On wanderlust and writing hard. On Iyer, Patchett and Loren

Baxter the dog enjoying the deck
deck of Chalet

The deck of our home in Lover, PA
Built summer 2008

“The person susceptible to “wanderlust” is not so much addicted to movement as committed to transformation.”Pico Iyer

A friend recently asked me why I travel so much. As I sit on on our deck this morning, swinging and clacking away at my laptop (blogging is the only time I don’t compose with pen and paper) I’m thinking, for once, about the place I’m in instead of, as usual, about the place I’m going next.

But, as always happens just before any long trips away from Kurt, I’m wondering What in the world am I doing flying 2500 miles to give myself a writer’s retreat when I live in such a magical home in the country?

Meadow below the deck

Looking from the deck to our meadow.
Summer 2012

I’m jarred from my speculation by the booming voice of our neighbor across the hollow collecting his errant dog, verbally abusing him, then following him in the house to scream at him some more. Sometimes it’s the wife. Sometimes the children. If he has an inside voice, I can’t imagine it.

But these episodes are few and far between. Most of the time this wooded country home is a perfect writing retreat…for anyone else but me.

A few writer friends of mine are very rigid, even going so far as to having an office to go to and write daily. If you happened to read the blog about me by You Think Too Much then you know how much I agree with that mentality, especially after novelist Ann Patchett‘s talk at Chatham about the work ethic of successful writers.

Meadow in winter

Looking from the deck to our meadow in winter.
December, 2009

I used to think writers waited for inspiration to strike and then channeled whatever came to them. But writing is like any other JOB. You practice your skills every day, commit time, energy and priority to making it work and you remember, always, that it isn’t usually the most talented or profound who make it, but the ones who put in the hard work to succeed.

There is another writer I admire who also focuses on the value of work ethic: BK Loren. You might know her through her latest book, Theft, for which she’s currently on tour. Or, like me, you might fall in love with The Way of the River. And now I’m waiting eagerly for the release of her new book, Animal, Mineral, Radical.

Baxter the dog enjoying the deck

Baxter enjoying the deck

But what intrigues me most about Loren is the same thing that made me a Patchett follower: hard work. BK Loren is fond of quoting one of my favorite movies, A League of Their Own: “The hard is what makes it great.” I like that she doesn’t make it any more complex than that, because really, isn’t that what most of life comes down to? Work. Work hard. Make what you’re doing count.

I know, I’ve digressed again. I think sometimes this blog should just be called “Digression” because it’s a series of long, endless segues, isn’t it?

Back to travel and writing, and the daily habits of my writing friends: If we lived in one location I would certainly have an office, but as we move around, I make temporary offices in each location. Depending on the weather and location, sometimes they’re indoors, sometimes they’re out. At our home here in Lover, PA my office is often our deck.

Writing swing on the deck

My typical writing spot when we’re home and the weather’s fair.

So why am I leaving this writing spot? After all, I helped create it, spending hours countersinking and laying in boards while Kurt was at work. For the labor alone it feels more part of me than the rest of our house.

But at home and near home, regardless of how incredible the setting, I am unable to avoid the distractions of everyday life. I can find libraries for daily writing and blogging and even some essays, but for me, wanting to dig into revising this book I started twenty years ago and laboring at strong for the last two years, I need a complete separation from everyday life.

As usual, Pico Iyer hits the mark with his quote from “Why We Travel”:

Travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the insights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty.

It’s not to say that you can’t gain those insights at home. You can. But for me they come more easily away from home and the obligation of self. And Crescent Bay, near where I’ll be staying, and Los Angeles, were places of pivotal moments in the book and where I want to be while I work through a start-to-finish revision, hopefully the last revision before it’s in the hands of someone more adept at final edits than I.

dog on swing

Reading my work aloud to a captive audience on our deck swing in Lover, PA

So I’m enjoying this deck I worked hard to build with my husband and his parents. And I’m trying to memorize the singing birds and buzzing cicadas and even the neighbor’s barking. I’m taking it all in so I can have a big crazy round of missing it while I’m away. And who knows what will open for me about this place when I’m missing it for the better part of a month.

What I do know is that ever since I re-Patchett‘d my way of thinking about writing, I work my ass off at writing whether I’m at home or away, and I’m excited for this time in California to see what might shake free of the memories still hiding from this book.

dog writing buddy

Supposedly I will have internet access on this cross-country flight, so tomorrow I will try my first ever blog from 30,000+ feet.

Until then, my deck time is over and it’s time to get back to the insanity of packing.

Love, Marla

14 Comments on “On wanderlust and writing hard. On Iyer, Patchett and Loren

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  9. I like that you talk about freedom from the obligations of self. I’ve always felt that, when traveling, I’m much more my real self because I don’t have to keep up the self that I show every day at home. It tends to make me feel much more connected to my writing as a result.

    • Thanks. Yeah, it’s really interesting how hard we are on ourselves around people we know. I know the way I grew up bifurcated my personality intensely, as I tried to fit into very different family groups. On the one hand it makes me highly adaptable to getting along with a lot of different people, but it’s exhausting because I never feel fully relaxed until I’m alone and far away from those trappings.

  10. Absence makes the heart grow fonder…and in your case, probably makes the pen grow stronger!

    Happy trails, sis! Catch you on the flip!
    love you. šŸ™‚

    • The gates are open and the writing is coming very easily so far. It’s really strange but I’m happy and hope to have a super productive trip. I think the tides rip open the recesses of my brain. Ha. {snort} I’m a flowery goober today. Hmm – but I think that line will work well in today’s blog…

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