I had some creative progress this week. A light turning on inside me. A feeling of excitement. It was caused by a single scene involving a large body of water in one of my unfinished short stories, just the one scene, just the one tiny story, and yet it was a light nonetheless. For some moments, it made everything worth it. Having written that scene is why I love to write. Even now, when I think of that scene, I am reminded of the light. It’s embarrassing to admit how much it makes me feel better. The scene is so very short and inconsequential, is what I mean.

Then we went away to a mountainous vacation area of another state to visit family. Memorable moments included meeting a nephew, seeing deer, invading a classic car show at a Dairy Queen (solely by accident!), witnessing an intense conversation, an introduction to Guitar Hero, being there for the one I love. An exciting, though personal, highlight was getting the kernel of an idea for a new story. This is why writers do not hole themselves up in their dank apartments forever; my ideas always come when I leave the house.

We drove home in some silence, since one of us was hungover. The climbing mountains up ahead made it seem that we were driving straight into a wall of trees. The air smelled wonderful at times, and other times like very wet mud. Sometimes I thought to myself, We could live here. Other times, during the Dairy Queen incident for example, I thought, At least we don’t live here. I am of two minds when it comes to mountains; I write stories about people living in them, though I rarely ever want to go back. They haunt me, though I feel strangely at home when surrounded by them. I am not sure how this makes sense.

Just as we were reaching the end of the drive, we got lost in Jersey City. The rental car was red, reminding me of a car from my past. The first glimpse of the night-lit Manhattan skyline produced the usual thrills, but mostly relief at finding our way through the wilds of the New Jersey highways. When we emerged from the Holland Tunnel and into Manhattan, seeking a gas station that turned out to no longer exist, I was too distracted to let myself get excited about being back in the city. Would we make it to the rental place in time? Yes. Would they overcharge us? Yes. But would the walk home along the familiar pavement and through the familiar city park be a good one? Yes.

All that said, there hasn’t been any time to write today. So the creative progress I’d made is held, delicately balanced, in midair, waiting for me to return to it. That won’t be anytime soon. I have two freelance deadlines. A manuscript I am “writing” (part of a work-for-hire project) is due next Monday; I really must work on it today and I am struggling to do so. A manuscript I copyedited (which was then rewritten in sections because the marketing people wanted it different) is back in my hands and due with a floating deadline of AS SOON AS YOU CAN. I’ve spent all afternoon working on it.

Really I’d rather be reading more Alice Munro. Or returning, clear-headed, to my own story.

Then I think back to better things: that wall of trees, that new idea, that scene in my story, the progress I made—am making—the upcoming moment when I find my way back to my little point of light. I feel like I’m lost in Jersey City all over again. But there’s a way out, I know there is—there is always some semblance of a way out. You just might have to do a U-turn under the stinky bridge to find it.

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