I was dating thought a night on his bed watching the HBO show, In Treatment was a romantic gesture. After the episode, we watched “The Notebook” and though I had an impulse to block his number after the show, my angst dissipated as he consoled me during the film’s many sentimental moments. I thought of that exact night recently while  reading an article that described psychiatry patients who aren’t ready to do what it takes to confront their addictions; such patients are labeled pretreatment.

I’ve seen quite a few more episodes of In Treatment since then and I’ve been in my own patient-psychologist relationship. In terms of writers and artists, it seems to me that pretreatment is an apt metaphor for what has become known as writer’s block. I do not value this term, but it exists and has value nonetheless and I recognize it in my life as a creative person.

For me, writer’s block refers to a natural cycle of ebb and flow. It’s natural to feel resistant toward the ebb when you want flow. I could get really new age and say it’s blocked because it needs to be but that agitates the reality, and who needs agitation when they are artistically constipated?

Pretreatment is a clinical, unsexy term that doesn’t do much in the way of solving the blocked flow of creative energy and it’s not going to become a trending or AWP panel discussion topic any time soon. However, it evokes a sense of autonomy that I respond to. When I am cleaning window sills instead of taking the challenge to sit and wait and find ideas, it’s not about a block but a lack of confronting the scary, scary place of my mind.

While it’s true that an article triggered a memory that inspired this post, I must confess that there was yet another crux. One of my students recently wrote “sorry, writer’s block” on a blank sheet of paper that should have had an hour of words. I wrote, “try” on her paper, which I now want to retrofit. Knowing this student, I know that she tried thoughts out in her head, but that she did not feel confident in their truth. Like her, I’d rather sit in the windowsill than not write the dope shit.

I know what my student doesn’t yet, that we can’t always write the dope shit. And I obviously would not have reacted differently if the student had written “pretreatment” instead of “writer’s block.” The salient point is that I nor she was blocked but on the cusp of. But when you wait , there’s a thing called time not waiting.


Sometimes I read to keep from writing sometimes I write because what I read keeps annoying me