not writing in paradise.

I am walking through a little neighborhood in old town Key West, on my way to Sandy’s Cafe to get a couple of cuban coffees and a pastelito, when it occurs to me: I have come home.

I’ve never actually lived in Key West, mind you. I’ve only been there a couple of times. But everything about it is instantly, fantastically familiar, the smell, the hustle of Duval, the laid back little neighborhoods, the food. Island life. Everything.

It is the perfect amalgamation of all the best parts of the places I have lived and loved, and even the bits that are uniquely Key West, the roaming roosters, for example, feel perfectly, wonderfully, weirdly familiar.

And the writing! I mean this is the island everyone goes to in order to write. From Hemingway to Judy Blume, Key West is heady with writer juju.

It is, and I say this with less hyperbole than you may think, heaven to me.

What a perfect place for this writer grrl to take a break.

From writing.

As we packed for our big trip, a celebration of my husband’s fortieth birthday, the laptop and I played a game. In the suitcase. Out of the suitcase. In the suitcase. Out of the suitcase. Only my youngest cat made the jump more times.

The end of the semester had left me punch-drunk and behind on the schedule I had set for the novel. Even a few weeks later, I was avoiding writing more than actually writing. I felt like a spoiled child, stamping her feet at everything, even the things she loves. The truth was I was desperate to write. My want was palpable. It became a part of my insomnia; this deep want circled my brain, hurt my stomach, and left me jittery. I just couldn’t make myself do it in any sustained, productive way. I was circling the self loathing drain.

It has been a rough year, bumpy and strange, and all I’ve wanted to say lately is, “I’m tired. I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

So, I knew that the writing-time our vacation would give me was sorely needed, and it actually sounded nice. Do a couple of shots of tequila, visit the beach, write a novel.

Leaving behind the laptop was a hard decision. It didn’t come from not wanting to write. It came from a need to really wind down, to do nothing at all without guilt or sadness. To, instead of avoiding writing, simply not write. To rest.

There is a mantra every writer knows. Write every day. Write if you don’t feel like it. Sit your butt in the chair and write.

These are good rules, but they are not one size fits all. Exhaustion, mental or physical, is not conducive to either good art or good craft, and I was exhausted.

So, the laptop stayed home and the husband and I boarded a plane to paradise.

It was a mighty fine week. We did everything in excess, ate, drank, talked, laughed. We spent too much money and ignored the outside world. We even did nothing in excess. We napped AND slept in. Hell, we “wasted” two of our days doing nothing at all but sitting on the lovely tropical porch of the guesthouse where we stayed.

And something pretty great happened.  That weird, desperate, unproductive painful “want” to write died, and my normal, clean itch to write returned.

The spoiled child retreated. The self loathing abated.

I am home and the novel is getting back on schedule. I hope Key West will one day be my perfect writing spot, but for now, it was a pretty spectacular place to not write at all.

 

 

Key West

 

 

 

by Leigh Camacho Rourks

Leigh Camacho Rourks is the managing editor for Rougarou, a journal of literature and arts out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she is pursuing her PhD. This year, her short story “Moon Trees” was awarded the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award and her story “Pinched Magnolias” received the Robert Watson Literary Review Prize in Fiction. Her work has appeared in a number of journals including Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Pank, and Greensboro Review.

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