by Judy Alexander
As an aspiring fiction writer who has faced rejection again
and again, I’ve been able to persevere because I’ve
learned that a roadblock is something to climb over, go around,
or tunnel under. After years of stubbornly pushing forward,
I’d almost forgotten that a roadblock can be a warning
that the road ahead is treacherous and that another route
should be found.
I took a five-day trip last February to my aunt’s farm
in Southwest Nebraska, to do research for a novel. A thick
rope of nostalgia ties me to the place, strung from my home
in Southern California across the desert and the Rockies during
summer family vacations: those kid-crammed stationwagon drives
with Play-Doh matted hair and melted-crayon-stained shorts.
In Nebraska, I was free of my younger brothers, who upon release
from the car went native and hunted jackrabbits and rattlesnakes
and tried vainly to torment red ants without retribution.
I spent entire vacations with two cousins who shared my love
of horses. We rode up and down canyons and across fallow fields
and along dirt roads, returning to the farmhouse only for
Schwan’s ice cream bars.
Now, as a middle-aged adult, even though it was the middle
of February, I still loved the place. I slept in the historic
farmhouse, in the same bedroom where my dad was born. After
a few days of interviewing oldtimers, I became convinced that
it wasn’t only my novel’s fictitious main character
who should move from congested Orange County to sparsely populated
Southwest Nebraska: I could do the same.
On my way home, I phoned my husband from a pay phone in the
airport, across from the Omaha Steaks kiosk. I told him we
could move in August. We could lease out our house for one
year, enroll our 11-year-old in the local public school where
only six or seven other students vie for the teacher’s
attention, and help him raise a 4-H steer. I could research
my novel, maybe work for my business client via telephone
and email, and buy a horse. My husband, good with his hands,
could piece together a handyman/truck driver income.
My husband laughed and told me to come home. A few weeks later,
he was no longer laughing. I sent my younger son and husband
on a spring break drive so that they could see for themselves
the beckoning open spaces of rural Nebraska – the rolling
fields, the miles of pasture, the huge canopy of sky. Upon
return, the guys admitted they’d enjoyed their father-son
vacation, but said they’d missed civilized California.
They talked of Nebraska mud so deep they couldn’t navigate
the dirt roads to visit a cousin two miles away – they’d
had to back down a hill they could only partially ascend,
while mud chunks churned up by the car’s back wheels
flung up over the roof and landed on the windshield.
But still I wouldn’t give up. As an artist, I felt
obligated to feed my creative, adventurous impulses. Some
friends sided with my husband: they could understand a need
for change, but how could that urge have anything to do with
Nebraska? I argued that gumbo mud, blowing dirt, Frisbee hail,
withering drought, grasshopper plagues, and tornado warnings
would be as exotic for a California city slicker like me as
a palm tree would be for residents of North Platte or McCook.
Maybe my family needed a sign from God. I suggested breakfast
prayer. For a week, we prayed like this:
Me: Dear Lord, you know that I think the time is right for
our family to try a new life. And you know that I think that
you are leading us to Nebraska. Please give us a sense of
peace about this move.
Husband: Dear Lord, give me strength. Your will be done.
Young son: God, if you love me, do NOT send me to Nebraska.
Repeat, do NOT send me away.
By this time, I was becoming stubborn. I felt that I’d
earned my time off. I’m an artist by nature who had
nonetheless led an (almost) conventional life: I worked hard
to provide a stable home life when my older son went through
his rocky teen years, and I’d stayed with my corporate
job (albeit only part-time) for five years. Now, with my teen
launched into college, I was feeling lighter and freer. I
was regaining my emotional strength and a sense of adventure.
But, the morning family prayers were still two against one.
My college son refused to cast a vote, saying he’d already
Then, before I could win the family members over to my way
of thinking, they all seemed to collapse: my older son got
into some trouble at the college; my husband avoided me and
became sarcastic when cornered; my younger son locked himself
in the bathroom one night and refused to come out.
At the very time of my life when I felt the need to steam
out to sea and dock in new harbors, my husband and sons were
begging me to be the family anchor and stay in the homeport.
I struggled, torn between my own needs and theirs. In continuing
to consider a move to Nebraska, was I being persistent in
the face of adversity, or throwing a temper tantrum? Was I
wisely pursuing an environment that would nurture my writing
talents, or was I being egocentric?
My husband offered me a ladder over the roadblock. “Go
ahead and move to Nebraska to research your novel; stay as
long as you need to. I’ll take care of the kids and
When given permission to leave (albeit alone), I had to admit
to myself that my strong will might be leading me into a life
I didn’t want. Yes, I was disappointed in my stick-in-the-mud
husband and kids, but would I be happy with myself if I jettisoned
them in California and took off on a year-long sabbatical?
Had I worked so hard at marriage and motherhood, just to abandon
them for my art? I finally decided that since I DO want this
marriage and I DO want these two children, it was time to
work less on writing and more on relationships.
But my emotions didn’t catch up immediately with my
rational decision. I mourned for my fruitless enthusiasm.
I cried over the Nebraska file I’d started, with a tab
for every area of life that would be new: house, job, school.
I ached for the idealistic, impulsive me that was being put
back into the harness of daily living.
I was resigned.
I turned to a book about faith written by Catherine Marshall.
I read, “Acceptance is creative, resignation sterile.”
I’d felt that heeding a roadblock meant defeat. I’d
never before considered the possibility that accepting a roadblock
could be creative.
How could I turn what felt like a setback into something
imaginative? If it was the wide open spaces of Nebraska that
had called out to my soul, maybe I could create more space
in my California life. I decided to keep the cardboard boxes
I’d bought in anticipation of my move and use them to
sort though drawers and closets. I gathered items for my college
son’s move to a new apartment and I held a garage sale.
Since the livestock of rural Nebraska had called out to me,
I attended a local 4-H steer show at a local high school (I
hadn’t realized that we even had 4-H in the city) and
I signed up for horseback riding lessons. Because the farmhouse
had fed my nostalgia for the past, I looked at my own older
home and began thinking about paint and furniture to bring
out an historic feel. For novel research, I sought out oldtimers
at church and in the neighborhood who remembered when this
metropolis had been a farming community.
Now my younger son is attending art classes and doing well
at school; I’ve been on hand to help my college son
weather a wrist surgery and breakup with his girlfriend; and
my husband is happily volunteering as a handyman at our church,
which I’ve noticed is remarkably like a small Nebraska
town. My own community and family feel again like my place
and my people.
I haven’t totally given up on Nebraska – I’ll
be back there for a weekend in November for my aunt’s
80th birthday. A roadblock doesn’t mean the road will
be closed forever.
Judy Alexander is an aspiring novelist, business
writer, and webmaster living with her husband and two sons
in California. To read more of her writing, visit www.judyalexander.com