A Good Place To Write (And To Not)


August 24, 2012, Upstate New York: I am at my brother and his family's cabin in the mountains of upstate New York. It's a big old cabin on a wooded mountaintop where summers are cold and it's never out-of-season for a fire in the fireplace. It's a house where gorgeous carpets lay tattered and past their prime on a large wraparound porch, anchoring beat up wooden coffee tables stripped bare and adorned in a toddler's scribbled sidewalk chalk. It's a beautiful place, really -- rustic and undone and 'my kind of place' just as my brother and my parents had promised. It's the kind of spot in which you always wish too late that you'd extended your stay, and so I do: I take advantage of the flexibility in my late summer schedule and I stick around for a few extra days. We're family, after all.

A house like this one suits my brother and his wife well because they are writers -- the kind of writers people like me aspire to be, if only we were more disciplined, if only it came more naturally, if only we had longer attention spans. You see, I've been here since Tuesday and I haven't published a word until now. Each afternoon as my niece goes down for a nap and my brother and sister-in-law dutifully open their laptops and silently get to work beneath a canopy of trees, this burden of not having written grows heavier. This setting is spewing with material perfect for Neighborhood Nomads, and yet I am distracted. There is no excuse.

Or is there? Rather than take my paralysis as a sign that I need more structure, that I'm doomed to fail as 'that kind of writer,' I give myself a pep talk during this afternoon's nap time. I remind myself that writing is hard, anytime and any place. My family members know this and they do it anyways. They understand the importance of practice, the value of typing words onto the screen and not worrying about whether every product is a work of art. I also recall that as a writer consumed by the power of community and neighbors and homes, I am distracted here for all the right reasons. I am distracted by recreating the pool games we played as kids and by hilly runs full of dramatic mountain overlooks, by a visit to a nearby lake in the pouring rain and by stories of architecture and stories of home. I am distracted by my tiny niece pushing her shopping cart around the porch and beckoning me to follow, by games of Bananagrams with my family, and by tearing through novels I've never read. I'm distracted by the neighbors we meet while walking the dogs and swimming laps, and by the children who spend summers at daycamp here planning sleepovers in the field.

I am distracted by the power of this place, and through my lens, I should be. Already I've spent too much time in front of the computer screen thinking this through. It is time to head back out into this community in the mountains of upstate New York and embrace a few more welcome distractions.