Defiance is a great word. So too is its root: defy.
It makes me think of gravity and the awesomeness of trying to defy it. And succeeding. People say, “You can’t defy gravity,” but you totally can. The Wright brothers did. Astronauts do. You can jump way too high on a trampoline, do parkour, climb a sky-scraper and look out over the edge. Smoke drugs that make you fly. I don’t think that defying something requires you to undo its existence. It’s more about the art of the rage and the refusal to accept. Defiance is looking at the status quo and saying, “That’s not how it will be for me.”
I’m in Defiance right now. It’s a medium-sized town in Ohio. Which is why I’ve been thinking about that word so much. I’ve been here for a few days and whenever I’m in one spot for more than forty-eight hours, it forces a strand of personal inquiry that pries at the most fundamental question of all: Why am I on this trip in the first place?
I stayed in Ithaca for over a week. The boondocking was easy, I was able to find free wifi and beautiful bathrooms everywhere, and the surrounding area was rife with waterfalls. I bathed like a king every day. Plus, I fumbled into town, accidentally, a few days before the Friends of Ithaca Book Sale and a free, city-wide writers conference. My timing always feels right, but in Ithaca it was strangely, surreally perfect. Regardless, when it was time to go, it was really time to go.
I did four nights in Cleveland and three nights in Oberlin. In both cases that seemed about right. As far as where to stop and for how long, it’s impossible to know if I’m making the right choices because there are no right choices. It actually throws me off. I can’t be defiant if there’s nothign to defy. There’s just roads and towns.
I plowed through a town called Tiffin. It was too perfect. I didn’t want to mess it all up. I’m 100% certain that I’ll never return to Tiffin for as long as I live and I like the idea that my six hours there were perfect and so Tiffin, for me, is perfect. A little Utopia. In my version of Tiffin, husbands don’t beat their wives, the kids aren’t addicted to heroin, and the signs that say “Pray to End Abortion” aren’t creepy or fucked up, they’re just… curious. My Tiffin is eating a vanilla ice cream cone on the main drag during the golden hour, chatting it up with locals, window shopping, thinking, feeling open and expansive and wonderful. And then waving goodbye. Crystallizing it. Deciding not to push my luck. Perhaps that was an act of defiance.
I’m something of a ghost when I float through a town like that. But in places like Cleveland and Oberlin, I show up with bells and whistles. And it’s true that I do things to crank up the volume. Like, say, my dishes, while blasting music, on the side of the college quad. Or pull Sputnik up to the valet at the Ritz Carlton. Gotta keep people on their toes. But in a town like Tiffin, Sputnik isn’t the least bit out of the ordinary. Every third vehicle is a Sputnik. And when I can blend in, I can really observe.
I made a rule that I wouldn’t write about writing, or reading, but then I made another bigger rule, a Supreme Rule, that I wouldn’t let anything get in the way of publishing on a daily basis. That feels like a much better rule. So now I can tell you about how I still don’t feel like the machine is working - brain to fingers, through keys, to screen, to edit, to publish - but I can feel it starting to sputter. The words are showing up, like horses or dragons or something. I can finally think about how I write, and when and why, instead of the worst thought of all which is just Why can’t I write?
Anyway, I’ve stored up so much fuel (so much to write about!) that I feel like a pressure chamber is about to unlock, explode, spray shit all over the place. I’m ready for it. Hazmat suit is on, zipped up. Here’s something that’s one hundred percent true, and plenty weird: I walk around whispering blog posts to myself.
But I need to stop getting bogged down by the feeling that I need to write about this and instead I just need to start writing about literally anything. Like, for example, the river I backed up against last night, and the fact that Sputnik’s little steps, my stoop, are practically over the water. And the fact that the river is wide and muddy and fast-moving, a Mark Twain river. And the storm that woke me up this morning. The sounds, the smells, and the big action, twenty minutes of high wind, booming thunder and lightening, blasting on five second intervals, like bombs, and a downpour of Biblical porportions. And I in my camper, windows and doors open but screens closed, with a front row seat, taking it all in, feeling electrified, coffee in hand, everything unplugged, and thinking: This is the thing, the story, the point. This is what it’s all about.