Monday, May 11, 2015

Oh! The Places I've Been

Posted by Jayne Ormerod

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

So begins the motivational book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go by the esteemed Dr. Seuss.
            The book was first published in 1990, years after my own graduation from high school, but if someone had given it to me I would have scoffed.  Why would anyone want to go explore that big scary world when everything I wanted/needed was right here in my small Ohio town?  I planned to live in the same area–possibly the same house–where I had grown up and raise a whole passel of children who would wear the same unflattering Orange and Black school colors and then they’d grow up and have babies of their own and live right next door to me.  In a word, I was wanderlust-less.  So even if Oh, The Places You’ll Gohad been available, its encouragement to go off and see the world would have been wasted on me. 
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
            Okay, I did wander a teeny bit, about 300 miles south to college in another small Ohio town.   It was there I fell in love with a Navy ROTC man and, in complete contrast to my life’s plan, we sailed off to see the world.  None of that “live in the same house for the rest of my life” for me.  Nope.  Not even close.  Over the course of 28 ½ years we’ve had 18 home addresses and made six coast-to-coast moves (one with only 10 days notice), and we’re not done yet.   And, oh, the places I’ve been. 
            First let me just say I wouldn’t even be a writer if we hadn’t had to schlep our worldly belongings to a new place every few years.  Even though I’d begun my Navy Wife adventure armed with a degree in accounting, every time we moved to a new cityI had to start at the bottom of the food chain again.  Eventually I forsook my career to be a stay at home mom.  With not much else to do on those long lonely evenings while my husband was deployed, I did a lot of reading.  And then writing.  And finally I decided that writing was a more transportable career than accounting, and the switch became official. 
            Here’s a little secret – I’d never really wanted to be an accountant.  Ever since I’d read The Secret of the Old ClockI’d wanted to be a writer, but my parents thought I had a better chance of supporting myself if I had a business degree.  And it did help, if only because it led me to a career as a navy spouse. And oh, how the places I’ve been have influenced my writing. 
It’s opener there
In the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
And frequently do

            My writing has benefited from living so many places because that translates to exposure to new and exciting foods. Trust me when I say, “Military spouses do potluck parties better than anyone.”   Be the occasion a BUNCO game or a Wardroom Hail and Farewell or a half-way through deployment bash, the participants always bring their best “home cooking”.  I prefer to learn about foods this way instead of watching the Food Channel because I not only see, but also smell and taste all the yummy dishes.  So instead of feeding my characters a steady 1960’s diet of meat, potatoes and Jell-O salads, they now feast on everything from Lumpia (Filipino Egg Rolls) to authentic southwestern Salsa to Kahlua Trifle.  So I’m happy, my characters are happy and the reader is happy.  And hungry. 
            My characters, as well as my readers, also benefit from the many styles of homes we have lived in.  I can write with a modicum of authority about everything from inner city apartments to aging suburban cookie-cutter neighborhoods to brand new beach side cottages to rural farmhouses or old (and possibly haunted) sprawling Victorian homes.  Yes, a writer can look at a picture to use as inspiration for a character’s living space, but I’ve actually tripped over a hump in our old plank floor causing me to fall and break my wrist and had to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in a kitchen the size of a closet and had a flock of seagulls attack the food table at an outdoor barbecue.  I’ve brought these experiences to my writing.     
            But the story element most influenced by our nomadic lifestyle is setting.  Except for one tour in Memphis,Tennessee, we have always lived within a flip-flop’s throw of the ocean.  So the beach lifestyle combined with my small town roots has shown up in every piece I’ve written.  Introducing the feel of sand between the character’s toes or the scratchy feeling when it invades a bathing suit is a great way to infuse the sense of touch.  This, in turn, draws the reader deeper into the story.  The sound of crashing waves is a universal soother.  The sight of a sunrise on the water makes everyone happy, not just John Denver.  (Oops, I think my age is showing there.)   Appealing to the reader’s five senses is the best way to help them experience what the characters are experiencing, and by engaging their seaside senses, they enjoy a vicarious trip to the beach.
            Had I not wandered far from home I imagine my stories would be full of a sameness, rather “beige” instead of colorful. Not bold, not spicy, and not worldly.  And I don’t imagine they would be the least bit entertaining. They’d be as “wanderlust-less” as my teenage self. 
            Dr. Seuss may have been talking about graduates heading off into the world, but his poem has meaning for any aspiring writer, encouraging them to go off and experience life before writing about it.  
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So – get on your way! 


  1. Lovely. Yes, and this aligns with advice I just gave to a teen aspiring writer. "Go study something else. Do something stupid. (Not too stupid.) :) Go places." This book might have to go on the list of graduation gifts for the young relatives.

  2. It always amazes me how much of my life experiences end up in my books. Names changed to protect the guilty of course

  3. Whenever anyone asks me where I get my ideas, I always say "That which doesn't kill me will wind up in a book." It isn't just the bad stuff, though. It's the fun stuff, the good stuff, the snippets of conversation. Life is great research!