Stop the Car

© Kari Helm

Believe it or not, most American Midwesterners are not born on farms in the middle of a corn field on a starry night. Many haven’t even lived on a farm.

But I have.

To clarify, I wasn’t raised on a farm. For a short span of time, my folks rented a farmhouse for reasons I’ll let you assume on your own. Suffice it to say, I have great memories of my childhood. I was a total tomboy who played outside with my brother and cousins, whether we were building forts, catching frogs, or sneaking under fences to go and poke cows – we were always up to something. It was a great time to be a kid.

Few people realize that not all farms have animals. Ours’ did. What it did not have, was corn. It wasn’t a big deal, I didn’t weep over the fact that our ground went stalkless night after night. It just was what it was – no big deal.

Until one day.

My mom was driving, since my driver’s license was still but a twinkle in my eight year old eyes. I don’t know exactly where we were but we were blazing down some back road, with the music turned up, passing by one farm after another. Out of the blue I made a passing observation about wanting to run in a corn field. You see, I’d lived around farms with corn fields all my life and I’d seen hundreds of movies with people running through cornfields but, I personally, hadn’t ever stepped foot in one of those tall jungles of green maize. When my brother agreed with me, my mother was floored. I’ll never forget the slamming of the breaks or the wild excitement that entered my blood when she stopped to let us run wild in some stranger’s corn.

It was amazing.

Jumping out of the vehicle, I didn’t wait for my brother to catch up as I started weaving in and out of the larger than life plants surrounding me. It seemed so strange, so foreign, so… exhilarating.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I can still hear our little childish giggles and my mom yelling at us not to go too far while we promptly disobeyed. In one hand, I lapped up the experience. I can still smell the thick grime of soil and feel the smothering sense of confusion as I became lost in a sea of jade. It was nothing and everything like I had imagined. The hard stocks whipped against my face, forcing me to slow from my running gate. The loose leaves curled against my little legs, tickling me. The sinking dirt had me tripping more than I was actually walking.

I was in a world I’d never experienced before, and it was terrifying and wonderful all at once.

When we finally called it quits and lumbered back into the car, my mom asked us what it’d felt like and, to this day, I honestly don’t know how to describe it in one word. It was like discovering a dream that you always had was still wonderful, but it wasn’t how you’d ever imagined it. There were good parts, the perfect parts you’d always imagined being true, but then there were also unexpected things. Like the stinging pain that a hard stalk makes when you hit it as you’re running by. Or the scary feeling of being suffocated. And yet, in all its terrifying and crushing reality, it was an amazing experience of freedom and truly being alive.

And that’s what writing is.

When you start, you have an idea about how it’s all going to go. You imagine the characters and the crazy things they’ll do. Somewhere you’ll build up a twist and eventually there will be an ending. When you’re done you’ll have an amazing feeling of accomplishment and hopefully you’ll find the perfect reader who’ll smile in all the right places.

But it never goes like you plan.

There’s always something that changes. There’s always a painful bite of reality where you least expect it. Maybe one of the sub characters wants to be heard a little more or maybe the 18th century time period you originally set it in would be better off in another book. Maybe that adoring fan who really likes your book is your mother, and maybe word tense really does hate you. But the overall experience is just so damn good, that you couldn’t ever regret it, even if you wanted to.

So that fear of the unknown can be just as wonderful as it can be scary. But you’ll never know the difference if you don’t stop the car and run through that corn field.

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