I ran a 5K last month. It was one of those gorgeous October Sundays that remind me why I love Arkansas.
In the romantic amber glow of the early morning, I kept my pace, watching the cows watch me. During the first mile I saw several perfect photo opps– trees, baled hay, broken down fences. In that light, everything is prettier. Slowly pushing forward, I understood why my dad likes to sneak off with his camera before dawn. He catches scenes like this just after sunrise, when the light is like magic, casting everything in hope.
I took in the moments, but I didn’t stop to capture them. I would do that on the back half, when I needed a break. No need to break my stride now, powered by a P!nk soundtrack and the enthusiasm fueled by rest, water, and the fact that I might actually finish this thing with an “okay” time, even though I hadn’t run since July.
Those moments could wait. I was saving up, planning to cash in during mile 3.
This was a fine plan. I make a lot of those.
By the time I had run through “So What,” “Raise Your Glass,” and “Today’s the Day,” I was ready to start snapping some crazy-beautiful images.
Problem: the light had changed.
Twenty minutes into the run, the sky was totally different, another hue altogether. With the sun in a different place, the scenery had literally changed. Even the cows that watched us runners so intently before had returned to the field, bored by the puzzling humans and their strange customs.
We can’t recreate a moment. All we get to keep is our interpretation of it.
So when you have the opportunity, take the shot.
I’m not saying a moment not captured is a moment wasted. I believe the opposite, that we’re capturing far too many moments, and fully living far too few. But sometimes capturing the moment helps me to be more in the moment.
On this particular morning, capturing these particular images was my way to be grateful. They were a digital thank you note to God and whoever’s watching, to acknowledge that my life is pretty awesome. And the views are free.
But if you want to catch them, you have to act. You can’t delay, hoping they will wait for you.
I’m missing moments in my writing too.For the past 13 years, discipline has ruled my practice. I’ve heard the mantra repeated a thousand different ways:
Don’t wait for the muse. Just write.
I’ve heeded it. Writing on command is one of the principles behind writing to a prompt, with a timer, which is one of my favorite practices and a core component of Second Story workshops.
Over the years I’ve written to spec, on deadline, and to word count quotas day in and day out with a dedication that I credit with most of my success.
But amid all that hard work, sometimes things just flow. When I’m exceedingly lucky, or maybe I’ve been extra good, something just comes out. And it’s pretty good just the way it is. People who don’t write, and often new writers, sometimes think that’s how it works all the time, or that’s how it works all the time for good writers or real writers or talented writers.
I’m a real writer, somewhat talented, and thousands of strangers say I’m pretty good. I’m here to tell you, those free-flowing, feely-good, easy-word days are few and far between. That’s okay. That’s what I’ve signed up for.
What I’m determined to remember, though, is to make room for inspiration. Sometimes the muse is musey and it’s okay to break discipline– even if I’m in the first mile of a Very Important Athletic Event– to follow where I’m led. Because sometimes we have to pull the story out of it’s hiding place, through sheer will and effort. But sometimes a story is handed to us, like those gorgeous images, and if we’re too tied to our discipline, we might miss out on the gift.
We all need reminders, we all need a guide once in a while, we all need to be encouraged to follow our instincts, and our muses. Apparently my muse is a cow.
I’ve been pushing my students to keep lists. Each of them have different lists to keep, because each has different goals and is a different place in writing and finding their stories.
One student is working on finding her voice, so I asked her to keep a log of things that affect her emotionally. By noticing what moves her, I’m hoping she’ll write more about those things and therefore figure out what she’s meant to share.
One student is making sense of and finding lessons in a period of extreme personal turmoil, so I asked her to keep a list of all the random memories that surface. There’s no need to put them in order right away. Putting them on paper is order enough for now.
One student is terrified of her own words, so I’ve asked her to make a list of all the things she cannot possibly write about. She can burn the list afterwards if she wants to, but giving her thoughts real estate on a page is a start. And that’s all she needs, a start.
Paying attention to the moments is paying attention to the muse.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Meade
I’m convinced our little stories can change the world, that in fact, Story is the only thing that ever has.
Take the damn shot.