A few Sundays ago, the Princess, the baby and I went out for a walk in the evening. There’s this one longish loop that we do–it goes down into town, past the shops and the churches and the golf course, and back up a hill into the residential area, full of quiet, gracious old homes and lots of trees. We often meet people out exercising their dogs (or their legs) who have become quite familiar. Occasionally, for variety’s sake, we do the loop the other way around.
This last time, though, as we were walking that same loop for the nth time, I was minded of how well I know this route. The places where the fall leaves gather crackling and thick. Where there are oak trees with beret-wearing acorns beneath them. Where crab apples are red and squishy underfoot. The tent-caterpillar-infested trees. The weird and wonderful plant life I have no names for. The broken tree that my kids always always point out (did I mention they always point it out??). Where you have to watch out for fuzzy caterpillars crossing the sidewalk. The house that always has a soccer ball in its yard (for a long time I was convinced that ball was cemented into the ground). The house with the thick hedge growing in front of the porch, always making me think of Sleeping Beauty.
We emphasize breadth of experience so much in this culture. We put our kids in a myriad activities–sports. music, arts. Travel is a dizzying experience, a whirlwind of things to see and things to do, a blur of exotic food, museums, and spectacular scenery, our presence their confirmed by the existence of hastily-snapped photos. To be well-rounded, thoughtful individuals, we believe, we must travel extensively, read broadly, try new things, in fact, emphasize the breadth of our knowledge over our depth of experience.
I know that I fall prey to this as a writer. I wish I had traveled the arctic; it would’ve made writing The Changeling easier, more authentic. When I wrote about a smith, I wished that I knew what it’s like to work with metal. But I am coming to realize that a lot of the “wish-I-had-beens” and “wish-I-had-dones” are mere trimmings, the frills of life and not its meat, not its bones, not its substance. You can learn as much about people from living in one town all your life as from traveling to a dozen different countries and interacting with a dozen different cultures. You can learn as much about nature from watching the same patch of land grow and change from season to season and year to year as you can hopping from rainforest to desert, to Niagara Falls to the Grand Canyon. Having fewer resources, less money and less time to indulge your taste for novelty does not make you a lesser person, less-educated, less-wise, than well-traveled companions.
Living your life, your ordinary life, among ordinary folk in whatever patch of earth you call your home, observing, involved, reflecting, provides more than enough rich experience for you to draw story ideas from.
And if not, well, there’s always Wikipedia, right?