My name is Tom Cooper. I am the director of a library in suburban St. Louis County. I have been writing for a long time. My publications to date include many book reviews in newspapers and magazines, chapters in books on library subjects, articles in library journals, and a book which I co-authored on the history of the town where I work. For most of my life I concentrated on writing fiction. Then it came to me several years ago that the only things I had ever published were works on non-fiction. I am not a fiction writer, I am a non-fiction writer.
I tell you all of this as a way of reintroducing myself, both to you and to me. For people who have read this blog regularly the arc of my life over the past several years is well-known. In 2012 I moved with my family from the suburbs, where we had long lived, to an 18-acre plot of land in rural Jefferson County. We had a barn and pastures for horses, large gardens, many fruit trees, and bee hives. It was a completely different lifestyle, one in which I spent most of my time working on one thing or another. When I wasn’t at my actual job I could be found cleaning horse stalls, mowing fields, weeding a garden, turning compost piles, or one of the thousand other jobs it takes to run a place like that. I learned as I went, I had triumphs and reverses. I found that the time one actually has to experience nature in that sort of environment is extremely limited. I found that I was right in my thesis that living on a farm, or a ranch, or whatever you want to call it, is not ‘getting back to nature’ in any real sense. Farming is a technology, it is not nature. That’s why the Garden of Eden, the oxymoronic garden with no effort, is a fantasy.
Then, beginning in early 2016, I experienced a crisis in my personal life. That is still ongoing, although one hopes for resolution soon. I now live in a small apartment in the city of St. Louis. I like the city, I like its vibrancy and the easy availability of interesting things. I have often said that I like city life and I like country life—it’s suburban life that I find distasteful. But my appreciation for city life does little to ameliorate the stress of awaiting a settlement.
Amid all of this, both the endless round of work at the ranch and the anxiety of extreme life changes, I have lost my way in my writing. Many years ago, perhaps fifteen years or more, I conceived the idea for a book about the seasons. There were a variety of reasons I found the subject appealing. Finally, somewhere between 2010 to 2011, I started working in earnest on that book. I was making good progress on the research and the writing until we moved to High Ridge. At that time I was in the middle of the third chapter, the chapter about seasonal mythology. I spent the entire time I was there, nearly 3 ½ years, working on that chapter without finishing it. I made repeated attempts to revise the chapter into something manageable, I moved on to other chapters for a while, but the feeling grew that the entire work was stalled.
In the first several months after I moved from the ranch, I dithered and got nothing written. I could not concentrate, especially not on something that needed intense revision and good authorial insight. For a while I had been thinking about another project which grew out of my research on the seasons, namely a history of the New Year. I think it is a very interesting subject, drawing in more cultures and changes over time than many people know. I spoke with one of the co-authors I had worked with on the above-mentioned history book, and she was amenable to the idea of creating a book proposal. Both of us, I think, did good work on that proposal, but after most of a year, it is still not submitted.
Then I started working on a fiction project. I told myself nearly a decade ago that I am a non-fiction writer and began to focus on that, so why was I writing fiction again? Not only fiction, but a young adult novel with a science fiction theme. I don’t like and don’t read science fiction, so what’s the idea? This is when I knew that I was lost in my own work. Even my blog posts for a few years have been spotty, both in frequency and interest.
In the past week I have been rereading my early chapters on the seasons book, which bears the working title The Varied God, same as this blog. It comes from a poem by the 19th century Scottish poet James Thomson, in which he says the seasons are ‘the varied god,’ different manifestations of god throughout the year. I have a clearer idea of what I originally meant to do with the work, and I mean to get back to it. It will take deep cuts, deep revisions, and concentrated creativity. It is the kind of work that I think brings the work to life as well as the person doing the work. I think it is exactly what I need, and I only hope that I can do it.