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  • Johnny Carrol Sain

Writing unleashed

Something I've learned about keeping your focus while writing is, with apologies to .38 Special, you've got to hold on loosely.


What I mean is that, of course, you want to stay on point. But the objective is to tell a story, likely one that's been told before, in new and interesting ways. You can do that only by letting your mind wander a bit.


Based on past experiences, I've got a high degree of confidence that when I let my mind off the leash he'll come back... eventually. But when a deadline is hanging over your neck, it sometimes gets worrisome.


An example playing out right now that has me worried:

In trying to polish up an essay about how rural Arkansans are coping with coronavirus, I revisit a presentation about rural folks that I gave to wilderness professionals some years ago. This leads to rereads of selected sections from Roderick Frazier Nash's "Wilderness and the American Mind" (recommended, by the way), which lead to internet reading on early American attitudes while living on the frontier (he, my mind, is closing in on something here, so I'm gonna let him run a little more), which leads to the Judeo-Christian influence on rural folk philosophies regarding wilderness and resources (still warm, but cooling), which leads to reading about attitudes toward wild animals (warmer), which leads to reading about attitudes toward domestic animals (really warm, close to where I need to be for this essay, almost close enough to put the leash back on... but maybe if... wait... whoa, boy... whoa, boy... ) which leads me back to Judeo-Christianism and the origins of the scapegoat (he's in a full gallop heading straight away now), which leads me to the fallen angel Azazel (he's fading into the horizon), which leads me to wonder if Azazel is actually the Hebrew derivative of some old Mesopotamian wilderness god, which makes me wonder how Azazel would fit into the pantheon of nature gods through the ages, which makes me think about the Celtic god Cernunnos, which leads to me looking up at deer skulls hanging above my desk, which makes me contemplate my own mortality.

And... he's gone.

I'm standing in the white field of my consciousness right now -- whistling, clapping, promising all sorts of goodies if my mind will just come home and help me finish this essay.

Silence.

Last I saw him, he was racing over yonder hills of Alan Watts and Albert Camus -- tongue out, ears pinned -- and never even looked over his shoulder.

I hope he comes back today.

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