August 21, 2017 § 4 Comments
By Anjali Enjeti
I’d planned this outing for weeks, lined up childcare, meticulously studied a map of the Chattahoochee National Forest as if embarking on a trek to Everest.
I was desperate.
For eight years I’d been entrenched in the care of three small children. When I looked in the mirror, I could hardly recognize myself. Sleep deprivation and interminable household chores sapped my creative energy, stalled my writing career, whittled down my ability to concentrate on anything except the short, rhyming passages of Goodnight Moon. I’d been writing in earnest, daily, through three pregnancies (and three more ending in miscarriage), years of nursing and diapering, countless hours of consoling and rocking and placating in every way imaginable. But the work I produced was stale, confined, cliché. I needed an intervention.
I rolled out of bed one bright summer morning, pulled on sweatpants, and hopped in our family minivan, an enormous, echoing cavern without my toddler, Kindergartner and second grader in tow. I merged onto the interstate toward the North Georgia Mountains, where purple, subtle peaks kissed clouds hanging like orbs of fruit.
My car meandered through roads littered with pine cones, crunched gravel into dust in a large parking lot. I emerged and followed a line of tourists heading toward the mouth of a trail. A thick canopy of braided branches shaded the ground. Fat maple leaves covered the path like a carpet. Frogs leapt from stream bank to stream bank. Butterflies sawed the air with their mosaic wings.
Within minutes, a sense of equilibrium eased the tension in my shoulders, neck, and back. Even my jaw, with its stubborn, years-long clench, released.
Near the trail’s end, a symphony of droplets resounded through the forest. On the other side of a boulder, high on a cliff, two creeks conjoined, dove off a platform hand in hand, cut through the air, and plunged into a pool in a burst of bubbling whitewater. The cool, calming mist awakened my spirit like an electric shock, retrieved, almost instantly, a ferocity for language that primary care-giving had long depleted. During the 90-minute drive home, my mind knit words together so rapidly I could hardly stay focused on the road.
I returned late to a household deep in slumber, kicked off my shoes, curled up on the sofa with my laptop. Like the moon in a night sky, the glow from the screen was the only light. My fingertips flew across keys. Words consumed the page, dripped along all four margins. It was as if the deluge of the falls had flipped open the faucet to my imagination.
Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat ildan once said, “There is a hidden message in every waterfall.” For me, an exhausted writer-mother, these hidden messages were stories locked in a mind too occupied by the relentless needs of small children, stories freed by a merciful waterfall.
Before taking this trip, I assumed that if I worked hard enough at my craft — on drafting and revising and polishing and submitting — I’d be the kind of writer I’d always dreamed of. But writing is an act, creativity a state of mind, and a writer’s devotion to the exercise of getting words down on the page must be rivaled by the commitment to nurture the emotional self.
I had failed to protect and preserve the psychic space I needed to thrive creatively while parenting. Meeting my daily word count goal failed to resolve the main issue plaguing my work — uninspired, lackluster prose. Which makes perfect sense. Creativity does not flow infinitely and unencumbered like a natural spring. We must replenish and renew it. We must afford ourselves the time to escape the daily grind, to lose ourselves in a forest, to stand in awe before the grace and beauty of a one of nature’s most grand inventions.
Anjali Enjeti’s essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Longreads, Pacific Standard, Vice, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the New York Times, NPR, Washington Post, and elsewhere. She teaches creative nonfiction in the Etowah Valley MFA program at Reinhardt University and is a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. She can be found @anjalienjeti on Twitter.