(Note: I am reprinting some on-topic items from an earlier blog. This is one from February 1, 2008.)
Yesterday my editor asked for a brief bio for the jacket of my upcoming (June 24) book. Here it is:
Michael Grant has spent much of his life on the move. Raised in a military family, he attended 10 schools in five states, as well as three schools in France. Even as an adult he kept moving, and in fact he became a writer in part because it was one of the few jobs that wouldn’t tie him down. His fondest dream is to spend a year circumnavigating the globe and visiting every continent. Yes, even Antarctica. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with his wife, Katherine Applegate, their two children, and far too many pets.
Michael Grant’s my pseudonym, of course. And I think that 10 schools in 5 states is accurate, but each time I do the count it comes off slightly different. My memory is as fractured as my life has been. I couldn’t put together a flow chart of my life if you put a gun to my head.
It’s an honest bio. I wanted to try to convey to readers some minimal sense of who I am. (Not that they care, or should, it’s the story between the covers that matters.) My geographical impermanence and desire for even less permanence are basic to me. Somehow I ended up married to a person with the identical desire to bounce through life, never wanting to belong to a particular place. There are people with deep roots. Oak tree people. And then there are dandelions: people who just need a good breeze to float aimlessly away.
Our first 15 years together K and I didn’t have the price of a Big Mac, let alone the cost of a plane ticket. Travel was limited to wandering between places where we could wait tables. Annapolis. Austin. Orlando. Ocean City. Cape Cod. Maine. Then we had some very fat years, but we also had so much work to do – 14 plus books per year – that there was no chance to go anywhere. Then came the first kid. And a second.
The kids will slow you down. No regrets, but they will put a crimp in your aimlessness. For one thing, you resist the urge to travel to areas where the local fauna includes ebola. For another, they kind of raise the cost and the stress, while limiting the possibilities: twice the number of tickets, twice the number of rooms, eighteen times the luggage, half the sleep, and when it’s all said and done, you’re eating dinner at the Portuguese equivalent of Applebee’s.
For another there’s that whole school deal.
Six months ago we all went to take a close-up look at Italy with an eye to moving there. Then came a collapsing dollar, collapsing real estate prices, learning disabilities, social maladjustment, inertia, work, and a nagging sense that we should do the smart and rational thing, not the stupid but fun thing.
In the last six months K and I have made every plan you can imagine. Put “sell all our stuff and travel around the world for a year,” at one end of the number line, and “sit right here, put our kids in snotty private schools, and never ever leave,” at the other. We have thought through every alternative between those poles. The following places have been mentioned: Austin, Costa Rica, Cupertino, Shanghai, Sarasota, Los Angeles, New Hampshire, Lisbon, Chicago, New York, Paris. And others I’ve forgotten.
We know the smart answer. We know the responsible parent answer. We know the economically wise answer. We keep making the smart choice. And then we sink into depression. Not clinical depression, more just grouchiness, distraction, self-loathing . . . you know, the usual.
Then, we’ll look at each other and say, “Screw smart. Let’s do stupid.” And it’s like someone flipped on all the lights at once. Suddenly I get back on the diet, and suddenly I’m drinking half as much, and suddenly I remember that I can be intermittently witty not just grouchy, and suddenly the sky is blue and the sun is bright and I kind of like the kids and only hate one of the dogs.
K and I don’t have real jobs. We don’t have marketable skills. No work history. We’re both writers. All we’ve got is our little writer brains, our weird imaginations. Our little writer brains don’t want to be here any more. They’re bored and dying of it. They’re screaming to get out of North Carolina, off of 15/501, out of the school car line, away from the Harris-Teeter and Southpoint Mall, out of this neighborhood of boring suburban homes.
Say, “Stay” and our imaginations get sluggish. Say, “Go” and our brains light up. Imagination is all we’ve got. Imagination pays the bills around here.
So, after sensibly walking away from the overseas relocation because of the Euro, the beating we’ll take selling the house, the sheer unholy complexity of moving with kids and animals, and the fact that this will become item #72 in our kid’s list of complaints to their inevitable therapists some day, Italy is back on.
Italy isn’t first choice. It’s a compromise. First choice was, “How far around the world can we get before we run out of money and die of some hideous disease in a rural Indian hospital?” We kind of think it might be irresponsible parenting to end up broke and diseased far from the US. So, Italy. The other finalist was France, but in France the kids would have to learn to behave, and really, how is that going to happen?
There’s still the matter of finding a place in Florence, getting visas and blah and blah and blah. But next week Habitat for Humanity is coming to haul off the bulk of our furniture. And for the last week I’ve been throwing things out. Dozens of big, black plastic bags of crap. Makes me happy. Brain awake now.