There’s something to be said for not writing.
This. Coming from a writer.
Shut-ins who function as writers may disagree with me, but I sense there’s a fine line between writing and living.
I say this as I watch the home-schooled boy, who lives across the street from my house, ride his scooter around and around my circular driveway.
He’s about 10 or 11 and incapable of exploring our neighborhood on foot. He’s glued to his scooter. When other boys his age are tied to their desks at school, this boy is outside, tearing around Coffee Pot Bayou on an aluminum scooter.
I think he loves my driveway because it has a slight slope and provides a thrilling change in elevation on an otherwise flat ride.
He has no idea I’m watching him from my office window.
Sometimes I wonder what he’s thinking, as if I forget what it’s like to be a daydreaming kid.
I have not forgotten what it’s like to be a daydreaming kid.
It’s clouds and Popsicle sticks. Big words in poetry books. Splices of sunlight and windburned cheeks. Ankle socks and white Keds. Ease and perpetual un-worry.
Sometimes in moments of anxiety or frustration I lose sight of these things, but the flicker of memories is always there like a tingly bundle of neurons tucked inside a lock box, stored somewhere in my head for safe keeping, at my disposal whenever I need to pull from it.
As a kid, all that concerned me were the things I could see and feel in fleeting windows of time, marked by what I had studied that day in school, by what my mother had packed in my Igloo lunchbox, by what chapters I had read in a particular Judy Blume book, by what boy had captured my attention, by the pop song lyrics stuck in my head. The taste of red Kool-Aid.
I used to ride a scooter too. Around and around my parent’s driveway. It was purple. Skidding up and down the driveway, I would get lost for hours in my head, making up stories ruled by the forces of magic and imagination, not realizing at the time how these daydreams would shape me, how well these fantasies would serve me, how material things could never eclipse my capacity to think, how in my head I would always have everything I’d ever need.
Remember in the Shawshank Redemption when Andy locks himself in the jail library and blasts Mozart over the PA system? Remember how he says there are places in the world that aren’t made of stone? That no one can ever take away how you feel when you listen to music; that it will always be yours wherever you are?
This is how I feel about storytelling.
Even when I’m not doing it.
Because as important as it is for me to write, it’s as important for me to just be.
I think yoga has taught me this.
Whenever I find myself growing disgruntled with my progress as a writer, I remind myself that my favorite pieces of fiction (and non-fiction) are written by people who knew when to put down their pens and suck in a moment.
We writers run the risk of missing out on ordinary bliss by holing ourselves up in our office agonizing over stories, rather than granting ourselves permission to just be content in the present, which is often where the best stories come from.
Journalists call it “gathering material.”
I like to refer to it as slipping into sponge mode.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, but we record things whether we realize it or not.
For example: it’s sunny out and the blinds are open on my office windows, casting horizontal stripes of light across the mug of tea from which I’m sipping. The wind has finally stopped whipping through the trees and the boy on the scooter has disappeared.
It doesn’t matter that the boy is gone. I’ve already blinked him into my imagination, where he’s blowing circles through racks of summer dresses, which are hanging inside a street tent, which are for sale at a downtown farmer’s market.
Which reminds me of a Saturday morning I recently spent strolling with a girlfriend through a St. Pete market, where we ate spinach empanadas, rummaged through bins of finger puppets and sang Patsy Cline songs to her three-month-old baby.
Which reminds me, the baby seemed to enjoy Walkin’ After Midnight as much as an 80-year-old cowboy sitting front row at the Grand Ole Opry.
Which makes me think we start recording things the second we’re born.
Or perhaps sooner. Well before we have the ability to write.
PS. Photo snapped earlier this month at the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Petersburg.