Will Travel For Words: My Attic, My Mind by Karen A. Chase
I have been in my attic. I’m not referring to the one in my house but the one in my head. I’ve always visualized my own mind as an old attic stuffed to the rafters with trunks, filing cabinets, boxes and shelves, all of them filled to overflowing with information and images ranging from very useful (a map of the route from my house to the nearest Anthropologie) to frivolous (Lucille Ball’s Vitameatavegamin skit).I have discovered that this attic of mine tends to accumulate items and details until it has two problems. First, it gets a little jumbled while I’m immersed in work, so it must be sorted out now and then. Secondly, I must add new items to it on a regular basis so the aging or outdated categories will stay fresh.
After writing furiously on 280 pages of my latest manuscript, a brain dump of both historic and fictional details, my attic felt a little like this:
So when I sent my pages off to my editor and waited for her remarks, I used my time to reorganize and add in new information, useful or otherwise, in part by taking two short weekend trips.
Trip One: A one-room mountain cabin in a West Virginia state park.
My mom used to say that the best way to clean a closet is to empty it out entirely first, and there is no better way to do that for my mind than a remote retreat. In the forest there was quiet. No internet or cell phone. Very few people. Ted and me, and a family of fuzzy deer. A series of trails through the trees around the cabin. Ten inches of snow. Snow to me is a blanket of insulation, and so on our silent wintery walks, and curled up by the fire in our cabin, my senses ceased to take in information and my mind emptied itself out.
Trip Two: Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C.
One round-trip train, thirty-six hours, seven museums, and a plethora of stimuli. With the wind whipping between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument, we explored the many (and free) Smithsonian exhibits. We stood in the jungle of the National Arboretum so my skin remembered summer. We went back to the 1850s in the National Gallery of Art, climbing into Pre-Raphaelite paintings of allegories that made me long to write like the artists painted. We took on new identities as part of an intriguing tour through the Spy Museum (ironically located across from the FBI building). We ate in the oldest bar in Washington, Old Ebbit Grill, and studied historic faces in the National Portrait Museum. We walked and gawked, and my mind carted home new stories, and novel ideas to file away.
My manuscript has now returned from the editor, and I’m truly ready to find the words again. Certainly, I’ll be more likely to find them now because those two brief trips have made my mind clean and clear, and everything new has been neatly tucked away.
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, and is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution.
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