The Desert

It is hard, writing about writing when writing is 1) something you are still basically a novice at, and therefore probably not someone who should be looked to for anything akin to Writing Advice, and 2) mostly a long-played exercise in learning how to accept rejection.

I do not resent my rejection letters, because so many of them have been helpful. They point me towards what I need to be in order to not get rejections anymore, or at least to get fewer of them. I need to take greater risks using fewer words; I need to love my characters more; I need to cut deeper and with a surgeon’s eye instead of stabbing blindly in hopes I nick a vein. Useful stuff, and I do think I will get there. It’s just such a long slog, and I’ve no map, and I hate not knowing timelines.

It is easy to get mired in the slog. There’s never been any giving-up thoughts because that is impossible: for someone who writes out of my impulse, not from joy or love of the craft but a need to release pressure from a creative valve, the alternative is self-destruction, so I can’t really give up. But it’s easy to spend my writing time staring at Scientific American blog posts and pictures of puppies I might someday name and teach to do tricks and to worry bout my bank account. It’s easy to spend more time just laying in bed. Ten more minutes. Normal people don’t push themselves this hard. Wouldn’t it be nice to be normal?

November was particularly hard. Events conspired to suck simultaneously. I wished I was a badger, living by myself in a hole in the ground where no people or bad luck could find me. I didn’t write and I didn’t care.

I went to the desert. I’ve been to many deserts but this was Death Valley and unlike any desert I’ve been in before. Most deserts are alive and busy and full. This one was not. It was empty of everything save wind and salt and distant cliffs. It was desolate. There weren’t even many other tourists, so we had the whole damn empty nothingness to ourselves.

I loved it there. It felt so right.

I don’t know what it was about the particular quality of emptiness that filled me back up, but it was what I wanted. Laying out in the middle of nowhere under the blinding moon, looking at more stars than, literally, I have ever seen at once in my life, I was possessed by a spirit of stillness and possibility. It made me think about writing and why I do it. It made me think about how big things are and how good that makes me feel.

This desert lacks water, sustenance, shelter, life. It doesn’t need those things. That’s not what it is for. It’s for passing through. You would be a fool to try to change the place. Just shut up and look at all those fucking stars.

I did manage to carry this back into the real world—always the test of vacation epiphanies—as well as through some challenges and one near-tragedy that is not quite finished playing itself out. Seeing all that intentional, unavoidable emptiness gave me some sort of ballsy determination that’s a new, growing part of my personality. It surprises me. I like it. It’s useful.

I turned thirty-one in the desert. Most places you love—and I deeply loved Death Valley—you leave already planning your return, but do I need to go back? I don’t know. I don’t think so. The magic worked but I think it probably only works once.

Everyone else should go, though. Go to the desert. There’s some wonderful shit out there.


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