Writing in the Sheep Pasture
where all great art happens
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Now, about that sheep pasture
I started writing my first novel, which now lives deep in the recesses of my computer files, while I was in grad school and then after grad school, through years that were very transitory. I owned three pieces of furniture: a dresser, a futon, and a crate I used as a desk. I lived and slept and wrote many places in several states during that time, and I kept a list of them with the highly original title of
Places I wrote this novel (an incomplete list):
Liz’s house with the pineapple on the wall and the smell of lamb.
the house on 6th St, Missoula, on top of a cardboard box.
In the backyard parking lot when the sun came out, wearing my down jacket.
Caroline’s front porch.
Caroline’s roof, overlooking the Ethiopian restaurant.
the park with the plastic toys that no one steals.
the coffee shop in San Francisco where people lock their laptops so no one steals them
The coffee shop in Oakland with all the non-black people in it, across the street from the barbeque restaurant with all the black people in it.
Guiseppi’s cabin, San Juan Island, while the omelets were cooking.
The lavender coffee shop, San Juan.
Orcas Island Public Library.
The sheep pasture.
Behind the blueberries.
Heidi’s room, with all the wasps.
The floor of my parents’ living room, with Charlie farting.
Aidan’s room, next to the Lego castle.
The Essential Baking Café, eating a chocolate cookie for hours.
My very own room (finally) in the house off the Ave in Seattle.
Wannabee café, where they’re really cool but it smells like fake bananas.
Trabant Chai lounge, watching construction.
Ravenna Park, with the daisies and the crows.
in my head all the time everywhere.
The lawn of the Petrolia School, sitting in a circle in the sun.
Caffe Vita, Grace sleeping with her head in her arms.
The BauHaus. Eavesdropping on uber-sexual hipsters.
The Solstice, drinking whipper-snapper tea.
Victrola, next to the woman writing about slime molds.
The edge of the reservoir in Oregon, with all the lovely queer Australians and the lonely ranger.
Aidan’s room again, at his desk by the window, his drawings’ eyes staring out from the wall.
Matt’s room at Alder St.
Ashlyn’s attic at Alder St.
Seth’s mom’s house next to Seth’s childhood king-size waterbed.
The sunroom at Alder St, looking across to the Amazon Headquarters.
Up in my garret with the invisible door shut.
Writing without walls
Eventually, in all those places, I wrote a whole novel. And while I’m glad I have my own house these days, with a special spot I usually write in, I’m also a big fan of writing in strange places, especially writing outside. It shakes up my mind, it’s fun — and I get to be outside. I still write on my porch a lot in the summer.
I find that kids love writing outside too. (They also love writing behind and under couches, and any other funny little nook they can find.) We often write outside in the afternoons, as long as it’s warm and dry enough not to make this an obnoxious undertaking.
This week, my Carnation class went down to the river bar, and after playing for a while in the GORGEOUS sunshine, I had them get out the stories they have been writing, find a shady little spot, and write. Twenty-five totally content minutes later, I had to tear them away so we could walk back. We plan on repeating outdoor story-writing this week. And today, my class wrote in the garden at the community center where we meet, with a huge amount of delight.
But isn’t it distracting?
Possibly, but it’s also enlivening. And if a child is distracted from writing because they’re happily watching a bug crawl up a willow stem next to a river on a beautiful day in May, I’m pretty OK with that. Kids get distracted indoors too and don’t get nearly as much out of it.
Today, a student with writer’s block spent a few minutes pacing through the garden, and I could see something relaxing in him that stays coiled when he gets blocked at the table inside. Up in the back corner of the garden came lots of giggling — and two exciting pages of a brand new story convincingly set in the 1600’s.
Some outdoor writing ideas:
Write down everything you see
Make a map of the sounds you hear around you
Lie down and look at a small area in front of you, pretend you’re a tiny creature who lives there, and write about it.
Write about signs of spring.
Write a letter to someone who has never been where you are, describing the land around you.
Read a couple of Mary Oliver poems aloud, then write poetry.
Sit in the grass and play writing games.
Write that day’s bit of a novel.