That Certain Slant of Light–On the Sixth Day

Whenever I am trapped indoors for an extended time, I think of Emily Dickinson.  Looking through the window, at mounds of ice and snow, I recall her lines,“There’s a certain slant of light/On winter afternoons/That oppresses, like the weight/Of cathedral tunes.” I wonder if, on those dark, cold days, she was inspired, or if–like me–she sulked and shivered. Did she pen those well-known lines then, or months later while enjoying a balmy spring afternoon?

For that matter, I wonder if Robert Frost, who wrote so glowingly of stopping by the woods on a snowy evening, would have really thought the winter woods were “lovely, dark, and deep” if he been trudging through the snow. It may have been a frosty, winter night that inspired him, but he wrote the poem in June 1922. Recalling snow as lovely is easier when one’s memories are softened by a gentle, summer breeze. Allegedly, he’d been up all night, working on a longer poem, and stepped outside, observed it was a glorious morning, and the poem popped into his head. He is reported to have said that he wrote about the “snowy evening and the little horse as if I’d had a hallucination.”

After six days in the house, there is something about the snow that is blanketing our property, and making our county road all but impassable, that is definitely oppressing me. I usually tell myself (when warned that a real blockbuster of a snowstorm is coming) to see it as an opportunity. The perfect time to marry myself to my computer and finish my British mystery, work on the sequel to my novel, or produce a new short story or essay. That’s what I tell myself.

Of course, it doesn’t happen.  Instead I bounce around the house, check social media, surf the internet (suddenly fascinated by some obscure article on the ruins of an ancient community or how water clocks were constructed), cook, eat, and read. Possibly cooking and reading are beneficial, but the other activities are simply evasions of my resolution to make the most of my forced confinement.

I do, however, write much more in the spring and summer. There is something about being at my desk in the summer–windows open, fresh air blowing through the house, birds singing, the smell of newly mown grass–that motivates me to put words on paper. When I’m happy in sandals and a comfortable tee shirt, sipping iced coffee, my computer suddenly becomes my friend again. Characters come alive on the page and ideas flow, in sharp contrast to winter when my creativity seems to freeze along with the water in the cat’s dish and the ice on the front steps.

It seems that, like a New Year’s resolution, my plan to take advantage of winter writing weather is, alas, a fantasy. Maybe from now on, when the snow falls and the temperature drops, I’ll simply make hot soup, wrap up in a warm throw, and read a good book. With luck, my characters are hibernating also and will emerge fresh and ready to grace my pages.

I hope you enjoy a writing season as well–a time when you feel motivated to breathe life into your words, and energy into your characters. And the rest of the time? Just live and make mental notes.