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A Little Midweek Perspective

Earth from Saturn

See that black thing up in the corner? That’s Saturn, with its rings evident toward the top of the frame. And that tiny dot with the arrow pointing to it? That’s Earth, as viewed from the Cassini space probe now heading out of our solar system.

On that tiny dot is you, everyone you’ve ever known and everyone who’s ever lived or died – the entirety of the human race and everything we’ve built, destroyed, learned and chosen to ignore.

About the same time this picture was taken (July 19), I was gazing back at Saturn with my son through a telescope in our suburban front yard. I felt incredibly small and insignificant. Seeing us as we look from space only magnified that feeling.

But that feeling of being a speck of dust floating in a sunbeam is liberating, too. On a cosmic scale, the things we worry about wouldn’t stir the breeze on an alien planet.

So, if you’re a bit peeved at your spouse or things didn’t go so well at work or you can’t get your head around that bit of writing you’re trying to hack out, remember this is what it looks like peering back at us from the edge of our little island of stability in this very dangerous universe. A universe that is much, much bigger than any of your problems.

The Lawnmower: My Nemesis, My Muse

mowing the lawn

Thanks to the borderline monsoon conditions we’ve been experiencing on the East Coast so far this summer, I’ve gotten exactly zero reprieve from my weekly task of lawn length maintenance. In fact, it’s probably what I’m doing right now.

Unlike the winter, when I can sit and pray, plead and sacrifice small animals in the hope of no snow and thus (if all that works out) save myself the task of shoveling my driveway, in summer there’s no escape from the weekly toil. The best I can hope for is a dry stretch – which, in the bigger picture, isn’t such a great thing for stuff like crops and drinking water.

But there’s been nothing dry about this summer. We in Pennsylvania have been getting a little taste of Florida life with almost daily afternoon thundershowers. The result, if you stand outside and listen closely, is that you can actually hear the grass growing. OK, maybe not really, but you get the picture.

And while mowing 3/4 of an acre in conditions approaching 100-percent humidity doesn’t really thrill me, it does provide me something that I don’t get a lot of the rest of the year – time alone to think.

For me, mowing the lawn is probably the most zen thing I do during the week. While it’s physically challenging (I use a walk-behind, rather than riding, mower), there’s a set pattern that never changes. As such, even though I have what amounts to a mechanized death machine rolling along in front of me, I’m able to partially remove my brain from the task at hand and allow it to focus on other things.

This time is really crucial to the working writer, because it’s when lots of things can get sorted out. I find that I can – for lack of a better term – program my mind to work on writing tasks that in no way relate to lawn care. Whether its addressing plot points that need to be organized in my second novel or just coming up with a few good short story or magazine article ideas, this period of intellectual emptiness results in a brain full of ideas – so much so that I make sure to pack my smartphone in a pocket so I can quickly type them into a notes file.

Letting your mind churn away on a task while you’re in the middle of doing something else has historically been known by non-creative people as daydreaming. But while “normal” people see that as a derogatory term, it’s in fact a creative person’s greatest ally, and I would argue that time to daydream is something that’s in terribly short supply these days.

In the workplace, any appearance of non-productivity can make your supervisor wonder what you’re up to. Meanwhile, periods of non-activity that were once fertile ground for coming up with ideas, crafting fantasies or envisioning your future – your daily commute, lunch break or tedious meetings – are now filled with inane and non-creative pursuits like using your smartphone to check your Facebook status. (I mock, but I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else.)

There’s lots of noise in life without supplementing it with more. You can’t get in the damn grocery line without a TV blaring at you, for crying out loud. But as my zen lawn mowing proves, sometimes the thing that ends up making the noise fade away and your mind open to what’s possible in your work ends up being your loudest job of the week.


Sci-Fi Author Richard Matheson Speaks to What All Authors Hope For

Science fiction author and screenwriter Richard Matheson died this week, having contributed immensely to the sci-fi canon with some of the best loved episodes of The Twilight Zone and the novel I Am Legend (the source for the Will Smith movie of the same name, as well as two earlier film incarnations – The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price).

Matheson also wrote What Dreams May Come, the basis for the Robin Williams film of the same name, and which coincidentally shares some similar imagery with my novel Immaculate Deception.

This is a great clip because it speaks to Matheson’s own legacy, but could be translated as the ultimate hope for most anyone who writes fiction of any genre.