Rebecca Solnit’s essays are everywhere on the internet these days. This essay is adapted from a talk she made at California’s Novato Public Library earlier this year. The first thing that came to mind when I read this essay was the poet Khalil Gibran’s quote:
Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.
For this is what Solnit talks about- the link between forests that were open to the public and public libraries and the security she felt in ‘an aisle of books and an avenue of trees’. Public libraries have played a crucial part in Solnit’s writing career. She knows the trees of St. Novatus that spoke to her in her childhood and lived before her and many generations before her in many different names.
Solnit explains how the reader in her became hunter gatherer, greedily devouring knowledge from the library she loved and how this exploration within also led to an exploration without. Her prose unravels the journey of solitude that a writer must make to connect with people whom she doesn’t know but who love her words. You can read this poetic essay In Praise of Libraries and the Forests that Surround Them here.
Another essay I read with nature as a backdrop was an essay about the travails of writing. The author, Melissa Harrison, had already written about this river before and so she knew the river like the back of her hand, the kingfishers and voles that formed part of its ecosystem and the feelings it evoked in her and ‘yet the rhapsodic piece I planned to write kept its face firmly turned away from me for the duration of my stay in Dorset, and although I waited and waited, I’ve been back home for over a week now and still it will not come.’ She speaks about the problems that creativity encounters- is it a talent? Can it be taught? It’s a question she must answer several times in the capacity of a writer and speaker but she knows that there is no clear-cut answer to this.
This paragraph, however, seems to me a lifebuoy for authors drowning in writer’s block. An answer that is more than satisfactory, almost complete:
I can’t explain exactly what it was that moved me from a state of utter creative paralysis to one in which I had produced a novel. The truth is, it was a confluence of events, all deeply personal and therefore not of much use to anyone else. Writing Clay, though, was not the end result, but the start of a long process – one that continues to this day. Learning to write means learning how to live.