Dear writing one,
There will come a day when you will stop writing, for no good reason. There will be no drama, no single event that sinks your writing heels into the ground. You will come home from a writing retreat with good pages and confidence and work still to do and you will intend to keep doing it. Life itself is what will intervene.
It is not you being lazy. It is not you being blocked. It is not you abandoning writing. It is not writing abandoning you.
You will try to figure it out, attribute it to the work itself, to the space in which you write, to the siren songs of other work awaiting your attention. You will try to uncover psychological secrets about the creative process and apply them, make the lying fallow be about something important. That is not what it is.
It is perimeter fencing on the farm being redone. Old fences being taken down, new boundaries created, where to put the fence, clearing things that are in the way. Some of these will be trees, the saplings, which can be sacrificed for the new fencing. The process of choosing will grind you to a halt, consideration of life, trees of life, privacy, keeping out things that bark or bite.
It is digging down to the slippery red clay, the kind that forms huge clumps along the soles of your flowery muck boots. You will walk as if wearing snowshoes, but these are mud shoes, weighing you down, sticking your feet to old footprints, keeping you from forward motion.
The auger will hit rock, safety pins will break, fence lines will need to be re-routed. But rock is a Mother Earth’s invitation to sit, to ground and center. A fence does not belong there anyway.
Old and crooked gates, made that way by oaks felled by storms, hitting fence, yanking everything out of line, will be replaced by shiny new ones, hung level and straight but the wrong way. You will walk to the wrong end of these new gates many times, try to open the end that is bolted to the post. You will remember why the old gates went the way they did, and you will wonder if form wins over function and decide that it does not.
You will grieve the old gates. Then you will fix the new ones. But in the space between you will have to approach things from new angles. Gain new perspectives.
During the reprieve between fencing being finished and wrong things being tweaked, you encounter a mysterious ATV rider racing down the private gravel lane, helmeted in white, face blacked out by plexiglas. You will call the sheriff, sensing both danger and mystery, and then you will get in the farm truck and go looking for the trespasser yourself. Action, denouement, you are not writing but the arc of a story forms.
You wait for the contractor’s return to clean up the mess of wrong details. You learn to live peacefully with things left undone.
Lying fallow is electric companies wanting to cut down trees that don’t belong to them, telephone and internet companies not responding to lack of service, appointments and preparation of food for horses, donkeys, dogs, cats, family, children who are now graduate students and undergraduates and still they need things from you and you are grateful to provide them.
It is you taking a trip and meeting a Pacific Giant Octopus who comes out of the gray dark corner in his tank and looks you in the eye. You see it then, cephalopods are sentient, they have personality. Those early years of wanting to be a marine biologist rush back and while the octopus puts on a show, coiling and uncoiling his tentacles, showing them off, you ponder a career change, graduate school yet again, math and more biology, research that allows you to work with this magnificent creature and others like him.
On the plane home you order a book about the biology of octopuses and read it in great hungry gulps. You search the internet for graduate programs, peruse the requirements for admission. You take out a note pad and calculate your age and how many years of study it would take, whether you would have time to do all the chores while getting a PhD.
And still the writing does not come.
Rain will fall and mud will form and farm/barn chores will lick at you like waves on the shore of a choppy sea. The chapters of the novel, the short story, the essay already written, these feel like islands that you once visited, never to return.
But please know that this is true: under the current of days and hours, the work still simmers. You walk the new fence line and admire how straight it is. How smartly it keeps the horses safe, form and function merge in one long streak of near perfection. You run your hand lovingly along gates that work well, you learn to live with new entrances and ways of traversing the farm. You write letters and make calls and do the things necessary to protect the trees, keep the internet working, finish the undone tasks.
You have glimmers of something in your head, flashes of light and particles, stories reduced to their tiniest parts. There is hope.
The aching shoulder finally gets physical therapy, strengthening exercises, the start to healing. Pots on the back burners are brought to the front of the stove. It’s the time of year when winter sometimes feels like spring, reminding you that seasons change, stages end, there are cycles, and you are always in one.
You remember that it is okay to take breaks, that a morning of mucking manure can be rewarded with a trip to the local coffee shop. That the space to sit and do nothing is where the magic happens. Sitting in the coffee shop window, a single line of dialogue your mom shared over a year ago from a memory of her grandfather comes to mind, the one you wrote down because it was rich and full of mystery and a story that had never been told, a story you did not know but had to wait for. A story that had to lie fallow to gain message and intention.
On this day, sitting in the coffee shop, the story forms nearly whole and you find a piece of paper and jot it down, an outline, so you do not forget. That’s all it takes; the creative current rises, rushes, pulls. Whatever it was that lay fallow has come to life again, like the compost in the pile in the back yard you turned yesterday, full of earthworms and scraps of old meals and sweet-smelling black compost, a work in progress. There are fire ants too, but every story needs the possibility of bite, the hope of fire.
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