Long Time, Longer Journey: A Groundhog in Training

The season’s blessings approach this winter of my discontent and I, steeped in the release of my latest novel and deep into the draft of my next venture, have rarely looked up from the keyboard. Yes, I’ve been ‘away’ for a while. The nightmare in November, otherwise known as the election, has sapped my will to post. How to reconcile the angst in a way that followers of both political persuasions can accept? Still, I carry on, hiking the fields, staring at the pond, drawing sustenance from the earth. Perhaps that is as it should be. I have borrowed from the groundhog playbook and settled into my winter den well before the weather shifts into gear.

There is value in withdrawing from stridency. Solitude begets calmness, increases fortitude, nurtures commitment. I make, and break, a vow to cut off contact with social media, arguing that a wound constantly bothered will refuse to scab and heal. The best of comments on the small screen are marred by the worst of attacks by smaller minds. But then here comes December, sneaking up behind to kick my sorry ass into a new dimension.

The holidays – Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and others that fill this calendar month – beckon, not with consumeristic glee but with candles and cookies and prayer. That advent wreath on your table, that menorah in the dining room, that kwanzaa flame reminding me of virtues tested and found strong, shake their fiery fingers and whisper, “There is goodness in the world. Find it. Feed it. Carry it like an ember in the pocket of your soul.”

The road goes on forever, Bilbo Baggins said, and I am one more pilgrim trudging down the path. I’ll hunker down, draw within, fatten up for the journey to come, the rivers to ford, the battles to engage. I would like you to travel with me. Here, take my hand. After the clouds, the sun will shine.

Of Coyotes and Creativity: Nurturing Your Wild Side

The howls erupt around 9:30 p.m., shattering the quiet, moon-dark night. At first only a rumor, they swiftly crescendo, filling Beck Park with primal music. Drawn by the increasing urgency of the calls, I step onto the porch and listen, shaking with my own primitive knowledge that what sings out there is wild and dangerous and poses a threat. Then, abruptly, like a spigot turned off, the song ceases. In the ensuing stillness, my heart resumes a normal beat.

What ritual have I just observed? Perhaps this was an autumnal call to worship, a nature song acknowledging their kind. Maybe they were sharing the wild night rhythms of their pack. Or maybe they had just brought down a deer and the feast required a celebratory howl. Whatever drew them to the frenzy, the resulting chorus reminds me that the wild is only a heartbeat away.

Each artist finds her own path to that deep well of creative howling. For me, it is proximity to the natural world that draws out the elements of story. Daily walks through the very fields where the coyotes rampaged last night allow me to touch the beating heart of our earth. As I wander past the undergrowth beside the stream, my boots slipping over dew-drenched grasses or crunching leaves, I imagine those feral eyes following my path, evaluating my food quotient, judging me as dangerous or fair game. The unknown scurries among the tangles of underbrush, the caws from the treetops, the occasional leap of a deer from the brush warn me of the wildness lying in wait among the hills.

I embrace the danger. My mind clears itself of clutter, returning to a purer state where there is only me and the natural world. Following this, my own ritual path on the way to that deepest portion of my soul, I look, listen and open myself to the creative mood.

Your writing path may not follow this wilderness walk. Perhaps your ideas arrive best surrounded by the comfort of coffee, the chatter of the masses, the industrial grinding of mechanical gears. So be it. But if you have not yet discovered a way to turn on your own spigot of creativity, I recommend the solitary path through forest and field. Find your own space where the wild awaits, ready to draw us into an embrace, and the creative juice is waiting to be imbibed. You may find your own howling chorus needs only the nudge of nature to unleash its fury.

Of Beginnings and Endings and All in Between

The sun crosses the screened-in porch in long southerly slants. In the pond, ice forms small swirls, the pull of freeze and thaw evident as the temperature plays tag with the water. Six deer bound into view, stopping long enough to eat a snack and check the rear for predators. And the meadow, once full of tall grasses and wildflowers, lies spreadeagled and naked across the horizon.

My boots crunch and squish as I wander. Straining to see beyond the obvious, I listen to the land whisper its dark mysteries. Here, where the thin skin of nature reveals its beating heart, the old year slips away. A new one waits, sleeping all around me.

I walk and I take stock…where I was, where I am, where I will be. Ending and beginning and everything in between.

The wonder of this season embraces me. Despite the bustle and noise of groceries and malls, I sense within a still, small kernel of peace. I can bid 2014 adieu, albeit it with mixed feelings. There have been so many blessings. New students. New friends. A new house. A new grandson. So much joy in watching our daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren grow.

There have also been more challenges than I anticipated. Pain has become a frequent visitor. Shots of cortisone in both wrists to combat sinotenovitis and carpal tunnel. Double vision and scleritis, side effects of my treatments for hemifacial spasms. Which leads to highway multiplex: images of six lanes instead of three. Signs that jump and wriggle when I squint at them. Two doctors have suggested, with some seriousness, that I wear an eye patch. Aargh! Pirate Jan at your bleeping service. So annoying. Sometimes frightening. I face the limitations of age and wear and tear on my body. Yet these issues pale when compared to my friends who are coping with blindness and Parkinson’s and kidney disease. Who am I to complain of such petty inconveniences when they deal with true difficulties?

I walk and I take stock…who I was, who I am, who I will be.

What great act will I perform? What small kindness? Whom will I comfort in this new year? The chance to renew, to start fresh, to make a difference gives me courage. The opportunity to be of use to those I love and to those I admire, to expand my own knowledge and contribute to growth excites me.

I walk and I compose, form characters and dialogue and narrative and description. I savor the past year’s publications and anticipate the new year’s possibilities. The past stays put but the future is mobile. Beneath my feet, next spring’s grasses sleep, the wildflowers nap inside their hulls. Like them, I take my time, enjoying the passing of one season to another.

Walking. Taking stock. Offering benediction.

With every hope that your endings will be smooth, your beginnings wild and happy and your in-between peaceful and full of joy.