Creativity, Writing, Trees and Stories
There are times in life when reflection and looking back becomes almost mandatory, at least for me. The timing does not always coincide with events, season, change or responsibilities. Often these seem to imply the need for introspection, but I think it is more illusion than fact. Times of personal trial are times that character shows. Character is built during the in-between times as we go through life.
The best correlating factor I have found is my desire to write, to tell stories, to engage in the catharsis that putting words to paper always gives me. That desire, in turn, forces thinking, thinking to sorting, categorizing, recognizing, perceiving in the conscious mind what the subconscious has digested and wishes to regurgitate.
It is a strange cycle of creativity I both love and loath. Often the idea for a story comes from a simple question I am asked or ask myself. However, the question is not the “what if?” kind. That would be too obvious. Those questions lead to science fiction stories. No, the questions that spur my thinking, my urge to tell stories are more the “how did this happen?” the “Why?” Recently, I have had cause to think on what I wish to accomplish with the time left to me and what I have accomplished so far. No, these introspections are not as big as words on paper seem to make them. More so, they come slowly, one sentence at a time, fragments of thought drifting in, stolen from a book I am reading, a song I hear, a quip from a friend.
I look at my professional decisions and why I choose tree work. For the work? Yes. For the people? Yes. A known and safe path for me? Yes. My family and friends approved? Yes. However, I maintain a suspicion that something deeper lies at the core of the decision. You see, like all of us, I had many paths to choose. My service in the Army opened opportunities, my education others. The list is extensive, yet I choose trees.
I also choose to write; to pursue the often lonely, always, grueling path of chronicler of words, thoughts and ideas to the page. I realized at university that how I write is how I think. I believe that to be true for everybody. I also discovered that to improve one was to improve the other. In order to clear my mind, to organize the trials and tribulations of a young man, a student, a combat veteran, I set off down the path of writing. I stopped for a while. Immersion in life, work, relationships,marriage seemed to not coincide with the writing path. The tree work path proved a better road to travel. I thought then the two were separate, parallel, never to cross. To tread one meant foregoing the other.
Money played into my decision. Writing, for all its rewards, does not pay well. Certainly exceptions exist. I am not one. The physical act of writing, for me, requires energy. Lots of it. I hunt and peck away for a few hours. Get three or four “good” pages and I am exhausted, mentally. I need loud music, time alone or with others who do not require interaction beyond spending time and a cold drink. I now understand Hemingway better! If it is true what William Faulkner said, that “to pour out liquor is like burning books,” then no books get burnt around my house!!
Part of this is my introverted personality. For me writing is communication, with myself, with my intended audience, with the world. Sitting alone, cup of cooling tea, keyboard and screen in front of me, I envision myself on a stage making a speech to millions. I love both sides of the page that is writing. I found a desire to write well requires reading, a lot of reading! I love the act of sitting down and losing myself in a good, book, story or article. More so, I love the act of creating that experience for another.
My passion for writing, I discovered, lies in creating a world from the elements of thought and experience, of relating that world, the stories within my created world to another in the best theater imaginable, the reader’s mind. No other audience members present to distract. The set is decorated as the reader sees it with my guidance, the voices speak in timber, inflection and accents familiar. We read in our own voices or those we know the best. To share that experience as a writer, a teller of stories, drives me.
Still the nagging question, “Why trees?” Two years ago, I decided to publish my first novel. Just over a year ago it hit the press. I wrote a story about tree people at a tree climbing competition. I felt I discovered the perfect mix. Stealing inspiration from Dick Francis, I decided to write stories all based around arboriculture, climbing, trees. Write what you know? Well I went with that, in spades.
Finally I told myself I could blend the two, writing and tree work. One could help support the other. I could tell stories. I uncovered a limitless cast of characters, trials, tribulations, passions and emotion, all in one small segment of the community. I had found my own version of Faulkner’s “little postage stamp of native soil!”!
I embraced this new theory. I even thought it the total summation, the answer to why I write, why I choose tree work. In my efforts to promote my novel I started working on a video.
Video is another powerful medium I love to dabble in. Video is a great way to communicate via the internet and a direct line to many generations. I approached my promotional video with the tree guy being writer. It failed. I could not produce anything that touched me on an emotional level. Sure I put together some decent clips, some “profound” dialog, but it lacked.
I stopped on the project. I started again. I stopped again. Stalled and knowing that stagnation is the enemy of creativity, I directed my efforts to finishing the second novel. Yes, there is always a second, then a third, then a fourth. This is truly a long, winding, up hill path!! In the course of developing that story, those characters, I stumbled upon this. It is a few paragraphs where the main character, Chris, relates a philosophy his father had about production tree workers.
Tree people are a strange bunch, my dad used to say. They all possess a caring, artistic side he theorized. At least the ones that stuck with it, earned more than a paycheck from the job. Why else care for trees? However, most hid this side behind an exterior of strength, often sloppy guile and a perceived toughness. One drunken evening on the front porch, he explained. This outer shell, as he called it, stemmed from the nature of the work; physical, demanding, out-of-doors. However, he said, a dichotomy developed. Tree work called to those who long to be artists. With tree work, arboriculture, they reckon this desire for beauty, balance and peacefulness with a self-perceived notion of toughness.. My dad could be quite the philosopher.
I realized something about myself. Allow me to explain. Never confuse the author of any book with the main characters, even biographies, auto or not. However, for me there is a great deal of me in there. I can’t help it. It’s not so much, write what you know, but write about that which I want to discover.
Stories are what drive me. I see life as a series of them. Some are but a mere word, others volumes long. The plot may be similar, the characters may look alike. I even buy into Christopher Booker’s contention that there are only seven original plot lines in theater, literature and cinema. However, the variations are endless, the combinations intriguing, the interpretations as numerous as the people experiencing them.
For me, I now believe, it is the stories I see around me, my need and desire to tell them, from my point of view. Tree work is just an extension of that artistic want; the ability to tell stories, to change them, to create them from what others have done, what nature has given.
Trees are stories too; rooted into the earth, formed of sun, air, water and dirt and most importantly time. They stretch to the sky; all similar, all different. Some parts of trees are obvious, some hidden. The cover often hides what is on the inside. They live. They grow. They die to return as fodder for the next generation.
Trees represent a symmetrical imbalance that I strive for as I write, a dichotomy in slow motion, a twisting of words, ideas and tangible material into that word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter, book, body of work, designed to move you, to tell of what I know, what I want to know and how I see the journey we call living a life.
Tree work has allowed me to express this not only in words, but in a career, a skill set, a collection of equipment and knowledge. You see, I thought I had to stop tree work to write, when in fact, tree work was just another type of writing for me.
Going Down To the Crossroads
It is strange, this path. What I think now will change. Will I always be a tree guy? No, I think not. Already I have started to move on to satisfy my craving for art and creativity in teaching others, in exploring new challenges. Trees are how I started telling stories, teaching is how I continue. What will the future hold? I do not know, but there are many ways to tell stories.
I have come to realize that, on many levels, we all strike bargains in life. We wheel and deal in the currency of fate and decision. I choose to write, to tell stories at an emotional cost. I sacrifice energy and time to put words to paper, to share my stories. Time and energy I will never reclaim. I receive my benefits, I reap my rewards, but I still see it all as a deal with the devil. What I must remember is that the devil is an angel too.
“Anyone can achieve their fullest potential, who we are might be predetermined, but the path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can’t be changed but, it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.” ― Martin Heidegger
For those of you in the United States, have a great Thanksgiving holiday. For the rest, enjoy your stories and give thanks for the ability to live them.