Wednesday I drove 40 minutes to accomplish three hours worth of work. I didn’t have anyone in particular to meet; there was no place in particular I had to be. The only work I had on my plate was to review Writer’s Digest, an annual publication of help-wanted ads for writers looking for paid work and freelancing opportunities.
Realistically, I could have stayed in my pajamas and gotten everything done from the comfort of my bed, but that would have been too easy. Instead, I drove downtown, reasoning that the cost of gas, scrambled eggs, and a poppyseed muffin from a street side cafe were worth the change of scenery.
I have been in a rut lately. For years we lived in a community I loved, but the public schools were an issue. So, we moved to place where the schools are stellar, but it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere. It takes ten minutes to make a run for milk and bananas, which in my book is a royal pain in the ass.
I wanted to live in the city and put the girls in Catholic school, but that’s a sore that’s just now starting to scab over between the Executive and I. It itches like crazy, but I’m careful not to scratch at it too much. Sometimes compromise is worth its weight in gold.
I’m not sure why I prefer the hustle of city life. One guess is that I draw inspiration and words from my surroundings. Crazy people, diversity, richness of culture, and graffiti under railroad bridges spark my interest more than seeing someone’s trashcan out of place according to HOA regulations. Arguing about cars parked in the street creating narrow passages isn’t my forte. In fact, not caring at all about those “issues” makes me feel a little out of place. Maybe I’m missing something.
I need my canvas to be anything but bleak and boring. I need to see stories unfolding. I need to help a disabled man in a ugly Hawaiian shirt cross the street. I need to wonder why he kept pushing the crosswalk button over and over again like he was playing an arcade game. Doesn’t he know that the button needs to be pushed only once to get the job done?
I need to sit across the table from a Chinese couple speaking their native language to a young American student and wonder for a brief moment if I’m still in the same country. I need their chocolate covered eclairs and gigantic cappuccinos to remind me that I’m still in the heart of Nashville.
I need to see various people walking up and down the street. I need to stop in front of a store window when an elderly woman beckons me over to ask my opinion on the color of a dress on display. “Isn’t that the ugliest color of a dress you have ever seen? It’s so terrible. Absolutely no one would look good in a dress like that.” I need her to walk away and wonder where she came from and where she is going, if she always talks to perfect strangers about the color of dresses.
After a few hours of highlighting, researching and people watching, I decided to take the backroads back home to our gigantic suburban fortress out in the middle of nowhere. As my luck would have it (and my shitty sense of direction), a few wrong turns left me on the outer edge of our county, but on the complete opposite side of where I needed to be. I was never good at reading maps, and the Jeep’s navigation system and I don’t understand one another.
“Find nearest cafe.”
“Finding nearest gas station.”
“NO, dammit! FIND NEAREST CAFE!”
“OK. Finding nearest mall.”
“SCREW YOU!! Find nearest C-A-F-E!”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”
As I drove out through the narrow country roads disappearing off in the distance behind steep curves—the hills on the horizon were absolutely breathtaking—I forgot about the absurd distance to the nearest grocery store. When I finally turned into a neighborhood to turn around, I noticed a sign for an arboretum and decided to take my chances on ending up on the 5 o’clock news by visiting the desolate grounds on a Wednesday.
“Navigation, will I get kidnapped visiting an arboretum in the country by myself on a Wednesday?”
“Finding nearest home goods store.”
One thing I miss the most about where we used to live is the arboretum that was within walking distance from our house. For years when I was still running I would head out there every morning, the view of the lake serving as my treat at the halfway mark. During our last months there, I would ride my bike out in the mornings to write at the picnic table that sat on the edge of the water.
For an hour I got to walk amongst towering trees commanding control of the grounds and dominating the sporadic wildflowers and overgrown off-road trails. There is something humbling about being dwarfed in surroundings that serve as a reminder of how minuscule I am in the world, how rather insignificant my selfish needs can be in the grand scheme of things.
To be amongst omniscient roots deeply embedded in time and history, there is no way to escape the realization that it doesn’t matter where I am in life—the house in which I live or the towns in which I reside. What matters the most is my outlook, to accept circumstances as they are in any given moment, especially when times seem unsettling and I can’t quite get myself firmly planted on the ground.
Oftentimes, I try to take more control over a situation than is feasible, not realizing that the energy I’m wasting on worrying could be put to good use by simply stopping for a moment to observe and perhaps learn something new, to let life carry me forward without stepping too much on my own two feet.
Unlike the trees, my roots aren’t embedded amongst rock deeply grounded into the earth. I have the choice to move freely, to work from anywhere, to explore and investigate my surroundings. I have the choice to get out of bed every morning, to take a chance on the cost of a plate of scrambled eggs, a muffin, and gas money to see where the detours in the road might take me. At least on this particular Wednesday, I found peace in realizing that, sometimes, the best discoveries are made by accident in the least likely of places…
…if I’m only gracious enough to embrace not always knowing exactly where I’m headed.
“Navigation, where is life taking me?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”
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