By Linda W. Yezak
We spent part of last week in Matagorda Bay, Texas. Our little house faced the Colorado River as it rolled down to the Gulf of Mexico. Across the street were the marshes, and down the road–not five minutes away–was the gulf’s sandy shore. Fishing, crabbing, beach combing. Watching the sea gulls and pelicans, shrimp boats and cargo ships. Four blissful days. It was great. Hated to come home Sunday evening.
Monday morning, we stepped back into our real lives. I had a couple of miles’ worth of emails to sift through, and the hubs needed to run some errands in town.
“Do we need milk?” he asked.
The question rattled me. I got that odd feeling of, “yes, this is my house, but I don’t remember much about it.” Totally discombobulated.
“Did you [fill in the blank] before we left?”
I don’t know.
“Did we mail [fill in the blank] last week?”
“What’s for lunch?”
Uh . . .
We’ve lived in this house for roughly twenty years. I know every stain in the carpet, every stubborn drawer, every creepy noise that it makes. But give me a four-day vacation, and I know nothing.
I’ve been a writer for roughly twenty years too, but it’s not the same. I may forget the particulars about the business, but I’m still a writer, and I’m always writing. Always. It’s like saying, “I’m a redhead.” Until the gray I’m getting spreads a little farther, I’ll still be a redhead. Until the ol’ brain can’t compose a coherent sentence, I’ll be a writer.
Send me away for four days, and I’m no longer a housewife with a finger on the pulse of our home, but I’m still a writer.
There are several memes out about authors never going on vacation. If we’re not spending idle time mentally composing scenes for our current works in progress, we’re coming up with ideas for new works. We find new settings. We meet new characters or learn new quirks to give to our characters. We snoop, eavesdrop, spy, and, occasionally, ask brazen questions. Then we tuck everything away for future use.
When I’m on the beach, everything fascinates me. I’m an inland girl, currently living in a forest. People in my part of Texas are different from those who live near the gulf. The birds are different. The foliage, scents, food, activities are all different. I went crabbing for the first time in my life and felt the gentle tugs on the string as I coaxed my prey to the net. I watched three pelicans fly as if they were synchronized. I caught tiny muscles, still in their shells, and set them loose so I could watch them dig themselves to safety. And I stood in the water and let the current pull the sand out from under my feet.
These memories and so many others will find their way into a novel someday, because these kinds of details bring a setting to life. Listening to people in a region talk gives dialogue a sense of realism. Tasting the local flavor adds zest. Smelling the shrimp boats, the sea, the bonfire on the beach, or the crab boil from the house next door–everything can fit in a book somewhere and give it life.
When I have the opportunity to immerse myself completely in a new place, I take advantage of every moment and never forget I’m a writer. I do, however, forget whether we need milk.
Linda W. Yezak is an award-winning author and coffee addict who lives in a forest with her husband, rescue cat, and a pond full of fish and turtles. She and six other authors recently released Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection, a super-sized anthology dedicated to 400 square feet of living.