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I sit staring at blank pages quite a lot. The cursor blinks at me, taunts me. My head is blank. Such was the case with the last essay I wrote, and many before that. Writing a paper for English or writing a musical score, there is no difference. All forms of writing have that effect on me. The blank sheet of paper and the empty computer screen each mock me as I attempt to complete my task. When the paper sits staring at me I ask myself, “Why is this so hard? A few words and then you’ll be done.” Unfortunately the words never come. Inevitably I end up writing on my “go-to” topic: music education. Starting something new, creating a fresh, bold idea seems to be the bane of my existence.

Music education satisfies many an essay topic, my antidote to the emptiness of a white piece of paper. It is a versatile and well-known topic. There is no need for research, I know all the arguments. An essay in support of music education does not confuse. Not many write essay in favor of cutting extra-curricular activities. But my favorite reason of all, however, is that music education does not stir deep-seated controversy. No one gets visibly upset at you for your essay and no one is offended. Like a drug addict, I cannot stop writing on this topic. My continued use will result in an unfavorable outcome, I know that. With each paper I write, with each dose, each “fix” I get, the relief becomes weaker. For every music education essay I turn in, I know the grade will barely be acceptable. White loaves of bread stir greater passion in a person than an essay on music education. But there is no way to increase the dosage, and this fear of stirring controversy follows me. I cannot stop. “What if I write something offensive?” I ask myself. Worse yet, what if it just is not good. Failure lurks behind me with every keystroke. The grade I receive is acceptable, and it will do. I must continue.

My ability to write music suffers too. No one wants to be told their creative work does not sound good, is not “right”. I spend my life in a practice room playing pieces written by dead composers. I mimic the sounds of famous bassoon players. I do as my teacher tells me: play the same artists he played and use the same exercises he uses. I sound like him. There is no creativity. My skill is a product of serial plagiarism, copying ideas from others to make them my own. Give me a blank sheet of staff paper and it will continue to remain blank. Thoughts like, “Who am I to make marks here? What gives me the right? I am no composer,” fill my head. I have no original melodies to write. All I can do is synthesize works of other artists onto a piece of paper in an attempt to create an “original” work. It is not me, but it is acceptable. But fill a page with notes or words - I cannot do either.

I remember a conversation I had with a senior friend my freshman year of high school. I asked, “How do I pass my classes, get good grades, and go to college?” A simple enough question for a naive freshman.

“Keep your head low,” Simon said.

“What do you mean?” I quickly asked, confused as ever.

“Don’t cause a stir,” he replied, “No teacher wants a challenge. Just do what they say, don’t make a fuss. If they ask you for your opinion, be a moderate. Just don’t draw attention to yourself for having different ideas.”

It was strange to hear that. All along I had thought I needed to stand out, but who was I to argue with Simon? After all, he was 3rd in his class. Obviously this code had worked for him. It worked for me too. Years passed in high school, during which I wrote painfully dull essays on music education, why we need to recycle, and other common topics. Papers were passed back, the grades I received were good, not great, but they reinforced the self-suppression of my creativity. Teachers constantly wrote, “Okay writing. Needs more voice.”

The cursor still stares at me: the blank page seems such a large space to fill. I start to write something different, a topic that I normally would not touch. My hands begin to shake. I start to sweat. Withdrawal. I cannot do it. Fear grips me. Might as well color the Grand Canyon using a crayon. “Write something! Something meaningful!” the page yells at me.

Despite the lukewarm reception my writing receives, I can never obey. Without the controversy of ideas, life is easy, especially in school. I never argue with teachers and I never offend my peers with what I have to say. It is very relaxing. I offend no one. I receive relief. Every year, sometimes every semester, my professors and teachers change. I do not spend time learning the views of my professors in order to not offend them with my writing. My lack of creativity does that. It does not offend anyone, yet it rarely impresses anyone.

Despite my fear to be bold, to make a stand, and present my ideas, I know that the greatest changes in history come from those willing to take a chance. I know I must stop using this drug, this crutch my writing stands on. Copernicus took a chance publishing his assertion that the sun did not revolve around Earth. Martin Luther decided all was not well in Catholic Europe, nailing his treatise to the door of his hometown Catholic church. Their writing changed the world. No I am not Copernicus, I am not Martin Luther, I am no one. But if I do not try, I will never be someone. The blank page before writing a dull essay, the empty staffs of music paper, that is the extent of my creativity, or lack thereof. I want to nail my mark into the door of history, I want to become a “someone”. Every essay I write, every melody I compose is a battle I fight with myself. My desire to create something new, despite who I might offend, goes up against my desire for stasis, for everything to remain the same and to not upset anyone. The formidable opponent, the stark white, 8 ½ by 11 inch nemesis, drains me of any last stitch of creativity I might have after 12 years of public schooling. The tasteless words flow out of me, familiar yet disgusting as I know they are not what I want to say. I hear my pencil scratch out notes onto the page; bland, uninteresting melodies that no one wants to hear again for the umpteenth time.

I suppose I will always be afraid of controversy. After 12 years of writing dull, uninteresting papers there is nothing else I know. Creativity seems just out of reach, and the relief brought by familiar topic and melodies are so close at hand. New words and notes just will not bring themselves to appear on my papers to form new ideas. Try to not be like me. Branch out, take a chance, make a change. Life is full of battles; we should not let them be against our own inhibitions. Each new essay or composition presents a new battle for me. Do I say what I feel or do I say what I think the reader wants to hear? The white, empty space, waiting for words should terrify, it should inspire.

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