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Imagination Feeds on Stupid

Happiest when traveling.

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 Appleg*te, their two children, and far too many pets.

Michael Grant's my pseudonym, of course. (I've altered my wife's name here to thwart search engines. Like that'll work.) 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.

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“Imagination Feeds on Stupid”

  1. Blogger Howlin' Hobbit Says:

    Michael, I really hate to burst your bubble, but moving to Italy is the smart, rational course.

    There's a variety of reasons why but the main one is, kids who're raised by happy parents have a much better chance of being happy adults.

    If I could afford it (financially and otherwise) I'd be off to Paris for at least a year of my life. Just for the adventure.

    Good luck on all the piddly details and don't stay away from your fans here on the intarwebs too long.

  2. Blogger Alan Stewart Carl Says:

    O.k., give me a moment to get over the jealousy. I'm a total wanderer (maybe it's a writer thing?) and would love to live in Europe for awhile but it ain't happening for 20 or so more years. My wife--who's the responsible one--owns a business and that ties you down.

    I keep telling her my #1 goal in life is to make enough money to spend our empty nester years wandering around the world. As long as we stay at hotels with spas, she's all for it. Now I just have to survive the raising the kids part without too much liver damage.

  3. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    I like to think that's true. I feel a little bad about dragging my daughter from an orphanage in China to the US to Italy all in four years' time. On the other hand, she's way into fashion, so how bad a time can she have in Italy?

  4. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    I will think of you often, you and your many Iron Man comics, as I throw back thick, chewy espressos and spoon up gelatos in exotic flavors.

    I'm thinking I'll have to write about it all -- cause then the whole thing is tax deductible, right? My working title is "Not Another Lucky Asshole Writing About Tuscany!"

  5. Blogger Dyre42 Says:

    Austin is good. Texas is at least big enough and culturally diverse enough that if you try to explore it thoroughly it should keep the worst of the wandering urge at bay.

    As an added plus you could occasionally test the health of ADC's liver.

  6. Blogger reader_iam Says:

    Good on you, Michael, and for you.

    godspeed...but please, promise you'll still be blogging. At least when you feel like it.

    Why I feel the vh for this one somehow works in somehow, I cannot explain, but here goes:


    : )

  7. Blogger reader_iam Says:

    Also, I lean toward the idea that imagination tends to flower more when the "that's stupid!" filter is put in it proper place.

    Just a thought.

  8. Blogger reader_iam Says:

    dragging my daughter from an orphanage in China to the US to Italy all in four years' time

    Here's another way to look at that: You reached your arms a world away to bring your daughter to the heart of your home, and like your heart, you'll be taking her with you wherever you go, no matter what.

    If that ain't home, then I don't what the hell is.

  9. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    Reggio Emila might be a good place for your kids, particularly your daughter, given the special needs you mentioned earlier. You might want to check it out.

  10. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Austin's great. But been there, done that. Plus they have a giant Scientology cult center where the old head shops used to be. Kind of spoiled the atmosphere for me.

  11. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Here's another way to look at that: You reached your arms a world away to bring your daughter to the heart of your home, and like your heart, you'll be taking her with you wherever you go, no matter what.

    That's very sweet, very nicely said, and true. Home is wherever the four of us are bickering.

  12. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    I just looked it up on Wikipedia. (So you know it must be true.) Very interesting. Who knew? I'd never even heard of it before.

  13. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    I've long since abandoned my dream of being Mike Reynolds- don't have the courage.

    I've decided that you're most rational because you abide by the reality that nothing's permanent. Most of us choose otherwise, living under the illusion of permanence. I was a military brat, living lots of places but longing to be 'from somewhere'. After the service, I become a Midwest oak person, planted securely. You remind me that this needs to be rethought and updated, especially since I'm married to a wonderful wanderer.

    Whatever you end up doing, it'll be a great adventure. Kids adjust as long as their folks are solid. Lace up the shoes and start walking. Just don't quit blogging.

  14. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    Michael, while I'd like to claim credit, I can't. My sister recommended it. She was visiting this weekend, and I happened to mention this post and your earlier one about the kids and schools. She has been in early childhood education (ECE) for 30 years, and worked with a number of kids like your two.

  15. Anonymous Kevin Says:

    Good luck on your travels but please keep blogging. As others have mentioned, happy well adjusted parents usually make for happy well adjusted kids. So screw conventional wisdom and do what works for you and yours.

    I will ask one favor for those of us more geographically bound. Please fight the temptation to write the pretensious asshole living in Europe novel.

  16. Anonymous kranky kritter Says:

    Mike, best of luck with this, it seems like a big risk and I hope it pays off with big rewards.

    At the risk of being the turd in the punchbowl here, I'm compelled to remind you that just a few weeks ago you pointed out how you always get filled with glee whenever you're about to do something really stupid.

    But then, it sounds like the time for second thoughts has passed, and the die is cast.

    So don't look back, amigo. We the conservative and complacent shall drink toasts to you on summer eves from our buggy backyards while listening to the ballgame, safely ensconced in our petty fiefdoms.