“Anyone can take an adventure even if it’s only in your own backyard. Let your imagination be your adventure and see where it takes you.”
I often tell my high school writing students that when I was their age, I was not well traveled. My dad was an Iron Worker, and due to the seasonal nature of construction, he either seemed to be working around the clock logging massive amounts of overtime or he would experience periods of being laid off. Looking back, since my father is the most financially responsible person I know, we probably could have gone on elaborate family vacations. Yet, my dad is not one to be around hoards of people. He loves the quiet and peaceful beauty of home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Instead of Disney (though I did visit my aunt and uncle in California at the age of 10 where they took me to Disneyland) our getaways were often spent on the Way Dam backwaters. Since my childhood was spent growing up in the wilds of Upper Michigan’s Crystal Falls, I hauled in lunker Walleye on the Paint River, I learned how to identify the different varieties of pine trees by their cluster of needles, I got goosebumps whenever I heard the lonesome trill of the whippoorwill, I picked blueberries along the driveway on my way back from checking the mail, and I spent many July nights under a peppering of crystal stars and a crackling campfire.
As a grown woman I realize now how lucky I was for my rural upbringing. Yet, as a teenager reading Hemingway, Charles Dickins, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare — I often felt isolated and thought that I had to travel extensively to experience life and have important things to write about. How could I write about Paris if I had never strolled along the Champs-Elysees? How could I draw in a reader’s interest with stories about having the first day of white tail deer season off of school, swimming across Fortune Lake, or the winter we received close to three-hundred inches of snow?
Thankfully, as a writing teacher, I know better. While my students may see ice fishing on Big Shag Lake as common place and too dull to write about, I always explain that to people living in snowless climates the thought of drilling a hole in the ice and waiting in freezing weather for a fish to bite would be an exotic, thrilling, and unusual activity. I remind my students that while we may see the things we grew up doing and the places we were raised as boring or bland (because we are so close to them) it is what we know best and it is our job as writers to bring out the richness of these experiences. It is for these reasons that Place Conscious Writing has a strong command in my classroom practice and curriculum.
In adulthood I have been fortunate to travel quite extensively. I have walked the cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem, watched one of my students read her poetry at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and panned for gold on an active claim in the quirky settlement of Chicken, Alaska. Yet, to be honest, most of my creative impulses are still inspired from my own backyard.
This winter I have felt of rush of expressiveness channeling through my snowshoe adventures around our homestead. Last night was no exception. The Super Snow Moon was so brilliant that I did not need my headlamp to snowshoe. It was bitter cold but worth every moment of beauty. I snapped photos as late as 9:00 pm (no flash – just the bright moonlight and my iPhone).
While I wish I could figure out how to use my fancy camera at night, a phone is much less cumbersome for snowshoeing. Besides, I think I enjoy the grainy roughness of these photos. It turns our pasture into a landscape that is moonlike itself.
As writers, our work begins when we tap into what we know best. We are experts in our own memories and the smells, flavors, sounds, and textures of the places that we frequent. If you are looking for something to write about — mine your heart and work outward. Compile a list of places in your journal. Draw maps, list flora and fauna, name the trees and rivers, and even document the sky.
Let your readers smell the bruised purple lilacs on the bushes that you played in as a child and show them the day you begged your mom if you could wash your hair in a rainstorm. Detail the way the iron rich soil ran red and how the sky ached a glowing green moments after the drops dissipated.
Describe an India ink dark sky, yet, at the same time so luminous with stars that it made you shiver and feel so small. That on humid summer nights you would spread out a homemade patchwork quilt on the lawn and lie inert for a couple of hours to watch the constellations spread across the lush dome. A sky so magical that it became the fabric that you stitched your dreams.
Being a writer means being able to look in the face of every day experiences and record it in your unique way. When we chart the varied paths we have traveled, we deny the presence of Writer’s Block. It becomes an illusion.
Now tell me, what are you going to write about? Leave me a list, a poem, a description, or the snippet of a scenario from your own backyard. Reach into your depository of memory and share. Let others find the universal in your musings. Comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Instagram. I will be waiting to hear from you!
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