Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why are trees throwing themselves at me?

There goes my writing retreat!

© Photo by Nancy Butts

I am even sadder this morning than I was yesterday evening when I lost my "writing pecan" tree. I had spent several hours yesterday in its shade, blocking out a new outline for the second half of my middle grade novel. Around 5, I ran out of steam, so I packed up my portable office and began to move inside. I had just sat down at my computer to make sure that the day's work was backed up, when out of nowhere the winds started gusting and there was a sudden downpour of rain.

I heard a crack, but it wasn't so loud or so close that I thought it was anything in my yard. One of the neighbors lost a tree limb, I thought.

And then I heard my husband shouting. A microburst had completely uprooted my writing pecan, which had toppled down across all three cars, brushing the edge of the roof we just had replaced last year due to hail damage, and ending up with a few branches on the back porch. And to think that I had just been sitting at that table under the tree, not twenty minutes earlier. Brrrr.

The holly tree took the brunt of the pecan's weight, which saved my husband's car. The lid to the trunk will have to be replaced, but I think that's it. But both the holly and another pecan were severely injured when the first tree fell: hope we can save them, or I won't have any shade in my backyard at all. Where am I going to hang all my ghosts at Halloween?

And where am I going to write now?

My car escaped without damage, but my son's old junker is still buried under the mammoth trunk of the tree. My son launched into lumberjack mode, and the three of us were able to cut out enough of the branches to get my husband's car out and moved to a safer place, but we're now at a place where professionals need to step in. Sigh. We just finished replacing the air conditioning system last week; today we'll be dealing with insurance agents, adjusters, body shops, and tree removers.

This is the second time in six months that a tree has thrown itself at me. In January during the first ice storm, I was out walking—and please don't ask what kind of idiot goes out for a stroll in the midst of an ice storm—when a huge oak at the Baptist church suddenly crashed down just a split second after I had walked past it. It fell only a few feet behind me. I love trees so much I'm practically a Druid, so why do they keep committing suicide around me? :D

But most of all, I'm going to miss that beautiful old pecan.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer haven: or my micro-writer's retreat

Summer's upon us, and in a house full of academics—namely, my husband and son, both of whom are college professors—that means that everyone is on vacation. Everyone except me, that is.

Maybe it's a literary flaw, but I need peace and solitude in order to write fiction. After all those years as a newspaper reporter, I can write non-fiction in the midst of a Category 5 hurricane. But fiction is much harder for me. It requires an almost hermitic solitude for me to slip into that alternate world I'm trying to spin out of thin air, and it only takes the slightest interruption to expel me from writing paradise.

Now that summer is upon us and the house is filled with noise and commotion all day long, I have to escape. I don't have the time or funds to flee to a true writer's retreat; I can't even manage a weekend away. So what I do is pack up my portable office and head outside to a picnic table under the pecan trees. I'm barely fifty feet away from my back door, but this micro-retreat will have to do.

© Photo by Nancy Butts
 And it works! Today I managed several hours of solid writing on my middle grade novel. Sitting outside to write releases something in me. Inside, I feel trapped by the four walls; my characters shrivel up inside me, and the smaller they get, the harder it is for me to hear their faint whispers. Outside, my characters can breathe and grow. They blossom under the open sky and speak so loudly that I can follow their voices back into the world of my book, and get lost there for hours.

Now that school's out, I know a lot of you have kids underfoot all day, too. So when even a daylong mini-retreat to the library or Starbucks isn't possible, try a micro-retreat—head out to your balcony, porch, or backyard instead.

May you fall down the rabbit hole and get some writing done, too.