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  • June 7th, 2006 | 9:11 PM
The Writer and the Hawk

I live in the Silicon Valley, the land of dot.coms, jam-packed freeways, and a lot of cement. Not the sort of place one expects to find a Cooper's Hawk but this is after all, the land of big dreams, so I guess anything is possible.

I'm a writer with a day job. A creature who is, alas, not on the endangered species list. I'm up at 5am every morning and by 5:45 I'm on the road, following the ribbon of asphalt that leads me from home to work. It's pretty much a straight shot of freeway from my house to my office, weaving through the various downtowns and businesses tucked up close against the guard rails for fear of letting a single valuable square foot of Silicon Valley real estate go to waste.

While I drive, side-by-side to the big semi trucks filled with computer parts and silicon wafers on their way to the fab shops, I'm usually thinking about my current work-in-progress. Of late, that means my new verse novel which deals with a kid who not only doesn't believe there's a way of out of his particular situation but doesn't believe he deserves the right to imagine his life any differently. There is much of me in him. Not the me of now but the me of before, when life was less than good. It's a good time to daydream. The sun is barely up and fog still hugs the foothills I see in the distance.

Most mornings the first five minutes of the drive are hell. Not that there's much traffic on the road. There's not. And not that I hate my job. I don’t. But I'd rather be home looking forward to a few hours of working on my novel than just beginning a long day in my cubicle surrounded by engineers who don't really understand this odd, non-native creature "the children's author" who seems to have nested in their midst. After the first five minutes comes acceptance that, for now, this is the way of my life. I kick the music up a notch and start to sing, still trying to twist plot points into their most effective poses.

I drive on, mentally placing my main character in jeopardy and waiting to see if he is smart enough to figure out how to solve his own problem, how to get out of his own way.  Every so often, out of the corner of my eye, an occasional patch of dirt surprises me. A forgotten plot left bare perhaps due to an architectural accident or the simple fact that the building owner just couldn't afford those extra 200 square feet of prime real estate. Perhaps the city owns the dirt. I don't know. For certain no one tends to it as, throughout the seasons, native grasses, weeds, and wildflowers take turns moving into temporary quarters. Each time I spy a sprawling patch of buckwheat or the brilliant blue on a ceanothus, I get a thrill, almost as exciting as my first sale. Nature and technology as roommates - just the sight of it fills me with hope.

Nowadays, most mornings, life feels good. My writing is going well and I believe that I am doing what I was meant to do. But some mornings I can’t find the balance. I feel too much pressure to go to work and make a living before I can come home and make a life. I think about giving up the writing and just living my life as a “normal” person, someone who heads to work and back home again with time for dinner and a sitcom and who never worries about contracts and book awards and royalty checks that always need chasing down.

There’s a saying (probably credited to Zig Ziglar): If you don’t want to keep getting the same things you’ve been getting then maybe you need to be doing something else. I think about that a lot as I drive, wondering what choices I could have made that would have taken me down a different path. There are many, probably more than I could name, but the one that always comes out on top, the voice I hear the loudest, is that I am meant to write. Yet while I can acknowledge that, I still need the day job because survival in the Silicon Valley most often requires two decent full-time incomes.

Such is life. As I drive, I begin to swap out the scenes in my head of my main character and his teacher for the meeting I have at 10am with an engineer in France who needs my help with a database. Not quite bestseller material. I’ve reached the zombie zone in my drive. I am no longer a writer cruising the highway in search of stories. I am a Dilbert robot who has exchanged Word for Excel. My work day hasn’t really even started yet and I am already at war with myself, “wants” versus “shoulds” and the “shoulds” win every time.

At about the halfway point between home and work I see it. Every morning, without fail. A Cooper's Hawk perched high atop the light pole beside the freeway. And every morning, without fail, it surprises me. A touch of wildlife following ancient instincts deep in the heart of the concrete jungle. It watches over a small field (no more than a quarter of an acre and really not even a big enough plot to house your average Silicon Valley mansion). It watches and it waits. The field is walled-in by freeway on one side and busy frontage roads on the other three sides. It would seem to me that there’s a limited amount of buffet options for the hawk. But still, every morning, he is there, waiting for breakfast.

I realize it’s a lot like writing. Even when life seems overwhelming, you have to show up, expecting write, expecting the words to come, every morning. Even when the roads around you threaten to choke the creativity out of your soul, still, you have to show up. You have to do the work. You have to believe the words will come as long as you are there waiting for them.

Because if the words don’t come, you will die. Oh, not physically as the hawk would die from not being fed but emotionally from not following the path you were meant to walk. If you are a writer, you know what I mean. To thine own self be true because really, no one else cares. Write or don’t write - the world will still go on spinning. Except for you. Because if you are a writer, you have to write. And even when the words don’t come easily, you have to show up and expect that they will come when you need them the most.

The Cooper’s Hawk is mostly monogamous and usually mates for life.

A writer, once exposed as such, can never really separate from the words that demand to be heard.

For a few days last week my car was in the shop and my husband had to drive me to work. Each morning we left about fifteen minutes later than I usually would. By the time we reached the halfway point between home and work I could only point to where the hawk usually sat and try to explain to him how good it made me feel to see the hawk in the same place every morning. We were kindred spirits, I could sense it. We were both hunting for what we needed in order to survive. I wondered if, once I went back to my regular routine of driving myself in a bit earlier each day, I wondered if the hawk would still be there.

My husband assured me that yes, as long as the hawk continued to score a single meal from that tiny scrap of countryside beside the freeway that it would continue, day after day, to expect more, and possibly better meals than the day before.

It’s just like the writer who needs only a few lines on a personal rejection, encouragement at a conference, or that elusive first sale, to help them believe that they are doing what they are meant to do. That they should write, no matter what or who tries to constrain their creativity. That they should write, because it is the writing that will allow them to soar.

It’s easy to imagine the Silicon Valley of just thirty years ago - rolling hills of chaparral covered with poppies and sage and coyote bush, orchards of apricots and plums, and families of hawks feeding across the land that would one day be bottlenecks of freeways and computer chips.

Thirty years ago I was about to graduate high school. I loved to write but I didn’t believe my words would take me anywhere. Like my main character, I didn't know how to get out of my own way. So I put the words aside, afraid to let anyone know how very much they sustained me. The longer I hid the words, the more constraints the world put on my dream of being a writer.

I wish back then I had been a bit more like the hawk, that I had believed anything was possible, even against the outrageous odds life throws at you. I used to give up too fast and too often, sure that the fault was always mine. But I understand things better now. I know there are times to watch and times to feed. I know that there will always be things that try to get in my way and keep me from doing what I was meant to do. I know that I must be willing to let go of the past so that I can find my place in the future.

I am a writer.

Watch me soar.

There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 22 comments — Leave comment )
June 8th, 2006 08:52 am (UTC)
love this!

(it'd be a great article too)
June 8th, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I would like to see if I can get it into shape for an article. Right now it's posted on my cubicle wall so I can stare at it all day and figure out what else it needs.
June 8th, 2006 11:20 am (UTC)
What a lovely, thought provoking post. Thank you!
June 8th, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I'm glad you liked it.
June 8th, 2006 12:28 pm (UTC)
That was beautiful, Susan. Thank you.
June 8th, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Kelly. I'm thinking I ought to stay up past my bedtime more often. (It was way too late when I wrote that last night.)
June 8th, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)
great article Susan.

I woke up in this same place this morning.
June 8th, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)
It's a great place to be, isn't it? My goal is to be there more often. I'm trying to get better at self-correcting before I am so far out of bounds with my thinking that it takes longer to get back on track.
June 8th, 2006 12:55 pm (UTC)
Susan, this essay is so beautiful.

I feel like this so often . . . I endlessly wonder what my life would be like if I could just write . . . if there were no campground . . . if I realized thirty years ago writing was more than just a hobby.

BUT then I think of how that path would most likely have led to a different life partner . . . different kids .. . different location . . . different friends . . . and I become content again!

Thank you for sharing this . . .
June 8th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Tamra. It's always a circle, isn't it? Wondering what might have been different but then knowing we needed what came before to bring us to where we are now.
June 8th, 2006 01:11 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic; thank you so much.

It really captures the fact that being a writer--or any kind of creative artist--so often means being in a constant struggle for time and focus.
June 8th, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'm glad you liked it.

Yes, that struggle is always there, isn't it? The guilt of writing when we feel we should be doing other things. The guilt of not writing when we are doing those other things.

And yet we continue to create.
June 8th, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Susan.
June 8th, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC)
You're welcome.
June 8th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC)
Susan, I really needed this today, as I get ready to increase my hours from PT to FT in a few weeks. I don't want to. But I have to. That's my life right now.

I especially love this:

"Even when the roads around you threaten to choke the creativity out of your soul, still, you have to show up."

So that's what I will do. Show up. It may not be everyday, but that's okay. No guilt. I'll do the best I can. And hopefully, the rest will fall into place.
June 9th, 2006 04:20 am (UTC)
**hugs** Lisa. It has to be tough making the switch from PT to FT. I am hoping to make the opposite switch in another year.

Not sure what time of day you read this but I revised and added a bit more later in the day.

Showing up is good practice for us.
(Deleted comment)
June 9th, 2006 04:21 am (UTC)
Here, Kristy, have a tissue. :-)

Write on!

(Not sure what time of day you read this but I revised and added a bit more later in the day.)
June 8th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks, that was so lovely. I think you could easily get it published.
June 9th, 2006 04:22 am (UTC)
Thank you. I have cleaned up the typos from earlier and added a bit more. I'll keep dinking with it, I'm sure.
June 8th, 2006 06:20 pm (UTC)
This post proves to me why you're a writer. Wow, just wow. Now I have to put it in my memories!

And, I can't wait for your second verse novel to take shape. Poetry, for me, is like astrophysics. I understand the basic concepts and I know a good poem when I read it, but for the life of me I can't write them. There's a little envy in me that you do it so well ;)
June 9th, 2006 04:23 am (UTC)
Thank's so much! I confess that I can relate all to well to the idea of astrophysics. What scares me is how much of what I do is instinctive so when people ask me how and I say I don't know I am really serious.

I'm touched that you would save the post. Later in the day I did clean up more typos and revised/added a bit.
June 18th, 2006 04:23 am (UTC)
Ah, that old day job
I struggle with it too. I used to dream of a movie deal or huge book deal (and sometimes felt like I was on the brink) that would save me in one swoop from daily drudgery. It's probably not much different from dreaming of a knight in shining armor.

This week I got an unexpected royalty check from a book that came out a couple of years ago in France. It's going straight in the bank. It's a month's worth of freedom. Once I cobble together a year's worth of freedom, I'm going.
( 22 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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