I have a condition that apparently only I refer to as “itchy feet.” It mixes terribly with my social anxiety and long list of other fears.
See, I like to wander. It runs in my family. Take me or my father to any event, turn away for a second, and we’ll have wandered off. Grocery stores? Yep. Carnivals? Yep. Art museums? Yep. But especially grocery stores. You’ll find us, 15 minutes later, having forgotten what we were looking for, where we are, and that you had been with us. I thought this was just some fluke that came with the legendarily bad Goodell sense of direction. Instead, it happens to be some deeper, metaphysical urge. It doesn’t just apply to physical locations, but to life itself. Every couple of years, I get “itchy feet” and I want to leave my current home, current job, and just do something else. I’ve been experiencing it since high school.
Itchy feet is the perfect metaphor — it’s an annoying feeling that can’t be quickly remedied. Problem is, if I let myself wander, I don’t know where I’ll end up and I don’t know if those I love can/or want to follow.
I don’t know where precisely I want to be so I try to be everywhere. It works as well as you’d expect.
Itchy feet can be relieved though — by a new job, a new home, or travel. Travel is the easiest and I don’t think “itchy feet” are a bad trait for an author. I remember reading Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on writing American Gods. He spent time traveling through the midwest, even taking a friend’s plane to get an aerial view. The book is better for it. American Gods has a couple of scenes set at “The House on the Rock.” This is a big tourist place somewhere up in Wisconsin. I’ve been there 2 times. The first I was a little kid and was blown away. I returned, excited as ever, as an adult… and well… it ruined my first trip. The place that fed my imagination for nearly two decades turned out to be run-down and dusty. It was more like a warehouse of odd plastic representations of fantastical things than a fantasy land. A bit of the child in me died that day. Yet, Mr. Gaiman sets a scene in the House, and it is amazing. He captured exactly what that place was and is because he had been there.
I recently wrote a short scene set in New Orleans, a place I’ve never been, and I keep thinking to myself if I could go there maybe I too could find some little detail there that would make the location 10x more real to my readers. Maybe itchy feet can be an asset.