Going Out for Air by Madelyn Rosenberg

There are rabbits in the yard, but the rabbit hole appears to be in my office, on my desk, when those little bars on my computer screen tell me I’m connected to the internet. I’m embarrassed by the things I’ve followed down that hole.

In the interest of truthfulness, I will admit that yes, I somehow needed to see multiple photos of cats in bathtubs. I have taken more Harry Potter quizzes than I should probably mention, I’ve caught up on where The Facts of Life cast members are now, I’ve watched a seal surf on a humpback whale, and I have hit “re-watch” on the video of the Massachusetts guy who spotted what turned out to be a sunfish.

And okay, the fish video (minus the swears) may have helped me with my dialogue a bit, since my current Work-in-Progress is set in New England. But the rest of it has done little to further my characters, my writing abilities, or the worlds I’m trying to build.

I invoke my social-media-distraction blocker (thank you, Freedom), but I am also known to cheat and turn it off.
And so, as the leaves start to turn and the weather nips away at my backyard mosquito population, I’m renewing my commitment to take it outside. “It” meaning my writing. Sometimes I use my computer, as long it’s cloudy and there’s no chance of screen glare or internet connection. More often, I write in my journal, which I can take much farther afield.

As a newspaper reporter, my best ideas always came when I left the office and started walking the beat. I think that’s where the best ideas come for writers and thinkers of all sorts.  “You just need a change of scenery,” my mother (and everybody else’s mother) used to say, whenever I’d get stuck. It’s still true. Fresh thoughts replace stale ones almost as soon as I open the screen door.

In my books, most of the action takes place outside. That’s where I spent every spare minute of childhood. And that’s where I’m returning now.

The first homework assignment my daughter’s science teacher gave her this year was: “Go out and play.” I was an instant fan, even if her next assignment (“Match the instrument with what it measures”) was not quite as stimulating. “Going out to play” is going to be my homework assignment, too; I’ll be playing with words.

Outside, I spot a foggy spider web, stretched like a blanket over the juniper. I see my poor, neglected strawberry plants begging for a spritz from the garden hose. I see greens and reds and an impossibly blue sky. I see the rabbits (I knew they were out here someplace) hopping through a lawn that needs a back-to-school haircut.

I walk and listen. To arguing sparrows, to a weed whacker, to a dog who wants everyone to know that the mail has finally arrived. I find a creek and I sit nearby, letting words wash over blank pages.

Whenever I talk to classes I tell my students, in what I hope is not a preachy way, that they need to take it outside, too, every day.

This is not meant to be an earthshattering revelation. It’s not meant to be an indictment on computers or video games (though it would be nice for kids to know that outside of Mine Craft, wheat isn’t generally grown indoors.) It’s just a reminder, for them and for me, that as we’re doing our world-building inside, we can’t forget to be out in the world, too.

There’s a reason, I add, that so many children’s books are set outside: It’s because that’s where adventure begins.

As a journalist, Madelyn Rosenberg wrote about all kinds of colorful characters in Southwest Virginia. Now she makes up characters of her own. Her stories, for children of all ages, include How to Behave at a Dog Show and Nanny X Returns. Visit her at www.madelynrosenberg.com or @madrosenberg — or in her front yard under the magnolia.