There is a picture of Amelia on the fridge. Her with a shy smile and a shaggy haircut, her face round and chubby. It’s mounted on a rectangle of pink foam, covered in heart stickers placed messily by a 5-year-old hand. It’s been hanging there since the day she brought it home from kindergarten, just another piece of the detritus of childhood. But the other night, I caught a glimpse of it in the dimly lit kitchen, and I realized, that magnet is now a historical document. Its heart stickers are coming unstuck, the photo is smudged with … who knows what. And that little girl is gone, gone.
Writing doesn’t have to be so complicated.
It can just be me, lying here on a hammock beside the water, surrounded by sailboats. The sound of fish jumping. Clouds floating lazily across a blue sky. It can be this longleaf pine towering above me, tall and gangly, full of pine cones that threaten to drop on my head. This vine crawling up the trunk, circling round and round, its orange flowers lit up by the sun.
Why can’t I write? I don’t understand it. I read books about writing, and then feel overcome with the desire to write. But later, I’ll do it later, when I have time, when I’m alone.
I’ve gotten up every day, for months now, and written my morning pages: three pages of stream of consciousness scribbling. I’ve gone on creative excursions and given myself precious time alone. I took a drawing class, to exercise some different artistic muscles. I did all 12 weeks of The Artist’s Way, including the awful one where I gave up reading, podcasts and television. I’ve laid every bit of groundwork I can, and then some. I am the person who wants to write a novel, but instead spends years building the perfect writing cottage in the backyard. I think my cottage is finished now. I have no excuses left.
Today I took myself for a walk in the forest.
As I walked, completely alone, the sun shone through the tender spring leaves, the wind rushed through the treetops, and the ferns, just unfurling their fronds for the year, lined my path.
A little way down the trail, a simple wooden bridge crossed over a small creek. I stopped at the end of it and sat down on the bank of the creek to watch and listen to the life of the forest.
As soon as I read the words, I wanted to slam the book shut, take it into the backyard, and burn it.
The book was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, the cult classic about how to commune with your “Creator” and unblock your inner artist. I’m still not entirely convinced I have an inner artist, but the book was only 10 bucks on Amazon. Who knows, I thought, maybe it will finally inspire me to write my great American novel.