Over the last five years, I’ve been writing from odd places.
For instance, I got into the habit of driving at night.
When the sun went down, I’d start to come alive and head out for a soothing ride along concession roads, occasionally spotting the welcoming amber lights of rural homes.
Like beacons, they seemed to say: “We’re still up”.
Up to all sorts of things.
“See, we’re still awake in the country. When you least expected.”
Dozens of these lights in homes, at their most mysterious and attractive allure.
“Stop in. Take refuge”, they’d say.
“We know why you are driving and you can stop in – take some rest.”
Previously, these kinds of places I only acknowledged in the crooks and crannies of the city. Forgotten rooms in the closed-for-the-night museum city.
Out here in the suburbs, the country is just beyond the last big box store – maybe 15 minutes away.
Listening to an audiobook, listening to a radio show, ideas would inevitably pop into my head.
It could be the perfect marriage of Declan Hughes’s novels and the reading of them by Stanley Townsend.
It could be the few excellent radio shows remaining on CBC hosted by longtime airwave friends like Katie Malloch on Tonic, Holger Petersen on his Saturday Night Blues, or Laurie Brown on The Signal.
in newly discovered towns, a late-night CP freight train plowing through an old-fashioned level-crossing. The latter often affording the opportunity of up to 25 minutes of uninterrupted writing to the sound of wheels on rails against the background of silence. The odd Doppler effect on the train whistle mimicking the moan of a blues harmonica.
Once, I even experienced the confluence of a train whistle with the most blue moment of a slow harmonica break by Charlie Musselwhite. The two sounds potentiated each other into something euphoric, accidental, miraculous and transporting.
The above are examples of external stimuli that sparked off inspiration inside me for stories. And they just had to be written down.
Naturally all this magic would happen at the worst possible times for scribbling down anything. I’d learned all the reliable places where I could quickly pull over and record my genius observations: shoulders of roads lit by a flashing stop sign, the lights in a church parking lot, or just the overhead light inside the car.
On a hot summer night last July, I had stopped my car on the side of truly remote side road. As I worked away in my notebook, there was a tap on the window. A policewoman had cruised up beside me and now was asking me… well, she had a hard time asking me anything. I wasn’t speeding or doing anything illegal. I was just an aberration, parked there at 2 in the morning apparently doing nothing.
“Is everything alright?”, I think she said.
“Yes, I’m just writing down an idea for a story I’m working on”, I think I said.
“I believe you.”
“Have a good night sir.”
I’m not doing this much anymore. I’m returning to the city after half a decade. I can’t hope to capture everything I’ve seen and thought during this time. This has been an amateur point-and-shoot version of nights and nights and nights in a car, in the dark. An indulgence in solitude and an attempt to get myself sane for a few minutes, maybe a couple of hours.
It’s absurd, hurtling along through a tunnel of trees and farmland in a monstrous piece of tin. However, it seemed I came to be accepted more and more by nature as the old car I drive succumbed to its fate. Nature was reclaiming it, even as I rolled along with my dashboard lights luring the spirits in, my car was being recycled, minisculely, bit by bit, heading back into the formless absolute. The trees are winning.
1. End of the Day by Doug Paisley fr: “Constant Companion”
2. Pleasures of the Harbor by Phil Ochs fr: “Pleasures of the Harbor”
3. Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock fr: “Maiden Voyage”
4. Driving Away from Home by It’s Immaterial fr: “Life’s Hard and Then You Die”