It’s a stormy day here in Columbus, Ohio. One of those days that starts out hot and humid and then by mid-afternoon the skies darken and for a time everything goes still. Solar landscape lights come on in people’s flowerbeds, the clouds deepen, the scent of the rain to come is just a whiff in the air. Before long, the raindrops start. At first, they’re large and far apart. Then the thunder rolls, and the lightning cracks, and before long it’s a summer thunderstorm in earnest, the rain coming in sheets, and all you can do is hunker down and wait for it to end.
Such stormy weather makes me think of days on our farm in southeastern Illinois when I was a boy. A summer day spent with hard work. Maybe “walking the beans,” going up and down the rows of a soybean field, hoe in hand, cutting out pokeberry and jimson weed, back and forth the length of the field, sweat stinging my eyes. Or putting up hay, choking for breath in the barn’s loft, stacking bales in the dusty air, the alfalfa or clover or timothy leaving scratches on my forearms. Or working the wheat harvest, driving the truck up close to my father’s combine so he can empty the hoppers into the bed, where I stand knee deep in grain, using a scoop shovel to level the load, while the sun beats down on me and the dust and chaff clogs my head.
Then the skies turn dark, and there’s a streak of lightning off in the distance, and my father concedes to the storm that’s coming and tells me to head to the house. It’s there, grain truck backed into the machine shed to keep the load of wheat dry. It’s there, the last load of hay bales stacked in the loft. It’s there, the pokeberry and jimson weed left to grow a little longer. It’s there that my father and I drink cold Pepsi-Colas on the front porch, watching the wall of rain move in from the west, and we know there’s nothing asked from us now but to rest and watch and let our lives be suspended within the storm we see moving across our field, down our lane, until it’s finally there with a vengeance, and we move inside the house, letting the windows down to just a crack, sitting in front of the oscillating fan, and for a good while it’s jut the rain and no thought of work. Just the rest and the body’s calm.
I’ve learned that it’s the same way with writing. I’ve learned to embrace those periods of rest between projects and how they’re necessary for my rejuvenation. I’m in one of those periods now. I just sent a revision of my next novel to my agent, and while I wait for her response, I’m barely writing at all. I’m doing a good deal of reading instead and also taking a few notes on a story that interests me. I don’t know if it will become a novel, a short story, or nothing at all. I’m trying to stay still, letting the characters come to me, not in a hurry to start thinking in terms of a plot. I’m like the boy I was those summer days when the storms came, and my father and I sat in our farmhouse, barely saying a word to each other. I’m just soaking in what there is to soak in. At some point, I’ll soak in enough that I’ll have no choice but to start writing. Then the real work will begin, the way it did for my father and me once the storm passed and we got up from our chairs and went outside where the air was usually a little cooler, a little less humid, and my father always had something for us to do.