Recently I was taking a woodland walk, while indulging in an unbelievable fantasy. It’s the same fantasy I’ve had, with variations, since I was a little girl.
I’m a children’s book author who works at home while her wonderful husband is away at work and her wonderful child is off at school. So, what’s my real life like? Well, I’m a children’s book author. I work at home while my family is away at work or off at school and they are wonderful-most of the time.
And yet my fantasy couldn’t be further from reality.
As I walked through the spring woods, I pondered why.
To begin with, my children’s author fantasy is set sometime in the 1940s. I write quietly at home; I don’t have to market or promote my books. I’ve had the same editor for twenty years; she buys everything I write, and all my books stay in print forever. If I need a little extra money for a vacation, I just pick up the telephone and call my editor. She drops everything and rushes over to my office where she eagerly searches through my files until she unearths a crumpled scrap of paper with a few notes jotted on it. “This will do!” she says. Then she pays me on the spot and carries off my latest picture book. (This scene is not original. I read it in a biography of Margaret Wise Brown).
Someone said that no career is glamorous to the one who has it. My writer’s fantasy eliminates the tedium and frustration of real life. The bad writing days when you’ve had a major workout hauling a 250-pound word from one end of a sentence to the other are neatly edited out. There are no unattended book signings and no school visits where the kids ask if you can sign Stephen King’s name instead of your own. Even home and family life are no more than a cozy backdrop for the artist’s solitude. The hot water heater never explodes, the toilet doesn’t back up, and no one ever gets sick.
Still, in spite of real life and the often treacherous and fickle publishing market, it came to me as I stopped by a small stream that I could have my 1940s fantasy, at least in part, by returning to my own creative wilderness-to that wild, remote, and ultimately lonely place, rich with ideas, images and possibilities, a place innocent of publishing, politics, or plumbers.
I glanced up from the stream. The sun and shadows had shifted a little, both outside and in. It was time to meet my daughter at the school bus, but I knew now that I could revisit this quiet rural scene, and my own internal landscape-that uncharted place within all of us where magnificent stories are born.