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Road Trip Revisited
This week, Me Who Writes comes from an early morning start and a Tim Hortons breakfast on the go.
I can’t sleep in a moving vehicle. I might nod off briefly, but it will be a chin-bounce off my chest and I’m awake again. It’s the same thing on a plane — no sleeping for me, even on a long flight. Given those long stretches of confined awake time, it would be reasonable to assume that when I’m in a plane or a car I get a lot of writing done. Well, yes and no. If I’m on a plane, I don’t write. I probably could, but I’m an anxious flyer so I don’t really want to be on that plane (travel would be so much less stressful if I didn’t have to travel), which means that I don’t want to look out the window or gaze around at my surroundings, both of which I do a lot when I write. It’s called stupid staring. All writers do it. We may look like we’re doing nothing, but we’re not — we’re working. So when I’m on a plane, I read. I settle in and keep my focus narrow, eager to lose myself in words and pages written by other people. Unless there’s an entertainment system: then I’ll get lost in a movie.
When I’m strapped into a car for hours at a time, I can’t read because I don’t want to get absorbed in a book and say nothing while Geo keeps us safely on the road. I need to be available for conversation so he doesn’t feel like he’s alone. He usually drives the whole way, whether it’s two hours or ten. It’s not that I can’t drive and it’s not that he doesn’t think I’m capable of driving. It’s just that he prefers to drive and I prefer to be the passenger. On the few occasions that he requires a rest and I take the wheel for a while, I insist that he go to sleep so he can’t give me instructions. We have developed a travel routine that works for us. He drives and I watch the road. I’m his second pair of eyes.
After I finish my breakfast sandwich, I take pictures with my phone, trying to catch something worthwhile as the canola and cows whiz by. I pull out my notebook and jot down phrases and fragments like “a burble of words gather one after another after another until they are a spume that has no where to go but up and out.” I’m not sure whether that’s the beginning of something or a useless string of nothing, but it’s now in my notebook, dormant until it speaks to me again.
Unlike when I’m on a plane, I like to look around when we’re driving. I take in the scenery, watch the sky. I look and chat and make notes and take pictures, repeating that process until we arrive at our destination. I once wrote a prose poem titled “Road Trip” while we were on a twelve-hour drive. That was about six years ago. I’d include it here but that was a long day so the poem has a lot of lines. Here’s a sample: “The ferry slivered through thousands of dancing diamonds that glance off barely-there waves rippling the surface of Kootenay Lake. The engine’s steady chug backgrounds conversations among passengers that spill off motorcycles and out of cars, SUVs, campers, delivery vans, pick-up trucks . . .” You get the drift. It’s a shimmering summer morning and Geo and I are on our way home feeling content and calm after a relaxing holiday. “Road Trip” is part of a collection I’m working on now, so there is a possibility you’ll be able to read the whole thing some day.
Settling in for the day-long drive this past week, I decided to make notes for a sequel to “Road Trip.” More words burbled and spumed, but they felt different this time. Six years ago, my poem was all about what passed by my window: rivers and highway signs and trains and bridges and mountains. It was about what was physically between our point of departure and our point of arrival. It was about the great span of our country.
This week I saw more than the scenery. I saw the consumption of our world. It was July long weekend traffic, so, yes, it was busy. We passed cars, campers, gravel trucks, big rigs hauling two trailers, and enormous RVs pulling pickup trucks as their spare vehicle. What do you think the gas mileage is on that thing, said Geo. Instead of seeing the carefree holiday summer traffic of six years ago, I saw how overwhelmingly attached our Canadian way of life is to the fossil fuel engine. I saw our need for wheels and movement, our addiction to travel. I saw lakes zooming with boats and jet skis and pontoon parties. We passed two airports, one large and one small, both with multiple planes taking off and landing. I saw bucket lists on the move. It was our gas-guzzling, fossil-fuel consuming society on display. The open road is no longer open: it’s fuming with congestion.
Our route home took us through beautifully forested areas. I gazed at greenery that spanned up mountainsides for miles and it was a relief to see how much of Western Canada is not on fire. But we also passed reminders of forest fires from years gone by and saw the charred remains of this year’s more recent ones. We saw swaths of trees dead for reasons unknown to us. Pine beetle? Some other ravage? Old age? Submission to despair? The spume of words burbling into my notebook slowed to a trickle and then stopped entirely. I put down my pen and my camera. For the rest of the trip, I stared stupidly at the world we’ve created.
I love lists, but I’ve never been a bucket lister. Why go anywhere just to tick it off some list? I have enjoyed traveling to places I had a reason to visit, but my former enjoyment of travel has evaporated, now severely tempered by an anxiety about how we can stem the petro flow. Instead of getting better, it’s getting worse. Our highways are inadequate and we’re making them bigger by blasting through mountains. At what cost to our world? The culture we’ve created is too massive, a monster of our own making. How do we rein it in? How do we change it into one based on conscientious consumption?
The next morning, glad to be comfortably back home again, I caught up on some reading while having my breakfast — creamy scrambled eggs with spinach on multigrain toast. Definitely better than Tim’s. I scrolled through my regular news sources. Weary of the propaganda machine so much mainstream news has become, I seek out more informative outlets. One I go to often (and support with a subscription) is the National Observer. A new headline catches my eye: “If You’re Not Terrified, You’re Not Paying Attention” by Natasha Bulowski, a journalist who also likes to take photos (you go girl!). Natasha’s article is a plea for public awareness about what continues to happen to our planet. In this fire-hot summer, there is more awareness about the precarious situation our planet is in, but there is also still too much willful blindness holding us back from doing enough about it.
During our long drive home, my eyes saw a path to a whole new book project, one I don’t yet know how to write. But I’ll try because the only way I can deal with my eco-anxiety is to write.
To those who have been asking (thank you), yes, my new novel, She Who Burns, is still on track to make its appearance late next month. I’m planning a launch for September. I’ll be writing more about that in the next issue. Meanwhile, check out my website for a peak at the cover and an advance blurb. Huge hugs and thanks go to my wonderful nephew-in-law, Rummy Dabgotra at Level Digital, for his beautifully creative work on my website.
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