Sometimes, feeding the muse has nothing to do with busy little activities directed at enhancing creativity.
Distraction is a bane we writers all have to dodge as much as possible. Life hands us plenty of interruptions. But what about those distractions we create for ourselves?
Since last week, I’ve been stewing over how to arrange my living room furniture. Now it’s never been in place since the Great Move of last summer. But the recent advent of delivery men, repairmen, and a weekend guest dictated that something must be done.
So I shoved chairs around and cleared trails wide enough for men wearing toolbelts to walk through. I got the guest room ready. All fine and good.
Then my guest said casually, “What if we arranged your furniture this way?”
We set to work and shifted lamps, tables, chairs, and stacked-up pictures that I refuse to hang until the furniture is in place. When we finished, I hated it.
Since the departure of my well-intentioned guest, I’ve been trying to shift everything again. As if that weren’t challenging enough, I’m also suffering from the desire to cram yet another Victorian cabinet into the mix. (Smart people collect thimbles or souvenir spoons; I haul home massive hulks of walnut furniture!) And I although I probably should remove about one-third of what I presently own, I’m determined to make the impossible work.
Determined–there’s a word for you. As a novelist used to inventing story worlds to my own specifications, I am determined to do the same to real life. (I think the Greeks called it hubris.) I am also stubborn, and when I want something I don’t give up.
That’s terrific in landing book contracts and meeting deadlines but perhaps not as desirable when trying to wedge furniture into configurations ill-suited to the square footage.
Still, it’s an unnecessary problem requiring a creative solution. As such, it’s a distraction of the worst kind because it’s draining creativity from my mind. My attention is focused more on where to put the coffee table than how to introduce a new character into the chapter-in-progress.
Last night, a storm came brewing from the west just as I pulled supper from the oven. Suddenly, golf balls of hail were bouncing off yard, windows, and roof. Wind gusts of 70 to 80 mph whirled across the back patio, and the rain obliterated any view of the neighboring house behind mine.
No tornado sirens wailed, but I was afraid the windows might shatter, so I took shelter in the closet. Later, it hailed three more times, and the power went out until the small hours of the night.
Today, I surveyed the damage.
My flowers have been stripped. The wooden trim on the house has been chipped. A lovely flower pot of heavy Italian clay is smashed. One of my cast-iron fern stands lies in pieces.
But I am lucky. No shingles lost. No windows broken. I have phone service again. The air conditioner is running once more. The power surges didn’t kill my computer.
So this morning, as I cleaned up some of the flower beds and tried to rescue the vine that’s been growing in the Italian pot for years, I felt gratitude that this scary storm left me so unscathed. I thought about the folks in Joplin and Alabama who are dealing with much worse. I thought about my next-door neighbor, whose upstairs windows are broken out.
I thought about how there are times in life when it’s best to stop creating problems for yourself and just stay quiet. To remember to be grateful for what you already have, as well as what you haven’t lost.
There are always going to be things in this world that are bigger than I, and I should remember that.
Where my sofa looks its best matters far less than what my character needs to say in the next paragraph.
Sometimes, the best way to fill your well is not to squander what’s already in it.