Thursday, September 07, 2006

Great Minds And All That...Blues

So I just got back from a weeklong trip, St. Louis to New Orleans, a route known as the Blues Highway, and here I find Libby writing about the blues. Funny timing, but I actually don’t want to talk about music.

I want to talk about roadtrips.

My trip was one of those clouds-part moments. It was a freelance gig for a magazine. Believe it or not, I got paid to take a seven-day, all-expenses paid trip with a buddy. We rode Amtrak to St. Louis, then rented the biggest fucking truck Hertz had and headed south. The article was a lifestyle piece about, well, two guys in a big truck. The idea was to see what would happen if we went searching for the heart of rock and roll by reversing the route the blues had taken north, so we stopped at every juke joint and back alley bar we could find along the way.

It was great. And better still, it was on the clock: every cover charge, every ice-cold Abita, every half-slab.

But a funny thing happened as we rode, something I hadn’t expected. We stuck to rural routes and state highways, rolling past small industrial towns and fields of cotton and sugarcane. We were on an interstate only once, on the way into New Orleans, because that was the only route our tattered map showed. We kept the windows down and our iPods spinning.

And with every mile, I found that I was opening up in a way I hadn’t in a while. My imagination was sparking differently. I was feeling looser and more free, able to toy with ideas the same way you might idly doodle on a piece of hotel stationery—not committing to anything, just…playing.

It was gold. I had more fun exploring ideas for novels and stories than I have in a long time, just leaning back with my bare feet out the window and my head in another world.

Maybe it was time spent away from my email and phone. Maybe it was the space of the landscape, the majestic breadth and sweep that city-dwellers tend to forget. Maybe it was my creative batteries letting me know that they’d recharged, recovered from finishing the second novel.

Maybe it was visiting Metropolis, Illinois, the "official" home of Superman.

Whatever it was, I liked it, and I’m going to remember it. The next time I find myself creatively constipated, instead of straining and sweating, I’m getting in the car and heading south.

Anybody had a similar experience?

What do you do that frees your mind to wander?


John Gooley said...

I find walking puts me in a similar head space. Especially a long trek over a few days. Road trips are also great. Not long ago I was driving alone when I hit a kangaroo. Had to spend a week in a small town while the car was repaired - no computer, internet, email. Just reading, walking, sitting in a pub. Such enforced idleness was an interesting experience (a week was my limit).

Your trip sounds very cool. I hope to be able to read the article one day.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Marcus, you are so right. It also works for train trips. I take my granddaughter to New York by train once a year, an overnight trip. We see two plays, like Wicked or The Lion King, and on the train she gets to sleep in the top bunk. Which is as exciting for her as the plays. But I always come up with ideas to include in the current book as we ride along. Partly, it's being away from all usual interruptions, I guess.

Michael Dymmoch said...

It's not just road trips that do it.

I find that everyday life is often too rushed--you get irritated having to wait in line or in traffic. And when you're irritated, you're judging, not paying attention. At home there are errands and always six more things to do. It's easy to live inside your head, checking off things on the to-do list or tunnel-visioning in on the current book.

Airports used to slow me down enough to observe the people around me as more than just obstacles. Since I've moved to the city and started to use public transportation a lot, I've noticed I'm noticing so much more. The enforced wait at the bus stop or el station can't be used for much of anything but observing or striking up conversations with strangers. And you can't make up most of the things that happen while you're paying attention.