Recently Husband and I took an unexpected detour through a rural part of the state. It was late at night and I was tired. My eyes were so itchy and heavy, I would have traded a nice chunk of my bank account for a contact lens case and a cool washcloth. When Husband turned off the interstate past that detour sign, all I could think about was how much longer it would take me to get to my nice soft bed where I could rest my poor back.
Since my only options were to go along with it or get out and walk, I stayed in the car and did what I do best: I stared out the window and daydreamed. (Well...technically it was night, but I was awake. You get the idea.)
We drove for miles down a faded two-lane that cut a scar through a patchwork of vast Tennessee fields. There was nothing but friendly, grass-covered blankness as far as the eye could see (a considerable distance, even with tired eyes in the nighttime). Well, except the cows. I could see plenty of those.
I've been a city-dweller for many years now, but I was raised in rural Tennessee, full of hills and grass and fences. The hills used to frustrate my wandering eyes. I used to wonder how far I could really see if they weren't in my way. I wondered how far I could go if they weren't blocking me in.
The grass is always greener, and the mountains are always in the way, but I wish I would have paid more attention to how pretty my side of the mountain was before I got so fired-up to climb it.
Eventually, we drove up on a stretch of houses. It was a good thing; I had begun to wonder if the cows had taken over the town. It amused me to picture them going about their daily business as civic-minded townscows, until I thought about what type of rump steak might be cooling in their little freezers.
The houses we passed were pure country, built like run-on sentences with rooms tacked on when they were needed and painted to match. They had porches. All of them. Real porches, for sitting and keeping an eye out for rebellious cows. They were spread out, each house on its own little piece of earth, but close enough that one could say it was a neighborhood. The porch lights were all on, beckoning us down their street like a string of runway lights. I liked them.
I thought about each of the houses we passed in turn. What would it be like to live in that one with the Coca-Cola sign hung by the front door--would I feel blasphemous for drinking a Pepsi? Would I have a little writing nook in the one with the extra room growing off the side like a blister? After a hard day at work, how would it feel to turn that corner and know that yellow door was my own? Would there be one room that is always cold? Does the refrigerator hum? Where would my cats find to hide from each other? Would there be a smooth floor so I could slide in my socks? It was quiet there and sparse--where would I buy my loaves of bread and reams of paper and dog toys? Would there be trick-or-treaters on Halloween? Does everyone have a cow?
I moved in and out of every one of those houses as we passed them by. I lived a quick lifetime in each one and added those memories to my own. (Extra memories are always a plus for a fiction writer.) I was still tired, but not in quite such a hurry to get to my own house. I already knew what it was like to live there.
Inspiration is all around. Everywhere you go, people are living their different-shaped lives: they are stocking their freezers with rump steak, they are driving home the long way, they are leaving the light on for someone they miss to come home to them.
Aren't you curious? Don't you wonder? What do you see under the welcoming glow of a friendly porch light?
Just watch out for those cows. I'm telling you.