I am writing this post from Southwest Florida. I am working. I am caring for a dear friend who is 85 years young. His determination to live fully despite dealing with Alzheimers, makes my heart swell. Here in this tropical place, life, lush and loud, is on 24 hour display. Everything is grand, oversized and full of colour. I have seen more clothing in lime green, bright pink and orange than I knew existed.
Apples as big as coconuts fill the fruit aisle of the local grocery store. At the diner where we have eaten dinner twice, the dessert cooler boasts lemon meringue and banana cream pies that are six inches high and five-layer fudgy chocolate cake. And the ice cream; don’t get me started. Everyday we stop at The Love Boat, where 30 plus flavours of rich homemade ice cream, scream for our attention– coconut almond fudge is my friends favourite. I am torn between pralines and cream and rum and raisin.
We are surrounded by giant palms with fronds as big as elephant ears and bouganvillea bushes heavy with sweet, fushia blossoms. There are ridiculous numbers and varieties of birds, most of whom never venture anywhere near Toronto. It is all overwhelming. My North Eastern, big city, fast moving, black- outfitted self, was knocked sideways for the first few days. I barely wrote a word. I tip-toed around this blog post, the preparation I am doing for an upcoming workshop, a story I am writing. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I thought I was on another planet. I felt raw and vulnerable.
Then I saw the Otters. Walking the trail in the Wildlife Refuge, two Florida River Otters came up out of the swampy waters on my right and made their way across the path into the swamp on the other side. They were so close I was tempted to reach my hand out and touch them. Sleek,all black, about 4 feet long, they looked like smooth and rounded mermaids. My heart turned over. Many people have seen them cavorting in the water but trail crossings are rare. Ten minutes later, further down the path I saw my first alligator. And a turtle sunning on a rock and a mama Osprey tending her offspring high up in a nest built atop a hydro pole.
What am I waiting for? This place teems with abundant life and it beckons everyone who arrives to live just as fully. Life is happening all around me. It is time to say what I mean. To find the words to express the beauty, the savagery, the magnificence of my surroundings. And it is time for you to do the same. I don’t mean that you have to come to Florida to do this. Wherever you are, life is happening around you. Open your eyes and your heart. Don’t waste anytime tip-toeing around the edges like I did this past week. Jump in right now and start writing. Say what you need to say in big, loud words. If you have been holding back, now is the time to let your voice be heard. Write, and see where the words lead you. Write about everything; not just those heart-stopping moments but the smaller ones too. Whatever your circumstances, life is thrumming along waiting for you.
I brought Natalie Goldberg’s new book, The True Secret of Writing, along on this trip. Here is what she has to say about procrastination and writing:
“We all think of ways to divert ourselves in writing…These diversions are also a nervousness, an excitement: How long can we be nakedly true?…it’s exhilirating to write. And scary. It’s saying we care. We have thoughts. We exist.”
I think she’s right. Nothing beats the exhiliration of being able to put down on paper the words that describe the world as we see it. But for the first days down here, I was finding it hard to capture the flavour of this very different world. To be true to this place, I needed to let go and let my surroundings wash over me. That’s where the Otters came in.
Paradoxically, one of the pieces I have written in the last few days is a poem about Stillness. The truth about this place as I have discovered, is that the quiet moments loom as large as the grand ones.
Different from quiet
although it is that too,
nothing moves save the lightest ripple;
oversized palm fronds
wave like giant fans
inches from my face,
and a brilliant yellow
The stillness harbours
beneath the water’s surface,
and within the thickened leaves
and branches of the overlaying trees
It feels ancient here,
of another time;
when the only order was
a natural one,
each lizard, snake and shorebird
knew its place
A letting go is necessary
to feel nature’s rhythm,
eyes open, heart unclenched,
man-held fears and expectations
then the gifts will come,
I see that now.
Til next time, keep writing