It was that uncomfortable hour when you don’t know if the occasional headlights you see are from cars getting up really early for work or coming home really late from…who knows? A crime scene? A meeting with a mistress? It was the time of night when a pleasant suburban town can make your worst nightmares come to life.
That said, there’s something peaceful about having a 65,000-person city all to yourself. The rare deliveryman, security guard and construction worker might give you a second glance as you whiz past them on a bike, slaloming through the pavement reflectors on the street. Even though the bike is too small and your eyes hurt and you can barely see those familiar bumps in the road through the light of your headlamp, it’s crazy how much you’re aware of at that hour.
You dream up scenarios, settings, characters, reasons to be afraid. Reasons to be brave. You imagine what you’d say to that cop if he doubled back to ask you why you’re riding a bike through the dark with a backpack on at 4:30 in the morning. You decide to try climbing that hill you always skip. You think about how good the air feels, or how the cloud cover on the moon reminds you of candlelight reflecting off a wall when the power goes out.
You think about how part of the charm of this place you grew up in and know so well – the thing you’d always tell people about summer in California – is that you and your friends could rock swimsuits and tank tops in the middle of the night in your neighborhood because the weather was always perfect. You think back to sock golf at the 4th of July block parties, the sound of the buzzers at swim meets audible from a half mile away, beer pong in the garage.
You think about how this time of night, in this place, is the only time to actually think. At home, with friends, in the city – too many distractions in those places. So, you take the long way instead of your normal shortcuts and think about things: specifically that you’re living at home at 26, without a car (or your own bike) or a “real” job. That you were just on an amazing trip two months earlier, and would give a limb to go back, jumping from couch to couch in brand new cities every week.
You think about how that trip was the epitome of adventure.
You wrote of inspiration and dedication to goodness and being lively and helpful. You talked of letting that trip change you in these ways. But you’re not satisfied with your efforts; you find yourself falling back into childhood naiveté. Back to watching too much pointless TV, eating too many snacks from Trader Joe’s and wasting away your mornings sleeping in too late.
Then, you turn down the trail and pass a building you’ve never noticed before, despite riding that route hundreds of times in your life. You see the ride in a completely different light, both literally and figuratively. It’s 5:00 a.m. now and you’re almost home. You realize adventure can be had, even in a place this familiar.
You realize you don’t need to travel to be inspired, and that you can be all those things right here at home. It’s right under your nose. You write notes in your phone, stash them away with other writing projects you’ve started and ignored. You get home, open your laptop and check your mail, look at Facebook, see a notification, like a status, watch a video, watch another video, check Twitter, glance at Reddit, get distracted by a beer commercial, forget what the hell you were even writing about in the first place, slam the laptop shut. You’re frustrated with your lack of focus. Your lack of conviction to actually living up to the new standards you had set.
But the truth is, you are different from before. The fact that you even realize these things and do something about it when those waves of emotion come is a sign of an improved person. Walnut Creek turns out to be the perfect setting for a story. All those imaginary characters and settings and plot lines that you’ve dreamed up over the years in different places can’t hold a candle to the place you really know.
You finally start ramping up your writing. You book a trip to New York, because tickets were cheap, but mostly because it sounds really fun. You sign up to do charity work at a couple of places you’ve merely thought about in years past. You feel a lot better about that effort you’re putting in. You feel validated – like all the thoughts and emotions you experienced abroad were real and had a purpose.
NaNoWriMo rolls around. This year, you are aware of the previous two paragraphs, and you vow to actually write something. To actually do something.
You swear you’ll finish.