Laura Munson is the author of the New York Times and international bestselling memoir, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS: A SEASON OF UNLIKELY HAPPINESS, which Book of the Month Club named one of the best books of 2010. While the entry point to her memoir is a marital crisis, true to its title, this is a book about empowerment; about living in the present moment, and committing to being responsible for your own happiness no matter what’s going on in your life. She has been on a national book tour with many media appearances, including Good Morning America and various NPR stations. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Modern Love column, The New York Times Magazine Lives column, O. Magazine, Woman's Day, The Huffington Post, The Sun, Big Sky Journal and others. She lives in Whitefish, Montana with her husband and children.
Hard Frost. Slow Dance.
by Laura Munson
This is the time of year when the muse is hungry. Starved by a summer in Montana where the physical world bullies you to come out into it and join the dance that leads with mountain, and twirls with rivers, and rests in lakes-- a spent tango. And we find ourselves in fall. The physical dance over. Time to go home in the dark. There is a lot of darkness now.
This morning was the first hard frost. I could see it on the roof by moonshadow, silver and glinting off shingles. It was confirmed by the first light over the ridge as I stood at the stove making my first cup of tea—the Mother cup. The rest will be Writer cups, and there will be at least three more of them before it’s time for another Mother cup. I drink a lot of tea. Green with jasmine. The muse used to be thirsty for coffee. I taught her that tea is a more graceful entrance into the act of empathy which all writers must take if our work is to find itself dancing with our characters and our readers. It’s easier to find empathy with tea.
So with tea and the first light, I go out to start the truck. The frost has covered it and I rebel against the ice scraper which is lost under life jackets and beach towels—summer things, and I sacrifice a bit of tea to get the windshield thinking about doing its job, rock pocks and hairline fractures and all. I am not ready for winter. I don’t care how hungry or how thirsty the muse is to dance, in silence and dark, grey by day, and then dark again, for many months; many dark mornings with sacrificial tea rites. I can feel myself brace against it this morning. There is something different about this fall.
It’s been seventeen of these in Montana and normally I meet the season and the muse with a warm embrace. Relief, even. I don’t know why I am dragging my feet this year to this dance I love. It’s not that I don’t love what the muse covets; requires. I do. Writing is my practice, prayer, and way of life. But it’s like what my ten-year-old son said this morning, snuggling with me. “I don’t want to go to school.”
“Because there’s so much work.”
“But work can be fun if you look at it like an adventure.”
“It’s not fun when somebody asks you to do it.”
I smiled. “You’re right. But it’s possible to look at it like you get to be asked to do work, and you get to learn something you might not have thought to learn all by yourself.”
He wasn’t really buying it. And neither was I.
Yes, there is something different about this fall. And my son helped me see it: this is the first fall that I’ve been asked to do my work. I have jobs. I got a book published, finally, after many failed attempts, and suddenly…I have jobs. In fact, it’s an embarrassment of riches, I have so many deadlines. I’m not bragging. It’s just that I’m worried. I don’t know how to do this dance.
What I know how to do is this: bow to winter by getting to work on a novel. This time of year there are characters dancing in my mind’s mountains and rivers and lakes. They want out. They want their dance on a parkay floor in a dance hall with a live band and pretty girls and guys with gyrating hips. They have no patience for the world of book promotion and magazines and blogs and Facebook and Twitter and books begging to be blurbed. They don’t care if I’ve grown fond of the generous community of the internet and other writers, or that there’s finally a way that the writer can meet the reader without the publishing world. They don’t care that I’ve learned to use Twitter as Haiku and my blog as a daily writerly warm up.
Most of all, they don’t understand that a writer needs an income. That I’ve been at this years and years and finally…my dream came true. They don’t know that once you’ve had a book published, you have a window of opportunity. Especially, they don’t want to meet the baby being passed lovingly through it. They are jealous lovers. Sabateurs of other dance halls but their own. They want to sweat and grind and tip back their heads in pleasure. They want to feel the drumbeat re-arranging their heartbeats.
And I fear that the work I have loved so much for so long, will somehow suffer. And in-so-doing, I will too. Never mind my muse or my characters. Or potential readers for that matter.
When I return from the Mother cup of tea, the sun bright, the yard is a puzzle-- bright green where the frost has melted, still stiff and sage-colored where it has not, a perfect shape of the shadow of my house. I pause and smile: nature’s dance.
The dance is perpetual, I decide. The characters aren’t leading the dance. I am. My work is to keep writing and trust that I’ll know which dance it is to dance. Now tango. Now foxtrot. Now waltz.
I can bring these cups of tea, these yard shapes, these characters, and even my muse with me, wherever I am dancing. And we will all be better for our other writing adventures. No one will go hungry or cheap for the drum beat. It is just slow for now in the way of novels. I’m sure that winter will change that soon enough.