I’m riding through the Midwest again, husband at the wheel, past cornfields and malls, houses and large patches of unknown land. I’m letting my mind wander along with my body. A good feeling. And then I start to think: “Maybe I should get out my laptop. I have a blog to finish. I’m sitting here doing nothing.” A subtle shame cloud starts to form.
We equate being busy with good. It's good to be busy. Keep busy. I'm too busy. Get busy with it. I'm sooooo busy. I’m always thinking about what I can be accomplishing now. I'm waiting in a doctor's office: What can I be doing now? Answering emails, drafting emails, posting on social media. Writing. I was sitting in one of my neighborhood coffee shops recently, an Americano in my hand, and I started thinking about what I could be accomplishing at that moment. I had the shocking revelation that maybe I could do . . . nothing.
Let my mind go blank. Let it lie fallow like a field. Farmers let fields go fallow for a year or five so they can have a rest and regenerate. Most fields take more vacation than me, and probably more than you, too.
Pondering fallowness, I decided to look at a book full of pictures, a high-end architectural landscaping book that was sitting on a shelf there. It had nothing to do with any of my goals. I don't want to be a landscape architect. But it sparked something in me that related to something else I'm writing.
(Can I go public with it? It's something I've been working on forever and I'm taking too long to finish. I'm taking forever. I'm too busy. I'm not busy enough. I need to get busy with it. What if I publicly say I'm working on a . . . novel? Will that help or hurt? Maybe that's a subject for another blog, hooray! That’s some productive day-dreaming right there. A content calendar of sorts. Stuff to keep busy with. No empty time, no fallow fields.)
Lo and behold, looking at those pictures gave me an idea for a new section of the book. After letting myself go fallow, I got fertilized with a new idea. So I followed it. After I fallowed it.
(I followed the fallow. Fallow my directions. How many fallowers do I have. Fallow me! Go for it—make up your own, fallow my lead.)
The fallow mind follows its own impulse, planless, happening upon stuff and material. The mind is programmed to be busy, to be active; fallowness isn't what it wants. So I have to put up a small fight to let it take me on this private ride and land me where it will. Today I'm letting my fingers tap tap tap on my keyboard. I like the sound—a bit of rainy nourishment for writers. Each sound is a second of creation.
I met a new young songwriter recently who is always afraid that the last song he wrote is the last song he’ll write, that no more ideas will take root in him, nothing more will spring from him. I remember that feeling. One of the advantages of accumulating a history is that you learn you will write another song, or poem, or whatever your thing is. That makes letting your field lie fallow a little easier. It’s part of the curious cycle of creativity. I envy people who write a blog a week. Me, I feel like I have to wait till I have something to say and there’s no guarantee when that will be, when my field will be fertile again. I like to have faith though; I try to fallow through.
I haven’t had enough fallow lately. Maybe I’m in crop rotation. I am, after all, from the Midwest where some years it’s corn, some soybeans. Some weeks it’s editing a UN project, some it’s book promotion. Even writing this now feels non-fallow. So I’ll say goodbye for now. It’s time to sign off and get busy fallowing.