This is a picture of Boulder Shelter in the Olympic Mountains of Washington state. I am the one taking the picture, standing somewhere around 5,500 ft. on a northwest facing ridge with sore legs and a runny nose, carrying a thirty-pound backpack. I spent a month preparing for this first solo-backpacking trip that spanned about twenty-five miles in four days. It took all of me to arrive here, to turn around and see a point known on the landscape, a place where I had been. My writing projects feel a lot like this sometimes.
My writing day takes different forms depending on what I am working on. There are times when I am inside of a project and I am eager to wake early to meet it. Once, on a brief vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, my partner and I stayed in a remote rural cabin. I woke at 2:00am and wrote in the dark on the porch while Coqui frogs sang through the night. The light of my laptop being the only light around drew all kinds of insects to it. I worked through sunrise and had that not been the last day of our visit, could have repeated that for weeks to come. I tend to be a writer of pattern, too.
My daily pattern is to write or at least try to meet with the work every morning before my day job begins. This usually means that I am awake by 5:00am, earlier if there is a project gathering itself around me. Like many endeavors, we lean in when we start to see the fruit. I do this a lot with writing. It and I will be going slow, painfully slow, churning earth, even if completely disconnected, out of ritual. Then something in the fertile void flashes back at me for a moment. Things burst out of nowhere and for a month or two I am turning up words everywhere, grateful, elated for this event, this confirmation that I am alive in the world and maybe I really am a writer after all. The cyclicality of projects has taught me to not be so weary in the slow seasons, has taught me how better to garden so many other things.
I live with the poet Hailey Higdon. I more than live with her. We break bread and read poems and do the laundry and love each other too. This unexpected gift casts dimension on what it means to live as a writer. To say that we influence each other as writers is understated only by what we influence in the larger field of each other’s lives. When one of us says, “I am going to write,” the subtext is, I will be in the office or at a café for the next 2-4 hours and not available to you, we understand this as normal, in fact, a sign that as artists we are making good on the day. This is a kind of writing day. It comes also, with the magic of seeing and being seen, of sharing patterns of coming together and apart, growing everything in between.
Tanya Holtland is author of the chapbooks Requisite (forthcoming from Platypus Press, 2019) and Inner River (Drop Leaf Press, 2016). Her poetry and nonfiction appear in The Offing, The Rupture, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, and her photography can be seen over at The Wire's Dream. A Los Angeles native, she currently lives, works, and writes in Seattle.