In an effort to post about the realities of my life on the farm as a writer, this topic seemed imperative, even though I realize now I will probably have scores of insect repellent companies following me on Twitter.
Because I believe everything is redeemable and because writing this post keeps me from scratching, here are five things that writing and chigger bites have in common:
1. Sudden appearance. Within five minutes the other night, I had a rash of bites running from my ankle to my thigh. Itchy, red bumps that made me want to get out the steel wool to more effectively remove my skin. I don’t know where I picked them up, but there they are.
Writing often happens for me that way. Take this post for example. I’m sitting in bed last night, giving my legs one last good scratch before subjecting them to the torture of a sheet, and it hit me that maybe there was something to write about here. It can be on a train or at a kid’s fall festival or while standing in the line at the grocery store (Kevin Haggerty, that one’s for you.) – writing ideas can sneak up and bite me when I’m least expecting it.
2. Patterns. As I stared at my calves last night, I noticed a pattern. These buggers had crawled right up my shin bone, biting all the way. I felt like I was studying for signs from the universe in my badly shaved, bumpy, itchy leg.
I’m finding the same thing as I revise this book. I’ve started seeing how many times stone comes into the story, and how very much names matter. I notice that the importance of family is a central theme in the book and that travel (or lack therefore) comes up often, too. Patterns I did not intend, rising up through the words. (So glad these don’t itch.)
3. Inconvenience. The strong need to scratch does not come on when I am leisurely sitting on the couch, both hands free, an episode of Supernatural streaming on my laptop. Nope, I definitely have a puppy in one hand and a bag of cat litter in the other when the urge strikes. Or I’m standing staring at routers in Best Buy, and I have to do this crazy dance where I try to be subtle when rubbing the inside of my knees together. (I know – not subtle.)
I find that writing ideas are often the same. I’m driving down Route 29 at 67 mph, and suddenly, I realize what I need to do in Chapter 30. There’s no pull off in sight; I don’t have a pen and paper taped to my dashboard; and someone will definitely die if I try to text this to myself right now. So I just keep chanting the idea – Malvina’s hands on the spinning wheel, Malvina’s hands on the spinning wheel, Malvina’s hands on the spinning wheel – as I park and begin to walk into Petco, having forgotten to write it down as I go. Now, I sound like I’m casting some kind of spell. (Yes, too many episodes of Supernatural. I know. I know.)
4. 3am Wake-Up. I could literally remove all the skin on my legs at 3am when these bites kick in strong, and that’s saying something because I chew my nails. One little scratch doesn’t do it either; nope, I have to scratch everywhere, leaving a bloody trail all over my sheets.
Sometimes, the way through a tough place in my writing comes on like that. It’s not enough to jot a little note on the pad in my nightstand. Nope, I have to get up, sneak past the puppy’s kennel, and hit the computer for a few minutes to pound it out. This is not fun, but on rare occasion, it produces the most unfiltered, gorgeous stuff, ya know?
5. Permanent Marks. Since my skin scars when someone says something mean to me, I will wear these chigger bites like tiny little badges of honor for the rest of my life. Some summer day, I’ll be at a picnic, and someone will say, “Wow, what happened to your legs?” and I’ll say, “Chiggers from my first weeks at the farm.” Then, I’ll strut away feeling proud, and that person will whisper to someone else, “Is she okay?”
Writing does that, too. It tears us up. Forces us to be brave and face fears we just wanted to suppress. It shifts around our souls and marks us, forever. Now, there’s something to strut about.
Chigger remedies anyone? Any more parallels you want to dry? Are you just itchy now? If so, sorry.
*For those of you blessed enough to live in parts of the world where there are not chiggers, I direct you to the Trombiculidae page on Wikipedia.