My Muses: Mountains and Memorabilia

We’ve only been writing for the Debutante Ball for three weeks now, but already I am ruing my decision to follow Amy Poeppel’s Tuesday posts. She is hysterical! What a tough act to follow. I hope you caught her post yesterday about where she likes to…do it.

Yes, that’s right, this week we are discussing where we like to write. I may not be quite as funny as Amy, but I do have one thing in common with her: we both tend to do lots of writing before our fingertips ever touch a keyboard. Amy’s muse is the orchestra; mine is the great outdoors.

I’ve heard many writers explain that they have to “write through” their thoughts before they can see a narrative arc and plot points. For me, I have to move through the thoughts. I need to be physically active – hiking, walking, running – to let my mind roam and my ideas congeal. (Note: swimming does not count. I’m too busy trying not to drown to think about anything else!)

Anyone who knows me can guess where this post is going. That’s right: to the Colorado mountains, where I love to spend as much time as possible.

When I’m climbing to a summit or running through a valley, the beauty seeps into every pound of my being. My apologies for dipping into the cliché, but, well, I can’t help it. The mountains remind me of what is good and wonderful, even when at times it doesn’t feel like those categories include much of anything. It’s no surprise that the majestic mountains are my most powerful writing prompts.

The wilderness brings out my best self, the strongest, most courageous version of who I am; it brings out the fiercest side of my writer self too. I venture out on a long hike and by the time I’m through, somehow I’ve discovered a deeper layer of a story I’ve been trying to tell. Or I’ve solved that nagging structural problem which has been bugging me about a certain essay. Or I’ve reworked a line to be just the clincher a paragraphs needs.

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The “Four Pass Loop” through the Maroon Bells Wilderness is one of my favorites, especially in July when wildflowers thrive. (The tallest mountain in the background is the less-often-spotted west face of the iconic Maroon Peak.)

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Sometimes I sit on summits and let my mind wander.

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Nope, not even winter keeps me away for long, even if the snow prevents me from lounging on a summit. These are the mountains of Boulder’s skyline after a fresh November snow.

Eventually I have to return to a keyboard to transcribe my trail discoveries. (I know, I know, poor me, right?!) I almost always work at my home office, at a desk that has witnessed my migration from civilian college to the non-profit world and now to the land of author-hood.

My workspace has changed dramatically over the years. Back when I was an Air Force Academy cadet, I was only allowed to display two items of “memorabilia” –items that reminded me of someone or someplace far away from there. Most often, my two items were pictures of high school friends. Other than those pictures, my desk was required to be in perfect order. There were even rules for our textbooks; they had to be arranged in height-descending order so they formed a V. Each cadet desk was nearly identical to the next.

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It took a while for me to rebel, and it’s nothing short of an act of defiance that today I keep my desk as cluttered as I do.  My first half-marathon and marathon bibs plaster the back of the desk. Books I’m currently reading sit in one of the cubbies. The knick-knacks bring me joy as I write: a mug a friend brought home from Africa, a footprint from a cherished cat, a real-life cat (on most days), a plaque my partner had engraved, a miniature hand crank music player given to me by a friend, an authentic quill pen my sister found in Italy, and even a rock that’s stamped with #Ipoopedtoday, a practical joke from a different sister. (Yeah, the rock? It’s a long story. Or maybe just a humiliating story…)

When I was working through the difficult subject matter of CAGED EYES, the memories and relationships conjured by these trinkets comforted me in just the way I needed to get through.

So that’s it, friends: mountains and memorabilia, the places and things which move me to write. I’d love to hear what moves you.

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Lynn Hall is a memoirist, activist in the movement to end sexual violence, ultra-runner, and crazy cat lady. Her memoir, CAGED EYES: AN AIR FORCE CADET’S STORY OF RAPE AND RESILIENCE, was published by Beacon Press in February 2017. Her writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, The LA Times, Hippocampus Magazine, The Sexual Assault Report, The Manifest-Station, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and elsewhere. In the summers, Lynn copes with publication anxiety by spending too many days in the Colorado mountains, and in the winters, with pans of brownies. She lives in Boulder with her partner and their 23 cats. Just kidding…she only has five.

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