Developing Expertise: Analysis of an Image of Writer’s Block

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A Corona-Coronet electric typewriter sits on a varnished wooden desk. Fresh paper is in the carriage, ready to put down whatever words the unseen author has for it. To the right, mostly out of the frame, is more paper; on the other side of the typewriter is a crumpled sheet. The paper and possibly the typewriter provide a mild contrast from the darker hues in the image. The backdrop is a deep asparagus-colored wall that’s faded and chipped away in certain parts. While it’s not the central focus of the image, an amorphous blob of what could be spattered blood mars a portion of the wall, quickly bringing attention to itself. Together, all the elements in the photograph bring about a seemingly paradoxical sense of both frustration and equanimity, which in turn demonstrate expertise.

This expressive image resonates deeply with anyone who pursues writing as a hobby: the blank sheet that seems to constantly mock the writer; the crumpled page filled with words and sentences that simply aren’t good enough; the splattering of unknown substance on the wall that seems to symbolize frustration; and even the dreary, foreboding wall in the background. No matter at what stage a writer may find themselves at, the feeling of frustration will doubtless have reared its ugly face in front of them at one point or another, and the photograph accurately depicts the relentless beast known as writer’s block that strikes over and over again. It takes only a glance to quickly offer the most obvious interpretation of this image, but on a closer look, it seems that there is more than meets the eye.

While it is clear that there’s a definite theme of dissatisfaction portrayed in the content of the image, it would be incorrect to say that there’s not another dominant emotion presented here. In fact, the very same objects and elements in the image that symbolize writer’s block also double as objects that depict a sense of level-headedness. The crumpled sheet of paper has been discarded because the writer has recognized that it’s not the best that they can do, but instead of perhaps burning all failed attempts in a violent paroxysm of rage, has laid it to the side of the typewriter. The dark splatter on the wall, perhaps the results of channeling pent-up anger into something tangible, remains contained in one area of the wall and possesses a spectral, artistic quality about it. Even the vantage point from which the photograph is taken from lends an air of self-control; if it had been taken from an unusual or exaggerated angle, it probably would have served either to romanticize or mask the situation at hand. Instead, the photographer takes a direct approach in the image and shows the situation for what it is: nothing more, nothing less. It is the quintessence of equanimity.

The image’s composition masterfully combines two ostensibly opposing sentiments through the same elements, offering insight into what expertise could be. The writer’s frustration is undeniable, but it’s clear that this is no new phenomenon. The writer deals with the dilemma with an almost uncanny amount of composure, suggesting that while there is no way to avoid that which is universal to all writers, discovering what works—as well as what doesn’t—makes it far easier to deal with writer’s block. Expertise involves a level of proficiency in one’s craft, which in turn involves knowing what one can and can’t do. It’s not the same as giving up and settling for mediocrity, but is instead avoiding the trap of perfectionism and discovering how to deal with whatever limits there may be while also pushing forward to perfect the craft.

Expertise is not living in a blissful state of ignorance and pretending that there is no such thing as writer’s block; neither is it succumbing to the near-paralyzing effects of the phenomenon. The image models a good example that can be readily applied to an extensive range of hobbies and disciplines; the tricky part is discerning what the proper balance is. To what extent should one allow their frustration to control them? What is the line between equanimity and the irrational repression of the feelings one experiences a setback in whatever they pursue? As it so often is when it comes to matter as such, there’s no right answer. It all involves a continual process of developing your own expertise.

How would you define expertise, and how do you develop it?

Less than three,
Josh

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Sunglasses Kid: Memoir Excerpt

I notice this one kid who has a shock of super curly brown hair. He’s wearing sunglasses and sits off to one side, not talking. This, of course, means that it’s my job to carefully observe him and see what I can discover.

I wonder if he’s blind, since he doesn’t do much but sit there and stare off into the distance, but eventually he gets up and joins the other kids, who are playing volleyball in the back. There are no more than a half dozen kids, so it’s not much. Sunglasses Kid plays, but hardly says anything and doesn’t laugh. And as I sit there watching him, half-imagining that I am some fedora-clad detective straight out of period film, I decide that this kid is going to be very interesting. There’s something about the mysterious ones who are something like a jigsaw puzzle. You start putting together the pieces, but then you find out something else that doesn’t quite fit, keeping you always on your toes. This is good. Very good. Or maybe I’m just bored.

I notice that Sunglasses Kid is sort of a loner. At least, that’s what I deduce. I may or may not be getting my facts straight. But he doesn’t really talk much. He’s just there. In fact, I don’t think he says more than a sentence or two the whole time I watch him. Eventually Sunglasses Kid comes back, as it’s time to eat. He sits at the same table I’m at, but at the other end. A couple joins us, as well as another kid with straight black hair sticking to his forehead with sweat. I soon find out that the couple is actually Sunglasses Kid’s parents, and the other kid is his younger brother. They say some stuff to him, but not much, so I can’t get much of a reading. I wonder if I’m being a bit weird, but I shrug it off.

After I eat enough food to satisfy me until tomorrow, the kids decide to head into the swimming pool, despite our recent meal. We reason, however, that by the time we’ve changed and gotten in, it should be fifteen minutes.
Marco Polo is the game we play, agreed on by popular demand. As cries of “Marco!” and “Polo!” ring out, with the occasional “Fish out of water!”, I decide that this is actually pretty fun. Still, I keep an eye on Sunglasses Kid, who’s still wearing his sunglasses despite his being in the water. I mean, he doesn’t put his head under the water, but still. Eventually, he takes them off.

As we start another game, he occasionally makes eye contact with me. I decide not to be the first one to look away. We stare for about three seconds before someone splashes by, but he sort of smirks. I don’t know what to make of him.

At one point, while Jake, Hudson, Brandon—Sunglasses Kid’s brother—and a few of the other younger kids are being younger kids, Sunglasses Kid comes up over to me.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hello,” I reply, my voice noncommittal.

“Those kids are crazy, aren’t they?” His voice is deep, very deep. Almost gravelly, but not quite. Not the kind of voice someone my age would have.

I shrug. “Yeah, really. I’m Josh.”

“Nathan.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Same here.” Short pause. “So, what’s your story?”

I launch into a very brief, very concise history of my life that spans three continents and a few islands. Before I know it, we’ve hit it off, and eventually get out of the pool and continue to talk. What’s cool about Nathan is—and I say this in the kindest way possible—the fact that he’s not “cool.” I mean, whatever it is that society deems cool, I’m not a part of it. Neither do I really aspire to be a part of the whole Kingdom of Cooldom(which, if you notice, rolls quite nicely off the tongue). But sometimes, it’s annoying when you have conversations that go like this:

Cool-Guy-Who-Calls-Every-Other-Guy-Bro-Or-Dude: So bro, you into video games?

Me: Uh, no. I’ve…played Mario Kart with little kids on the Wii. Yeah.

Cool Guy: Oh. So, what’s your favorite sports?

Me: I don’t really have a favorite sport. I’m not into sports that much. I used to play dodgeball once a week.

Cool Guy: Oh. Right. Well, I’ll see you later.
But with Nathan, it’s different. I find out that he’s a bit behind in school because he can’t learn as fast as the other kids, and occasionally has trouble grasping English, which is why he speaks deliberately and has some trouble with reading and writing. But I hardly notice and don’t mind. He’s into sports, and I’m not. I’m into books, but him, not so much. And yet, it works.

It really works.

The Kiwi

They walk hand-in-hand, the relentless wind not strong enough to tear them apart. It howls a long, eldritch note and holds it out for a protracted moment, then tapers off abruptly. As the wind dies, they can hear the waves battering the craggy rocks, hundreds of feet below them. This goes on day in, day out. Has gone on for millennia. Will continue to go on.
She shakes her wind-whipped hair, full of golden highlights from countless hours spent outside. He catches her eye for a second. Something passes between them.
“Closer,” she says.
“Closer,” he says.
Then they’re at the edge. Below, the foamy waves churn with a malefic force so powerful it’s almost terrifying. The wind picks up again. Now it seems to whine.
She takes in the sharp, salty air. “It’s somehow soporific, isn’t it?” She loves words like that.
“Yes,” he says. “Strangely so.”
“Beautifully so.”
“Indeed.”
A few minutes pass. They don’t speak. Or maybe they do—through nuanced gestures and movements, through something more transcendent than mere words.
“Hello,” he says. “What’s that?” He bends down to pick something. His cardigan sweater goes up as he does so. She laughs.
“What’s what?”
“Well, what would you know?” He holds out his right hand to her. “A kiwi.”
“You don’t say,” she says.
He smiles. The wind dishevels his hair, makes his clothes billow. He looks perfect. “Shall we?”
“Why yes,” she says. “I believe we shall.”
They do.