...and sometimes it finds you.
Writing is often a treasure hunt in which you have no map, no shovel, and in many cases, one you hadn't even realized that you had begun. And by "Writing" I mean "every moment of your life", because if you call yourself a writer (and why shouldn't you?) then pretty much anything you do intrinsically becomes a component of the writing process. Writing that statement, true as it is, makes me cringe, if only because I wouldn't want anyone to get the mistaken impression that being a writer means all you need to do is traipse around feeling poetical all the time; some of that is fine, but the main thing is you need to work. Even when you don't appear as though you are working, you must be working. I'll never forget listening to the writer Jack Ketchum talk about the difficulties of explaining to non-writers what the writing process is like. He was speaking of a girlfriend who was harping on him for not working and for just "staring at the wall". His answer? "That's writing, sometimes!" So true. Thought, experience, spacing out--all are invaluable to the inevitable act of actually getting words down on paper.
But sometimes, staring at the wall is just staring at the wall. All depends if you are working or not.
I took Starro the Conqueror beagle on a walk today, a day which was yet another thoroughly dismal gray February day in New Endland. I wore my sweatshirt with the beagle-frayed cuffs because I wanted to feel the chill, but also a hat and gloves because I didn't want it to seep into me. We were going at a pretty brisk pace and I was happy that my wife had been walking Star so much because she wasn't pulling like she did when she was a puppy.
We call Star the Sphinx sometimes because of the way she likes to perch along the back of our sectional sofa; when walking she can't resist leaping onto the many low stone walls that border the properties around town, just like a kid who can't seem to avoid rushing right towards the craggy rocks at the beach. I'm leading her along and part of the stone wall she is prancing along serves as the railing for a short bridge that spans a brook, one that runs swiftly even when not saturated with three solid days of snow, spit and rain like the surrounding countryside has been. I pause a moment and watch the brook flow, guaging it's depth. I realized that if Star were somehow to slip from both her harness and the wall itself to drop to the icy water below, that I would have virtually no chance to rescue her before the current carried her away. I'd have to leap the wall and make my way down the muddy embankment and hope that she didn't panic. Even if she could swim against the current--unlikely, given it's speed and her stubby legs, she'd have nowhere to go, as the sides of the brook were stone walls a good foot higher than the water, making it like a miniature canal. Far downstream--it was hard to tell through the underbrush, it looked like there might be a footbridge, but I didn't think it would stop her. I think she'd go right under it, and be lost.
This is what I'm thinking as I watch the dark water. I realize that Star has stopped her pacing to look at the water too, and then she turns back to me and for a moment we seem to sharing a common mind.
"I'd go after you," my half of the mind thought.
"I know you would," she thought in return, and went back to staring at the water, her floppy beagle ears brushing the lip of the stone wall.
Then the smell of wood smoke mixed with the peaty aromas of wet earth and mossy stone already in my nostrils triggered childhood memories that shimmered just beyond the reach of my consciousness. Other details of the present swirled into thosememories; the feel of cooling sweat on the back of my warm neck, the sound of the water below, the precise quality of gray light light that muted further the winter colors around me.
I hadn't gone looking for that moment, but there it was.
I inhaled until my lungs were full, held it, and then released, slowly. This is my signal to myself that I am alive, made of flesh, and not a character in a story.
Then I called my dog and we continued on our way.