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What a Black Cat Taught Me About Writer’s Block

I have writer’s block. I really want to write a blog. I enjoy writing. I have lots of ideas swirling in my mind. I can’t get traction with any of them. So I am going to write about my block and just see what comes up. Maybe some thought will emerge and unblock me as long as I don’t stay silent or get worried and anxious. Just write.

I am just feeling uninspired. The juices are not flowing. My mind is not really quiet – in fact, quite the opposite. My brain is working overtime. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Just let it happen.

Now I started thinking about last week in New York at the Meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Some random thoughts are emerging. I tell myself, “keep going”. Just write. I gave a presentation titled “Stage Fright: Shame on You!” at the Meetings. The topic generated a lively discussion.

Stage fright freaks out so many people besides musicians. That was clear from people who came to the program. Participants talked about speakers, athletes, students, teachers, analysts, CEOs, doctors, writers and non-professional social situations for others who suffered from performance fears. How you think and feel about yourself is a key ingredient…your self-esteem. It’s important to feel in control of yourself and also have an impact on others.

Ideally when you cry as an infant, your needs will be gratified. The roots of gratification are planted in the nursery – your first review was received there. Experiencing stage fright feels shameful. Humiliating. Like you are a fake. Everyone sees how inept you (you think you) are. No one will respond to you. You will be rejected, booed, and laughed at by the audience who, by extension, represents your parents.

Sometimes people harbor magic feelings that a perfect performance (what is that?) will bring perfect love (what is that?). Shame is the performer’s purgatory. Shame on you!

My brain is thawing. I am beginning to feel less blocked.

Now I am thinking of the black cat that comes to our house daily ever since last fall. We don’t know if this cat is a he or a she. So my husband, Louie, calls the cat “he”. I call the cat “she”.   Sometimes I call her a “he” too. We have officially named her Etude. The composer, Chopin, composed an etude nicknamed “Black Key” – all the notes in the right hand are on the black keys of the piano. Fabulous virtuosic piece.

Etude showed up on our front porch one day last fall. Skinny – afraid. Terrified. Fear in her eyes. We fed her. He came back – and back. And back. FullSizeRender-12 copyShe ate our offerings. She got chunky – she also gained a little more trust. A lot more trusting now. She lets us pat her. She nuzzles our ankles. She meows. She looks at us with expressive eyes that could tell stories if she could speak human words.

Autumn became winter. It turned cold. Snowy. Etude became a regular visitor on our porch. She will not come inside. Our son in law,  David, a wonderful architect, made her a beautiful house. Etude would not go in it. Not near it.   We made her a less beautiful house from a cardboard box and straw. She still kept her distance from the box and preferred the winter elements. She kept coming over for meals. We wait for her visits everyday. We don’t know where she goes between meals.

Etude gradually trusted and adopted us. Her transformation – and ours – has been inspiring.

In the last several weeks, Etude has let us pat her more and he nuzzles against us. He meows loudly  and seems comfortable with us– outside. He trusts us as best an abandoned animal can. We look for her every day. We are not disappointed.

Etude has shown us what care, concern, and love can do to foster a sense of security. FullSizeRender-12She is no longer afraid of us – she comes closer to the front door more often – with curiosity about what’s on the other side. There are smudge marks from her wet nose on the door window. She has been looking in. We understand her meows – they are her music. She senses our interest in her welfare. Maybe she will come inside eventually. Etude no longer has performance anxiety. She is resilient. Etude knows we won’t reject her.

Wouldn’t it be great if people with stage fright could feel resilient and confident and not feel anxious about rejection?

I realize I broke through my writer’s block by just letting myself write whatever came to my mind – didn’t stop for grammar or corrections. Can edit later. Just write.

I recall reading that the jazz legend, Duke Ellington said there are two rules for being resilient

1) Don’t give up

2) Remember Rule No. 1

Etude apparently knows these “rules”. Even black cats can teach us important life lessons.

Don’t give up.

Just write.

How do you deal with writer’s block or other forms of performance anxiety? I’d love to hear from you.

Please write.


Featured photo by photosteve101

Photos of Etude by Julie Jaffee Nagel

  1. Louis Nagel 8 years ago

    Your best yet, Julie…….And so RIGHT——

  2. julie nagel 8 years ago

    Much appreciate!!! – you are great with him/her!!

  3. Sonya 8 years ago

    Beautiful… and I’m so happy for all three of you!

    Your unconditional love and altruism has lessened Etude’s anxiety. As musicians
    I suggest we remind ourselves of our unconditional love for the music we play and the purity of our motives to learn and perform it, and thereby relieve much of our anxiety.

  4. patty mays 8 years ago

    Dear Friend,
    This is absolutely the most beautifully written piece ever. Your kind spirit comes across so well. It makes me love you two even more. I’m listening to gorgeous music right now by Michael Card. Etude is a very blessed little black cat.

  5. Steven Huprich 8 years ago

    Etude found you, and you responded to her. I think this is an important life lesson, which you so wonderfully described. “Don’t give up. Remember rule #1”. When it seems as if life is not giving us what we want, keep trying. And even more so, remember that sometimes the Etudes come our way, and all we have to do is respond to them. I’m trying to keep this in mind right now, as I seek out new opportunities while at the same time hoping that when Etude comes to me, I won’t write her off as some random thing, but instead, embrace her for who she is and see what she can teach me. Some say this is divine, others say fate, other say luck, or that the universe will take care of you. Whatever it is, I hope I can keep on performing and look for the opportunities that come to me and want my attention. This is the what being Loved and giving Love is all about.

  6. Shelley Lake 8 years ago

    We too have an Etude with a story. BY (Backyard) appeared at our porch 4 years ago with a flee collar on her neck that she’d outgrown. The collar was probably placed on her as a kitten and as she grew it became tighter and tighter. As she appeared everyday to eat food we placed out for her, I eventually was able to catch her and snip off the collar. I swear she smiled at me. My husband also built her a house with an escape hatch at the top to allow her to jump out if a raccoon or other critter got in the house while she was sleeping. He loved her house. Two winters ago I followed her trying to find out where she’d go during the day and found her by a stream on some branches trying to keep warm. Every night though she would be back on our porch waiting to eat. Last year’s winter was so cold and we actually caught her to bring her inside. She wasn’t very happy, nor was my indoor cat and kind of crept around and when spring came she begged to go back outside. This year as it started to get cold and when she came to the porch to eat, we opened the door and she slowly came in. She has been much more comfortable this year than last. Our inside cat still dislikes her but BY takes it in stride and even taunts her playfully. She’s still not warm and cuddly but comes for treats and pets. Forcing her in last year was not the best solution to save her from the cold and so far this year she is safe, warm and fairly happy. As spring comes we’ll see how and why she chooses to leave.
    Julie – thanks for sharing your story; it was beautiful.

  7. julie nagel 8 years ago

    I thank all of your for your thoughtful and moving replies – when we open our hearts we also open “doors” – for cats and other people. Thank you for writing.

  8. patty mays 8 years ago

    I sat here and cried at the beautiful responses that your blog got. You have such a kind and good heart and you love mankind and animals with your whole heart. I am so grateful that you are still in my life, that we re-kindled a dear friendship from early childhood. I love you and you are a blessing to my life. I hope this is a good day for you, that you can relax a little and get ready for the next journey. Wish you could make a stop in Virginia to see what we have for you. You will like it.

  9. julie nagel 8 years ago

    Thank you my friend from all these years for your meaningful comments. I am so happy people are resonating to my blog – and that you are moved. I will come home with my family- and hopefully before long. One’s roots never disappear. I am glad we have become a “home” for Etude.

  10. Ellen Fivenson 8 years ago

    Etude, say Dude, is a very lucky cat. He/she picked the right stoop to snoop….with the right vibe to jibe… & cuddling to boot…what a hoot! Love your story and send you lots of love from a snowy, frozen North Country. Ready to take on MSU in basketball and the Seahawks for Brady tomorrow. XO Coach Fivenson


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