I participated in another book fair Saturday, and as sometimes happens, the authors were more plentiful than the readers. One even told me that she can’t read anymore and doesn’t like recorded books, so one might wonder why she accompanied her friends to the event, but there really isn’t a simple answer to that, anymore than there is an answer to why sometimes book fairs are crowed with buyers and sometimes not. Publicity may have a lot to do with it, but just as likely it was the weather.
Here on the western frontier where we live, and even to the east, in the Shenandoah Valley where we assembled, we have been waiting and hoping for spring to discover us, and Saturday was it. We have had weeks of warm winter, when every tree and bulb wisely withheld new grow and simply stayed curled up knowing that it wasn’t over. In February winter decided it had been in elsewhere long enough, and came roaring back. By mid-March bulbs were pushing up, leaves were opening up, and on occasion we even had windows opening up. Then of course, the day after the magnolia blossomed, the temperature went from 50 to 5. Then it went up again. Then down again. Great for the maple syrup producers in the county . . . if it stayed that way. Instead we had weeks when the temperature dropped into the teens and never rose above the 20s. Again not unusual for living in the mountains, but somehow this year it seemed to just not stabilize. So Saturday, when the overnight was above freezing, and the daytime sun brought high 60s here and 70s in the Valley, perhaps that was all it took to send readers outside, with no thought of going to a big room full of writers and books and not much else.
Still, for those of us who write, which is a solitary and often lonely occupation (but none of us would rather do anything else), it was good to seclude ourselves with other writers, only occasionally interrupted by readers/buyers. Writers don’t have to explain to other writers what the writing process is all about, nor how seldom we think about sitting and talking about writing, instead of actually doing it. It is what we do: sit in a quiet place, hearing only the scratch of a pen or the clicking of a keyboard. It makes the kind of music we can hum, a tune we can whistle.
An interesting sidelight: I shared my table with a writer who also has an antiques business. To attract people to her books, she set up a kind of found art exhibit. Part of it was a portable typewriter, the kind writers of my generation often started with in college or perhaps earlier. I couldn’t help tuning in when a young person, perhaps still a teenager, asked my table mate what it was. She responded with a good description, and then offered the young one the opportunity to type something. Now I don’t know about you, but I began with a Royal portable that required real effort to move the keys. For that reason, when I began using computers, I often cracked and wrecked the fragile board under the keys. I mean, it took real strength to move typewriter keys enough to raise the type bar to press on the ribbon and the paper. I was eager to see how the young person would find this archaic tool. You know the answer, I’m sure. The first attempt barely moved the key or the type bar. Finally, after two or three tries, a letter actually rose up far enough and with sufficient force to press against the ribbon and paper and actually type a letter. Oh how things have changed.
Today I no longer punch keys on my computer as hard as I once did. Unless I’m angry, of course, or really inspired. Then I still will hit the keys hard and fast, but the manufacturers have learned about people like me, and have built electronic boards that must be extremely tough. Oh, I’ll knock off one of the pads that serve as keys (two like that on ths laptop), but since I’m a touch typist I really don’t need the letter to know what the key is. And I like to pound the keys! It give me a real feeling of controlled power to hit ‘em hard, and again and again, and feel the emotion of what I’m writing flow from brain to paper.
Now that spring has sprung, as it were, there are more things calling to me to come outside and play. A lot of work to be done repairing the winter’s work, still trees to finish cutting and splitting and stacking by the furnace. On the decks across the front of the house there are windfall leaves, flower pots in need of replanting, repairs and refinishing of the wooden deck boards. Really there is no end to what winter has left us to do, yet I have calls from the writing desk to answer, too. I have two lives, it seems.
The first is the writing life: seeing story ideas, getting something down on paper or in a computer file, exploring the ideas and developing them. Those things take time that doesn’t look like work. For some reason, some cultural artifact in my brain, sitting and thinking without even a pencil in my hand seems like not working. I know better. I know that writing is not an active occupation. Typing is. Hearing the click of keys on paper was always music to me. The dull thud or clicking of keypads doesn’t bring forth the same response. I know all of that, just as I know the physical act of writing is the easy part. The story evolves in that dark place in the brain. Events and images and personalities all leave residue behind that find their way into characters and events and thoughts that animate our characters and stories. All of that goes on inside, before the words breakout onto a screen or a piece of paper.
Most of my writing takes place in the folds and convolutions of my brain, deep in the dark. Sometimes, though, working at something physical, something that takes more muscle than brain, allows a light I hadn’t expected to flash a direction, a solution, a question to be answered, even the answer itself. Those are the creative moments I love the most. And they can happen anywhere.
I’ll be outside.