Turquoise rock bands and red coral slabs, the sun caught between a slanted plane, round at its edges.
I haven’t written in a week. I’ve been searching, rather, for inspiration, hoping that my muse might be hiding, somewhere in the sand.
Beyond the campsite is a 4×4 road called Fins N Things. The road is sharp, slanted to an impossible angle and painted in black stones. There is a constant line across the horizon of jeeps and broncos, some without doors, some with lifts and thick tires.
Most turn vertical, the contents of their seats falling out the open rear window. There are shouts , mostly of joy, as the vehicle crawls. The jeeps perform the best, like spiders. The broncos rely on power, charging up the dark wall, tires squealing. The land rovers call somewhere between the two, depending upon the driver. Some don’t make it. One breaks its axle. Another breaks a tire rod.
A little girl at our campsite shouts, “Like a boss!” As one after the other climbs the rock and disappears over the red edges of the hill.
I haven’t written in a week. I’m starved for language and resort to the 4×4 trail, crafting conversation between myself and the rocks and the smell of burning rubber.
I bring a notebook with me everywhere, just in case.
I tell my students to do this. I tell my students to be writers all the time, not just when they are at their desks, not just when they have a deadline. I tell them to be curious all the time. I tell them that everything is interesting. If something isn’t, they simply don’t know enough about it. I tell them that inspiration is a lie. Waiting for it is something akin to a fairy tale. Don’t be inspired. Be empowered, be brilliant, be a writer.
I should take my own advice. But I struggle. I fall, and I fall back into previous stories, and invent new spaces for them, in the hopes that a color, a sound might trigger a memory and then…
I might have it. Page 151. Even page 152. A writer can dream, can’t she?
I haven’t been writing. I’ve been editing. Which is its own art. I’ve been grading which can be inspiring or incredibly depressing depending on the assignment. I’ve been sneaking off to coffee houses in town, my hair stitched in knots and my body stained with the ash and smoke of last night’s camp fire to connect, to write, to escape my escape and realize something worth writing about.
I wonder if there is a such thing as being inspired. Or if it all amounts to a relentless drive, a stubborn refusal to admit the laws of physics and reason. I wonder if it is connected, in some way, to a search for contentment. I would watch videos on TED or read or expand my landscapes through aimless virtual wandering.
Instead, I sit and watch the hills masked by the smell of oil and diesel. I listen to the sound of my skin baking in the red clay hills that act as ovens in the mid day sun. I sit and I watch the carnage, absorbing the impact as the dark seal of the horizon falls.
It is a drive, I decide. A relentless surge above and around the vertical walls I have built around myself that I have guarded and refused, that I have denied.
The greatest piece of advice that I have ever received came from a fellow student, years back, while sharing a cigarette in the smoking garden just beyond the shack where our morning classes were held.
I had just written, In the Desert, and had experienced the frantic joy of effortless composition. I had sat around a pool for hours at a time, swimming in the french vowels and tricks of Helene Cixous as I scribbled random musings and moments into an unlined notebook.
Now, facing its actual completion, the process of giving it up, of committing it to paper and to print, I was musing on it, striving to recapture it. A fellow student approached me and asked me for a cigarette which I gave freely. I was, after all, trying to quit.
He smiled, somewhere beneath the dark shadows of an unruly beard. “Writer’s don’t write,” he said. “They spend most of their time thinking about writing, talking about writing. Some people will tell you that this is a bad thing. But personally, I think that’s bullshit. I dream about writing. I jack off to writing. I let it all wash over me until I’m high on the language that I could be writing. It takes some time, days or weeks, before it’s just right. And then? It’s just a frenzy of words that I’ve loved and loved and then, let go into the page.”
The relentless drive, that I remember. The pulse. The sheer joy of wine induced frenzies that had actually begun weeks earlier following a quote, a shadow, a glimmer of an idea I worked and imagined into the page.
Do I write or do I dream, then in the desert? Do I expand or do I retract beneath the sand?
There are nothing but questions in the desert, questions and language mascarading as rocks and shrubs, starved for water and full of sun. I could gather them. Instead, I dream about them, reflect, muse.
Real writers don’t write. They dream.