Summer officially cedes to autumn.
Tans fade. Half squeezed sunscreen bottles coagulate with dried lotion and California sun dips on the horizon just enough to cast long shadows during my early evening hike.
Yesterday a coyote shadow crossed the trail. Chester growled and I stooped to grab a fist-sized rock. At home this morning, slight breeze rustled the wind chime.
Fall feels simultaneously busy and cozy. In class we’re deep in thought and edit. We face shadows which hide real and imagined self truths. We dance between the comfort of staying on the trail of the first draft, the smooth story, the path that leads us to a destination we imagined when we began. We’re alternately sleepy and thrilled with new knowledge. We’re more tired here in Week 6 than we were in late August, fresh with our newly set goals, boosted by the adrenaline of a new endeavor.
At this point in the semester we begin to glance off road, to wonder what might happen – to us, to our stories – if we leave the trail of comfort and expectation. What if we bump along in the unknown for a while? We face our past patterns with new eyes. We squint into the light of new knowledge and try to capture some essence of this craft of writing we said we wanted to learn more about.
We face the projects, formed by the syllabus, individually shaped by our very own human natures. Some of us are steady. Some of us are more like a tide.
Some writers insist the only discipline is a daily practice. I cannot doubt the value of this. And then I come across an interview with Terry Tempest Williams in the Progressive that opens my mind to a different possibility.
I live in a very, very quiet place. I have a sequence to my creative life. In spring and fall, I am above ground and commit to community. In the summer, I’m outside. It is a time for family. And in the winter, I am underground. Home. This is when I do my work as a writer–in hibernation. I write with the bears.
This is a mirror to my own practice, this “sequence to my creative life.” It looks different than the writers who insist you must write every day, you must produce, you must train the brain to perform on demand.
I write with the sea. I write with moon and coyotes and silence. I write with students. I write in all seasons but there are weeks when I don’t write at all. And I don’t worry about this anymore as long as I meet my deadlines. I love deadline work as much as I hate deadline work because it means I can’t live forever wordless.
Dear students, you tell me the same thing.
So, if you’re stuck, live in the desert for a day or two without panic.
I fully trust you’ll continue. I fully believe in your process.