Looking out into the backyard, I see where the dew left by the night has lit up every spider’s web in the grass. At first, you think to yourself, “Goodness, the dandelions must have grown back,” because from a distance, those little puffs of white fuzziness do look like dandelion heads. But then you remember that summer is over, and the real nature of what lies in the grass becomes obvious once again. I remember reading somewhere that most spiders’ webs are not hidden traps into which insects stumble at random but rather shine and shimmer under ultraviolet light, producing a spectacle that can prove irresistable for some. Seen in the right light, this humble back yard is a bejeweled tapestry, decorated with the tools of predation.
And now it is autumn, and there is time to think. The grass in the yard, though a little on the shaggy side of things, no longer needs to be mown down on a regularly basis. Our squares are all planted with our winter crops–turnips, collards, mustard greens, carrots, lettuce (two kinds), kohlrabi, broccoli, and cauliflower–and all that is left is a little thinning of the seedlings. Oh, I’ve got a bamboo fence I’m building, but work on that will be in fits and starts whenever I manage to drag bamboo up from the in-laws’ place in Hot Springs. And the fire pit I was building during the summer is now complete and has already numerous guests come to sit around it.
I’ve been ignoring this blog for the past few months–but summer simply is not the time for writing. Of course, saying that goes contrary to all the advice of professional and academic writers the world over, those who want you to be always writing, always working on the next thing, always keeping those skills sharp. You must set a time every day in which you do nothing but write, because, as Flannery O’Connor said, even if she was doing nothing but staring at a blank sheet of paper, at least she was there in front of the paper should an idea hit.
And it’s not bad advice–no, it’s a good way to build up those skills, because if you want to become good at anything, you do have to make time for the practice. But such advice is often not sold as a means of building up the necessary muscles but as what you simply must do if you want to be a writer. The practice is sold as the component of identity, for people set great store in being writers. In fact, I have a friend who has the word “writer” tattooed onto the inside of her arm as a constant reminder to herself that she is a writer and must always strive onwards and upwards in the writing field. One can hear the little fish Dori singing, “Just keep writing….”
But the thing is, my friend is also a wife and mother, yet she has neither of those two words tattooed on her arms, even though those identities seem to rank fairly prominently in her life. And that’s the truth, isn’t it? The truth that none of us can be summarized in these little identity markers that reduce us to but one thing: writer, believer, terrorist, etc. At the end of Desperado, the mariachi recalls that everyone he has ever killed has been someone’s son, someone’s husband, someone’s father. We are multi-dimensional figures, but too many of us buy this idea that practice must equate to essence somehow.
It took me a long time, growing up as someone defining himself by attention to “higher things,” to appreciate the world and the work around me, to value what might be created with the hands as much as the products of my “pure brain.” As I near middle-age, my thoughts are not turning toward the heavens but rather toward this very earth, which is why I can say that summer, for me, is not the time for writing. During summer, there is life in abundance outside these doors–though, admittedly, some of it needs to be removed from my garden squares–and so much to do, days that begin at dawn and end at dusk but with everything in between, and if you have a good wife like I do, maybe’s she’s gone and got, for you to enjoy after all the work is done, a bottle of that un-aged corn whiskey which is so good at soothing the muscles, you just gotta ice it down a bit, and all the better for the fact that she turns her nose up at something so unrefined and won’t drink it herself (more for me). And after all, I spend my weekday nine-to-five in front of a computer, and it’s healthy to have days so radically different from one’s employment.
But as the world twists toward autumn, we can risk being contemplative again–there is, surprisingly, some time for that. We start to batten down the hatches in the anticipation of winter and read and think and let our mind wander. If you truly want to live seasonally, then maybe it’s a matter of doing more than just buying the right things at farmers’ market. Maybe it’s also about saving the measure of our thinking for the right season, too, and letting our bodies feel their full flower and power while the sun reigns its longest days in the sky and then settling down for those dark months. It’s just a thought–a thought I can afford to spare now that it’s late October.