IS IT JUST ME? OR DOES WHERE WE WRITE AFFECT WHAT WE WRITE?
For instance, my novelist pal Margaret writes at home. Each morning at five she rises, lets the dogs out, puts on the kettle, boots up her laptop and settles onto her quiet porch, where she taps out lovely, quiet stories of single women, their dogs, and the porches where they sip tea.
Margaret’s kid, Sam, writes in night cafes. Scrawling long-hand, he records the frantic rattle of the twenty-something life that throngs around him. Sam’s work has sirens in it—flirtation, drugs, disaster—but no quiet stories. No dogs.
Certainly, writing doesn’t always reflect the spot where it’s produced. Just as certainly, writers—creatures of great habit—often have, in addition to a favorite pen or writing program, a favorite place to write. Like Baby Bear’s chair, the spot we’ve carved from a world of chaos can feel just right.
But once habit takes the short leap to superstition (I can only write …in the bathtub? at my table at Starbucks? in the library? at the zoo?), we’ve given our creative power away.
Where’s the last place you’d ever want to write? Where would you love to write but haven’t? Like Winter, try moving your writing chair.
If you’re a writer who needs absolute ear-plugged silence to get a word on the page (Hello, me!), take a trip to a local music hot-spot and write while guitars and synthesizers fuss and wail.
If you’re an out-and-about, hip sort of writer, settle yourself on a mossy seat in a forest or by a lake. Get your own heartbeat on paper. Write about the quiet in green ink.
It’s a big ol’ world out there. Take your laptop on a field trip. Grab some of that big ol’ energy for your writing. Who knows? Like Milo, you might find a new, just-right spot—and maybe even a new, just-right voice to go with it.
This post is a revision of a piece I wrote in 2008 for my then-blog, Workshop Porkchop. I was an adventuring writer at the time. Now, more of a stay-at-home writer, this is a good reminder for me. I hope it inspires your writing and my own!
IT WAS SO FREAKIN’ COLD that day in the tiny Central Florida town of Oviedo that the anachronistic Oviedo chickens had huddled under the frost-bitten azaleas bordering the Ace Hardware parking lot and hunched in feathery clumps between oak tree roots.
A week before, I’d run a creativity workshop based on Julia Cameron’s ideas. Inspired by my own facilitation, I took myself on a combination Weekly Walk and Artist Date—to do just what I’d asked my workshop participants to do: walk, then jot down what I saw.
So, first there were the chickens.
After leaving them behind, I turned up Central Ave. and crossed a small bit of bridge (an asphalt hump, really, covering a concrete pipe through which a thread of brown water passed). There, I shared cold-weather pleasantries with a young black man on a bicycle, who paused—gloved, parka-ed, and balaclava-ed—to watch the trickle of rusty water lap against the rocks lining its narrow bed.
Bidding the young man goodbye, I wandered across North Central and through the sparse grove of oaks that separates Central from Geneva Drive. There, I came upon the white block Fountainhead Missionary Church with its thick panes of stained glass. How would the light inside the sanctuary appear after traveling through those windows? I wondered. Would it be purple, like sacramental wine? Bottle green, like old hope? Deep sapphire, like a promise placed on a loved one’s hand?
Since there was no one around to let me in to see, I crossed Broadway to Blue Moon Antiques and Consignments. There, I overheard a nicely-suited, middle-aged guy telling the owner that his nineteen-year-old son, newly released from prison, had stolen, then hocked or sold, three boxes of his prized 1960s-1970s record albums, and that he was now touring Oviedo-area pawn shops, antique malls, and thrift stores trying to recover them. But, the store owner told him, shaking her head, none had made their way to the Blue Moon.
I stepped out of the shop just as the man eased his Taurus wagon slowly down the Blue Moon driveway and headed east for Chuluota.
From the wooden stoop, I waved at his rear-view … just in case he looked back.
Tarot writing prompts
The Eight of Cups is a wanderer. Seeking emotional fulfillment, she leave her past behind. She is guided on her quest by her imagination, by the possibilities that beckon from around the next curve in the road. And if she doesn’t find what she’s looking for, there? Welp, she’ll just keep on walking.
Here are three writing prompts inspired by the Eight of Cups.
PROMPT ONE: Write a series of three scenes about a character who sets off seeking something to fill an emotional gap in her life.
Scene 1: Demonstrate your character’s dissatisfaction with a specific situation—then show her walking out the (perhaps metaphorical) door in pursuit of something better.
Scene 2: Make sure to let the reader see what guides your character’s feet along her path. How does she decide where to go?
Scene 3: She’s discovered something! What is it? How did she stumble upon it? And does it really fulfill her unmet needs?
PROMPT TWO: If, on the other hand, like the “record salesman’s” father, your character is missing something specific—due to theft or carelessness—write a scene in which she traverses her neighborhood, trying to find what she’s lost.
PROMPT THREE: Or, perhaps, like me that day, she’s just wandering hoping something interesting will turn up. If so, what does turn up? And how does it change her life?
IT’S FRIDAY. THE INFLUX OF WORK HAS ABATED. After hitting send on the last edit in the queue, I pack up three tarot decks, two spiral-bound journals, a small herd of mechanical pencils, a bag of raw pumpkin seeds—and a plan.
I’m going to drive the twenty-five miles to Writing Wench’s house out in The Actual Freaking Country, where she lives with her husband and fifteen cats (give or take; she doesn’t count them, she says, because she really doesn’t want to know how many she has).
Once there, I will hunker across the yellow Formica table from WW, and we will write, she, revising a chapter in her novel-in-progress; me, drafting a blog post for September—about tarot’s Hermit card. I hope.
I continue to underestimate the plague that is Central Florida traffic, so I get stuck on Red Bug Lake Road near Tuskawilla Road, albeit in a drizzly rain that drops the temperature from a brutal 93 degrees Fahrenheit (do I need to qualify that as “brutal”?) to a semi-bearable 87 degrees. At the side of the road, where traffic has entirely halted my progress at the entrance to Willa Springs Village shopping plaza, a young man holds up a neatly Sharpie-markered cardboard sign: Homeless. Food. Clothes. Anything. Please help.
His not-quite-shoulder-length blond hair looks clean (not that it needs to; just a point of fact), as do his face and his long-sleeved chambray shirt. Drastically bowlegged, he pitches side to side as he walks along the berm, as if his pelvis has been broken at some point.
I roll down my passenger side window. “Can I get you something to eat from Publix?” I call. He lurches over. His face, I see now, is softly freckled, his eyes, pale blue. He looks young. Misplaced.
He’s not hungry, thank you, he tells me, but would really enjoy a bottle of whole milk.
(Whole milk? How wrong is it that I wonder for a moment if whole milk is somehow used to cook or otherwise prepare a drug I’ve never heard of? Probably pretty wrong. On the other hand, what do I care—even if it is?)
I pull out of the snarl of traffic and into the relative calm of the Publix parking lot, heart lifted because I have a mission. Inside the supermarket, I dismiss the idea of getting the young man organic grassmilk—milk produced by grass-fed cows—as it might taste too “green” to him, a bit sour. Instead, I settle on a quart of whole, homogenized T.G. Lee Dairy milk: Our Farmers Pledge NO Artificial Growth Hormones. I also get five dollars in cash at check out.
In the fifteen or so minutes it’s taken me to get back to the young man at the side of the road, the drizzle has stopped and the heat returned, so that, when he thanks me for the quart of milk and the five dollars, sweat is beading on his forehead and a rivulet trickles down his nose. After a moment, in which I realize there is probably nothing more I can do to help, I wish him the very best I can wish him and go on my way.
At Writing Wench’s table, tea steeping, cats occupying various perches, I take out the Hermit card from each of the three decks I’ve brought and start to consider my blog post. But after a few minutes, it’s clear that all my pen wants to talk about is the young man at Publix. So I let it. Because, while by the bright light of this mid-afternoon sun I can’t see how that story connects to the Hermit, I suspect it does—and that tonight, by the gentle light of the seeker’s moon, I’ll see exactly how.
Tarot writing prompt
1) Plan a (modest) solo journey.
2) Embark. Along the way, allow for interruptions. When one finds you, be curious. Lift the lantern of your heart to see what there is to see. And if you happen to meet the Buddha on the road, in whatever disguise, don’t kill him. Instead, ask how you can be of service. Then, having done what you can do, continue on your journey.
3) Once you reach your destination, pour a cup of tea and write about where you’ve been.
This post was inspired by the Hermit of the tarot deck. The Hermit, a loner, is often shown cloaked, in the moonlight, holding up a lantern to indicate a search for spiritual understanding. The Hermit’s quest, of course, can take him inward, as well as on the road. Ours, too. Because all of life is a quest and we, perhaps, all Hermits, seeking our truth.
HUGH HOLBORN’S PREPARATIONS for his upcoming hike of the southern quarter of the Appalachian Trail (a mere 425 miles!) continue. He’s adopted the moniker “Teatime” for his Big Stroll. Signing trail registers with trail names, he says, make individual hikers’ journeys easier to follow. Now, his blog, Teatime on the AT, has been picked up by TOTALLY ST. AUGUSTINE, an arts and entertainment site focused on happenings in Hugh’s hometown.
But why “Teatime”?
Our world, Hugh says, has become a reckless gyroscope spinning wildly out of control. One needs a weapon to guard against its assault. A tool, if you will, to separate the future from the now. Tea provides the perfect punctuation. Taking time for tea says, ‘Pardon me, World, I am getting off at the next stop. You folks continue onward. I will rejoin the hootenanny a bit later.’
We will encounter places along the trail high in the Smoky Mountains, with thousands of vertical feet separating us from the life that exists below, he continues. There, we shall put down our packs and stop the motion of our trail-weary selves. Then, I shall reach deep in my pack for a small stove and round pot, boil enough water for the three of us, and announce to my boys, ‘Brace yourselves, young princes of the Appalachian Trail, it’s time for tea!’