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Writing in Transit

photo by inma lesielle

photo by inma lesielle

As we fly 10,000 feet above the ground, I get the sudden urge to write. It hits me before tray tables are allowed down, so I tap my thoughts into my notes on my phone like a mathematician who has just solved a problem. (I keep so many random thoughts in there—some good; most terrible, but that’s a story for another day.) 

Have you ever hit a stride so smooth like a high school track athlete rounding the last turn in a race? You can write for hours, and you can’t ignore it. The last thing you want to do is ignore it because you never know how long those legs will last. Writers know these bursts are as seldom as they are wonderful. 

There’s a poet, Ruth Stone, who told writer Elizabeth Gilbert that poetry came to her as quick as lighting. Here’s an excerpt from Gilbert’s Big Magic, in which she writes about Stone’s process:

As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming . . . ‘cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, ‘run like hell’ to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would ‘continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.’

And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

For Big Magic, Gilbert spent time researching the creative process. After Eat, Pray Love, she experienced some serious writer’s block and that sent her into a deep dive about creativity in general. One of many pearls she pulled from her research was about the Greek and Roman concept of genius. “The Greeks and the Romans both believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity—a sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and who sometimes aided you in your labors. The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house elf. They called it your genius—your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration. Which is to say, the Romans didn’t believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius.”

This notion sat well with me. There’s no ownership over ideas. You don’t have an idea; it comes to you when you’re open and waiting. You’re not a genius; there’s a genius who happened to visit you one afternoon and dropped some magic in your office. 

For me, high above the clouds, there must have been a genius floating through the stratosphere who just happened to reach me in my window seat. If I had opted for the aisle, who knows what would’ve happened.

Writing, TravelKelly Chase