a tree in winter

My poetry professor once told me that artists are like trees. That sometimes we are heavy with neon green, or fruit–fruit that goes on to rot and collapse into our rootwork for food. And sometimes we retreat, we lose our foliage. We may, even, appear dead. Our creative frenzy enters hibernation. And this artistic reticence is okay. It is necessary. Because artists are hungry. And sometimes the only creative act we can sustain is eating. Absorbing existence.

This stillness can be sickening. I get restless and tense and bitter when I’m not making. I feel something’s wrong with me when I’m not creating, like creation is proof of my existence, and I disappear without it. But (deciduous) trees still exist without their leaves. It’s okay to be in retreat. To stand in the snow, and wait, and absorb.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been in a creative lull. I don’t know if this is because I’m closing in on the end of my job, the end of our time in Montana, and the approach of our move back home to the Cascades–but whatever it is, I haven’t been writing, or drumming, as intensely as I have in past times.

Part of me is recovering from shock: at the beginning of April, I didn’t know where I was going to be living once June hit. I had a number of offers from grad schools, so I visited the most promising: first was Eastern Washington’s creative writing MFA program. And then, just four days after returning home from Spokane, I took a late night Greyhound from Missoula to Seattle–during which I saw a man freeze-up, collapse, and spill blood–where I met my mom, who took me to Eugene, to visit the University of Oregon’s graduate program in folklore. Just days after returning from that visit, I knew where we’d be moving: to the program where I can study shape-shifting foxes, and trickster gods, and their amorous cross-sections.

When we first moved to Missoula, we had no idea where we’d be in a year and a half–that particular location was really up to whichever admission committee hated me the least. A year and a half of wondering, speculating, not knowing which way your life is going to turn–it’s a long time. And then, to suddenly to know. It’s a punch to the windpipe that knocks breath back into your lungs. There’s air again, bitter and bright and wild, and you don’t quite know what to do with it.

That’s me right now, learning how to breath again. I’m a tree in winter. I haven’t made much of anything recently–just a brief flash fiction piece about woodland incest, and a rough picture of a blue phoenix (plus a lunar folktale to keep it company). Besides that, I’ve just been working on character designs for my novel forthcoming novel, Skyglass, with the brilliant and wildy-fantastic artist, Mookie.

(Her work. Go. Look. Now. Shiny. Feral. Toothy. Sexy. It more than deserves your gazing eyes.)

But it makes me antsy, this stillness. The lack of fresh writing, or faster blastbeats in my drumming. My last day at work is May 11th, and I think the creative rush will spike after that. In the meantime, I’ve found my brain doing something…funny.

I wrote, once, about how fanfiction got me through high school. That’s part truth, part mostly me being a snarky meatbag of lies. I did many things to survive, one of which was story-related. But these weren’t stories I read; these were brain-stuff.

Let’s call them skullplays: I’d start with a character and their bleeding, something to make them hurt. Then came story and character two, and their pain; then magnetism–sometimes (most times) in the form of love. Sometimes not. Sometimes there’d be a character #3–antagonist, another love interest, an advice-giver. Father. Trickster. Brother. Sage. After I had all this established, I’d begin to tell myself stories about these characters, the angsty minutiae of their interactions.

Lately, I’ve been rediscovering these characters, two pairs in particular: character-set #1 share a shadowy story about art, survival, and fermented blood. Someday soon-ish, I’d like to tell that story in some hybrid form of comics and prose. Character set #3 is secret. A story that will only ever be skullplay. It has no rules, except the ones that satisfy my quirks. It’s dark, and twisted, stupidly painful, and fluffy, and all of that makes me happy. For the past two weeks, I’ve been moving slowly through it as I grind coffee beans and extract cucumber juice.

Sometimes my tangential mind splits off from the story, or I get distracted by a wayward chunk of ginger flinging itself from the Nutrifaster. Or, sometimes the trudge of the story is simply the result of my obsessive story-orchestration: choosing the dialogue that’s most agonizing, the setting that’s most poignant; the placement of a hand, the seam in a tooth–all things that come quickly when the stories are worded, but stretch into hours when my finicky, un-handed brain gets a hold of them.

Yet the lingering makes sense: I’m a tree in winter. The sap runs slow.

I’m leafless and sluggish as a frost-bitten zombie, but inside I’m still ticking. The sap runs slow, but still it runs.

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