Desert dreaming (or, how a sunburn led to a needed insight)

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.”
–Frank Kafka

Well, I’ve been in Tucson on my DIY writing residency for three weeks now and have accomplished more than expected.

I write hard all week and reward myself by renting a car on weekends, where I hit the mountains for long and glorious trail runs.


Most of my time, when I’m not actually writing, is spent obsessing over writing or worrying over writing or wishing I could writer better or faster and livelier than I actually do.

However, what I hadn’t realize as I merrily wrote and obsessed away is how easy it is to sink down inside your own mind, and once accomplished, how difficult to pull back into the land of the living. You know, the land of the normal, the land of the every day, the land of all the things that aren’t writing related. The land where most of us, and myself included, prefer to live a good chunk of the time.

I wrote too hard, and with too much intensity. And while I took breaks to run and swim, took time off to ride the bike and cook and sit in the sun and read, what I forgot to do was take time off to be with other people.

I spent three weeks locked inside my own clever and sly and demanding mind. Once you swim down inside that kind of solitude, it’s hard to pull yourself back out.

Thank god for friends, good friends who are also writers and therefore understand the precarious balance between this need for solitude and the importance of friendship and good company.

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Today, one such friend pulled me out for a walk along the Santa Cruz River, where we talked of writing and our lives and what we wanted and where we had failed and what we hoped for in the future.

We glimpsed a coyote walking through the dried river wash and a roadrunner scurrying along the bank, and numerous birds and little critters, and massive palo verde and juniper trees and bushes throwing out spots of bright yellow flowers across the riverbanks.

I was so caught up in the flurry of actually talking face-to-face with someone that I forgot to put on sunscreen and have an angry patch of sunburn across my nose, but no matter. I welcome the pain as a reminder to stay open, to write hard and long and intense, yes, but to look up every so often and immerse myself in conversation and verbal language and the realization that no story can be told in isolation.

Because who wants to read of a woman sitting alone in a house and writing? (There she is, slumped over the keyboard. There she is, itching her nose. There she is, stuffing chocolate inside her mouth, yawn, yawn, sigh, sigh–who gives a crap?)

Of course, back home in Anchorage I live with my partner and have friends and a routine and while I do spend a lot of time alone, I rarely go all day without talking to anyone.

But yet. Yet! The pull of solitude can’t be ignored, the utter pleasure of my own needs, my own selfish desires, along with the thrill of sitting down to write and feeling words pulse my throat, my fingertips. Very little else compares with that feeling. Except, maybe, walking along a dried river bed with a friend on a sunny day and sharing pieces of your life, no?

Note: Submission ideas to tempt you toward publication and glory and, just maybe, world peace.

The rain in Spain: Yeah, that Spain. And you can go there, too, if you nab one of the 2015 scholarships for the Murphy Writing of Stockton University’s international program. Deadline is May 15. Find out more here.

First novel award: The James Jones Literary Society seeks submission for its First Novel Fellowship for a novel-in-progress by a U.S. writer who hasn’t published a novel. The prize is a whopping $10,000 and runners-up receive $1,000. Deadline is March 15. Check out the Website for more information.

Poetry prize: Saturnalia Books is accepting poetry collections of at least 48 pages for publication and a cash prize. Postmark deadline is March 20; online deadline is April 1. Find out more at here. 

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