A Mental Break
After working on my memoir of Africa for three years, often writing six to ten hours a day, I thought of the advice repeatedly given by the great writers. Take a break. Do something entirely different. Refresh.
Maya Angelou even said something about each person deserving a day when no problems are confronted and no solutions searched for. I liked that.
So I ran away from home!
My guess is you also need these breaks, so I’ll share how this one turned out. Friend and fellow writer Alex was planning a trip to Canada, and I jumped at the chance to join her – and her cat. We headed out in Van Go on a Tuesday morning.
No Big Cities for Us
Starting on the journey, we agreed to avoid the frustration and delay of driving through a big city at rush hour. I was behind the wheel. Alex spread open the atlas. We’d take the “scenic route” designated by this thin blue line here. Excited, we rounded the end of a red bluff and headed toward our selected road.
“Make a U-turn,” the voice on the GPS said.
Well. What did she know? She just assumed we’d want to go the most direct route. If she had her way, she’d send us into the thick of rush hour traffic.
“Make a U-turn,” she said again. We drove on toward the scenic route we had chosen.
“When possible, make a U-turn.” My goodness. This GyPSy woman sure was a nag!
“Make a U-turn,” Siri chimed in. “Make a U-turn.”
Those two gals, GyPSy and Siri, were downright annoying. The atlas identified this as a scenic route. I guessed we knew where we wanted to go.
We passed a Pavement Ends sign.
“Must be a couple miles of construction or something.”
“Yeah. That must be it.”
Both GyPSy and Siri washed their hands of us after we left the last bit of pavement and embarked on – thirty miles of washboard and forty-leven hairpin curves. Alex remarked on what a confident driver I was. We shuddered up and skidded down mountain sides. Deep ruts from water run-offs formed lateral slides that tried to shunt us off cliffs.
At times the hairpin curve came combined with a lateral slide. It was on one of these that I chose to tell Alex about the time I test-drove a car after having read that one should check a car for cornering ability, and the salesman ever after referred to me as Mario Andretti.
“Oh, thanks for sharing that.”
Having met only two other vehicles during the h-o-u-r-s before pavement resumed, we finally emerged onto a level paved parking area behind a large dam. I asked Alex if I had made her fear for her life. She replied, “Only once.” No complaint from Cat, who was obviously traumatized into silence.
Alex programmed our next destination into GyPSy. She’d surely give us a second chance.
Safe Arrival Canada
You’ll be happy to hear that the following three days of driving went off without a hitch. We didn’t take time for photos of the magnificent scenery. I’d get those on the way back. We were eager for cooler air, and on Friday afternoon we crossed the border into British Columbia.
But what’s with this? This is Canada? It’s supposed to be cool, even cold.
Long-johns and winter cap, scarf and gloves were useless space-hogs in little Van Go as the 90-something-degree heat followed us. (I’m at least a half-way smart cookie, so at the last minute I had taken the snow boots out of my luggage.)
A Writer’s Gotta Write
We hadn’t written for four days. So, agenda for Day 5:
- Drive along mighty Columbia River,
- Stop to cool off in old hotel pub,
- Enjoy elegant repast at kitchen counter,
- Declare writing intention and spend two focused hours on laptops.
Plot Thickens, And Twists
On arrival in Canada, when various complications had foiled Alex’s Plan A, it appeared we could regroup after the three-day Labor Day weekend and still enjoy pristine forests, lakes and waterfalls. Maybe even a snow-capped peak or two.
But the proverbial ink was barely dry on Plan B when the smoke from wildfires blanketing the northwestern United States and parts of British Columbia blew into the valley. The moon looked pink, then rusty, then – uh, is that maroon? By morning, air quality reached hazardous levels. The Columbia’s riffles resembled red sequins.
Plan C to drive around the skirt of the Smoke Map was thwarted as the wind drove fire, ash and smoke eastward. So on to Plan D. We bought paper masks and barreled toward home as fast as we could go.
For most of two days we wore our masks. (When we stopped for coffee I said, “And so these two masked women walk into a bar…” I know, I know. Worn out cliche, but I couldn’t resist. Alex advised against pulling a pretend heist.) Peering through a brownish-gray scrim, the most frequent comment was, “I’ll bet that’s beautiful – if we could see it.”
At this point, Cat, enjoying a break from Van Go, began to cast around for alternate plans. She’d clearly lost confidence in the two humans on her staff.
Back to the Africa Memoir
We finally reached clear air in southern Utah, relieved we could discard the masks. And thankful, to say the least. We were ready to get home.
Returning to base, it’s time to move forward toward publication of my book. The no-problems-confronted break recommended by Maya Angelou turned out far different than planned. But being forced to think about something other than my Africa project, one that has been at the center of my every waking moment for three years, was a good thing too.
Now I can come back to my book with fresh eyes.
Ah, yes. Vaccines & Bayonets. Another journey that turned out far different than I had imagined it. My life in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon bestowed great rewards. At an unforeseen price.
* * *
Of course, despite our laughing at our misadventure, others didn’t have the option Alex and I had to leave the smoke behind. Hundreds have only burned-out homes to go back to. A lot of heartache.
Have your mental-break plans ever gone awry? Maybe you are, right now, directly in the path or the wake of a fire or hurricane or some other life-altering circumstance. If so, how will you move forward? If you’re a writer, how will a disorienting experience influence your writing? You’re invited to share.