A few weeks ago, on assignment for Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, I went to visit a bison herd.
A lot of my job involves sitting in an office chair and moving pieces of information around on my computer. Glamorous as that sounds, every now and then I need a break from all the excitement.
Going out on assignment can be stressful, though. Every traveler knows the challenges of leaving routine behind and facing the unfamiliar. On assignment, there’s the added stress of not knowing whether the story will work out. I hate the thought of wasting time in pursuit of something that fails. Also, the state pays me to get stories. I’m lucky to have this job and would hate to squander my employer’s good will on wild goose chases.
And then there’s the fear that the words won’t come. As a writer, you think they will, you hope and believe it, but in the back of your mind there’s always the question: What if this time, nothing?
All that angst was rattling in my head as I turned off I-40 onto the 10-mile dirt road to Raymond Wildlife Area. As the truck slowed from 75 to 15 miles an hour, something in me eased up as well. For a moment, a tiny, peaceful space opened up in my mind. It felt like a quiet clearing between the thorny tasks waiting on my desk and the unknown pitfalls of entering unfamiliar territory.
Into that clear space, shy as deer, a few words came pacing on slender legs. Not much: Just a note about the flight of sparrows scared up by my truck’s passage, their wings spread like bristles on a paintbrush, splattering shadows across the ground.
I recognized that quiet voice. My muse’s voice.
Of course, it’s inconvenient of her to visit when I’m driving. But you can’t schedule this stuff. You can only create an opportunity and hope something happens. When it does, how ungrateful would I be to say, “Not now, I’m busy!”
So I pulled over, grabbed the notebook and scribbled down a few words. It was more a gesture of respect than anything else. Those words might turn into something; or, they might not. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What mattered was capturing them as they came—promising my quiet muse that whenever she chooses to speak, I’m listening.
Here’s poet Kay Ryan’s take on this:
It’s her politeness
One loathes: how she
isn’t insistent, how
she won’t impose, how
nothing’s so urgent
it won’t wait. Like
a meek guest you tolerate
she goes her way—the muse
you’d have leap at your throat,
you’d spring to obey.