A teacher of mine once said that if you want to have a lot of big adventures, go have big adventures. But if you want to write, stay home. I guess I've pretty much internalized that advice, at least the staying home part. There is another school of thought, though, that says if your life is boring, your writing will be, too.
Which is true? I worry about this, because I sometimes feel like my range is too narrow, and maybe it's because I never lived in China or dropped out of aeronautics school or had an affair with Spiro Agnew or sold gold futures in Dubai. One of the most persistent feelings I get, actually, is regret that I only have this one life, and I can't, actually, be a psychiatrist in Mexico City or deep sea fisher person or raise sheep in Iceland or even teach math in Indiana. I yam what I yam, and it's not much to write home about. Or write about.
But you know, the novels I love best aren't the ones about a writer's exotic experiences. They're either based on careful and loving attention to ordinary emotions -- like Housekeeping, for instance -- or on book reasearch, like Bruce Duffy's superbrilliant The World as I Found It. I guess what I like is imagination. I like the way the human mind works, and I love being surprised and moved by seeing the ordinary world in a new way.
Exotic experiences ARE interesting, of course. But weirdly, they make boring fiction. At least to me. The place for interesting experiences is the memoir or the essay. If you did a cool thing, tell me about it, but don't *lie* -- make it real, make it true.
Oh, yeah, this could all be me rationalizing, because I hate leaving my kids and my chickens and flying freaks me out. I don't want to get any more weird jobs. I doubt I'll ever hike in Nepal. And though I've done one or two semi-interesting things in my life, I've never figured out how to write about them.
Do writers need to have interesting lives in order to write well? Or do they just need interesting minds?