I have no service.
I’m writing this as I ride along in my husband’s car surrounded by Wyoming plains. Yesterday we visited the Crazy Horse memorial and Mount Rushmore (both of which I had never seen before). After, we spent the night in charming little Deadwood, South Dakota where I proceeded to win sixty dollars on an automated roulette table. This morning we visited Devil’s Tower, if you’re a fan of Close Encounters of the Third Kind then you’ve see this amazing national landmark on film. It’s hard to imagine that a tremendous pillar of stone could be so majestic—but that’s exactly what I was thinking as I stared up past the pines at this symmetrical wonder. By this evening, we’ll arrive at our final destination, Helena, Montana, and we’ll be spending the week visiting family and eating too much food.
But right now, brush, pine trees, and a delicate smattering of snow surround me. Plains stretch all the way to the horizon under a clear blue sky and there is a lone pickup truck on the road ahead of us. Clusters of deer stare out at us as we fly past them grazing on the side of the road. I suck my breath every time I see one; it’s too easy to imagine an ill timed leap out in front of us.
We just crossed the border into Montana along highway 112.
Stoneville Saloon is advertising “Cheap Drinks, Lousy Food” on a twelve foot sign outside a rundown aluminum shack—I buy myself some local beef jerky from the gas station instead. It sits at the junction where we turn onto 212, you have to pay for your gas inside, but they still let you pump it first.
It occurs to me that I’m very much enjoying having no service. I like this feeling, this middle of nowhere. Out of contact with everyone except those that are in this car with me, the ones that mean the most.
218 miles to Billings. I pour a handful of sunflower seeds into my husband’s palm. My kids are asleep in the backseat. If you were trying to call me right now, I wouldn’t hear you. I’m enjoying this tremendously. There is no email out here on 212.
I hadn’t realized how much this writer’s life would lead me to pour myself out, in small, seemingly innocuous increments, spread across a digital nonreality, a landscape that left me dry and exposed to the ebbs and flows of others, their every thought, feeling, disappointment...cluttering up my own head space.
Maybe I have been too long confused about what is required of me in the name of claiming a writer’s life. All that “putting yourself out there” while far less seems to be said about “filling yourself up.” This drive, this place has me half filled already—imagine what effect a hike might have?
That creative well, it can run dry. We can, inadvertently, dump all its rich contents out into vacuums of digital oblivions. Those virtual social connections that pull us in every direction and that all too often, especially lately I suppose, squeeze the heart, fill the head, and stress the system so that it can become close to impossible to catch the thread of a sentence, envision a scene. I have not been able to hear what my characters are saying.
Out here, I’m forced to be unconnected. I guess I forgot how amazing and beautiful that could be. All this not knowing—it feels like a blank canvas.
My husband slows the car as we drive through Broadus, Montana—my phone wakes up and cheeps at me. I have 4G, but I’m not ready to come back just yet.
It’s nice that they make these things with an off switch, I’ll be using it more often.