Stopgap by Mary Ellen Walsh

Professor Robert Reeves said in class that some say, “Confinement yields illumination.”

Two traffic lights were recently erected on a main street in Syosset where I’ve lived on and off for 38 years.  Jackson Avenue is a major artery often clogged by traffic blockages.  Out-of-towners use it as a thoroughfare heading towards Oyster Bay and Bayville.    There’s no expressway heading north—only local roads.   Syossetites rely on the avenue to get from point A to point B.  Two neighborhoods have no alternative way out.  Neighbors are trapped within the confines of infrastructure.

The first few days having been stopped at a corner where decades ago I had breezed through was annoying. 

Stop.  Here?  Never.  Who made this new rule in my life?  I need to drive the kids to lessons.  C’mon!  The forced stoppage became just another squeeze on my already frustrating life as a freelance writer, mother of three (read: glorified chauffeur) and a newly minted MFA student.

After a week, while stopped at the first light, it occurred to me that Reeves was right.   Stopping the flow of energy, in this case traffic, helped control it.  The town seems less congested and easier to pass through.  And I did what we writers do, I overlaid the grid of the physical world onto my make believe chamber I’m much happier living inside.

I grabbed a pen and the itty-bitty notebook in the glove compartment.

Lose Jason as a character, I wrote waiting for the light to change to green.  Amy (protagonist) needs to lose her job.  She needs the money.  She’d have to leave town looking for work…. And I was off pruning or creating stop gaps for my characters in a novel I’ve been writing.

Dams are used as a barrier to retain water, creating reservoirs of natural resources to convert to energy.  

Containing something brings order or power over the chaos and if you’re lucky even spawns an alternative use.

The light turned green and I was free to go—well somewhat free.   I forgot where I was going.  Oh yeah, to pick my son up from guitar lessons.

 I tucked the notebook and pen on the passenger seat waiting for the next red light.

Mary Ellen Walsh is a first-year fiction MFA student working on a rock ‘n roll love story “Till Now” set on Long Island.   As a freelance writer and PR / social media maven, Walsh has written about anything from cockroaches to the healing power of music.

Mostly, she is a lifestyle feature writer touching on health, women’s issues and artists’ profiles: books, authors, musicians and visual artists, published in: Newsday, New York Daily News, LI Pulse, Long Island Press, Wellness, Family, LI Parenting News, and elsewhere. Walsh penned “Eat Out, Eat Right” in Wellness magazine and “Mewsings” on which won first and second place 2011 Press Club Media Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists (PCLI) for humor column.
You can email her at to chat about writing.

  1. Ah, the traffic light! What would we writers do without it? Nice piece! 🙂

  2. Laurie Bocca says:

    I always enjoy ready what Mary Ellen has to say!

  3. Dr. Doctor says:

    It’s tough to stop the flow of creative energy. I had a similar moment to the one you described above, where trapped in my car I found a pad and pen and started scribbling notes. I was annoyed about the delay, being stuck in the middle of a highway instead of at a traffic light, so I amused myself by writing nonsense and making up characters to get my anger out of my head and onto the page (don’t worry I never wrote while actually driving, it was rush hour on the Hutch so we weren’t moving at all for long periods of time).

    Normally I enjoy the manic rush of energy that leads to creating art in any form, but you (and Prof. Reeves) are right about confinement leading to illumination. Sounds like you took lemons and squeezed out vital structural elements for your project. I mean lemonade …

    So in traffic, those notes eventually became a short story, and that became a chapter in my first novel. All because of being confined for a brief time.

    It’s nice to be reminded that slowing down, even stopping, is a form of progress. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s