Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When the Writer's Well Runs Dry

I have been unable to write much of anything lately.  Blame the busyness of the coming holidays and the lack of quiet time. Or it may be just the necessary fallow period that many writers go through. It's not a matter of concern.

Sometimes they call it writer's block, but I see these dry periods when nothing quite interests me enough to focus on it as opportunities to observe. And wait.

Today I observed wintry trees--maples and sycamores--reminiscent of my northern youth. I keep reminding myself that we in central Florida do indeed have four seasons, as the cool weather and scattered yellow leaves attest.

What happened after this observing, other than memories of my St. Louis growing up? Not much.  Then I connected it with gratitude. I was grateful to the universe for these beautiful trees.  When all else fails, I can fall back on being grateful for more things than I care to enumerate.

I like the idea (advanced by David Steindl-Rast and others) that gratitude is the heart of prayer.  True prayer for me is not asking for favors but affirming that life is good despite all the problems and realizing how fortunate or blessed my life has been.  Usually this is done without words.

What else can writers do when the well runs dry? Invariably, in my case, reading some the vast material on the Internet will get me started reacting to something, or I will have a nagging question from a movie or book.  Questions themselves can get writers moving, too.

I thought of this as I watched again Terence Malick's remarkable film,
The Tree of Life. I recommend using subtitles since the narrative is whispered, like a prayer. 

There are many questions about memory and time, death and love, loss and hope in this richly imagistic film. What other movie, I asked myself, poses so many major questions about the meaning of life or presents its narrative and images in a cosmic context of time and eternity? 

The film, like everything, has its flaws, but I am grateful to have seen it and to have had the leisure to see it again. I am grateful for the odd or imperfect things in nature, as G. M. Hopkins says in his poem "Pied Beauty."

When my friend John lent me last week the new collection of poems by Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings, I was struck by their bold clarity and colloquial directness.  I was reminded at times of Rumi, yet the voice of this American poet (new to me) is original. I wanted to write about the poems, but what response can I there to such memorable pieces of art?  And: how did these poems emerge? What is the creative process that leads some people inward and then outward into verse?

All I can say is that I am grateful to have questions to think about, even if I don't feel moved to write. The well is never really dry; it just seems that way.

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