Writing sometimes resembles wrestling a beast to the ground where the writer’s persistence on the page is rewarded. Rest assured, no animals were hurt in the statement above. Departures in writing can come about innocuously and perhaps some might say are causes of distraction, but I tend to abide by the idea of inhabiting Alice chasing the white rabbit on the page. The image of wrestling a beast came to me vividly today as I sat down to right about one thing even as the strains of the song in my headphones shuttled me somewhere else entirely. Before I could proceed with the writing at hand, I needed to grapple with that interloper head-on, knowing if I let it fight underneath my grasp, I might be able to access something real and true. Here’s where it took me:
In May, I had been refreshing my phone app’s weather program as if willing the weather to simmer down. I was traveling around Texas on book tour and so were the showers. I’m not fond of driving in Bay area rain where showers have garnered headlines long before the rain dried up. When I used to commute to San Rafael from San Francisco on a rainy day, the sky would turn the same color as the glistening road, blurring boundaries of street and sky. I had grown up in Texas where rain means business and takes on the adage that everything really is bigger in Texas. Growing up in that kind of place, you develop a healthy respect for weather systems. Tornadoes, flash flood thunderstorms, heat that bakes the back of anything in its wake appears regularly in the lone star state.
On one leg of my journey in the spring, I stayed at my mom’s house. She watched the weather channel with the frequency of conferring with it as one would with an oracle. The weatherman’s drone became the soundtrack of our days. That healthy respect transformed into an edginess as the darkening skies unfurled overhead. I have grown too accustomed to 24/7 sun that keeps the streets dry.
As one does in situations that test our mettle, I decided to try and make light of the typhoon of uncertainty growing within. I posted a photo of my driving route through the Texas and Louisiana legs of my book tour where not one but eight lightning bolts lit up the route I was supposed to take. I joked about being in a modern day rendition of the Odyssey and secretly hoped I didn’t spy any sirens on the roadside. An event in Dallas with overcast skies ended up blowing over. Another event in Dallas brought rain after the event had finished. Austin and Houston were on the horizon. My mother practically pushed us out of the house early on Mother’s Day to try and beat the storm headed to Austin. She had deliberated and treated herself to a one way ticket home that night. We beat out the storm. After several mildly wet days in Austin, I needed to leave for Houston. For days, I had been tracking the storms that lighted up the weather app that showed 80 percent precipitation days bleeding into one another. It was inevitable. I couldn’t avoid driving into the heart of the storm alone.
On the morning of my departure from Austin for Houston, the sky hung ominously like one large cloak of steel grey. A few fat raindrops dripped onto the windshield of the rental car and I made a decision to stop into Central Market for road snacks and an iced matcha latte. Blueberries and cherry tomatoes had made the cut of easy to pop snacks for the drive, and my caffeinated green drink would keep me energized. I headed back to the car, squeezing open the umbrella with my free hand to shield me from the rain that had picked up force, finally shutting myself inside the car. What had started as a light rain picked up force and gathered speed to become a full-blown gale.
In the parking lot, the rain pelted down with fury and the kind of force that would have made me pull the car over and wait it out. I hesitated to turn the key and shift the gear into drive. Instead, and without a sign that the rain would abate, I turned on the radio to listen to London Grammar and shifted the gear into reverse. As Hannah Reid’s ghostly voice pierced the quiet of the car amid the crazed percussion of the assaulting rain, I found comfort even as the peach pit of fear in my stomach blossomed in size. She sang Ooh, this is frightening and then followed it with Ooh, it’s like lightning. The words left my mouth, matching her pitch and with them recognition of a type of song onomatopoeia where her lyrics matched my circumstance. They caught in my throat as I tried not to cry.
With 15 percent visibility, the car edged forward as the other few drivers kept a very polite distance. Though the windshield wipers had been set to top speed, I couldn’t discern where one lane ended and the other began. My eyes shifted to focus on the brake lights of the car in front of me, letting them be a light unto my path. I found that if I sang along with the words, I could channel all of the nervousness out of my body and into the melody, letting it catch like a key turning in a door. I could separate myself from the myriad possibilities of catastrophe that could assail me on this road I had to drive alone. It was as if I had found a modicum of courage to just keep moving forward at an ant’s pace. And, eventually, the rain did abate. And, eventually, my coiled fingers around the steering wheel slackened.
This morning, without warning, I found myself back in the rental car, the rain thwacking the windshield as I was pulling out of the safe haven of the Central Market parking lot in Austin. The music unleashed a visceral response to something in the recent past on a day where I was sitting in front of my computer in Oakland, attempting to write something else. Perhaps that reaction came from not listening to London Grammar since the trip until this morning. Or, I could point to the fact that this morning, I woke up with a desire to listen to their music. Do you ever think about the cavernous rooms inside us that stay locked and inaccessible or how they quietly thrust the key into our hand at the right moment? What happens when we stop listening? What happens when we crane forward ready to receive what they have to tell us about life, about ourselves? On the wall of my office hangs a hand-lettered sign that asks a question. Everyday, I pass by it several times, reading the words and letting them take root inside. What is the story only you can write? My rental car rainstorm might be something different for you, but we all go through events we survive that feel harrowing and insurmountable at the time. It’s not everyday that they resurface. And, perhaps, it’s not everyday that we let ourselves be swept away into a memory we would rather forget. When you sit down to write, keep yourself open to what needs to be expressed. You might find as I did with the aid of that London Grammar song that the revelation given is something you need to see in order to move on and start working on the writing at hand. You, the writer-wrangler. Words, the elusive beast.