Articles

The January Dagger

I just want to assure everyone that I haven’t disappeared . . .Well, in a way I have. We’ve been going through what I call the “January dagger” here in northern Minnesota. The temperature has been consistently below zero, hitting in the 20 to 30 below range on most nights, and creeping up toward single digits below on most days. Such temperatures do something slightly strange to one’s priorities and mental balance. It’s not that they are unbearable, so much as that they make most activities subject to question. And that includes everything from going to town or walking to the mailbox. It’s simply easier to stay inside. In my case, this means staying in to write.

My wife, Louise, was gone to Washington D.C. for several weeks. My son, Nik (his new spelling), has been off to New York on a school trip. I’ve been left alone with Sadie, our ravenous though loveable yellow lab, Sid and Sallie, our two rather odd cats, and my own slightly askew brain that has been getting no stimulation from the outside world. This has had the predictable benefit of increasing my imaginative power, which has resulted in a subsequent increase in writing productivity. I more readily “become” the writing project, much as one “becomes” a novel he or she is reading. It’s a great feeling, though it has an effect on my psychic equilibrium. I sometimes find that the Judith Gap in Montana (through which the Nez Perce are currently traveling in my narrative) and the travails they are experiencing are more real to me than my own daily affairs. When a phone call or a meeting or even a casual encounter with someone occurs, I bring the same intensity of imaginative focus to that moment as I bringing to bear on the inner world I am inhabiting all the rest of the time. As a result, my responses are out of proportion and my social behavior is somewhat suspect. My friends put up with it — though, they, too, are experiencing the January dagger, and it is making them strange in their own particular ways.

Anyway, I’ve received a number of interesting emails that ask some interesting questions. I’ll be responding to several of them here in this forum as soon as I feel like moving my imaginative focus away from the Nez Perce. Right now, I’m enjoying this not-too-common experience of having my imaginative life be stronger than my external life, and that imaginative life has me living in 1877. It’s a long way back to this seat here in 2004 cryogenized northern Minnesota. I’ll make a visit soon, and you’ll be the first to know.


Why I write

This morning a reader sent me word that she had come across my writings through a columnist in the Madison Magazine in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m always curious about such things, so I dug the article out through a web search. It’s titled Unanswered prayers. The section quoted is taken from either Letters To My Son or Simple Truths.

These are the kinds of surprises that keep a person writing. To the outside world the writing life looks glamorous. But on the inside it is often a very lonely place. You wonder if you are involved in something that is self-absorbed and self-referential, and if you could better pay your rent for your time on the planet by doing something more immediately relational.

Then moments like this occur.

I’d like to thank all of you who write me, quote me, or use my works in your personal or professional lives. Life really is all about service. Whenever I can feel I’ve been of service, I get a breath of wind in my sails and push forward with a little more courage and conviction.

I hope January is treating you all well. Keep in touch.


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