Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Writer's Spirit: When we meet an obstruction in the road

Two weeks ago, I set out on a seven-hundred-mile trip home after a reading at a university and a visit with my mom. It was a cloudy night, spitting snow, on a dark stretch of highway, and I was a hundred miles in.

And then, the deer.

He appeared in front of me from my left, running hard. He’d cleared three lanes when I hit him going seventy-five. In the briefest moment, I took him in. He was a large buck with a fine rack. He was in front of me, and then his body flew over my car.

It’s funny how things can change in an instant. The buck lost his life in an instant, and I had a concussion in an instant. My Volkswagen Golf—seventeen years old, reliable and paid for—was totaled in an instant.

I had been blogging steadily since Jan. 1, and was posting twice or three times a day, but, in an instant, that was on hold; blurry vision and foggy thinking made writing difficult, so I did what I had to do, my paid work, instead of what I wanted to do: my personal writing projects and my blog.

I’m like a lot of writers. The art we make is voluntary. No one is waiting for it; no one demands it or even expects it. When we hurt ourselves or a crisis arises, we often plug ahead with our paid work, and when something has to give, what gives is our creative output.

The trick, always, is to jump back in and start again. Before my accident, I was really enjoying a daily book review project—reading a poetry book every day and writing an appreciation of it. I was learning a lot about craft by paying such close daily attention to so many disparate voices, and I was also building good habits of mind. Writers need to read—ideally, they must stay current, and what they take in helps to inform their writing practices.

Here’s the interesting thing about my wreck. Before I crashed my car, I was thinking about how I should get a new vehicle—something reliable and safe to take me all around the Midwest for the readings I do from time to time. It was just time for an upgrade, but my employment situation (or rather my full-time unemployment situation) meant that buying a car was impractical.

The wreck forced the issue. My car got me the six hundred remaining miles home, but it was badly smashed, and it would have required thousands of dollars of repairs to be roadworthy. I did not have full coverage—that wouldn’t have made much sense for such an old car—but nevertheless, I could see that my car was effectively totaled.

While visiting with my mom, I had told her what I would want in a car—an import without many miles on it, something older that I could afford, but also, if I could have what I really wanted, it would have heated seats and a moonroof, like my Volkswagen.

And now it’s in my driveway—a Hyundai Sonata, 2007, only 44,000 miles on it, with, unbelievably, those completely non-essential features, heated seats and a moon roof.

It’s easy to feel like the universe is a cold and impersonal entity. That’s how it almost always behaves, and it’s the reasonable view of things—we should be an imperceptible nothing inside of its sprawling infinity. But sometimes the universe gives us what we need—and it is exactly, eerily precise.

Even my break from writing has me rethinking some things. I don’t like how I was responding to politics, for instance—it was like I was at the very end of a long game of crack-the-whip, and I was being jerked all around instead of asserting my own power. And my daily reviews were becoming formulaic; I’ve realized that I need to slow down and be more craft-centered instead of content-centered.

Sometimes the universe stops us in our tracks very literally. We’re driving along at 75 miles per hour and there’s an obstruction before us. A sudden change means we can’t continue as we were.

And it’s OK, or it can be. If the thing that stops us doesn’t end us altogether, we get to regroup, restart. We can come back rested and ready to give things another go.

I’m glad to be back on the road.


  1. Glad you came away with so little damage (considering the possibilities) and with a renewed view of the moon and other things. Thanks for the inspiration.