When my life is seriously off-track, my default position is to haul freight. Maybe it’s because I live in Children’s Book Land where the temptation (and reality) to run away is attractive to every kid at one time or another and I’ve never outgrown the tendency.
In my early twenties I was in a situation I couldn’t extricate myself from easily. I drove home for the weekend whenever I could. I slept in my old bedroom. My mother cooked my favorites. I shot the breeze with my stepfather in his woodworking shop. I took my mother antiquing. At the end of the weekend, I could face that situation a little better.
After I was married, we lived three miles from my parent’s house and I visited often. But if I wanted to, I could run away to that house, sleep in my old bedroom, have fried squash and pie-dough roll-ups for supper.
Then my parents died and my old bedroom was gone. I still found myself wanting to run away. I want to go home, I sobbed to my husband once. And where is that, he asked. I squeezed my eyes shut and remembered the Homeplace in Shenandoah County, where my mother was from. I could go there. Just get in the car and drive over the mountains to the Valley. I’d get a motel room and—but the image dissipated like a mirage.
Thomas Wolfe warned us we can’t go home again. But sometimes I’d still long to climb in my truck and drive west, just drive and drive until I found a spot to stop and rest.
My latest running-away spell came in December. The year was nearly over, I told my husband, and I hadn’t written what I’d wanted to write. Where had the time gone? It seemed I sat in my office every day, yet had little to show.
Always sensitive to my needs, he suggested I go somewhere to fill the well. Expand my horizons so I wouldn’t feel boxed-in. Yes! I agreed. I could run away to a week-long workshop in some place warm! Don’t wait till spring, he urged. Find something happening in January. It was pretty late to get into a conference, but he scoured the Net.
He found a writing retreat in Florence, Italy, a workshop in Key West, and another in St. Petersburg, Florida. Italy was out of the question. The Key West workshop had me foaming at the mouth because Lee Smith was teaching fiction, but not only was it full, the wait list was full. Eckerd College Writer’s in Paradise workshop was still taking applications for two more days. Florida in January! Paradise, indeed.
You couldn’t just pony up the tuition, you had to turn in a good-sized sample of your project and be accepted. I didn’t have a project, really. I had sort of an idea and one chapter of a middle-grade novel. But the Gulf-side campus was so pretty and the faculty so good, I spent those two days working on my submission.
Meanwhile, my husband was figuring the logistics. How would I get there? Where would I stay? It was too far to drive (900 miles). I would have to take two, maybe even three planes each way. The on-site hotel was probably already booked. I could stay elsewhere but I’d have to rent a car. Surprisingly, no meals were included.
When I sent in my application, I learned I’d be notified December 24. The week-long conference began January 17. I thought about all those plane reservations I’d have to make in a very short time. I thought about the hassle of changing planes, renting a car. I thought about what I’d do with my coat.
And then I thought about being away from home. My home. At last, after living in this house nearly twenty years, and being married nearly thirty-six years, I realized that where I lived with my husband was home. Not a childhood home that has been gone for thirty years. Not some mythical Homeplace. My place, my home, was right under my feet.
I can stop running. If I feel boxed-in, it’s because I let myself be tossed off-course. If I need to enlarge my vistas, I only have to drive a few miles to quit squinting.
As Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.”
I signed up for two online courses, one on short-form memoir, the other on nature writing. They will be a nice break from children’s writing, cheaper than flying anywhere and I can sleep in my own bed. On pretty days, I’ll pack a lunch and drive to a quiet, nearly-empty library in rural King George County, where I will work, deliberately.
I start those classes today. If I write anything decent, I’ll post it here (Hallelujah, you’re thinking, something else on this blog besides her infernal whining!).
It’s a new year. Shall we crunch right over those nutshells? And blow those mosquitoes’ wings out of our way?