I’m over on the Capital City Writers blog today talking about what I’m working on right now, the worst writing advice I ever received, and more. Here’s a taste…
1. What is your favorite part about writing? The most challenging part?
It’s hard to say what I enjoy most because I do enjoy all the different parts of the process for different reasons. I love the idea phase when anything is possible, the drafting phase when I am speaking worlds into existence, the revising phase when I am making this lump of words more closely resemble the perfect vision in my head. There are two contexts in which I feel more elementally me than any other: when I am silently and deliberately exploring the natural world and when I am writing.
It’s cold, cold, cold and snowy in Michigan lately, which suits me just fine. I stopped off at Fenner Nature Center today to take a few pictures on the way to pick up my son from school. I trudged in snow drifts nearly up to my knees and it was still coming down.
I wish I’d had more time and my snow pants on. After only about ten or fifteen minutes I had to be on my way.
Sunday afternoon I took in the last bits of June at Fenner Nature Center’s restored native grassland area. I strolled among innumerable flowers, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and a few mosquitoes (They’re finally here. Hooray.) and listened to birds trilling and wings buzzing. It was the perfect summer day — the one we remember from childhood — with blue skies and time stretched out in all directions.
About halfway through the afternoon I was joined by a friend who seemed content with my company for a while.
We eventually went our separate ways, I to the pond to look for frogs and turtles, she to another patch of grass.
It was a lovely time away from people and the Internet, though I was disappointed that I could still hear traffic and some kids screaming in a nearby backyard. It has me looking forward to quiet July mornings on Lake Louise before the campers drag themselves out of bed and hiking through Pigeon River Country State Forest in October with my sister.
I asked my husband if he ever feels the pull to be completely away from people and all people-related things. He never has that he can recall. If I don’t get that kind of alone time in the natural world, I start getting anxious. We are both reluctant suburbanites. He would prefer to live in a high rise in New York or Chicago or Boston. I’d prefer to live in a log cabin on a remote island off the shore of Lake Superior. The day after I shot these pictures, he and our son spent an impromptu day in downtown Detroit, riding the People Mover and checking out the skyscrapers.
When I think about it, this is practically the only difference between us anymore. We’ll have been together 20 years this October (since I was fifteen), and in that time we’ve grown up and into one another so that we really are one, as we should be. Our culture so prizes individuality that I think this notion is rather quaint these days. But when it works, there’s nothing better.
Have you ever told yourself you’d change and then actually done it? This weekend I really lived my new “to-be list” philosophy. I did do a lot, but I never made a list of things to accomplish and then checked it off, item by item. With everything I did, I felt no rush, no pressing need to do it now, no guilt in the doing or the not doing.
I spent time with my son at Van Atta’s Greenhouse and Nursery, I mowed and transplanted and weeded, I filled a dozen or more pots with annuals, I managed to keep the kitchen pretty clean. Saturday morning, Zach and I were talking about finally putting in a new fire pit sometime this summer. By afternoon, it was there! Suddenly we were roasting hot dogs and marshmallows in the backyard.
On Monday, the boy and I went downtown to visit the various war memorials and monuments and statues, and to check out the “fuzzy” Capitol building (the dome is currently covered with scaffolding as they do maintenance of some sort). We were practically the only ones downtown. We talked of war and sacrifice and men and women who served. We talked about how our state became the Arsenal of Democracy, turning auto factories into factories that made munitions and tanks and Army vehicles; how women built the machinery and the ammunition that finally subjugated the axis powers in WWII; how some wars must be fought and some do not make a lot of sense; how some people come home heroes, some come home to sneers and derision, and some never come home at all. We talked about men in our family who fought and those whose number never came up.
The wind was gusting and it started to rain on us. By the time we were home again the sun was out. We watched Charlotte’s Web for the second time in two days, and now the boy is a spider (with just four legs) who gives spider hugs and spider kisses and makes his webs out of the pile of dirty laundry his father gathered at the bottom of the stairs.
In the coming days we will celebrate the boy’s seventh birthday, his class will take a field trip to the zoo, we’ll take him to his first Brandi Carlile concert (shh–it’s a surprise), he’ll have a birthday party at the park with his friends, and we’ll celebrate with some family the next day.
May is always a big month here.
But I’m not sweating it. I’m loving every minute of it.
At Fenner Nature Center on Sunday I observed a chickadee couple hollowing out a stump to nest in. I think chickadees are my favorite small birds. It took me a while of slowly creeping near to get close enough for a good photo. Then a jogger ran by and off the chickadees flew. I stayed in my spot for another few minutes, and they did come back.
The key to photographing skittish wildlife is always patience. Stay there, stay still, and they will eventually come near. It will always feel like it takes longer than it should, and because we’re programmed by everything in life not to wait silently you will want to give up, get up, and get on with it. Don’t. You have to force yourself to be still and be ready — that means you have your camera trained on the spot you believe the animal will appear, you have it focused, your eye is at the viewfinder, and your finger is on the shutter button. You can’t move your head or the camera or your hand after the animal has appeared, because that movement will frighten them. You have to be ready and you have to wait.
I guess one other helpful attribute is the ability to notice. I almost missed seeing this deer and her companion across the little pond where I was hoping to get a better look at the frogs I kept hearing.
One thing’s for sure: you will always miss moments like this if you never look away from that infernal smartphone. Life is out there. Go look for it.