Yesterday was another turn on the wheel of one of my favorite Sunday afternoon pastimes (ahh, “Sunday pastimes,” which smacks of a gentler era seen through a bit of a mist): smoking a fat cigar and reading the newspaper, parked in a chair in my garage, which looks down our long driveway to the strawberry fields beyond. For me, the hour or so I spend, perhaps two or three Sundays a month, is one of those concentratedly “small” respites, where I breathe (really, despite the smoke), reflect on the triumphs and tribulations yodeling from the newsprint, and often consider a writing problem or possibility.
There are long beds the length of the driveway host to a melange of flowering plants, shrubs and trees, so the flitting of the hummingbirds and the bumbling of the bees provides a palette of color and pleasant movement, where I drink in droughts of pastoral pleasure in between recoiling from the accounts of the latest global atrocity, or wagging my head at some pundit’s proclamations.
That smoky solace let me take a sharp turn on an essay I’ve been writing in my mind, something that to this point had been a tangled skein of thoughts without warp or woof. There’s something about sitting in a hazy repose that’s of value to a writer, when the mind’s hummingbird dips into enough flowers to secure a sweet idea. Of course, the real trick is to implement, to actually weave something from the woolgathering. So I try to make it a habit, when I’ve been gifted with something more than fragrant breath from my cigarish contemplations, to get to the keyboard lickety-split, and weigh and record the nugget from the Sunday pannings. Jumpy writing ideas will turn to fool’s gold if you don’t stick a pin in them.
Kindling Your Writing
But it also occurred to me that “man in driveway with cigar and newspaper” is an anachronism, a diorama of a soon-to-be-bygone scene, with the newspaper now so much thinner than my cigars, and smoking in itself an odious step on the slippery slope to child pornography and wearing Crocs in church. I suppose I could read Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the Kindle while I drink some herb tea, but that doesn’t supply the requisite amount of vice for my tastes.
Besides, I take comfort in the rustle of the newspaper, the ever-morphing patterns of the rising and dissipating smoke, the acid balance of the big cup o’joe that’s always part of the picture. (When that cuppa isn’t the occasional brandy, which is just another notch on St. Peter’s staff, so that when I arrive at the pearly gates, he says, “You’re kidding, right?” But don’t forget that Mrs. Browning did like a swallow of opium or two in the middle of all that poesy*.)
Of course, my particular prescription to invite the writing muse might not be for everyone. Quilting might substitute well for the newspaper, but then you might light your handiwork on fire with the cigar ash. (And for women worried that those stubby sticks will clash with their gold lamé gowns, really, there are some slender panatela and cigarillo-style stogies that lend themselves just as well as those fulsome fatties to stylish, airy gestures and erudite commentary.)
But I think every writer should have a retreat, a place of studied measure and sifting, a place where you become The Thinker, only without the weight of all that bronze. A writer’s retreat, whether physical or philosophical, anachronism or not, is a yeasty place of stirring idea. Consider Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and apply it to your state. And be sure to wash the ashtrays afterwards.
*PS If you want to get a hint of writerly vices gone to polysyllabic extremes, read The Confessions of An English Opium Eater, by Thomas De Quincey. It is a word-drenched testimony of the drug’s effect on his senses and his writing, and is worth at least scanning for the cascade of voluptuous compound sentences and twirling literary merry-go-rounds.