REMEMBERING SUE ALEXANDER

This morning as I went out with El Dog (“Kubric,” after Stanley), we encountered a couple of out-of-towners on the mountain. They had stopped their car to admire and photograph the sunrise. These women really should have been on foot because 1) the gates are locked to vehicle traffic until 9:00 a.m. and it was only 5:30, and 2) people who are car-bound miss so much of nature–quails, cottontails, coyotes, and, yes, snakes. The smell of creosote after a rain, which we could use. And birdsong welcoming a new day in morning’s coolness. But all was not lost on them. They commented as we passed, “You get to enjoy this sunrise every morning. You are so lucky.” Yes, I am lucky to live in this beautiful place, but their comment reminded me of something my friend, the late Sue Alexander–Mama Sue, as some of us called her–made to one of our fellow writers who was lamenting where she lived. “I just can’t write there,” our fellow writer said. “It’s so uninspiring.” Sue, who had lived hither and yon, dismissed her complaints and offered this bit of advice: “Live where you are.”

As one who sometimes during the course of a year finds himself writing in not the most ideal of circumstances, I find it good advice. Writing retreats are wonderful…and inspirational…and conducive to creative work, but I am also reminded of Patricia Reilly Giff, who wrote her first books in a closet-office her husband assembled for her in their New York apartment, and my own first “studio-office” in a tiny, cramped breakfast nook in a diminutive San Diego bungalow I was remodeling. Amid sawdust and leaky ceiling and gaping holes in walls and the buzz of saws and pounding of hammers,  not to mention the wails of sirens from the trucks at the fire station across the street, I mentally created the “retreat” necessary to write my first books (BMX Freestyle, Country Bear’s Good Neighbor, and Cory Coleman, Grade 2) for Franklin Watts, Orchard Books, and Henry Holt. I would have given all to have been able to go away for a month to a retreat, like the “Un-Workshops” run by Highlights Foundation at The Barn–sadly, these did not exist then–but I lived where I was and that enabled me to write where I was.

LIVE WHERE YOU ARE and creativity will follow.

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