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Los Osos writer wants her readers to, as Mary Oliver once wrote, 'pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it' 

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood that sits adjacent to the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos, Misty Wycoff lives, reflects, and writes. Her garden is lush with verdant ferns and perfectly symmetrical dahlias. Magenta bougainvillea draped over a tall fence meets an awning attached to her home, making the garden space feel enclosed, like a little oasis away from the world.

Over a pot of apple cinnamon tea, Wycoff and I sat down on a Sunday morning to speak about her recently published book, High Rain: Love Letters to the Central Coast.

Just more than 100 pages long, Wycoff's work stitches together her original poetry, prose, and photographs on unadorned black and white pages. It's immediately clear that Wycoff is inviting us to abandon the flurries of our lives, even for just a moment, and be present with the natural world.

The book starts with the title poem, "High Rain," paired with a photo of prodigious cumulus clouds over a barren Central Coast landscape. The first stanza acknowledges the uncertainties that trick us into focusing on the future: "the shifting cloud / where the Gods are deciding / how the day will look." But it's that shifting, uncertain way about the world that leads us to miss the very moments we are looking for: "that shimmering sky time / when the high rain begins to fall."

As a person writing about nature, Wycoff must turn off what she calls the linear part of her mind. The linear, she said, is rational, future oriented, and a problem solver, much like "the Gods" in "High Rain." It focuses on what's next, rather than what is now.

Elements of the natural world, like the high rain in Wycoff's poem, don't operate in this pragmatic way. Rather, the rain defies the gods' plans and falls precisely when it is ready, without warning, much like the moment Wycoff turns off her linear mind and allows creativity to flow inside. Wycoff calls this moment of unadulterated inspiration "the call."

"Truthfully, I think everyone on the planet is getting calls all the time," she said. "But I think we don't hear them, because we're so focused in the linear, logical, reasonable world. I think the more you listen, the better you can hear."

The poems and prose in Wycoff's book are each timestamped with a month and year. "Anima Mundi," a poem that asks us to consider "what injury we inherit at the hands of our ignorance," is marked with June 1995, making it the earliest written piece in the book. But Wycoff, ever interested in disrupting the linear, does not place this poem first. Chronological, logical order is not what she strives for.

"I'm not writing essays," she noted. "That is linear thinking. ... Our culture values that."

This societally engrained emphasis on rationality is something that has challenged Wycoff in the past.

"I struggled to keep that side at the back of the bus, sitting down, and shutting up, waiting for the other parts of me to come forward, and have their way with me as it were," she said.

But now, after years of practice as a writer, Wycoff finds that her words flow more steadily.

"I don't struggle with it too much. At this point in my life, I don't have to get up and go to work in the morning. I can live over here without having to be rational all the time. I can play, I can be in the world of the spirit, or the muses, or the call," she said.

Wycoff notes that one of her goals with the book is to allow other humans to get in touch with that present part of themselves, whether it be through writing or other media. When she teaches writing workshops, she encourages her students to start by writing just one line each day.

"When you're writing that one line every day, and you're focusing on process not product, what happens is you tune in to your life in a different way," Wycoff said. "I think poetry gives people that possibility. Doing the one line a day, or writing every day, or reading poetry every day, or going to an art show—whatever it is that's within your medium—it brings a dynamic of meaning to experiences that we could just brush off."

Wycoff used an example of an everyday chore to illustrate her point.

"If I am washing the dishes and all I think is, 'My feet hurt and, damn, I have to wash dishes again,' it's not enlivening my experience of being a human," she said. "But if I start thinking about patterns of things we do, the mundane things, and how they populate our moments, and what that does to our energies, then I'm in a different place. I can actually take something away from it."

One of Wycoff's greatest influences is poet Mary Oliver, and in particular Oliver's famous lines on "Sometimes": "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."

Wycoff said this philosophy is "what will save your own life and what will save the world." Δ

Arts Writer Malea Martin is looking outside the linear. Send arts story tips to mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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