This weekend I went camping with my 10-year-old son Travis and the Boy Scouts. We went out to Joshua Tree, the desert north of Palm Springs. Eight hundred thousand acres adjacent to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.
Our campsite was surrounded by humongous, rounded boulders that stretched into the sky. Looked very prehistoric. Travis spent most of the time "bouldering"--climbing, jumping, skipping about the boulders. I took many deep breaths as I looked up and saw him, a 100 feet or more into the sky, standing atop a boulder, his ten-year-old body against a blue sky. Mostly I didn't watch as he jumped, mountain goat-like, from boulder to boulder.
When it grew dark, he wanted to go bouldering again. I told him no. He got upset. I said, Imagine you're a parent. It's just before dinner time. Your son tells you he's tired, his feet hurt, he would love to sleep. You have dinner as It grows dark and your son says he wants to go bouldering again. What would you say?
He saw my point. So he ran around the camp, instead, or sat by the fire as a dad who's also a cowboy poet recited hilarious poems and played guitar.
Meanwhile, I brought along the rough draft of a book proposal I've been tinkering with for the last couple of months but making little headway on. Not sure why. Perhaps it's that a proposal isn't "real" writing, exactly. And, in a way, it's more work--trying to figure out what you intend, what you want the book to be.
But something about being outdoors in the crisp Southern California winter air, miles away from anything, including numerous distractions--just out in the middle of the desert with few belongings, or projects, and I was able to get myself into a frame of mind where I realized what I intended. I began revising the proposal and made actual progress.
I returned home with a resolve to go camping more often. Sometimes getting away makes you relax enough to see what you need to do. I like hotels and motels and inns because of the lack of distractions, but now I'm thinking camping might even be better because there's even fewer distractions and you are so in nature, which makes you more connected with your thoughts and feelings about things.
Maybe a writers camping getaway is in order. Those of us with kids will just have to discipline ourselves to concentrate on our work and not look up as our offspring leap through the air above us.
If that doesn't train you to focus, I don't know what will.