(originally posted 8/25/2012)
I’ve always wanted to write an epic story about a young man or woman who decides to leave a small town in the Midwest and set out on their own. It would go into great detail about how they didn’t fit in and how their dreams for something more eventually win out over any fear or hesitancy they feel. The story would tug all the heartstrings and touch on all of the universally inspiring themes that make up the human experience. The best part of the story, the thing that makes it worth writing, is that they pick up and move only 15 miles away to another small town almost identical to the one they left.
I think that would create more questions in the readers head than the original premise and their own answers and best-guesses would make a far better story than the words printed on the page.
I get this desire every time it rains and I happen to pass a swollen river or stream soon afterwards. The urgency which the water hurries along, like the wild heartbeat of someone who should know better, seems to resonate inside me for some reason. I can’t help but wonder why the next day there are any fish left in the river. Why aren’t they all far downstream? Pushed by the strong current. They must expend a lot of energy just to stay in the same spot and ride out the flood. The question is obviously why. Do they enjoy their little area of water that they know so well or is it that they are scared of what might find if they allowed themselves to be swept along?
I think it’s a different question than the migratory fish like the salmon who obviously have no choice but to make their way back up the various waterways to arrive at the spot that they were born only to spawn and die. You wonder if there is a market for a children’s book that tells the story of a salmon that refused to brave the dangers of the return visit and inevitable death entitled “Fuck That”. I’m not implying that fish somehow make a conscious decision on where they would prefer to live but the truth is that they appear to make a conscious decision as to where they would prefer to live.
A few years back I made a journey similar to our friend the salmon in the sense that I flew back to where I grew up and spent four days driving around places I’d lived, only I didn’t spawn and I didn’t die. What I did realize is that the salmon probably are on auto-pilot and don’t actually recognize the spot that they were born due to the overwhelming number of new strip malls and housing projects. It had become so unrecognizable that I couldn’t even claim that it had changed. It had simply ceased to exist.
So eventually the sequel you write in your head about the guy/gal who settled down 15 miles away from where they started will be about their quest for the Fountain of Youth and, if it is a guy, about how they determine that this famous fountain lies between the legs of some girl they once knew. Flowing out over trembling thighs and remembered the way a seed recalls the first time it felt rain.
Which is stupid.
Not the premise or bad metaphors but the fountain itself. Ignorance is the Fountain of Youth. The problem, with the guy/gal who left on their short journey and everyone who finishes the story in their head and me for first wanting to write it, is that we can never unlearn something we’ve ended up learning so it turns out that we move away from ignorance at about the same rate that we age so we never notice that the two things aren’t necessarily the same. Sometimes when our learning outpaces the years we end up sitting drooling in some nursing home waiting for our bodies to catch up so we can end up spent in the shallows like some unhappy salmon and finally expire. The theory makes sense as salmon look pretty darn healthy as they start their trip back up the river but then look like shit when they realize/learn what an amazingly dumb idea the trip was.