In J.R.R. Tolkien’s little known trilogy The Lord of the Rings, there’s a passage where the wizard Gandalf is forced to take the fellowship through the Mines of Moria. It is a passage they take only as a last resort, as the dwarves who once mined Moria have abandoned it. The dwarves dug and dug into the earth, creating spectacular rooms in the rock. But one day they dug too deep and unleashed a great evil into the world.
It’s a passage I’ve been thinking about lately as somehow, sometime during the past couple of years, I dug too deep. The world can rest easy, I’ve unleashed no flaming demons from the depths of hell. But something has awakened. I don’t know why, but it has, and the question now is what to do about it.
What has awakened is the desire to create. I’ve had an outlet for this in some sense for the past decade through my photography. But to be honest, I’m not much of a photographer. It’s the wildlife that I love and photography for me is a means to an end. The desire to create obviously isn’t evil or even bad, in fact it’s a good thing. But there is a very real danger, especially if you can’t find the proper outlet. The desires may fade with time, but if not, you either need to find a way to express them or find a way to kill them (and risk that a part of you dies as well).
When we moved to Portland a few years ago, I traded a long commute in the car to a long commute on the light rail. The beauty of the light rail was that I could read or work on my laptop. For the first time in years, my web site finally started getting regular updates. I started reading through my backlog of magazines.
Then one night in late 2003 I was flipping through the channels and came across Ophah on Larry King Live. She was explaining that she had stopped her book club because she had set it up so that she was only covering books of living authors, but she wanted to cover both current literature as well as the classics. She brought up John Steinbeck and spoke about him for a while, and it dawned on me that I’d never read anything by Steinbeck.
My wife picked up Travels with Charlie and I was hooked. Next up was The Grapes of Wrath, then Lonesome Dove, then Harper Lee’s gorgeous little book To Kill A Mockingbird. The rest of the year brought a flood of novels (for me it was a flood anyway), from classics like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to modern authors like Gregory Maguire.
At some point during the year, a story started forming in my head. I hadn’t done any creative writing since high school. That was twenty years ago, and I only wrote then because I had to for my classes. I’ve always enjoyed writing, I’ve just never done any creative writing. But this story started to form, slowly coalescing and shifting direction in my head. Then another story started to form.
I kept reading and when I got to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, I started thinking about writing my stories down. During Ursula Hegi’s Stones From the River, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stopped in the middle of Ursula’s book and read Stephen King’s On Writing, an excellent book about writing a novel. I then finished Stones From the River and continued reading other novels.
In November of 2005 I participated in NaNoWriMo, a contest to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Our friend Heather had done it in previous years and I decided to give it a shot. I decided to start writing the second story that had been swirling around in my head and I reached the 50,000 word target before the end of the month.
I haven’t written any more the past couple of months, I’ve been pretty tired and not mentally up to it. Pat Robertson says its because I once voted in support of medical marijuana, but it’s actually just because work has been pretty busy. A lot of fun, but busy.
But things should be slowing down soon and the desire to work on my novel is getting stronger. I’d like to start organizing my thoughts in an outliner (The Omni Group’s excellent OmniOutliner) and a graphics package (OmniGraffle, also from the Omni Group), since I have some plot points I haven’t figured out and some themes I want to make sure get carried through the story.
And I hope to get out and do some more hiking, nothing gets my conscious and subconscious mind going like a good romp in the woods. And that’s all well and good. It’s all well and good as long as I can find the time (and more importantly, the mental energy) to do it. I’ve been writing a lot more on my web site and obviously a little bit here in the blog, so that’s helped as well.
Digging too deep. The real danger I suppose is not that I won’t be able to work a bit on the book, or take some pictures, or update my web site. The real danger is that I don’t know where all this will lead. It might not lead anywhere, just that I’ll add a few more creative outlets to my hobbies. I don’t think there’s much danger to be honest, because while I have a desire to create, I don’t have a desire to publish. Which seems to be a little unusual, but there it is. And that alone should be enough to keep my creative outlets a joy and not a job.
It’s kind of exciting, in some ways it feels like a rebirth. Maybe it just took me forty years to find myself, something most people do when they’re twenty. So I’m a little slow.
And what does the newt picture at the top have to do with any of this? It doesn’t really, although one does play a small role in the book. I just love newts and I love that picture.