“Pomp and Circumstance” has been played, the bluebooks are marked, the snack stash in my desk drawer tossed; I am sprung from school until Labor Day. To borrow the words of young Elizabeth Foster of colonialMassachusetts, after spending three arduous, tedious winter months weaving flax into linen cloth, “Oh how I welcome sweet liberty once again to me.”
In celebration, we’re taking a long road trip. Destination number one will be my husband’s family farm in the Missouri Ozarks. It’s beautiful there this time of year, lush and green. The yard will be full of birds, bright red cardinals, lemon yellow orioles, iridescent green humming birds. And bugs. Lordy, the bugs.
Paul needs to get back to the farm regularly, to scratch horse noses and feed cows, to walk the meadows, skip stones across the Gasconade River that embraces the lower acres in a broad meander, and to renew his Missouri twang. Some part of his heart is always there; his family has owned the land since 1838.
We have only one other planned stop to make, a family gathering. And then we are on the road again. We have some notion of trying to figure out the route his great-great-grandfather, Jesse, took when he led a party of thirty-eight souls out of Tennessee and into Missouri, but that is just an excuse for being on the road, wandering along some of the great rivers—the Mississippi to the Tennessee to the Duck—seeing what we see. After that, no big agenda, no appointments to keep, no alarm clock.
There is nothing like a road trip to clear the head and put things in perspective. A few thousand miles on the highway can provide a bounty of that most precious and illusive commodity: time to think.
Which brings us back to clearing the head. Frequently, revelations come to us when we are distracted by something else, like mental hitchhikers, if you will. For example, one day after work at the patent office inVienna, young Albert Einstein boarded a trolley for home, probably thinking abut dinner or maybe a fight he’d had with his wife. He saw a clock tower and noted the time. As the trolley moved away from the clock he began to muse about his changing relationship to the time registered on the clock. And, shazzam, the theory of relativity occurred to him, and we went to the moon.
Certainly I’m no Einstein, but many of my best ideas occur in those shazzam moments. When I get stuck while I’m writing, I have to leave it, engage the mental front burners with something else for a while: play solitaire, see if the mail has come, take a shower, take a walk, go find Paul and ask, Whacha doin’?, write a short story. Chances are better that the missing bit will sneak out when I’m not actively looking for it than when I am.
I am working on a new book. So far, I have written several different opening chapters, but I still don’t have the tone right, or the pacing, or the plot and character introductions developed satisfactorily. Very frustrating. Also very interesting to work through.
My hope is that by the time we reach that place where the Duck River flows into theTennessee, I’ll know where the story is headed.
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