Winter break is a time to cook, sleep and collect more stories. I stroll through the local (not university) library, picking out books with funky fonts and interesting back covers. My dining table is covered with cookbooks and essay collections; my ottoman is clear of sticky notes and binders but instead has beer coasters and even more books splayed open. It’s December and it is cold. The roads are quiet; the air feels blue behind the smoke that spills from the power plant. Yesterday, I opened my kitchen blinds and did a little dance when I saw the cracked and brown foliage covered with fine shreddings of snow. I ran to open my front windows and saw that the whole of my street, perfectly still in the winter lull, was blanketed too.
My apartment tends to smell like some sort of vegetable and spice, now that I have the time to roast sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. My counters and sink are full of bowls and pots from soaking beans or simmered vegetable stock. I get up to read over coffee before I clock into the hourly job I found downtown, packing clothing in a warehouse, where I get to daydream about stories again.
The college-age girls that work with me intrigue me with their stories about their Missouri farms. I imagine the acreage while they talk; I ask questions that seem silly (“What is a sale barn?”). I talk to them about how I got to Missouri and my plans for the holidays without family nearby (“to see the new Jennifer Lawrence movie”). I drive around Columbia and let myself fall asleep early on the couch. I watch stand-up comedy and listen for how the comics structure their stories.
So much of writing, for me, happens when I am not writing. So much about non-fiction is about accumulating research and observations and then stringing it together like a dinner table-story without any interruptions. Much of non-fiction, for me, is about what happens when I let myself be quiet enough to hear it. I stayed in town over break to listen to Missouri.
We are all writers and we all have a process. I write by hand in a journal and I think for weeks about loose outlines while I drive, formatting lines to the beats of the music on the radio. So I decided to stay here for the holidays—to see what happens when school is out, to watch the Midwest during the chilled winds, to give myself time to bake and time to think. I stayed to collect more stories and to think about them against the radio during my drive to buy more vegetables for a nice stew.