by G.M. Malliet
For years now, my husband and I have talked about leaving, moving away, just packing up and going, like the footloose hippies we are.
That was a joke. The last thing you'd find either of us doing is packing a knapsack and suddenly heading out in some devil-may-care fashion for the Wild West. We'd need to check the GPS first for hotels, museums, hospitals, coffee shops, shopping areas, and all-night diners.
We are planners. We are researchers. We are ditherers, in fact, and the Internet has given us the excuse to ponder our options endlessly. The pros and cons of America's small towns and large cities? A spreadsheet waiting to be born. Forbes Magazine with its endless "Best Places to Live" articles is pretty much a nightmare for people like us. Their World's Best Places to Live analysis sparked endless debate on passports, visas, housing, exchange rates, political climate, and so on.
With the whole world to choose from, how could we ever narrow it down?
A traffic jam where we actually live is often the catalyst for these wishful-dreaming discussions. We are on the outskirts of DC, which means we basically live in a parking lot with a roof. An expensive parking lot. We don't have a dog, much as we want one or two, because a) we travel a lot and b) we don't have space on the patio for a dog to run. We don't have space on the patio for a hamster to run. A garden where we grow our own food (another fantasy) is out of the question. It is truly bad some days: We feel hemmed in, and the thought of selling up for a few acres, an apple orchard, and a houseful of pets is very tempting. Heck, we could even raise goats and sell goat cheese! If only we had a clue how to do that!
When we do move away, I strongly suspect it will be to another urban setting, albeit a smaller and more manageable one. Unless I switch gears entirely and become a nature writer, which would be a sad, sad effort, because I always have to ask other people the names of trees and things, and I can barely tell a squirrel from a chipmunk. No, it would be another urban setting because I need to look out my window, as I just did, and see people repairing the neighbor's chimney. People talking, walking, laughing, quarreling. People doing things that I can write about.
My real fear is that if you stuck me too far out in the suburbs, in the country, or in a house on the prairie, I would not produce The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit or Little House on the Prairie. I would instead go mad, ever so slowly, like Stephen King's Jack in the Overlook Hotel. "All work and no play," endlessly repeated, formatted in every possible font and color that Microsoft sends.
But the escape fantasy--the longing for a Thoreau-like house in the woods (or by the ocean, even better)--never quite leaves. It is a common fantasy among authors, I think. As much as we know ourselves, as much as we know it would not (in my case) work out, the desire to find some perfect place to write is always there.
I know some MI authors are in fairly remote circumstances, so it must suit you. You're probably not afraid of bears, either. Are you happy there, or are you dreaming of finding a spot where you can choke on exhaust fumes all day?
If Forbes would only come up with a top ten best places for writers list, we might get somewhere.
Photo of Blacktail Prairie Dogs taken from NPS.gov.
Photo of folk at Walden Pond taken from Mass.gov.