Sometimes, the best way to get over writer’s block or get out of a writing slump is to change both your scenery and the project you’re working on.
In a “Break Out of the Rut” mood on this crisp fall day, I discard my morning plan of walking up to Diversey to work at one of the coffee shops up there, and instead, turn east toward the Caldwell Lily Pond, to find a flat rock to sit and write. The Lily Pond is only two blocks away, and I want a longer walk to stretch my back and legs before I settle down to write.
I take the “long route” there, which features an entirely unnecessary multi-block lap around the Lincoln Park Lagoon. My average writing day usually features multiple work sessions and, often, an equal number of work locations. Both my brain and my back get fatigued if I work in one location for too long.
Moseying along the lagoon path, I scout several spots where the landscapers have placed flat rocks, or even manmade cement steps, at water’s edge. They would make a fine location for my first writing session, but they’re all taken by young couples out for a romantic afternoon.
Wandering further down the path, I spy a giant tree that had been split by lightning many years ago. Part of it rests on the ground, extending twenty feet out into the water like a Mother Nature-made dock for ducks. Lightning may have laid it down, but that strike, and the subsequent tree’s tumble, didn’t break the trunk from its roots. Dozen of saplings, some several years old, are happily growing along its length.
A bit of tentative exploration confirms my suspicion that behind what’s left of the still-growing-upright trunk, at the point where the lightning had first hit, there is a little bowl, just the right size for a girl and her laptop. The upright trunk provides both a backrest and protective covering from prying eyes that might wander by on the path.
I manage to climb in there and get settled without dropping either myself or my backpack into the lagoon. I manage to get my laptop out of my backpack and into my lap without dropping it into the drink, either.
So, here I sit, amidst the saplings. Despite the changing season, most of the saplings still boast delicate white flowers with a brazen yellow ball bursting forth in the middle; thirty-two white petals these miniature daisy-like flowers have.
Ducks honk and bray at each other across the pond. (The sound of ducks always reminds me of the Marx Brothers, and I giggle.)
A graceful pair of Canadian geese glide by cooing and calling like loons. Water bugs skate atop slightly brackish water near the banks. Minnows dart to the surface hoping to catch a meal.
It is not the most comfortable of seats for my tender, touchy back, but I’ll work here awhile because the sights and sounds – the sunlight dappling across my face and glistening like diamonds on the water – feeds the soul and tempts my inner child who says, “Why yes, I do want to come out and play!” Who knows what writing might come from such glorious inspiration?
I decide to document my adventures with nature today.
A small flock of geese have come to investigate this human interloper. I was wrong; this fallen tree is not a duck dock – it is a goose pier, and, having decided I am no threat, three of them climb up on the log to preen and groom the feathers on their breasts.
Apparently, my perch is not so secret after all: two little boys have just peaked in on me. It seems this is a tree they climb along often, and I am sitting in the way. Their mother calls, and they run off before I have a chance to contemplate whether I might give up the spot to them. I’m glad they did. Otherwise, I would not have noticed that the geese have gone away, and two turtles, one the size of a soup bowl and one the size of a dinner plate, have climbed up on the log where once the geese stood. Another branch, that I’d not really looked at before, now holds two ducks and another turtle a tad smaller than a coffee cup saucer.
A goose glides by.
The black-necked Canadian geese are so much more graceful and elegant than their white-bodied American cousins; it seems wrong to call them by the same name.
The little boys are running back and forth along the walking path. At first they expressed hope I’d give back their spot, but now they have “discovered a new house,” I hear them excitedly report to their mother. If I had immediately given way, they would never have made such a discovery; I feel virtuous in my inaction.
My back is starting to cramp. I’ll soon withdraw and they can reclaim the territory I’ve encroached…
But not just yet, I think, because a fourth turtle, another soup bowl-sized one, has just crawled up on the branch. The first turtle of that size, I shall call him Campbell’s, just climbed on top of the dinner-plate one, tumbling them both into the water. Meanwhile, a new, much littler guy, hardly bigger ’round than the mouth of a juice glass, has climbed up, but Campbell’s #2 just pushed him back in. I did not know turtles loved to play King of the Mountain.
On each branch, a turtle now stands alone. Each is facing north, neck extended, head up in the air as if sentinels guarding against an intruder I can not see.
A flock of ducks has just completed a practice run, buzzing across the length of the lagoon; perfecting maneuvers before their long flight south. There was much honking and consternation. Clearly they need more practice.
The juice-glass turtle is back; this time, allowed to stay. He, too, faces north.
And now, I hear a different call of nature. Since I am not a duck who can answer the call in the lagoon, or the Canadian geese who seem to prefer the walking path for such activities, I shall mosey back home – the nearest outpost that contains the facilities I need, then I shall perhaps wander, finally, to the Caldwell Lily Pond and see what sort of writing the turtles and ducks and geese and children inspire there.
About the author…
Tina Jens is an award-winning novelist (THE BLUES AIN’T NOTHIN’: TALES OF THE LONESOME BLUES PUB), and the author of more than 100 published stories and articles. She writes Fantasy, Horror, and Chick Adventure. One of her stories was recently chosen for the prestigious anthology ALL AMERICAN HORROR OF THE 21ST CENTURY: THE FIRST DECADE. She teaches the Fantasy Writing Workshop at Columbia College Chicago. The founder and chief organizer of Twilight Tales: The Weekly Reading Series and small press publisher for 14 years, her newest venture is the Gumbo Fiction Salon, a monthly genre fiction series (with a featured reader and an open mic) held at the Galway Arms in Lincoln Park the third Thursday of every month. On other days, she can be found wandering around the Lincoln Park neighborhood with her laptop, looking for that day’s perfect writing spot.
Photoe: C. Rice