Wednesday, September 12, 2018

On Writing

What can I possibly write? 

Say that with different emphasis on each word/phrase, and you have the upshot of the stream of consciousness that's defined  my 7 days of Muse-Tracking here on Whidbey Island. (The brilliant Zen Buddhist Gail Sher opens her book about writing with a similar angst.)

What can I possibly write? (aka I have nothing important to say)
What can I possibly write? (aka There are surely things I cannot write)
What can I possibly write? (aka Who, me?)
What can I possibly write? (aka Probably not write)

If I were an innocent Muse, I'd be hiding out, too.

In all honesty, my darling Muse has been on the run for the better part of four years. I don't know exactly why I stopped writing in 2014...I have lots of excuses/guesses...but I can tell you if you've received a greeting card from me in these 4 years, then you've seen most of my work. Three finished novels in the Dropbox file, high profile NYC agent secured, a handful of rejections from editors at the country's top 10 publishing houses, and ka-boom. Writing done. Well run dry.

"Tired of writing into a void."
I'm pretty sure that's a direct quote from me.

I was 10 years old when people started telling me I was a writer. I'd penned (probably penciled) a funny little story about a girl named Angela who invented the first dishwasher. Even at 10, it seems, I could dig into my tortured writer with some openness and humor:
Angela = the name my 10 year old self wished I'd been given at birth.
Dish washing = my least favorite chore.

Some might say I was writing what I knew. Which, of course, is highly recommended.

So I have come to this place, and this desk 2100 miles from home, and these anxious moments to ask myself: What do I know? Can I write it? The answer, I'm really disappointed to say, is not coming quickly. (And jeez, I loathe the mocking of the blinking cursor.)

The writer Lorrie Moore makes this recommendation, which is also not inspiring me: I think you should become a writer only if you have no choice. First try being something, anything else. 

I have spent a lot of time in my fairly long life trying to be something else. But, damnit, I have this relentless nag inside me that says I am not finished creating.

Writers write. That's all there is to it.

But the work is a calling. If the calling subsides, so be it.

And that, dear friends, is why I'm here. To write or not to write...
Thank you for reading.


Monday, September 10, 2018

On Whidbey

It is Day 6 of a solitary sojourn to an island off the coast of Seattle.

Yes, it has rained. It started three days ago.

It is very sweet rain, the kind that sounds like sugar being poured from a bowl onto a wooden table. But, where I come from, when it rains, you stay inside.

So, I cozied in, which by last night, while trying to figure out how to make something yummy with two eggs and a plastic box of wilting power greens, was beginning to feel a little like a blossoming psychosis. If I hadn't run out of coffee beans this morning, I might have figured out how to live on butter and water and used tea bags.

Hermit Syndrome, I'm calling it (aka avoidant personality disorder). When you have no where to be, no one expecting you to look lively, absolutely no promises to keep (I know most of you are unable to imagine such a scenario), it begins to feel like a pretty great way to live. There is zero discomfort required: no shoes, no raingear, no extrovertish behaviors.

Books, a reading lamp, a down comforter and two eggs with wilted greens. Who could ask for more?

Except. I need coffee.

Showered, shoed, path charted to the Useless Bay Coffee roasters, I promised myself this afternoon I'd be back at the cabin in less than an hour with my darkly roasted beans, some fresh bread, and something proteiny. If I hurried, I would also miss the next scattering of showers.

But I got stuck behind a yellow-line-painting truck with a sign very clearly instructing me to stay off the stripe it was freshly painting. (Also worth noting, the truck was painting a double yellow line, so passing was illegal? I'm guessing even in a state where you can smoke weed freely, the double yellow line means business?). Rather than creep along behind the paint sprayer, I veered (my side of the road) toward a nursery that promised it had a cafe buried somewhere behind the Shrubbery for Sale - 30% off.

I stepped out of the car with skepticism. Coffee at a nursery? (welcome to the Seattle area)

Finding the cafe required some wandering, which turned out to be exactly what my reclusive hermit's heart needed. Hermit Syndrome, as you might imagine, is not especially breathtaking. Walking through the Bayview Nursery on Whidbey Island is.

Humerous side note - I kept wondering why apples were scattered everywhere, and decided the nursery was Earth-lovingly encouraging bees to thrive. Yep, I forgot apples might be falling from trees in Washington state.

Apples in the wild, kids!

From Bayview, it was a 5 minute (yellow striper finished) drive to Langley, aka Perfect Seaside Town. Shopkeepers are friendly old hippies, gelato is crazy delicious, and the walk along the seawall (Puget Sound wall) is like the best kept secret in America.

Apparently, on a clear day, there are mountains on the horizon. Probably fabulous...but, oh my soul, these clouds!

Driving back to the cabin (3 hours later) I hit rain more like water running out of the kitchen faucet into an empty cereal bowl than sugar falling softly onto a table. But, guess what? People in this part of the country don't worry about it. They're out and about. Not darting from place to place and fussing with umbrellas - just pulling up their hoods (click on it...actually saw this today) and carrying on.

I kinda love it.

Fact: My home city, Austin, receives 50 days of rain a year. Seattle, 152 days.

Another fact: Rain makes things grow. And the natural world 'round here is stunning.

Ponderable: Could I stand 3x rainy days?

Maybe. Even inside, the view is lovely...

Greeting card seen - and purchased - today in Langley, WA.

Peace, dear ones. Wishing each of  you such a sweet mix of solitude and natural wonder and heart-skipping inspiration.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

On Solitude

"Let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If [people] will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some, and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world."
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Mornings are - unquestionably - the sweetest way to start a day. Before there is wind in the trees or scampering in the woods, or an urgent sound from rooster, car, or airplane, there is a quiet invitation to breathe deeply and live your best day.

I'm with Thoreau. We should bottle it. So many of us have lost our subscription - our permission - to take long moments (at any time of day) to ponder what's ahead, inhale and exhale with intention, and savor a minute, or ten, of stillness.  

I have come to the woods on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle, to find mine.

To be clear, I did not build the cabin in which I am languishing, Thoreau-style, although I am certainly Thoreau-ishly eager for observations of the "essential facts of life", the fullness of nature, the singularity of solitude.

Nor have I come for two years. Just 12 days.
I am here on a Thoreau-esque mission, albeit abbreviated and absent construction, to discover what I might be missing in the never-ending hum of my lovely life at home.
  • What is beating in my heart that I refuse to hear in the bustle of a daily routine? 
  • Where on this journey am I zooming when I should be meandering? 
  • When did a TO DO list become the only creativity of the day? 
  • How do I find a well-lit path back to me? 
I am on day 4 today.

For the previous three days, I have quite intentionally attended to my breath, (especially that early one in the still of the morning). I have - daily - moved like cold honey through a dozen yoga poses, and sat with the sounds of birds and squirrels and faraway ferry horns in a meditative posture for a minimum of 15 minutes. I have celebrated tea and warm bread with butter over the writing journal - scribbling stream-of-consciousness until I discover myself doodling. I've moved like a sea turtle the 6 steps from desk to kitchen sink to porch and back to desk. Mindfully, deliberately. 

So. Day 4.
This was the day, per the wisdom of a shaman friend, I could expect the quiet to fully engage and shove aside the ground clutter inside my head.** The day I could begin to prophesy, dream dreams, see visions...

I will hold my hopes high for Day 5.

I can say this: I am calming.  It feels like I've lowered the pitch of my vibration in the world. My 2-month old headache is mostly gone. My deep breaths come in long draws instead of the shaky pieced-together jaggedyness I showed up with four days ago. 

But still...
In all this calm and beauty and solitude.
Still, I find I am entertaining a monkey in my brain.

I am ever so aware of Senator Kamala Harris's tenacious questioning of Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill this week. I've not fallen behind on my op-ed reading in the New York Times. I am still perusing everything from best fiction to most frightening fact at The New Yorker. Still clicking on the link to find out what's trending in food for Fall. Still shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding in October. Still checking Instagram. Still texting with my closest people.

Clearly, I did not get away from it all.
Because even in the sweet, deep woods of Whidbey Island - where there is no appointment to keep, no house to clean, no errand to run, no cell signal to speak of - there is wifi. And, to be honest, it was the first thing I took care of when I arrived. 

Logging on. 

What's a modern woman/writer/reporter to do about that, Thoreau?
I have not remained connected without some consternation. Is solitude really solitude with such ready access to the outside world? Is the grounding I have come here to find impossible with the chaos of the world glowing at me from the screen of my laptop? Am I afraid of unsupplemented alone time? 

I am giving a complete disconnect some thought. Perhaps for one full day, at least. 24 hours without the monkey jumping from the sounds of silence to the tirades of Twitter, from the freshness of the morning air to the dulled sense of national grief, from the lilt of a songbird to the lies of an Executive.

In fact, our man of intentional solitude, Thoreau, did not practice total abstinence from Real Life while in his woodsy cabin, either. It seems 1845 Walden Pond was swarmed with picnickers and swimmers every summer, ice fishers and skaters in winter. H.D. could walk from his cabin to the family home in Concord in 20-minutes. Apparently he did so several times a week to grab some of his mama's cookies and eat a meal with friends. Historians who like to pick on Thoreau, also tell us his mother and sisters made weekly visits to the cabin, bringing along food and gossip from home. (If this intrigues you, read this.)

So I'm not going to make apologies for being in the midst of a 2018 redefinition of simplify, simplify. I will only confess that I am experiencing solitude in a way most women I have known cannot/will not allow. Because...finances, calendars, families, commitments.

I am so lucky.

I do wish this opportunity for all my female friends who have let the continuous loop of "urgent" and "must do" play without stopping in their heads. For each of you, I promise to relish every one of the next 8 morning breaths, to stretch gratefully into every slow porch yoga pose, to chase the mind monkeys away for at least 15 minutes a day...and to look at the distracting beat of the world with calmer, kinder, more compassionate eyes. 

Also this...
How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. 
(Thoreau said this too.) 

So...whether in the sweet, searching hours of solitude or the distracting, always-with-us social media moments, do this: Stand up to live. And take a long, deep breath when you do.

I have heard this in the quiet morning air in the woods of Whidbey. 
Peace, friends.

**Results (apparently) cannot be guaranteed under certain conditions.