Hard Frost. Slow Dance.
by Laura Munson
This is the time of year
when the muse is hungry. Starved by a summer in Montana where the
physical world bullies you to come out into it and join the dance
that leads with mountains, and twirls with rivers, and rests in
lakesóa spent tango. And we find ourselves in fall. The physical
dance over. Time to go home in the dark. There is a lot of
This morning was the first
hard frost. I could see it on the roof by moonshadow, silver and
glinting off shingles. It was confirmed by the first light over the
ridge as I stood at the stove making my first cup of teaóthe Mother
cup. The rest will be Writer cups, and there will be at least three
more of them before itís time for another Mother cup. I drink a lot
of tea. Green with jasmine. The muse used to be thirsty for
coffee. I taught her that tea is a more graceful entrance into the
act of empathy which all writers must take if our work is to find
itself dancing with our characters and our readers. Itís easier to
find empathy with tea.
So with tea and the first
light, I go out to start the truck. The frost has covered it, and I
rebel against the ice scraper which is lost under life jackets and
beach towelsósummer things. I sacrifice a bit of tea to get the
windshield thinking about doing its job, rock pocks, hairline
fractures and all. I am not ready for winter. I donít care how
hungry or how thirsty the muse is to dance, in silence and dark,
grey by day, and then dark again, for many months; many dark
mornings with sacrificial tea rites. I can feel myself brace
against it this morning. There is something different about this
Itís been seventeen of
these in Montana, and normally I meet the season and the muse with a
warm embrace. Relief, even. I donít know why I am dragging my feet
this year to this dance I love. Itís not that I donít love what the
muse covets, requires. I do. Writing is my practice, prayer, and
way of life. But itís like what my ten-year-old son said this
morning, snuggling with me. ďI donít want to go to school.Ē
ďBecause thereís so much
ďBut work can be fun if
you look at it like an adventure.Ē
ďItís not fun when
somebody asks you to do it.Ē
I smiled. ďYouíre right.
But itís possible to look at it like you get to be asked to
do work, and you get to learn something you might not have
thought to learn all by yourself.Ē
He wasnít really buying
it. And neither was I.
Yes, there is something
different about this fall. And my son helped me see it: this is
the first fall that Iíve been asked to do my work. I have
jobs. I got a book published, finally, after many failed attempts,
and suddenlyÖI have jobs. In fact, itís an embarrassment of riches,
I have so many deadlines. Iím not bragging. Itís just that Iím
worried. I donít know how to do this dance.
What I know how to do is
this: bow to winter by getting to work on a novel. This time of
year there are characters dancing in my mindís mountains and rivers
and lakes. They want out. They want their dance on a parquet floor
in a dance hall with a live band and pretty girls and guys with
gyrating hips. They have no patience for the world of book
promotion and magazines and blogs and Facebook and Twitter and books
begging to be blurbed. They donít care if Iíve grown fond of the
generous community of the internet and other writers, or that
thereís finally a way that the writer can meet the reader without
the publishing world. They donít care that Iíve learned to use
Twitter as Haiku and my blog as a daily writerly warm up.
Most of all, they donít
understand that a writer needs an income. That Iíve been at this
years and years and finallyÖmy dream came true. They donít know
that once youíve had a book published, you have a window of
opportunity. They especially donít want to meet the baby being
passed lovingly through it. They are jealous lovers, saboteurs of
other dance halls but their own. They want to sweat and grind and
tip back their heads in pleasure. They want to feel the drumbeat
re-arranging their heartbeats.
And I fear that the work I
have loved so much for so long will somehow suffer. And
in-so-doing, I will too. Never mind my muse or my characters. Or
potential readers for that matter.
When I return from the
Mother cup of tea, the sun is bright and the yard is a puzzleóbright
green where the frost has melted, still stiff and sage-colored where
it has not, a perfect shape of the shadow of my house. I pause and
smile: natureís dance.
The dance is perpetual, I
decide. The characters arenít leading the dance. I am. My
work is to keep writing and trust that Iíll know which dance to
dance. Now tango. Now foxtrot. Now waltz.
I can bring these cups of
tea, these yard shapes, these characters, and even my muse with
me, wherever I am dancing. And we will all be better for our other writing adventures. No one will go hungry or cheap for the drum beat. It is just slow for now in the way of novels. Iím sure that winter will change that soon enough.
is something of a publishing phenomenon. After writing fourteen
novels for which she could not find a publisher, she wrote an
article that crashed the New York Timesí s website.
Forty-eight hours later she had a publishing contract for her memoir,
This Is Not The Story You Think It Is.