Now that my 30 Days of Songs endeavor is over – and now that it’s, er, exactly two years since I began it – I’ve been wondering what to turn my focus toward. Current-events commentary? General slice-of-life journaling? Flash fiction, even? Should I find a new set of writing prompts – perhaps one without a ludicrous time limit to which I would certainly fail to adhere? Should I just write about whatever I feel like writing about, and if so, what is that, anyway?
As I’ve warned since the very outset, I had and have no fixed plans on what this blog was going to contain, or what “audience” I’m going to aim for. Certain posts have been unexpectedly popular, which I greatly appreciate. Others are ones that I enjoy, but that are likely too personal for anyone else to bother slogging through. Still others, I believe, only got hits because of Google Image Search. So it goes.
Part of my brain nags at me that I should be taking my writing more seriously. That, if I’m going to be making a public blog like this, I should curate it more carefully: even if I do intend it as a dumping ground for stray thoughts, it should be a little bit more like a well-maintained compost bin, and a little bit less like an open-air latrine.
It even tells me that I should be busy looking for freelance writing opportunities, no matter how little they pay, and that I should try to cultivate a strong and specific niche. Anything outside that niche should either be put up on some other blog or simply kept to myself.
And it tells me that I should do more to promote this, and post in it on a regular schedule, and display more rigor and consistency in every aspect. I have followers somehow, after all! People have liked the things that I’ve written – utter strangers – and they presumably want more of the same! They don’t just want any old thing that I write, they want more of whatever-it-was that they liked, and the more diverse my blatherings are, the more I’m going to dissatisfy a lot of people a lot of the time.
I relish the idea of wild spaces. Gardens are lovely, of course – everything in its place, everything complementing everything else, with well-edged paths between. And farms are important, too – productive and predictable, churning out nutritious things for someone to chew on. But there’s something about the wild. You venture in, and you don’t know what you’re going to see.
Perhaps there’s a woodpecker bashing its head against a massive old tree – and, by some miracle, actually opening up a hole, exposing and destroying the bugs, and even making itself a place to live. Perhaps there’s an old fallen log, damp and decayed – but now clad in an emerald shawl of moss. Perhaps a little fungus grows, a pale ball of isolation, but with the smallest prod it bursts with eager and lively spores.
Perhaps, sometimes, there’s just a very angry badger.
I spent a lot of time in my backyard, as a child. It was fairly large, and in a rather rural area, and so there were plenty of natural things to observe. The stationary saga of the maple trees: from deep red buds on scraggly twigs to broad green leaves that showed their silvery underbellies when the late spring winds picked up. The twirling helicopter-like seeds that spun to the ground; the browning and falling of the leaves themselves. I took peace in the fact that Nature still seemed to know what it was doing, and would keep on in its own dispassionate and untouchable way.
It wasn’t really wild. Trees were trimmed, bushes pruned, grass mowed. Dead trees were cut down, to my distress. But, even within the fairly small confines of the yard, little bits of the wild always crept in. Puddles formed in the gravel driveway, and mud daubers bowed by the waterside to gather their supplies. Spiders wove their webs in bushes and under gutters – darting brown flatweb spiders, lurking in their funnels; slender-legged argiopes with their vivid black and yellow abdomens and their faintly cranial thoraces; bulbous orangey orb weavers, their webs rimed in mothdust. Sky blue eggshells might lean against a trunk as Spring turned toward Summer; translucent, earth-caked cicada shells clung to the bark as Summer turned to Fall. On a lucky day, there might be mantids or red-tailed hawks or little brown bats. Once in a great rare while, there’d be a coyote or deer.
Whenever I ventured out the door, I always had hopes of what I might see. But I learned a certain lesson early on, and I’ve found that it applies to almost every aspect of life.
And, no, it isn’t “Always carry a good Poking Stick,” though that can be useful, too.
It’s a somewhat more abstract and impractical lesson, and one that I sometimes had to consciously remind myself of as I explored – especially on those days in the jaws of February, when everything was brown and grey and silent, and I was hoping for any smallest sign of spring.
“Don’t look for, look at.”
If I set out looking for something – if I tried to hunt for morels or even toadstools, Brown Thrashers or even Bobwhites, Swallowtails or even Sulfur Moths – I was usually disappointed. Not just because I didn’t see what I was looking for – Nature operated on its own schedule, not mine – but because I was so caught up in that specific quest that I failed to notice the other things that were happening all around me. I had specific criteria for what I wanted and expected, and if they weren’t fulfilled, I’d be chagrined – until I realized that the problem wasn’t with Nature being boring, the problem was with my expectations and perception.
Sometimes, acquiescing to that fact felt like lowering my standards. Sometimes, it even felt like doublethink – attempting to believe I wasn’t actually hoping to see the things I hoped to see. Sometimes, it felt like the mindset of a ritual – on the one hand, my will; on the other, the world; my experience sitting in the middle, trying to bring the two into balance without making myself aware I was trying.
And so there was a corollary, as well:
“If all else fails, just be.”
The yard – and to a much greater extent, any given park or bit of wilderness – was a place where I could simply exist. To stand as a creature among creatures. And part of that was acknowledging that I wouldn’t see what I wanted to see, I wouldn’t necessarily get what I wanted, and my best bet was to learn to want whatever the world presented. (Or, when that was frigid 30mph wind without a hint of snow, and nothing but empty limbs clawing at a flat grey sky, I could at least appreciate going back in to a warm living room and a comfy fleece blanket.)
At heart, that’s what I want out of this blog, too.
I don’t want to make an orderly garden or productive farm. I don’t want to go about my day looking for things to blog about, denying certain things that don’t fit my arbitrary expectations. I don’t want to limit myself only to writing about the most beautiful and rare things, or to writing about only those things that are most predictable and stable.
Perhaps it’s somewhat unprofessional.
But what I basically want is to open the door and write about what I’m experiencing. Even though that’s often ephemeral and divergent; even though it may not relate to anything else, or matter to anyone. I just want to walk into the wilds of my brain, see what’s happening in there, and put it into words.
I might plant the seed of a prompt and watch it grow. I might analyze something specific, looking at it from all angles, turning it over to see the ant colony underneath, trying to investigate where and how far it sprawls. I might look at my vague clouds of thought and emotion and attempt to see patterns in them – whether it’s whimsical pareidolia or an attempt to forecast the weather.
That may not be what anyone else wants out of this blog, of course.
But there’s no way I could satisfy everyone with this blog, and I doubt there’s any way I could satisfy anyone. All I can do is say that this isn’t a single-crop farm, and it isn’t an orderly garden. It’s not even true and noble wilderness. It’s just a big park, full of small-scale wonders and surrounded by the painfully mundane – sometimes a place for peaceful observation, sometimes a place to play games, sometimes a place to rest in the sun while listening to music, sometimes a place to explore. A place that’s trying really hard not to be bulldozed and turned into an office complex.
But it’s open to the public – and anyone who likes any or all of its manifold features is welcome to wander around with me. There’s no telling where we’ll go or what we’ll see, but, hopefully, that’s part of what makes it enjoyable.
Though you might want to bring a stick.