My grandparents’ old single-wide trailer on Lake Mille Lacs had a way of helping a kid isolate a source of tension in the lake air. If the front side of the house shook, it was likely Grandpa Paul slamming the screen door on his way out to the yard. If the back side shook, odds were good it was Grandma Margaret stomping back to her bedroom.
The weeks we spent as kids alongside Wigwam Bay were full of fishing excursions. Grandpa would put a pontoon out on a smaller lake nearby, freshly stocked with so many crappies and sunnies that it was all he could do to keep up taking little flopping fish off our hooks. Some days we spent in the lake, Grandma floating about in the calm waters as content as could be while Grandpa tossed small wooden disks a hundred yards out (maybe only ten) for us to swim and retrieve (some of us waited on the dock convinced we couldn’t swim that far), or put leeches all over his chest to see if we’d scream. Other days Grandma would take us to the Mission thrift store for a “brand new” outfit or we’d ride along while she met a real estate client looking for a cozy lake property.
But there were also the times they got under each other’s skin, which sometimes could be more than once a day. One hot afternoon when the trailer house shook a little, first from the front, then to the back, we followed the cloud of Grandpa’s outburst outside and found him happily puttering on a project outside an old square cabin he’d converted to a tool shed. My cousin, slightly older but a lifetime braver than I, dared ask him, “Why do you give Grandma such a hard time?”
Grandpa looked up and tipped his fishing cap back on his sweat-lined head with the back of his wrist. “What you have to understand about your grandmother,” he said with a mischievous grin, “is that she doesn’t clean house until she gets good and mad. Now, I saw some cobwebs in the living room this morning, and figured she needed a little inspiration.”
Maybe he didn’t say it exactly like that, but that was the gist of it. In my granddad’s mind, if not in fact, my grandmother needed to experience a little emotional come-to-Jesus in order to get after some things that needed doing.
I’ve discovered the same might be true in my writing process.
More often than not, before I can make progress on a project, it seems as though I need to make a bit of a scene in my office with all the appurtenant foot stomping, thrashing about and general carrying-on about how the words won’t come or how the task is impossible for a writer like me. It’s just the way I do things.
After I’ve shaken the metaphorical single-wide for a while (and, at times, done a few pushups at the direction of an understanding editor), I find I can sit down and work out the project in a reasonably short bit of time. Maybe even shorter than the run-up to the storm.
It’s possible, I suppose, that Margaret is my muse.
Is there a quirky (or not) process you seem to go through before you can get the wheels to turn in the right direction on a project?
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