The Return of the Voices in My Head, and the River of Yellow Flowers

“No man can be an exile if he remembers that all the world is one city.”
CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces

* * * * *

The sky over Memphis tonight is cobalt blue, the color of an old bruise, the kind that lingers after a heavy storm. The streets glisten, the cool macadam smells like summer, and even though I cannot hear the cars through the hotel window, I know the sound they make on a wet night like this, their tires shushing everyone.

Cade lays on the fold-out sofa by himself now that Sammy’s been banished to our bedroom for the continued performance of acrobatics. Lucy is on the recliner, at her insistence. Abra is tucked away in a corner, cuddled up on the sofa cushions that were discarded so the bed could spring into being.

And it is mostly quiet.

* * * * *

“Are the gods not just?’
‘Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?”
-CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces

* * * * *

Yesterday between Nashville and Memphis the voices started up again.

Maybe this was a mistake. You do remember that your current projects end this summer, right? Going on this trip wasn’t exactly the most fiscally responsible decision you’ve ever made.

I kept driving the bus, staring straight ahead.

And what about the kids? They could probably use some stability, especially the older two. They are 8 and 7 after all – how are they ever going to make close friends if you keep moving on?

The narrow road curled through the Tennessee countryside. Endless acres of forest stretched out in both directions. The bus crested each hill like a large boat sweeping to the top of a massive wave.

This whole thing is going to lead to your ruin. Gas prices will skyrocket. You won’t finish your current projects in time. You’ll go broke. Everyone will use you as the poster child for what goes wrong when someone tries to exist outside of the system. And your glorious, splendiforous failure will put smug smiles on the faces of people who’d like to see such irresponsible behavior nipped in the bud.

I downshifted, let the bus coast up against a lower gear, drifted to the bottom of the swell, then started back up again.

* * * * *

“As for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream.”
-CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces

* * * * *

There was a valley on 412 somewhere east of Ridgetop, TN, that looked like a river should flow through it. But when the trees parted, and we spanned the bridge, there was no water – only an endless river of yellow flowers, winding off in both directions. Yellow as the sun in a child’s coloring book.

In another instant, it was gone. Maile had been at the back of the bus, and when she came front I tried to describe it to her, but I couldn’t. It was like trying to describe the color yellow to someone who has never seen. Wrinkles of doubt formed in the corners of my mind.

I wondered if perhaps it hadn’t been as yellow as I recalled.

* * * * *

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22 Replies to “The Return of the Voices in My Head, and the River of Yellow Flowers”

  1. It seems if you have doubts, then you’re doing something worthwhile and challenging. The beauty of the writing life is that everything can change in a matter of minutes. That can go for good and bad news, but when you keep plugging away and doing the work, rewards will come.

    1. Thanks for the reminder, Ed. Things do tend to change within minutes, as you well know. Thanks for being such an encouraging voice on our journey.

  2. As a fellow writer, I know those voices–too well. I’ve tried Anne Lamott’s idea to put them in a mental jar on mute, but somedays, they find the lid wide open.

    P.S. Your ebook is stunning(loved it).

    1. I love that section of “Bird By Bird” and I recommend it to everyone who has loud voices. Sometimes I am not good at taking my own advice. Thanks so much for your kind words about my E-book, Sarah.

  3. From where I am sitting, in my editing space, I can’t see any yellow flowers. Instead I see acres of fields soon to be planted with corn. The fields are all dust and weeds and dry stalk remnants. But in mere months they will be lush with towering life. Thanks, Shawn, for reminding me of the miracle outside my window!

  4. The funny thing is, those same voices would be all over you for “never taking any chances” had you decided not to take this trip. That’s how you know they’re nothing more than a wasp without a stinger; an enemy soldier with a megaphone instead of a gun.

    Some days the voices are quiet enough that you can pretend they’re not there, but on the days when they’re shouting like that I guess the best thing to do is share what they’re saying on your blog and expose them for the jackasses they are. So good on you for doing that.

    And for the record we’re hoping that you not only exist outside the system, but that you flourish!

    1. Thanks, Bryan. Writing about the voices does seem to help. And you’re right – the voices tend to show up no matter which path we take. Idiots.

    2. That is a lot of wisdom there Bryan. Soooo true. I remember when I worked at a Borders Books while in seminary and all of the insecurities and regrets that came from wondering if I was playing it safe with that job. The truth was that I just needed something to hold me over in a time of transition, but those voices don’t care about being consistent.

  5. Shawn, for my own selfish reasons I like when you post about your doubts and questions and struggles because I would be having the same ones and often do. So thank you! : )

    Also, in terms of taking our own advice: if we did that we wouldn’t need anyone. When we are in need we are in need, and although others provide us with our own advice, that is what friends and supporters are for. I’m glad you are willing to be honest on your blog and receive such great support from your readers.

  6. Just think of the adventure that Cade and Lucy will be able to tell their friends for the rest of their lives. Ten, Twenty and Thirty years from now most of their freinds will probably be jealous. Who know’s maybe Cade and Lucy’s story could help a friend venture out on their own adventure.

  7. Hey Shawn,
    I hear the voices too and have heard them in the past and they only bring fear and doubt. Stay tuned to His voice and all will be ok. Let His peace fill you and guide you. Even during uncertainties His voice will bring you peace.
    Love ya

  8. Shawn, I’ve been sharing these posts about the voices with my hubby because we are also preparing for life on the road. He asked if I am hearing voices like that. Sure, I do, but I told him that mostly I want to remember what you’re saying for those days after we hit the road – to remind myself that they are to be expected. Your adventure is significant to me/us in that it provides encouragement for following our unorthodox dreams.
    Thank you so much.

  9. You know why we won’t allow you to believe those voices, Shawn? Your words here. You are meant to write and explore. This will go down as one of the greatest adventures you’re family has experienced thus far. You’ve been a great writer all this time but now, out on the road, your writing sings. It’s OK to listen to the voices and see if there’s a grain of truth there. But most of the time, we need to tell them to shut the hell up and get back to what we’re doing. A little bit of fear is natural whenever we take these leaps and it’s oh so worth it.

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