Fueled by the mentally-exhausted but physically-antsy euphoria that comes with finishing a particularly challenging semester of grad school, I’ve spent the past two weekends carefully cultivating my yard: tilling, planting, weeding, mowing, clipping, trimming, digging, and plenty of other outdoorsy-type gerunds.
I’m one of those masochistic homeowners who relishes spending hours and hours giving the front and back of the house a mani-pedi, who looks forward to spending the daylight hours of his precious weekends making sure each piece of grass is perfectly parallel and even like an expensive-ass haircut from Tabatha Coffey. I enjoy the level of detail. I enjoy the relatively mindless labor.
It’s not about keeping up with the neighbors. It’s not about aesthetic pride. It’s not about getting an easy workout by shoveling and raking and pushing an old John Deere. It’s not even about satisfying my OCD and inner-perfectionist (but I’m sure that argument could be made).
My meticulous preening is about creating a place that I, with muscles aching and sweat dripping, have put myself into, a physical area that reflects my devotion and hard work like a floral mirror. Day-old dirt under my fingernails. Lazy fields of green that I can admire from my office window as I sip my morning French roast. Dew-laden hydrangeas and roses and dianthus that sparkle orange, like someone spilled orange soda all over them, as the sun makes his exit, stage West.
And when I sit out on the deck with my wife, talking and laughing, smoking a hookah, drinking a beer, discussing the mysteries of the world and chugging greedily from the top shelf stuff that makes life worth living, I know why I lose myself to the lure of some broken earth, some budding plants.
I’ve connected to the roots of me by touching the roots of the planet. I haven’t just cleaned up the yard, I’ve created an altar to the natural world. I’ve created a place that is sacred to me.
Joseph Campbell (renowned anthropologist of Hero with a Thousand Faces and Power of Myth fame) often emphasized the power of a sacred space for creative types, suggesting that all artists (writers in particular) need a place “where [they] can find [themselves] again and again.” This place, according to his theory, is devoid of distractions, outside of daily drama, and comfortably safe. It is a place, a time, and a frame-of-mind all wrapped up in one neat little picnic blanket of productivity and inspiration.
Do you have a place or a time where your writing just seems to flow from you like water from a river who has triumphed over a dam? A certain chair or room or position that somehow (as if by some ancient magicks) improves your productivity and skill and art?
Chances are, that it is your sacred space.
It can be anywhere and anytime, something so unique to you that no other writer would even understand it. When people tell me they write their best stuff in the tender hours of pre-8 AM morning, I cringe, the sleep-crust still clinging to my eyes. When people tell me they can write in pure silence, my ears scream out for pulsating rhythms, drums beating in the deepest recesses of my mind. But that’s what works for them. That’s where they can go and find the mindset that helps them create. That is where they commune with the gods of their thoughts, and mingle with all the mental manifestations of myriad metaphors.
It can be a tangible place; a desk, a keyboard, a couch, a bed. It can be something that rocks your mind into peaceful slumber, like a glass of wine or well rolled joint. It can be a certain room, touched just right by the glow of the day, or shrouded so perfectly by the cloak of night. It can be a certain pair of pants or a careworn t-shirt or a purring cat in your lap.
Or it can be far more abstract; a feeling, a memory, a nagging question or wonder. It can be the lingering sweetness of a first kiss or the bitter persistence of a curdled love. It can be a desire to know why, or longing to know how, maybe even a deep-seated itch to know when. It can be the laughter of your children in the next room, the taste of chocolate, or the feeling you get from looking out onto a well maintained lawn.
It is important to find this sacred space, but even more so to recognize you’ve found it. Against popular belief, writing is a lot of hard work that requires you sit and be productive for prolonged periods. If you can find how and when you work the best and then break it to your will and harness it for your ends, you’ll be way ahead in this whole writing game.
Some call it schedule, others routine. I call it finding a way to dig into yourself to plant new seeds and harvest the ripe fruit.
How do you find yourself again and again? What is your sacred space?