I don’t usually remember my dreams. I’m too tired. But sometime within the last three years, I dreamed of a greenhouse with people inside. Two adults and a baby. The adults were barely grown-up. The baby was not their own. I saw a yellow flame inside the greenhouse. Outside, I saw winter everywhere.
I saw the beginning of the book that became Road Out of Winter.
Where did it come from? I have no idea. What did it mean? Still don’t know. How did it come to be that I dreamed it? Honestly, not my question to answer, or even to question. It’s just my duty to take the dream, accept what was offered—and run with it.
And I did. I ran for almost three years. When I stopped running, the book had a new name, a publisher (MIRA Books), and a publication date of September 1.
But now I find there’s a lot of other running.
There’s the race to promote, to distinguish the book in a field crowded with a lot of great books, a lot of noise, a lot of not-so great books, and not much time or money. There’s the race do my day job. And then there’s the race to write something new, another book.
If you keep running, little girl, you’re going to run straight into hell, an old man scolded me when I was four or five, after church one Sunday morning, when my family still went to church. When I was not much older, I rode a horse that went wild in sight of its barn. A man chased us down, grabbed the reins. I remember he had gray hair. I remember him saying he was impressed I could hold on.
But I can hold onto the wildest ride. It’s slowing down that I have difficulty with. Slowing down and balance.
On one level, I have no trouble coming up with new writing. On another, dealing with existing work isn’t easy—and it’s exhausting.
Promotion is urgent. Emails need to answered now. Edits, returned yesterday. But writing, creation itself, is very slow. It’s quiet. It doesn’t like interruption, the constant stop and start. And doing both at the same time—writing new work, and handling the editing, publishing, and promotion of old—is a rough cycle of opposing forces.
Everyone always asks me: How do you come up with your ideas? The truth is, I don’t know, and if I did, I would probably not write them. It’s confusing, it’s overwhelming. It makes no sense and I can’t control or stem it.
But I know ideas come out of several places: dreams, silence, walks, and nature. And I know that to love writing, to love art and stories, to make them, I need to find time to do these things.
Last week, my partner, son, and I went for a walk in the woods. It was cold, wet, and muddy. Our coats may never recover. But in a meadow at the top of a hill, my son met a deer so still we thought it was a statue. And on the walk down, I thought of a new book. I shared my story with my family.
“That seems like a dumb idea,” my son said. Typical. Then he admitted, “I like it.” So did my partner.
But the important thing is: I like it, and in the bits of our walk not interrupted by kid chattering or crow chattering, I thought of it some more, and it made me happy. It makes me happy to think of new ideas. It makes me feel less alone, even when I’m by myself.
I live in a rural place, but even here it’s hard to get to silence and wilderness. It takes time which I don’t have. Time in which I can’t be writing something for money, or answering those emails, or doing other work.
Yet though each hour I spend outside, in the woods, by the river, on the cliffs, in the mud, is one in which I can’t be working, my brain is working. My brain works best in nature, in quiet.
It’s always worth it for me, to take that time to be quiet. How can the ideas get in unless you make space for them, by not emailing, not promoting, not talking, not watching anything else but the world? I know that ideas are everywhere. But you have to listen.
Read the first chapter of Road Out of Winter for free here.
Arnica for Bruises
Arnica, from the sunflower family, is one of my favorite herbs for injuries. I have found it really speeds up the healing time for bruises especially. About ten years ago I was introduced to it when I bruised my kneecap, falling down the broken steps at the university I attended at the time. A woman, a stranger, saw my leg when I was limping through a store, and immediately handed me arnica.
Arnica is said to help reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain. You can get it in creams or sprays, and apply topically. It can be toxic in large doses, so I don’t use it in flower form, but buy it in a lotion or other product. I feel like it has a slight tingling effect, which is soothing and cooling.
Most recently, when my little nephew accidentally gave me a black eye, I spread an arnica lotion on the injury. It was around New Year’s Eve, and I had a nice colorful display on my eyelid for holiday parties, but the bruises disappeared quickly. You need time, more than anything—but you can get help from plants too.