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The Tortoise

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Mar. 4th, 2016 | 05:53 pm

I always watch for the tortoise. The back wall of the writing studio is mostly a floor-to-ceiling window about eight feet wide, one vast sheet of glass holding the Florida scrubland outside. There’s a white dirt road behind a strip of live oaks and sumac and Spanish moss, and once, in the middle of an afternoon workshop, I saw a tortoise stumping along it.

Most workshop days there is no tortoise, most weeks even. Some days he—or she—can be found near the motel-like double row of artist housing. Once I came across possibly the same tortoise on the public road behind the tiny library. He tucked inside his shell, beady eyes suspicious, while I snapped him for Instagram.

I think of him as an omen. If there is a tortoise, it will be a good writing day, or week, or residency. I will say something profound in beautiful words, my classmates will greet my work in hushed silence, the teacher will pull me aside after class to ask if he can send my pages to his agent, “no promises, of course, but I think she’d love to know about you.”

What privilege. To choose a fickle reptile as muse. To have good writing days and bad writing days, not required to show up at a designated location for a real-world job for three weeks (I am still editing). To not apply for financial aid this time because I think I can still make the grocery bill and my husband pays the rent. This is not the writing life I want. This is the writing life I want. And there’s the rub—what’s a ‘real’ writing life? That I jaunt off to residencies and workshops and have long, uninterrupted swaths of time? Or spend a single writing hour in the morning of this supposedly dedicated time, filling the rest with paid editing, freelance deadlines, podcast recording, afternoon class, emails, sometimes even staying after dinner (healthy, delicious, cooked by someone else) chatting with other artists as if I have a right to a social life when my book’s not done? Or to be at home, writing punctuated by laundry, lunch, dinner, deeply irritated by the supportive question from the man who loves me, “How was your work today?”

My work was fine. To tell you would be boring.
My work was frustrating. To tell you would be frustrating.
My work was transcendent. To tell you would tarnish it.
My work was bad. To tell you would manifest failure.


I would prefer to draw inward. To tuck my legs and arms into my talismanic shell, glare beady-eyed at the world outside the page. If I must be surrounded, to be surrounded by fellow writers, who know not to pry, who know to listen when something must be bragged or rued, who are not allowed to be offended or take it personally when adultery or anger flushes the page. Who instead creep into their own shells and discuss from within the use of modal verbs to convey distance or how “all good creative nonfiction is clear thinking about mixed feelings.”

One week to go at artist camp, in paradise. One week to make the time matter. I hoist up my little shell, cracked and mended, torn and patched. A few polished places still gleaming. White dirt, white page, small tracks marking passage. Stump on, writer, stump on.




_________________________________________________
I highly recommend Atlantic Center for the Arts. The financial aid is excellent and the tortoise is probably plural.



He--or perhaps she--is engaged in the upright business of being a tortoise. Grazing in the parking lot, watchful eyes, ready to enshell at any moment--the ultimate retreat while also standing ground. I would like a carapace. I would like an attractively patterned helmet and breastplate, something in which I can be here, now, watching and listening and yet impervious. Maybe it's time to up my Wellbutrin. But a shell would be more graceful. #nothingisordinary #nofilter #Florida #aca #depression #instamood #turtle #tortoise #wildlife #travel



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Comments {19}

blahblahblah, whatever

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from: kathrynrose
date: Mar. 5th, 2016 04:04 pm (UTC)
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The financial aid is excellent and the tortoise is probably plural.

I love your post scripts. :)

The picture is great. I love that he has a little fresh green schmutz in the corner of his mouth.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Mar. 7th, 2016 02:59 am (UTC)
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Isn't that sweet? It's warming up this week so fingers crossed he stumps into my life again!

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witchwife

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from: witchwife
date: Mar. 5th, 2016 08:17 pm (UTC)
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It's always interesting to get a snapshot of someone else's life as a writer. This makes me wonder what my writing spirit animal would be. (Probably a sloth!)

This was an absolute pleasure to read!

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blahblahblah, whatever

(no subject)

from: kathrynrose
date: Mar. 7th, 2016 03:47 am (UTC)
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(Probably a sloth!)

LOL!

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Ellison

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from: ellison
date: Mar. 8th, 2016 12:43 am (UTC)
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I LOVE sloths!

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kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatre

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from: bleodswean
date: Mar. 5th, 2016 10:37 pm (UTC)
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Nicely done; with the prompt and an illustrative photograph! When you discuss the "writer's life" you want (and don't want), I find myself responding in kind and do, then, wish for a like-minded group to be surrounded by. Just for that very kind of dialogue. It sounds as though you're getting what you want/need right now out of this current experience!

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

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from: halfshellvenus
date: Mar. 6th, 2016 01:44 am (UTC)
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This is not the writing life I want. This is the writing life I want.
This ambivalence... in your shoes, I would be happy to have the opportunity and yet the flip side would be the sense of pressure to produce, to make the most of the opportunity. Which is a mood and muse squelcher right there.

"I can" on the one side, "I should" on the other. Being independently wealthy is about the only thing that would relieve that feeling!

I'm glad that you're thinking about whether these meds are quite right at the moment (cutting back too much, maybe?). That urge to withdraw is one of my own signs of depression, and that you're aware of what that behavior can mean really helps.

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alycewilson

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from: alycewilson
date: Mar. 6th, 2016 02:11 am (UTC)
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What a marvelous idea, that a tortoise can be your talisman and signal good writing. Maybe those are the weeks that you are more in tune with the world around you.

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adoptedwriter

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from: adoptedwriter
date: Mar. 6th, 2016 05:38 am (UTC)
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Tortoises / turtles are cool! They are one of my totems too! AW

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(no subject)

from: faerie_spark
date: Mar. 6th, 2016 09:59 am (UTC)
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Loved reading this. It makes me crave an escape to an oasis of writers for weeks at a time, as painful, and soul-searching, and soul-sucking, and plodding as it might sometimes be. The first sentence here is perfect - really and truly it is! I wasn't feeling "talismanic shell" though. Talismanic is a delicious word, but, for me, it interrupts the flow and doesn't add new information or insight. Also adore the last paragraph, which nicely wraps it up, while giving us new information and making us wonder.

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Teo Says

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from: eternal_ot
date: Mar. 6th, 2016 10:53 am (UTC)
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The transition from outer world to your inner self was smooth...nice analogy. Great read..very relate- able :) *hugs*

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rayaso

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from: rayaso
date: Mar. 6th, 2016 06:27 pm (UTC)
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I enjoyed this peek into your life as a writer very much, especially the idea of the tortoise as a muse. I was especially interested in your mixed feelings about a writer's life. Writer's camp sounds like such a great idea for those seriously interested in the profession.

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dmousey

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from: dmousey
date: Mar. 7th, 2016 01:00 am (UTC)
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Hug... ~~~D

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prog_schlock

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from: prog_schlock
date: Mar. 7th, 2016 07:56 pm (UTC)
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Ah, we don't get to choose our muses. Sometimes they're people, sometimes they're terrapins. My wife has a gorilla doll that she says inspires all of her best writing.

This part:
My work was fine. To tell you would be boring.
My work was frustrating. To tell you would be frustrating.
My work was transcendent. To tell you would tarnish it.
My work was bad. To tell you would manifest failure.


Oh, how true that is. Sometimes when I talk about something I've written, I lose interest in it. Sometimes, I lose interest in it anyways. So sad.

The only logical song to share:

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drwex

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from: drwex
date: Mar. 8th, 2016 05:30 pm (UTC)
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Ooh you beat me to it. Was going to link that song, if I'd thought of it.

Nice memory piece.

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Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

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from: roina_arwen
date: Mar. 7th, 2016 11:35 pm (UTC)
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Slow and steady wins the race! :)

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Ellison

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from: ellison
date: Mar. 8th, 2016 12:48 am (UTC)
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I love tortoises/turtles, and I love this piece. So awesome!! I relate so much to a lot of it, including the wanting to hide in your shell, and how hard it is to talk about writing sometimes. How hard it is to imagine what the right writing life is. Gah, I really enjoyed this a lot!!

It never dawned on me to consider writing camp, but now I am! I just may have to do that one day soon.

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dragon

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from: dragonwrites
date: Mar. 10th, 2016 12:34 am (UTC)
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Nice! When I lived with a Russian family in Israel this tortoise would periodically come into the house. We would give him some grapes or something and take him back out, but he always seemed to come in with a purpose, like he wanted the grapes, or the companionship. I called him Tortilla, because the guy I was dating really liked my homemade burritos. I don't think you could buy a burrito in Israel at the time.

It always seemed to me that the shell was a great trade off. I mean, it offers a lot of protection, but it's also a lot of baggage to be dragging around. More vulnerability, more mobility.

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topum

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from: topum
date: Mar. 11th, 2016 07:48 pm (UTC)
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This is great ).

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