At the beginning of spring break this year, my wife and I headed to my in-laws’ house for Easter weekend. Diane and John’s house sits on almost two hundred yards of Lake Nancy, a lake outside Saratoga so impossibly small that you could drive within thirty feet of it and never know that it was there.
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In the week and a half leading up to our trip, I’d been suffering from a writer’s most familiar companion: writer’s block. Writer’s block is akin to depression; the writer knows that everything is fine and that there is no shortage of things to write, but the words aren’t there. It feels helpless. If an idea comes, the writer sits to sketch the idea out, and either nothing happens, or the writer convinces himself or herself that the piece is uninteresting or a waste of time. Sustained effort on a hopeless project takes its toll on the writing itself, and only feeds into the feeling that writing is a waste of time.
I’ve found that the only cure for writer’s block is a compelling experience. When I encounter something that must be recorded, writer’s block seems to lift up and disappear naturally. The problem, as is the problem with most things in life, is that this is completely out of my control. All I can do is wait until a compelling enough experience shows itself.
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One of the first things we did when we got to the lake on Friday night was have a fire.
This year’s first spring fire after the last snow melted was a stubborn one — it was a random pile of over-dried kindling and saturated sticks that were discarded in haste at the end of autumn. The wood had been under the snow all winter and was only drying in the sun for the last week or so.
John and I began with three firestarter logs and had to add two before the fire really got going. As it was being lit, it sputtered and smoked, throwing a hissing tantrum as it resisted every effort to make it burn. But the harder a woodpile resists fire, the more satisfying it is to burn. Fire is zealous, and gets what it wants in the end. From fire, one learns the lesson that a combination of zeal and patience is insurmountable. At least, it was for the woodpile.
Once it caught, the fire leapt to the sky, and all of the obstinate wood in the pile gave way. We sat awhile in front of the fire and looked at the stars, warmed by the flames at the same time as we were cooled by the damp air. Satellites passed overhead, and as the flames went low, the dark world began to envelope us, urging us back inside.