Jun 27 2011

Inspiration in Nature

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’m honored to welcome Leah Singer to What I Saw this week. I hope you’ll enjoy her guest post and the visual and metaphorical tale she’s spun below.

I live in Southern California where the weather is nice about 90 percent of the year (tough life; I know). During the months of March and April, however, we were hit with rain and some hail, followed by beautiful, bright sunny mornings. It was on one of these days that I made a discovery in the sky that also led to a discovery about my writing.

Like every typical morning weekday, I was driving to work sipping my coffee and listening to NPR. I looked up in the sky and immediately pulled my car safely to the side of the road. There above me was a gorgeous rainbow stretched across the sky. I’d never seen a rainbow this close before and never one as large as this one appeared. I grabbed my camera (which I just happened to bring with me that day), hopped out of the car and snapped a few shots of this incredible sight.

What struck me about this experience is that you never really know what unexpected, beautiful aspect of nature you will see on a given day. To me, this started as an ordinary day, driving to work as usual. But then – what I saw – was amazing, beautiful, inspiring. I was glad I had my camera with me to capture (as best I could) the moment.

I then thought about how this experience directly relates to how I come up with writing topics. My writing process is not formal. Nearly all the pieces I write are inspired by some random thought or observation, and just come to me out of nowhere, and when I’m least expecting it – like the rainbow in the sky.

An example: I wrote a post on my blog titled A Coke Girl in a Pepsi World where I talk about my feelings of being an outsider and different among a world of “sames.” What I love about this piece, however, is how the idea came to me. I was opening the office refrigerator at work to chill my Diet Coke when I noticed the fridge was full of Pepsi cans. I placed my soda in the fridge and walked back to my office, when I thought to myself: I’m the only Coke among all the Pepsi; kind of like my life story. And THAT’S when the writing moment struck me. The blog title quickly appeared in my mind and I immediately had to jot down my thoughts. (Given I was at work, the actual post writing came at home that night.)

But that process – that discovery of something completely out of the blue – is what fuels my writing. I love that something in nature, such as a rainbow, can be such a great metaphor for my writing process.

What inspires you to write? Have you ever encountered something in nature that triggered words on a page?

By day, Leah Singer is a freelance writer, as well as a speechwriter and communications professional for the largest university in San Diego, Calif. By night, Leah blogs about family, motherhood, traditions, cooking, photography, her crazy animal family, and other such topics at Leah’s Thoughts. Blogging is a way for Leah to journal, share ideas, essays, musings, frustrations, recipes, funny stories, and – most importantly – exercise her lifelong passion for writing.

Jun 20 2011

What Are You Doing?

Melissa Crytzer Fry

What are you doing? This is the rather direct question my husband was asked by a stubbly-faced fellow riding shotgun in a white Chevy Suburban this past weekend.

We were in the tiny mining town of Hayden, Ariz., – specifically so I could photograph this once-vibrant town nestled at the base of the Mescal Mountains. I was on the other side of the street, caught up in my own reverie as I snapped photos of an abandoned United Methodist Church that I was sure still held a lifetime of memories, sorrowful and joyful, both.

This church stands with many windows absent, open to the elements, and a “for rent” sign tacked to the front doors. Click to enlarge. Tab through all photos with forward button.

As I walked away from the church toward my husband, I heard the man continue his questioning. “Who are you? Why are you taking pictures?” he asked, rather defensively.

From across the street, I made out a few additional mumbles, as well as my husband’s response, “Well, I don’t know Dr. Wilkes. No, we don’t work for anyone.”

By the time I reached the side of the old truck, circa 1990, I saw the gangly, hollow-cheeked man who clutched a weekly circular in his hands and balanced a 12-pack of Fiesta soda in his lap. The driver next to him eyed us with suspicion before lighting his cigarette with a wooden match.

Apparently “Dr. Wilkes” owns all the abandoned buildings in the area, and our interrogator “works on them.”

Finally satisfied that hubby’s jean shorts, my running shorts and our t-shirts didn’t appear to be the attire of ‘official photographers’ or ‘inspectors’ of some sort, the men drove away. And I have to admit I was a little miffed by the intrusion. I was in an artistic mood and didn’t appreciate being shaken from it. It’s a free country. I can take pictures if I like, flittered through my head as I continued to photograph the desolate street.

This theater, which was once a match company (and later an indoor basketball court), had been renovated on the exterior at some point. A glimpse beyond the buildings shows a light aqua mass rising in the foreground of the mountains. It is actually a tailings pile from current mining operations. Click to enlarge.

With each photo I took, though, I started to think about the interaction with the men. These locals were simply proud of their little town, despite the abandoned buildings and the town’s freefall into economic decline. They felt a sense of ownership, maybe even a sense of kinship with their hard-knocks town.

Their pride – their overprotectiveness of this once-bustling main street that is now ghostly and empty – really hit me. One sweep of the eyes up and down this road illustrates their dedication to keeping it clean, nearly vandalism-free, and presentable. Maybe it’s also testament to their appreciation of the mining town’s tough history, its survival instincts.

And their actions, their reactions to us … well, they spoke the loudest of all. This was still their town.

This photo, taken in the 1920s, shows the town of Hayden during more prosperous times. Look closely at the mountain in the background and compare it to the “today” photo below.

My image is taken further up the street, but the same columned building on the left (in above photo) is the Police Department today. The building on the right in the vintage photo is the same building below that still stands (minus the balconies). Click to enlarge.

This now decaying building was once a commercial company during the town’s heyday (see vintage photo). Today it sits silently, stories buried in its crumbling walls. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: As writers, I think we can learn a lesson or two about pride and protectiveness. We must be equally protective of our writing projects, champions of our own cause. Proud. If we don’t believe in our words – and work at them, polishing them, cleaning them up, making them presentable, preserving their meaning – how do we expect to land an agent? Get a publishing contract  … tell our story? In what ways can you honor your own work? Do you think it’s important to do so?

NOTE: MORE PHOTOS AT RIGHT- I couldn’t fit all of the photos from this trip onto this post (without driving you batty). If you’re interested in seeing more, click the Twitpic box at right for additional photos of Hayden and nearby mining town, Winkleman.

P.S. I’m also guest posting at Brava this week, with the wonderfully generous New York Times bestselling author, Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt). Please stop by if you get a chance. My post focuses on using photos to ignite creativity in your writing!