Hi, it’s Kate Flora, and today I played hooky. With the holiday season approaching, and deadlines looming, it is hard to admit this, but yes, I left my desk, did not make my daily word count, and generally misbehaved. I didn’t read the two books I still need to finish for the panels I have to moderate at a conference this weekend, never mind the two about deadly force encounters and Decisive Force Response. I didn’t trying to knock down the next chapter in my latest nonfiction project, and I rudely stopped President Obama in the middle of his speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Instead, I laced on my walking shoes (Goretex, North Face, courtesy of the Brunswick Salvation Army store) pulled on a sweatshirt (DKNY, Portland Goodwill), and headed out into a gorgeous fall day.
Sounds effortless, but in fact it wasn’t easy. When I give talks about the writing process, the word that comes right after imagination—the word that brings frowns to listener’s faces—is discipline. I am a firm believer in parking a certain too round part of my anatomy in my desk chair and staying there, for months or even years at a time, until my work is done. In my world, applying seat to seat goes hand in hand with the magic of storytelling, the fun of imagining a cast of characters, and the job of making that story work. But this morning, I was staring out at a deep red bush, a hydrangea with leaves going purple and bronze, and a tall maple still holding golden leaves, and remembering last February. Remember last February, when it seemed to snow every day? If this year is like last, there will be few walks except back down the newly shoveled path to make it wider.
I decided to seize the day.
Is it odd, for someone whose job it is to notice the small details that make characters come alive, to admit that I have to make myself go out into the world and look around? Sometimes I think so. But out I went and look I did. I noticed the nearly identical noses on the woman at the next table and her solicitous adult son sitting across from her. I was reminded that on a good day, the blue of an October sky is a startling color seemingly chosen from a palate of blues specifically to set off the autumnal golds and russets. I noticed how the habit of blowing leaves, rather than raking them, fills the world with noise pollution and a cloud of dust and dirt, and doesn’t release that earthy leaf smell that is so particular to fall. I was reminded of the many mushrooms that appear in the fall, including a particularly sinister one the size of a half bushel basket that is growing in my yard.
The writing business is a peculiar one. We labor for months or perhaps years to create a work that then can take another year or more to go through the editing and publishing process before we reach a reader. It is an extreme exercise in delayed gratification. Going outside and taking in the world on a glorious fall day is instant gratification. So I’ve decided that today’s indulgence was okay.
Tomorrow I will pay the price for going out to play. It will be a long day at my desk. Writing questions for my panels. Getting the guestroom ready for company, and all the other tasks I ignored today.
But it was worth it.