Inspired by the insane gorgeousness that is Colorado, the project I’m finishing up is set in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. This is awesome for me, because whenever I lose my way with the writing, I can just take a drive up into the mountains and find what I need to press on. RMNP is, frankly, the most beautiful national park I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit, and its proximity to Boulder means I can really get to know what’s there–the grassy, river-cut valleys freckled by elk herds, the little hiking trails that become waterfalls during the snowmelt, the glacial peaks. I love it. It is one of the places that I feel completely at rest, even while I scramble, cursing, up a scree-strewn incline, or pick my way down a steep, flooded descent.
Last Friday, Jesse and I decided to drive over the continental divide. I can report that it is, indeed, fucking awesome. The road takes you up past the montane ecosystem through subalpine into the true alpine regions, so you really get a sense of the distinct environments in mountainous regions. The day we went, it was rainy and misty, which was fine by me. While we didn’t get to appreciate the views down the sides of the mountains, it was amazing to see clouds–giant, fluffy clouds, like you see from the ground–chasing us up and eventually enfolding us as we drove. The two times we got out to hike, we’d see wisps just drifting in front of our faces and alongside us as if it was no big deal to the clouds to occasionally take a day off and, you know, go on a hike with some people.
With the craziness that is the Gulf, the writerly people I’m fortunate enough to know have been talking about the environment quite a bit, and those posts, as well as the news cycle in general, have really gotten me thinking. Among the many notable things I’ve read, my dawgg John Glover speaks eloquently about BP, the spill, and responsibility; Jeff VanderMeer has also commented on the situation. I think what affected me the most, though, was not Jeff’s idea that we put all the BP execs in a raft and make them eat nothing but the oily flesh of dying animals (not that such a sentiment doesn’t match my own feelings on the situation), but rather, a quieter, more personal post he made, using quotes from Thoreau and discussing a favorite hike over at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge.
The gallows humor found in the notion of taking a long drive to enjoy the environment is not lost on me by any means. All the same, I feel inspired to discuss the overwhelming wonder I felt when I was able to, via man’s genius and shame, the automobile, ascend in only a few hours up to the top of the world and hike through an alpine tundra. Taking the drive over the divide was an experience as transcendent as it was depressing. These alpine regions, which we documented below, are delicate, sensitive ecosystems which will likely be devastated by unchecked climate change; the pristine forests, which in some ways look like they did a hundred, or hundreds of years ago, are being eaten alive by the pine bark beetle–a beetle that, were the winters as cold as they once were, would not be anywhere near as able to destroy tree after tree after tree after tree after tree.
The rest below the cut–large pictures follow:
Jeff VanderMeer just posed an interesting question over at the Booklife blog, musing on the often problematic but also fruitful relationship between fetish and writing. Given the project I’m working on right now, I find myself more inspired to write about fetishes of a different sort, but Jeff’s post made me sit up all prick-eared, especially his opening quote:
In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.
I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.
This really got under my skin (in a good way). Compared to some, I’m not particularly fetish-oriented as a writer, though I have a few quirks, of course. I do my best work up at a coffee shop, but given that my husband works from home as a world history teacher, speaking on the phone all day to children, my need to be up here is more born of necessity than a necessity, if that makes sense. Other than that, I do have an inability to write by hand, but mostly because I do my best work while editing compulsively.
That said, I may not be a very fetish-prone writer, but my booklife does tend to operate within a system of taboos gleaned from writer friends, things I’ve read, advice from writing teachers in my distant past, “common knowledge,” etc. And, just as fetish-objects should be eschewed when they’re hurtful rather than helpful, so should those taboos. As I’ve posted here lately, I’ve been paralyzed by a pretty epic bout of writer’s block. Thankfully, the ice is cracking, slowly, but that’s in part due to my decision to break taboo, in the form of outlining.
I used to outline compulsively when I wrote, for both creative and academic projects. But I found, years ago, that for my creative writing, having an outline made me feel wedded to that outline, and often prevented me from exploring with the characters; it put me in control of them, rather than them determining their own reactions and personality. It also sometimes made me feel wedded to a certain plot, even when it didn’t feel like the right thing.
So I quit outlining. I haven’t written a single outline in years.
The large project I’m working on right now is. . . large. And there are several different storylines. I’m working on the final one, but while it was the easiest of the three to write for the first part, when I got to the real tofu-and-potatoes of the plot, I froze. I had no idea where to go, what to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it. After writing a bunch of short stories and puttering around and griping, I finally broke down and busted out the “outline” function Scrivener supplies. And lo, lo I said, I worked out a mock-up of what I need to do for the rest of the book. Hallelujah.
It just goes to show (as Jeff said), some fetishes really do aid a writer’s creativity. For me, I have to say that the process of discovering (for some are quite unconscious) taboos and then breaking those taboos seems aids my creativity, as well. I have an informal checklist of things I do when I cant write: find new music, edit from the beginning, research more, work on something else, imagine scenes I’ll never include in the project to get a feel for how the characters would act naturally outside of their “screen time.” But I think I’ll add a new item to that list of tricks: engage in self-reflection to see if a sense of taboo is holding me back from a new way of interrogating and negotiating with a project.
And now, I must run. I have a novel to work on!
I am currently in the throes of the annual trans-Florida cross-state family-visit whirlwind holiday extravaganza, and thus kind of didn’t do a Bloggiversary post as I had intended. Then again I didn’t do anything for my 100th post either, so whatever. Regardless! The contest is long closed, and the 8 official entries and one completely, utterly disqualified entry (from Jesse, who else?) are archived for reading when I get back to my home base in Boulder on the 31st. I should be announcing soon after that, such is the beauty of flash fiction.