For the first time in weeks I felt that lights were on somewhere for me. -- Leif Enger (from So Brave, Young, and Handsome: drop everything and go read it. right now. now.)
On my second day in Bermuda, I realized something. Sitting by the window, staring down at Hamilton's professionals walking by, tourists trying out mopeds on the wrong side of the road, palm trees waving back at me... and then looking at the blank notebook in my lap.
And I finally understood why I hadn't been writing, why my poor little book was sitting at a crossroads.
There was a string of calamities, from major to minor, during my spring: a time I'm now affectionately calling "the perfect storm." If I had sat down and strategically plotted a way to uproot my connection to my writing life, I could not have done better.
I desperately needed to get back on my plan, back on track. I'd hoped to turn my Bermuda trip into a page-producing machine, but on day two, I realized I was completely emptied of energy, of words, of imagination.
And that maybe there was a lesson in Bermuda beyond just a score of closely written pages.
All I had to do was look out at the roofs across the street. Bermudians depend on the rain: when it washes those white stairstep roofs, it drains into a cistern and becomes drinking water. If Bermuda teaches one thing, it's this: if there's nothing in the cistern, there's nothing coming out of your faucets. (Ask my sister, who was once caught with suds in her hair when the cistern went dry...)
I was lying in bed one night, listening to the rain outside and the water gurgling through pipes to the cistern, and I finally put it all together. Maybe if I want to write again, I should try putting back into myself. Seeking the creative equivalent of a long, steady rain.
That revelation overthrew my plans for the rest of the week. Instead of "words logged," I measured my days by how many hours I could daydream while looking out the window. I took the time to find the coziest places to sit. I drowned myself in reading--a new novel, Winston Churchill's Birth of Britain, a copy of Gourmet... I planned other reading vacations for myself, deciding to spend many more hours reading with intentionality.
It was coming back home that I realized something else: when I need perspective, I need a plane. There's something about lift-off, about watching everything below you shrink to a toy village, and all your problems are so much dust by comparison.
It gets even better at night. I spent the flight from Atlanta to St. Louis with my forehead pressed against the window, feeling all of seven years old, lost in the otherworldly landscape below. Atlanta became the dream of a city, its thin interstates lit with the pinpoint beams of tiny cars. The whole city was a web strung with light, amber constellations forming the cul-de-sacs, neighborhoods, towns... broken by shining green planets of baseball stadiums. (How many stadiums do you have, Atlanta? I was amazed.)
I couldn't take my eyes away. It was the mundane made mysterious, I suppose. Streetlights look fantastic and ethereal from 15,000 feet. They wink through the trees, and beyond them are the great black voids without light. Then in the distance, another city like a galaxy.
(saint louis from the air)
A string of thunderstorms at the horizon made it perfect. The yellow flashes in the distant clouds looked like a storm in a romantic painting--that goldeny lightning, bursting in slow motion. Absorbed in the high drama of it all, this landscape so strange, I half-expected the calm, canned flight attendant voice to announce Welcome to the edge of the known world. I came off the plane dizzy, excited, ready for a dozen novels at least...