So, one of the things you run into when you’re traveling the US are folks from your (old) neck of the woods. I have, when you get right down to it, run into quite a few folks lately who are from my (old) neck of the woods in northern Colorado. I’ve had some fascinating conversations with those folks, not just about the places and things we have in common but also about the frustrations and negatives we share.
I mention this because I met a couple today who ticked all of those boxes. Not only are they from just up the road from where I used to live, but their interests are pretty damned similar to mine. Even more intriguing, their story is pretty similar, too. They, too, got sick of living where it is always crowded and busy; of living at a pace that never seems to leave time just to breathe; of existing, rather than living.
Now, look. There is no conceivable way I can argue that living in Yellowstone offered a frenetic, crowded life. Quite the opposite, in fact. But when the time came to finally wrap up my time in paradise? Yeah, the very thought of going back to the nuttiness of northern Colorado was something I just could not face. Hence my current little wanderjahr.
At any rate, back to this couple…
They left the area with nothing but the idea of living a better life. I met them because they now run a successful farm*, and have just recently expanded that farm by building a small restaurant and brewery on it. That right there is pretty much, well, heaven to me. The corn they use in the polenta? Yeah, they grow that. The apple that comes with the ploughman’s lunch? Yep, they grew that, too. The beer they brew? No, they don’t grow the barley or the hops, but they use yeast grown from a wild strain they harvested off of their own pears…
*Remember, I’m a farm/agriculture nerd, on top of all those other nerd-isms I’ve shared on these pages…
There is a school of thought that says our fascination with historical fiction and fantasy stories derives from a need/urge to look back to the “old days”; from the urge to live a simpler life in a simpler time. And, no, before you ask, it is not purely a thing of the modern world. Hell, Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe two hundred freaking years ago, and 150 years ago Robert Louis Stevenson started in on shipboard life and pirates’ treasure! But looking to a simpler life? Yeah, I’ll buy that.
Hell, I live that.
One of the dangers of life, by the way, is defining and measuring yourself by increasingly complex things. Living by the values and measures of the external world, rather than those internal to you. Even writers suffer from this, to be honest. It is far too easy, and too common, for us to define our success or failure by those measures set and valued by those who do not create the words. We get caught up in being on this best seller list, or appearing in that magazine. And, sure, those measures have some meaning — especially when the mortgage is due! — but do they really define us, or our words?
If this blog has achieved nothing else, it has allowed me to offer some bits of advice to other writers out there. One of those bits consistently has been — and still is — that you don’t write for anyone but yourself. If you are writing what others want to hear; if you are writing words that don’t matter to you; if you are writing solely for the external measures, you are writing stories that won’t last, and words that don’t matter.
Here is an image for you, a small picture to flesh out the words. If I am writing for anything or anyone external to me, it is for this:
A kid sits alone, reading late into the night. The day may have been normal, or it may have been terrible. There may have been friends, or there may have been no one. Whatever the day brought, that kid sits alone at night and reads the words. The story and the characters…they come to life in the words. They become examples to follow or to flee; founts of wisdom or insanity; examples of those who have overcome, or those who have failed. The best of them…they become treasured friends.
I was one of those kids, sitting alone late into the night and throwing my entire self into the story. I laughed with Ford and Arthur and the other hitchhikers; I triumphed with Garion and Pug and Corwin and a host of others; I learned about loss and grief from the likes of Roald Dahl and Kurt Vonnegut and, especially, What Dreams May Come…
When I look back, I learned grace and strength in adversity from writers like Samuel Delaney and Ursula LeGuin. I learned honor and duty from folks like Joe Haldeman and Robert Heinlein and JRR Tolkien. I learned…
Shit, I learned everything, from everyone.
That kid, alone under the covers? The one who want — who needs — to read words that resonate and matter?
That is why my own story is still one of wandering and learning and trying new things. That is the simpler life I value, and that I will always be chasing. That is why I write: for that kid, alone under the covers, learning and living through the words. Through my words.