The things I’ve had to research recently for Crossroads: hopping freight trains (which I keep writing as fright trains–please, someone write that story for me, okay?); finger picks for guitar players; constructing underground shelters; New England Patriots players (yes, I wrote that out for anyone who would be lost if I said the Pats–I may not watch football, but I am a Massachusetts native); bus lines in upstate NY; train lines everywhere; busking; surgical scars on backs; and the scenery of I-90 from Massachusetts straight through to Montana.
It’s the last one that’s giving me the most trouble. I like to write about place. I like to be able to touch and smell and listen to a place, and I can’t, not for this trip. Luckily for me, it’s possible to find things like a website devoted to pictures of exits off I-90 in the Dakotas, which is something like driving driving driving across the states, if I were taking very long slow blinks.
After having spent much time reading up on knives and knife fighting for The Lost and Wren, I find it both a nice change of pace (no more hunching awkwardly over the computer screen, wondering how to explain if anyone catches me watching YouTube clips on carrying concealed blades), and a little overwhelming. So many facts, and so many things I could easily focus on for months. Maybe not the Pats, or guitar picks, but the others. The world is full of fascinating things, and time is so unfairly limited.
Still, I’d like more images. Not glossy coffee table book pictures, but snapshots by travelers, peeks at roadsides and city benches and the unpolished places a young wanderer might find herself. Those things feel much harder to find. If you know of any good places to look, please let me know–here, via email, by fireworks or flag semaphore, whatever suits you. Blue will be most grateful.
A few days ago I saw a double rainbow. I was by myself, driving home, and there had been thunderstorms, so the sky was a jumbled-up sea of grays, with the light breaking through here and there.
My first thought in seeing the rainbows was wow. My second thought was wanting to share it with someone.
Writing feels that way as well. When I say that I write for myself, mostly I mean I come up with stories for myself. That piece, that desire for make-believe is one I never outgrew. When I read books I liked, I always filled in the gaps in the story, continued on past the ending, you know, did the fanfiction thing. In my head, though, never on paper. Eventually my stories stopped being about someone else’s characters and started being all my own.
Carry enough of those stories around and they eventually want to come out in some way. For me, the logical step was writing. But the thing about writing is that it’s tangible. It’s no longer in the private world of your head. It’s out in the world of other people. Just like the rainbows, or the trains I insist on pointing out to people, even when they aren’t my son, even though he’s now too old to have an interest in trains.
Once imagination crosses that line, it becomes something else. Something you want people to see. That point, that simple step, is a huge one. The difference between telling stories to yourself and telling stories to other people is the difference between coming home and saying “I saw a double rainbow,” and coming home and explaining how the rainbows hung over the gas stations and the strip malls, how they glowed in the air over the four lanes of traffic, how they made you want to stop your car and get out and tell everyone to look up, to stop with all the rush and sound for a moment and just look up, because so many things in life pass so quickly and so often unseen.