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Not in one place. Not in another. Not past the spell of the past work; not yet caught up in the new. The writer between books.

I am at the house. And I am not here. I am listening to the birds, to the wind in trees, to the absence of human sound, and it is only the placing of the description on the page makes any of it real to me.

A tilled field, I am. The fertile growth has been harvested, the remains plowed under. The fragile, exposed ground is left open to the sun and air, waiting for new seed and rain to green it; to turn it into something worthwhile again. Letting the field lay fallow is a familiar concept. The reality isn’t nearly so fulfilling. For now, I am a dustbowl waiting to happen, waiting for the substance of me to be blown away.

As a character reflects in the last work, “he hadn’t expected to be so…without.” I am, in this moment, without.

I mourn this lack, and I don’t. I don’t like it, but I understand it. Understanding it hardly makes it easier. Nothing will heal the raw and naked ground but the verdancy of a new work taking root. The feeling is a revelation of how deeply involved we were; of how exhausted the break has left us. Knowing doesn’t help.

We stand in the space between raindrops, writers do. In the vacant place that is suddenly us, we don’t dance between the drops—we wander, restless, wanting to be touched by something, hoping for the cloudburst (for the drizzle, even) that will make something grow. From that cloudburst will come discontents and gifts, separations and conflicts. And purpose. But that time isn’t yet.

In this arid country, we are praying for rain.


There comes an inevitable moment in writing a book when you realize that you don’t really need your tape recorder any more.

You hold its lifeless little body in your hand; the soul of its urgency has fled onto the page. You don’t keep it strapped to your wrist at night. Days pass without your feeling the desire to touch the button combo that scribes your thoughts. The tiny tape, once hot with ideas, lay cooling behind its clear plastic window. You keep the device close, even so, because without it the juju might disappear.

Sad. And not. It’s a wonderful awareness, knowing how the absence defines the work’s progress. Yet, how sad because you know that obsession has less of a daily place in your life.

Then one day, a thought born of a dream or insomnia or something somebody said on NPR. The tickle of a small thought that might flee without your capturing it. You run to the recorder’s place at your bedside, a warm body in cool plastic, the lover you don’t have. You run, wet from the shower, to capture the idea that must be held in trust for a book already completed, a germ that will change everything. A phrase. A cadence. A seed that contains all the DNA of the unplanted plant, waiting for earth and sun. Like love rediscovered, if only for a moment.

Soon the reluctance will come; the sad severing from the completed book. Soon enough, the process will start again—new ideas, breathless new love, new characters more real than real. The little recorder will safeguard them as it does the ideas past. The recorder will be the keeper of my spirit, the prover and champion of my midnight notions. My confidante and companion. For now, I’ll hold it in my hand, in memory and hope.

I will be a literary cyborg. And happy for that.

An awakening at 4 a.m. Of the best kind. A dream.

A living space on water, although in the dream I never saw the main house. This was a kind of exposed, semi-circular under-story, with accoutrements all around that offered the possibility that this could well be a living space: chairs, a lovely old enamel stove, tables…and, incongruously, water beneath, an ocean that should not have been there.

People were there in the space. I didn’t know them, yet didn’t mind that I didn’t. Creative, they were. Eagerly so. Generous in their shared inventiveness, unlike the experience in so many other creative fields. Somewhere, there was a creative director, a guiding force that we never saw—but it didn’t matter. The presence was felt.

This creative engineer encouraged unusual forms of expression without limiting the forms they could take; a mentor invisible. The creators were encouraged to find the possibilities even in the unlikeliest of products. In the dream, I found great power in something that was a cross between a seashell and an exotic spiral pastry…and it occurred to me that some unrevealed potential might be found there. Any object could be the spur to creativity—a tactile expression that wouldn’t require words on paper to express what one should think or feel about the project at hand. An unlikely method ever to adopt, certainly, but an encouragement of non-traditional ways of thinking. The legitimizing of wild fancy as a tool for the imagination. A realization that ideas are findable in every possible form.

And the dream, strangely enough, informed another lightning bolt about the book-in-progress: The freedom to redefine how creativity is generated…the essence of the group of artists at the center of the story, a group for which competitiveness is nonexistent and cooperation and encouragement are all.

The dream’s environmental imagery—as real as reality, although I have never seen any of it—gave me a way to richen the story’s physical space. The energy in the dream room gave me other ways to expand the idea of art’s Divine light and send it into other places throughout story; told me how much richer the metaphor would become if I applied multiple touches. The dream pushed the concept; reminded me of a solution where I hadn’t even seen a problem.

The channel to the invisible. In the constant slog that the commerce-job has been, in this craft-driven stage of the book’s re-writing, that clear channel has been rarely in evidence. I’ve missed it. Last night, I went back to the place of the gifts in dreams. And heard lessons I’m even now trying to decipher. Lucky me. Very lucky me.

Is there ANYBODY, this time of year, whose conversation doesn’t turn sooner or later to the seasonal blues? Whether it’s being starved for light, or the insidious turning back of clocks, or the demands of a relentlessly upbeat holiday, we all feel the downward tug at the corners of our souls.

And creative people: Sometimes I think we’re the worst of the lot.

We talked about this in our e-salon yesterday. What is it in us that lets us—makes us—feel that suffering has more value for our work? The paradigm for comedians tells us that a lot of them have had tough childhoods or challenging personality traits. For artists and musicians and writers (the last category being the one I know best), there seems to be an unwritten rule that we create from a place of melancholy rather than joy. Why?

This silence that attends the act of creation: Is it a natural home for melancholy? Do we turn our melancholy into our art, or does our art create the melancholy?

Personally, I don’t particularly fear melancholy. Truth to tell, I welcome it, am comfortable with it. Paradoxically, I am happy when I’m there. Melancholy (not sadness, mind you—melancholy, a different thing altogether) is a steady state, a level ground, a comfort zone in which delight and darkness can both come to visit. As a creative person, I find more colors in melancholy; more possibility. The language is richer, here, and easier. It gives me good air to breathe.

Melancholy has no expectations. I can smile in the midst of it. And feel deep gratitude. Melancholy is like the friend who listens…and nods at my choices…and doesn’t ask me for anything other than to be what I am.

Think I’ll take a little break (it’s Sunday, after all), but I wanted to share a first for this house: the earthquake.

It hit in Oklahoma last night, just before 11. And we felt it down here on the river, nearly 200 miles away. The bed shook, as if someone were shaking the bedframe. The ceiling fan trembled. It lasted long enough to make me pay attention. Wow.

I’ve had earthquake insurance, here, for years. Here’s hoping that the occasion to use it is still far off. My thoughts to the folks who took the brunt of it.

All houses, I suppose, have a morning side and an afternoon side. My little house on the river is no different.

The morning side, where most of the windows are, warms in the sunshine (except on days like today.) The sun that creeps over the hills across the river tickles my eye into waking and paints rainbows through the prisms in the living room windows.

The afternoon side is an embrace. Dim in the daytime, yet sweetly bright toward the end of day, full of 3 p.m. light, the perfect place to cuddle under a throw for an afternoon nap.

The morning side is where I write, mostly (at least until I clear some of the flotsam of the move that hasn’t yet found a place to live), saving artificial illumination for when it’s absolutely needed.

The sky on the afternoon side was built for sunsets. My parents and I used to bring the lawn chairs there on every promising evening, to watch the sun go down gloriously against the far hills. The near hills, like my old bedroom, were made to celebrate the retiring of the sun.

For me, writing has become the occupation of the morning side, the light. My heart, nowadays, belongs more to the morning side; the evening side, a time for recovery and reflection. Some days I still want to pull my horizons in tightly, and tug my concentration close around me, like a coverlet over my head. That, I guess, will be what the office is for. For the times I seek the darkness rather than trying to chase it.

It’s been said that if you wonder whether you’re nuts, you’re probably not.

I wonder if that’s true.

What about those of us who spend inordinate amounts of time wondering just what brand of crazy we are?

Writing demands a big ol’ truckload of crazy to start out with. Who in her right mind, after all, would sit in a silent room day after day, pulling people out of the air, marching them through the unexpected (and also wholly made-up) turns of their lives? Who would suffer the anxieties of a chapter that refuses to go smoothly? Who would set herself up for the tortures of rejection and indifference?

We do. All those things. Every day. Is that true crazy—or merely useful crazy?

I’ve mused before in this space about the fine line between oughtta-do-it and gotta-do-it; the involuntary place in which a writer dwells, unable to imagine doing anything else. But what is the nature of it?

The companionability of the writing process is built into us…crazy in its compulsiveness, as inescapable as an addiction. Is the unwillingness to break from its black-hole gravity the crazy part? Or is it merely evidence of a choice? Is useful-crazy the rationalization we make for being truly nutso?

Being a writer looms large in me. It blots out the sun, sometimes. I find myself, on occasion, pushing fleshandblood people away when they threaten my time with the written ones. I am jealous of my characters’ company; these are friendships I am not always willing to share. If I make the choice to spend the time in the silence of their collective presence, which crazy is that? When the story fulfills me more than human relationships do, where am I in the grand scheme of my sanity?

These are questions that are safe to ask only in the daylight hours, with the strength of full energy to carry me. Comes the twilight, another matter. That’s where the doubts come. The paralysis of helplessness; the truer crazy. We rationalize best in sunshine. In dark, we fear; we are closer to true crazy.

Maybe true crazy is the state one doesn’t question. But I can tell you this: It’s a helluva lot less fun.

So…here’s an understanding I never expected.

Granted, it’s coming at the end of a very full day, an hour in which I’m inclined to harsh self-assessment; a moment in which I’m winding down on a vastly improved chapter that still has a way to go to be right, improvements I haven’t quite qualified yet. But here’s the thing….

I realize that I thrive on contrast. Being torn between two places sharpens my wits. Wanting one thing and living another makes the experiencing of both more acute.

That need works itself out quite nicely when there’s a job involved. The demands of the job make the writing hours more valuable. The writing that’s made to fit into the off-hours becomes more valuable. I know that I’ll have the enforced step away from it when the workweek starts again. A big loop.

Similarly, the chaos of moving and job-searching makes the writing time more valuable. But when I’m settled, here—what then?

I love it here, make no mistake. I am not afraid of the silences or of sounds made by no one but me. But—and I must admit this—the days here can be markedly similar.

I am 14-plus miles from the nearest town of any size. The things that one can do in town are limited…imagine a place where panko breadcrumbs and manchego cheese are alien life-forms. Where rock music stopped in the 80s. Where I couldn’t find raw duck breast to save my life. The forced-focus of contrast is absent. The observances that make up the new paradigm of contrasts are smaller; subtler.

It’s a wakeup call.

I’ll feel different in the morning. Possibilities are illuminated in daylight. As in birding, every day holds the chance of the unexpected, the good bird. Every walk holds the chance of the company of mink and deer, as this morning. Every look at the river might have a bald eagle in it. Dinners wait to be created. Books wait to be read. Songs wait for an extra voice.

And the page, the characters, the created world? That’s always different, if I let it be. The paralysis of “what next?” is something to be avoided. Like walking in a thunderstorm: one knows better.

It’s up to me to find the living in living. And that is the best revelation of all.

Gene Kelly danced in the rain. Enjoyed it, yes; celebrated the finding of love in it, yes. But he danced despite the rain, not because of it.

For some of us, we write to the virtue of grey.

Writing in rain. How much easier it is for some of us to write under grey skies than sunny ones. That lowered sky holds our thoughts close-in; keeps our words nearer to us than if we were to think them under a canopy of infinite blue.

The grey sky contains us; it is much more like the roof we see on the inside of our heads. Grey is the color of the melancholy infused into our DNA. The part of us that sighs even as it smiles.

Which raises another question: Do we write from a place of melancholy or joy?

We write from an ecstatic place, sometimes. And, sometimes, from deep sorrow. We write hope and fear and loneliness and gratitude. We exorcise nothing—we merely share it. Often, we magnify it in the remembering. We dance in rain, despite ourselves.

Ah, but grey.

Grey flattens contrast. Grey lays gauze over the vision that pops. Grey is a soft foundation. A lack of challenge. A fill-in-the-blanks. Grey does not insist that we be happy. Grey-with-rain gives us permission to sit in a chair and ruminate.

Grey is not an extreme. In the seesaw between joy and  sorrow, grey balances us somewhere in between. And that is the perfect place from which to reach for everything.

…I want to. Because I can. Because you may need something to read over the weekend. And because I’m taking notes for a sequel. Because doing this makes me very, very happy….

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