Jul 6 2014

Rooftop Reading

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s that time of year again in the desert, when cicadas scritch their harsh song into the air, the heat averages in the 100s, and outdoor time is a rarity.

And yet, I long to be outside. Need to be, really.

This blazing fireball is the summer sun setting behind my house, amid the skeletal branches of ocotillo. Click to enlarge.

If there is anything I’ve learned about my writerly self over the past five years, it’s that I am influenced greatly by nature: being in it, observing it, photographing it, living it. Yes, I seem to be more creative with my writing on days when I’m viewing the open skies.

I’ve taken my Jeep, Betty, to remote areas of the desert, and a certain kind of magic unfolds every time. Through the natural chatter of cactus wrens and the ruckus of ravens, my mind clears. The wind whistling through the stout paloverdes around me is a creative lullaby. And I write. I read. And what I produce is of a more inspired quality, often, than what happens behind my indoor desk.

This is my reliable ‘writing spot’ in the desert, which Betty can nearly navigate on her own by now. Click to enlarge.

A similar experience occurs when I’m running in the desert. Lines of fiction often come to me mid-stride, delivered it seems, on the invisible wings of the wind. I can’t adequately explain how much I crave this experience.

And yet, this time of year, we desert dwellers become shut-ins due to the heat. With the increased humidity, the outdoor running has all but ceased (even at 5:30 a.m., the temperatures can reach 90), as has hiking and Betty escapades (no reliable A/C in my old girl).

Yet I still keenly feel the need to be outside in order to work  most creatively. That’s when it struck me. This:

Yep, those are my tootsies and my view from the roof. Click to enlarge.

I’m not sure why I never considered it, but the unfinished rooftop deck of our house-under-construction (since 2009) offers a wonderful microclimate.

The kitchen bump-out provides fabulous shade from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. And something about the position of the house and its placement at the base of the hill offers a fairly consistent little breeze. Click to enlarge.

So, yes, I have found a summertime solution to my creative woes! I’m getting my wild, outdoorsy fix by taking a few steps away from my desk. For the past week, I’ve risen early, headed out to the roof with my supplies in a tote: research books, novels, folders, laptop (yes, there is electric and wifi, so while it’s not a “true” desert experience like my Betty excursions, it does offer lovely views). So far I’ve been visited by a lovely lizard — whom I’m certain was courting me — two towhees, two cactus wrens and dragonflies. I’ve watched jackrabbits and roadrunners on the hillside, too.

This is what I see when I turn my head to the right. I think I can see a total of 22 saguaro cacti from this vantage point. And most of you know of my obsession with this majestic cactus-tree (ripe fruit splitting off the tops). Click to enlarge.

This accidental solution has been perfect, casting cool creative breaths over the humid, blazing heat of the desert.

For Writers: Do certain settings aid in your creativity? Or can you “turn it on” and be creative anywhere? Does nature inspire you creatively? If not, what does?

For Readers: Do you prefer certain settings when you’re reading? Do they help transport you more than other settings? (It’s no surprise that I wrote about reading in the desert and the incredible experience it provided me on my birthday).


23 Responses to “Rooftop Reading”

  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    I too have to go to nature for inspiration, Melissa. If I’m ever feeling overwhelmed about a plot point, there’s nothing like a long hike to clear my head. Happy reading and writing, my friend. Love the pictures, as always!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I would LOVE to hike with you. Your property sounds so, so lovely.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    What a fabulous patio you have, Melissa! I’d want to sit there forever and read.
    The only things that seem capable of ruining my creativity (writing-wise) are too many distractions and a long to-do list. But yes, it’s great to get outside and be in nature. Grounding and rejuvenating!
    Did you get some of that monsoon? First the big wall of dirt blew through, then it poured like a carwash here. The entire yard was trashed after, but we didn’t care. 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    That’s the problem… I want to sit there forever and read, too! I admire people who can write ANYwhere, though, yes, I can totally relate to a too-long to-do being a big old creative drain.

    Lots of rain last night (1 inch in 20 minutes. Lots of the typical erosional damage and immediate ponding around the house, but we are grateful for the wet stuff, for sure). Might in store for more.

    I do NOT envy those dust clouds you guys have been getting with greater frequency over the past few years. No fun.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Melissa — I absolutely love the word picture your painted:

    “Lines of fiction often come to me mid-stride, delivered it seems, on the invisible wings of the wind.”

    In response to your question…

    No, I can’t turn on creativity and write from anywhere. I absolutely love my new writing space at our new-to-use home in Boise, Idaho. It’s small, but its five large windows overlook a beyond-phenomenal, vibrant floral garden setting with several gorgeous trees.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks, Laurie. I love that you called it a “word picture.”

    Your new writing space sounds heavenly! I bet you’ll enjoy the views even in winter with that fresh snowy shine!

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    That is a wonderful view, Melissa. I’d love to have that scenery when I write. It looks so peaceful and serene. My coffee shop has a back deck with a decent view of a leafy green courtyard, which is nice but not nearly as lovely as your view. Mostly I have to write wherever I am — usually on the subway which has great scenery of a different kind! 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    And here’s where I am jealous: of those who can write ANYWHERE. On a subway … really? I need absolute quiet to write, so I admire your ability to make it happen no matter what. And, for what it’s worth, the green leafy view sounds wonderful amid a bustling city!

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  • avatar Donna Says:

    First of all, waaay Happy Belated Birthday wishes! For some reason, my emails telling me of your new posts have landed in my spam folder. The pictures from the last several posts are great. I’m just glad to see you have actually been posting! Hopefully now the emails will land in my inbox. As for preferring a special setting for reading – I don’t have a special place. Really, one of my favorite places to read is in the same room with the boys and Hubby. Many times I read in the car while waiting on my youngest to finish school sports. I can and will read anywhere except for a moving vehicle. Blech. Glad to see your posts! Take care!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Hi there, Donna. So good to hear from you! You know, the same thing is happening to me with other people’s blog notices… I just stopped getting them, mostly because I think they ended up being seen as spam. Glad you fished me out of the old trash! 😉

    I’m amazed by people who can read with other distractions going on. As is the case with my writing, I need absolute silence when I read. I would love to be able to read next to my husband while he watches the news, but I’m way too distracted. And, oh yeah, moving vehicles + reading = bad news for my tummy, too.

    Remind me – are you on Goodreads? And do we follow one another? (I’m embarrassed to ask that after all these years)…

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    Donna Reply:

    I am not on Goodreads – I’ve heard of it but not really sure what it is or how it works. Do you mind filling me in?

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I’ll send you an email!

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  • avatar Lisa Ahn Says:

    Looks like a perfect spot!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    I love writing outdoors, too, but I have to admit that I often get distracted by the sights, sounds and smells. Of course, when I’m working inside at my desk, I get distracted by housework, email and other chores. Clearly my lack of concentration is an internal problem, so I should write where I’m happiest, out in the garden. 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Well, um… yeah, there is THAT part of it — the distraction of the outdoors. But I seem to be pretty good about focusing when I’m up on the roof (for some reason).

    Oh my… YESSSS – you DO need to write in the garden. Are you going to try it? I’m serious. I’d love to know how it goes! 😉

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  • avatar Lori P Says:

    You have a rooftop deck?!!! Holy lounge chairs, I’m moving in.

    My best writing place is a local coffee joint, Cloud City Coffee – big windows, two walls of garage-style doors, a disco ball, and the best coffeecake in the world, seriously. I do best with the background hum of conversation.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Well, don’t pack your bags yet. This is the longest-ever-house-building-project-known-to-man. The outside is the only ‘done’ part, and that doesn’t include the roof deck — ha ha. But I’m using it ANYWAY!

    As for your writing spot: disco balls and coffee cake… what more do you need? 😉 I do wish I could write with background noise/movement, but I just need mostly stillness. Eerie stillness!

    PS Got your note. Promise to answer when I can come up for air!

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    While I’m not a fan of the hot dry heat, I do find myself craving being outside. Something about the summer weather and the heat make me want to bring my books to our backyard table and read. The weather was so overcast today it made me feel down. There is definitely something to be said for the sun!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Aah… I can totally relate to your comment about overcast days making you feel down. That is precisely the reason I moved from Pennsylvania (land of the overcast, thanks to the Lake Erie-effect skies). I was 27 then and had counted 33 days in a row of ZERO sunlight. And I thought, “I don’t have to live here!” Sunlight DEFINITELY impacts my mood.

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    I never get tired of your beautiful photos, Melissa. That top one is really gorgeous! Your new roof spot is very cool; I’m jealous! (It’s super hot down here, too.) I’m inspired by being outdoors too, and also by change in general — so being outdoors somewhere new is really special for me.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thank you for the wonderful compliment, Annie. I’m rather proud of that top one, too! Being there at the right time is always thrilling, when it comes to snapping a good photo.
    Yes, I agree: even new indoor settings can be very helpful! Hope you’re surviving the heat.

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  • avatar Shirley Hershey Showalter Says:

    Melissa, roof spots bring out the muse because we see the big picture there. And the dessert has been known for its spiritual benefits for thousands of years. I came here because Laurie noted your great photos on her blog, and I know she has great taste. 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Nice to meet you, Shirley; I’ll have to thank Laurie for sending you my way! I love what you’ve said about rooftops and their vantage point. So true. And I have to agree that the desert is such a soothing place for me (harsh as it is).

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