Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

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
Photo of folk at Walden Pond taken from


Alan Orloff said...

Nice post, Gin.

The siren call of the "perfect place" is strong, but resist, for it is illusory.

Of course, I live in one of those remote spots you speak of -- Reston, VA -- where we have the "best" of all worlds. The chance of a bear sighting, squirrels in the attic, traffic gridlock and exhaust fumes, crowds at the malls, mountains of leaves to rake.

Why do I live in suburbia again? Oh yeah, ample parking.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

There's a difference between squirrels and chipmunks???!!! Who knew!

I also dream of one day retiring to write full-time in a quiet idylic setting. And, like you, Gin, I scroll through the internet looking for such places. But also like you, when push comes to packing it in, I think I would miss the energy and excitement of city life, though definitely not the traffic.

As for the pet thing, get cats, they can live anywhere.

G.M. Malliet said...

Alan - I had squirrels in the attic once. Or maybe they were chipmunks. I called Animal Control to ask if there were a humane way to ask them to, like, leave. They told me to play loud music. I asked, What kind? They thought rock and roll might be good.

Sue Ann - I am a cat lover from way back. Need to talk DH into it, tho.

Cricket McRae said...

Great post, Gin. Goats and goat cheese? Have you by any chance been reading Goat Song by Brad Kessler?

I lived in the Seattle area for a couple decades. There was a lot to love, but the traffic sucked. Over two years ago I moved back to Colorado, and I'm so glad! Ft. Collins (unfortunately of balloon boy fame these days) was listed high on the Forbes list and the people are crazy nice. As for the Overlook Hotel, it was actually the Stanley Hotel, and it's about 40 miles away.

Keith Raffel said...

I dream of a cottage where I take a walk on the beach before breakfast, pick up tea and a newspaper at a cafe, and then grind out bestsellers in the afternoon before going to a chic restaurant with my wife for dinner. So what are the problems? My wife isn't a beach enthusiast, 3 of my kids go to school in Palo Alto, I can't really write at home anyway, my wife wants a wide assortment of chic restaurants, a nice place on the beach isn't cheap. But as I said at the beginning of this comment, to make it all come true, all I need to do is follow the Everly Brothers' advice and "Dream, dream, dream." That's what we fiction writers are good at.

G.M. Malliet said...

Cricket - Yes! I read Goat Song by Brad Kessler a few months ago. It's a delightful book. I would recommend people read it before they buy that first goat: Turns out goats are a lot of work.

Were you brave enough to stay at the Stanley? (Is anyone?)

G.M. Malliet said...

Keith - That is a delightful description! It sounds like Tina Brown's life in Long Island, actually.

Cricket McRae said...

I've never kept goats, but did have chickens for a while. No doubt a lot less work. Never spent the night at the Stanley, either, but it's supposed to have several different ghosts, one (Flora) who plays the piano in the lobby at night. I believe there was an excursion there when LCC was in Denver.

Keith, I like the beach dream. A lot!

Oh, for the squirrels -- try putting out a dish of ammonia. The smell drives them away. At least it worked on raccoons.

Keith Raffel said...

Gin, didn't know you and Tina were buds. Would you get me a five star review in The Daily Beast, please?

G.M. Malliet said...

Keith, Tina and her husband bicycle to their local cafe each morning. It sounds like you plan to walk. Other than that, she's living your dream life.

As to that review - me first. ;-)

Keith Raffel said...

Jeez, Gin, you have your (well-deserved) Agatha. Give the rest of us a chance.

Deborah Sharp said...

I live in a pretty nice spot, Ft. Lauderdale (at least in the winter), but I've also fantasized about that lonely cabin in the woods where I can write, write, write with no laundry to fold, no phones to ring, no sirens screaming over the bridge on SW 7th Ave on their way to the hospital.
But I'm sure I'd find new distractions at the cabin: bears at the door, snakes under the porch ...

G.M. Malliet said...

Deborah - You made me laugh. I think I'd also worry a fair amount about crazed strangers appearing at the window, but then I read too many ghost stories as a kid.