THE NEXT CHAP­TER

Poets and Writers - - Note -

THIS PAST AU­TUMN I HAD THE BLESSED OC­CA­SION TO TAKE a long walk with my kids, ages eleven and thir­teen, in the wilds of Ot­ter Creek State For­est, in the west­ern Adiron­dack re­gion of New York. This par­tic­u­lar for­est is about five hours north of where we live in the city, be­yond the reach of our cell-phone provider, which af­forded us a much-needed re­spite from the glare of screens both large and small. So it felt es­pe­cially good to set off on foot, un­en­cum­bered, in search of noth­ing, or some­thing, or ev­ery­thing, with only the sun­light in our eyes. Af­ter some time alone in the woods, our feet sweep­ing the fallen leaves with ev­ery step, we started mak­ing up a story—a dra­matic tale with many chap­ters—so that ev­ery time we cleared a rise or en­tered a new stand of trees, the shad­ows length­en­ing across the for­est floor, a new chap­ter be­gan. “Chap­ter 1, in which our he­roes set off on a long, un­cer­tain jour­ney,” my daugh­ter said. “Chap­ter 2, in which our he­roes grow tired but sol­dier on,” my son added some time later. “Chap­ter 3, in which our tale takes a dark turn,” I whis­pered, thrilling at each dra­matic change in the land­scape. We even­tu­ally wore our­selves out and headed back, but we never re­ally fin­ished the story. I sup­pose in some ways we’re still telling it.

I was re­minded of our in­spir­ing walk in the woods while read­ing some of the re­sponses to ques­tions we posed to writ­ers for “Por­traits of In­spi­ra­tion” (page 33). In an out­take from his in­ter­view, Ross Gay wrote to me about his con­cep­tion of a per­fect writ­ing day, which isn’t qual­i­fied by a word count: “It might be a cou­ple of sen­tences, or it might be a cou­ple of pages, or just a cou­ple of words in a note­book or on an en­ve­lope be­fore I go to sleep. Though read­ing can be a per­fect writ­ing day, as can walk­ing slowly with­out ap­par­ent pur­pose .... It’s maybe ex­tra per­fect when you get to a lit­tle turn in the work, like walk­ing along a creek in the woods and around the bend is a—pink!—dog­wood tree wav­ing at you. Which hap­pens prob­a­bly al­most as of­ten when I’m not writ­ing as when I am.” Hanif Abdurraqib ex­pands on this idea: “I feel charged with rep­re­sent­ing noth­ing in the world as small, noth­ing in the world as mun­dane. I have grown a deeper grat­i­tude for the idea of pro­duc­tion that isn’t en­tirely based on what I put on the page and more on how I honor the mo­ments of liv­ing off the page.”

It’s a new year, a new chap­ter. In writ­ing, in read­ing, in ev­ery step of your cre­ative life, I wish you peace and pro­duc­tiv­ity in all its many forms.

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