Finding inspiration in a dry spell

After months and months of writing to deadlines, playing hard and fast and fun with words, the ideas zipping from my heart and brain to the page, my creative drive simply stopped dead one recent week. Oh, I wrote in my journal, wrote some emails, and even wrote a snail mail letter. But beyond those commonplace communications, I couldn't find words.

I told myself that my lassitude was due to having driving to Arkansas the week before with my husband to visit his family. We did nearly 2,000 miles in six days, so that's a pretty good excuse. By the end of the second day, when I still couldn't drum up my usual writing Jones, I knew it was something deeper. I live to write. Writing usually clears the fog and gives me energy.

When the words left me, I felt like the ruined picnic shelter in this photo, a relict of a whole host of planned "recreation facilities" built along the shore of what was to be a large reservoir, except that the lake never filled. Eventually the whole complex was  abandoned and the facilities destroyed.

We camped there on our way to Arkansas, winding in on asphalt roads shrunk to one lane as the prairie reclaimed them, threading past restrooms with windows smashed and doors swinging open, parking lots knee-high in autumn-colored prairie grasses, light posts tilting every which way, electrical boxes with wires ripped out, and picnic shelters with tables gone and bases smashed. It was eerie and desolate, like a post-apocalyptic world.

I've spent the last couple of years keeping up a work schedule so insane, that it's been the rare weekend when I didn't have to write straight through to keep up. And then last February, my husband, Richard, began to pee blood. Not just dribbles, streams as dark as a good pinot noir, full of clots and chunks.

In April he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and in July he went through his first surgery. He's been through a second surgery now and his surgeon thinks they got the entire tumor. I should be relieved; I should be dancing with joy. Instead I feel empty, worn out, exhausted. Hence this dry spell, and my fear that the words – and my passion for changing the world with them – won't return.

That night by the reservoir that isn't, we ate our picnic dinner as the sun set. When the stars appeared, littering the black sky with pinpricks of light, we crawled into our tent, snuggled close, and watched the level Panhandle horizon for a silver glow. It grew brighter and brighter until the dazzling rim of an October moon edged up. Immediately, a pack of coyotes nearby tuned up, yipping and barking and howling, lifting their voices in song to that huge, round orb of light.

The wind howled that night too, flapping our tent and whooshing through the branches of the nearby grove of trees. When dawn's light edged the rim where black sky met darker land and the silver moonlight gave way to pastel day, even the destroyed picnic shelter looked beautiful.

As I sit in front of my keyboard waiting for words to come, I see that moon rise in my minds' eye, and hear the wild coyote chorus rising over the stark landscape – and see again the dawn light, pearly and soft, heralding a new day. And I know that dry spell or not, I have a story to write. Tapping away at the computer keys, I realize that the words are always there, if I am open to them. I just need the patience of those coyotes, waiting for the silvery orb of the moon to signal their singing, and then the stars swimming across the sky until they gutter out in the quiet beauty of the dawn

9 responses to “Finding inspiration in a dry spell

  1. I love the irony, Susan: You’ve written a beautiful, lyrical description of not being able to write. And the photos in this post tell the story, too, in a way that words can’t quite. Andoh, yes, I know the feeling of not being able to find my voice or my words. It’s frightening.

  2. I love the irony, Susan: You’ve written a beautiful, lyrical description of not being able to write. And the photos in this post tell the story, too, in a way that words can’t quite. Andoh, yes, I know the feeling of not being able to find my voice or my words. It’s frightening.

  3. Loved this piece-you may have just broken through your dry spell. The descriptions jumped off the page and the photos really depict the sad desolation you describe. Thanks.

  4. Susan,
    Even your “dry spell” shared with us has produced a lovely piece of lyrical, moving words. A trauma in my life now has had a drying effect on my writing. I wonder why that is, when it seems that this is a time to write to get the tension and the pain and the angst out into the open. I’ll just keep plugging along in my journal and hope that one day soon the sun will rise within me.
    Blessings, Susan I.

  5. Susan, the lyrical language to describe such stark reality literally sings. I am in awe.
    P.S. I will keep your husband in my prayers.

  6. Thanks you for finding the trail through a tough and rocky road. Standing witness to survival,coping,persevering through stressfull challenges to the heart and the body. Your writing helps us all to remember the ways to follow that track. Tsundru Lhamo

  7. Susan A, Janet, Susan I, and Joyce, Thanks for “hearing” the lyrical in my writing about not being able to write. Dry spells are frightening, and they’re also fruitful in an odd way. I think of hard times like this as cleansing in the same way a prairie fire is cleansing: it burns away the layers of dead plant material that haven’t decayed and in the doing, leaves behind ash that fertilizes the soil for new and different growth. We’ve all had the experience of being “seared” by some kind of trauma, and the only way through, it seems to me, is to do what you’re doing,
    Susan I, My thoughts are with you. Keep writing until your words grow again from that cleared and newly fertilized soil.
    Tusndru, I love your allusion to the trail. Finding the track and following it is a great metaphor for life–and writing.
    And onward we go, stumbling in the dark sometimes, hesitating, wondering, but still doing what we can to put one foot in front of the other.

  8. Susan
    This post is so poetic. The photo is so hauntingly beautiful and is truly one of those that is worth a thousand words.
    I think that it is especially poignant that as you wrote about not being able to write, you wrote something powerful and insightful…something that resonates very deeply with me.
    I’ve been at that dry well … for my own cancer issues, for family disappointments and any number of other reasons. And yet, when all is said and done, I often find that when I fear the loss of my ability to write, something from deep within is able to transcend that and allow me the healing that writing allows.
    I send healing thoughts and prayers to you and your husband

  9. Lee,
    Thanks for that poetic and insightful comment! I think that for me, dry spells come when I think I’m ready to write, but I’ve gotten ahead of myself. So much of writing involves letting all the stimulation we’ve taken in–the words, the thoughts, the feelings, the sights and sounds–sit until it is thoroughly composted, and we’re ready to use the now rich and crumbly mass to fertilize a story.
    As for Richard and I, he’s just passed his three-months-post-surgery cystoscopy (a scoping procedure you really don’t want to know more about!) and his bladder looks good. The scar from the tumor removal is healing well, and he’s feeling well. And I’m settling into the gift of a three-month writing fellowship, support from a foundation that allows me to take time away from chasing my usual freelance assignments in order to work on a new book. What a blessing!
    Susan (T)

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