One of the things you become aware of when you're on book tour (in addition to the fact that you cannot buy a sandwich at any airport for less than $12) are the other authors who are touring at the same time. It can be frustrating, though, if you happen to want to meet one of these authors, since they tend to be one stop behind or in front of you in the line-up of cities. In other words, the fantasy of running into one of your heroes on the road and then talking the night away with them at the hotel bar (which would inevitably lead to them becoming your best friend and/or lover) very rarely comes to fruition. That's why it's best to put your hero worship aside and basically focus on the task at hand: catching your flights on time and trying to make your audiences feel it was worth it to schlep to whatever bookstore to listen to you yammer for 40 minutes.
The other day, though, my hero worship flared up in a big way. While milling around in a bookstore I noticed that one of my great childhood idols, Melissa Anderson, has a book out. Yes, I'm talking about that Melissa Anderson: Mary Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie!
She was identified on the show as Melissa Sue Anderson (not to be confused with Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura) and, as you may recall, her character eventually went blind and then married the handsome and also-blind (though he was so adept at everything you'd never know it) Adam Kendall.
Now, as I've written about and discussed throughout my career probably ad nauseum, I was and am a huge Little House fan. As a child, I was so obsessed with both the books and the television show that I made my mother sew me a sun bonnet and also put an extra box spring under my bed along with a step ladder so I could "climb up" to bed as though it were a loft like Mary and Laura's. Despite my hopelessly bourgeois, suburban existence, I was fascinated by the idea of living on a farm, especially a farm on the stark, windblown, and treeless prairie. In fact, I was so fixated on this that when I was 29 I randomly (well, it appeared random to most people) moved from New York City to Nebraska so I could live on the bonafide high plains. I thought I'd probably only stay for six months but I lasted for years, during which time I lived in an actual little house on the actual prairie. When I wasn't going out of my mind with anxiety about what the hell I'd done to my life, I was completely ecstatic and exhilarated to live there. The experience even inspired my novel, The Quality of Life Report. Better yet, though, I once traveled to the Ingalls family's real prairie hometown of DeSmet, South Dakota (sorry, it wasn't Walnut Grove) and reported on the annual Little House pageant for This American Life. There I learned that, in real life, Mary did not marry Adam but, rather, lived with Ma and Pa until Ma died, after which she lived with her sister, Grace. She never married.
Now that I'm going around talking about my new book, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House, I find myself discussing Little House on the Prairie quite a bit more than I'd anticipated. The book is about real estate lust and serial moving and when I think about the reasons some people (Example A: myself) are so enamored of moving. In that sense, it's about the concept of "pulling a geographic." This is a term that comes out of 12-step groups. It refers to the mentality wherein we think we can solve our problems by simply relocating them. It's that plague that makes us think we'll be happier, smarter, better looking, more in love, etc. if we just lived in a better house or in a better place.
A while back, it occurred to me that the original purveyor of "pulling a geographic" was the Ingalls family. As Laura Ingalls Wilder chronicled in the books, their lives were consumed with trying to make a life on a given plot of land and then moving on when things didn't work out. They went from the big woods to the prairie to Plum Creek to the shores of Silver Lake to the little town on the prairie to... (I'm sure someone can remind me). Today, this pattern might be seen as indicative of some kind of pathology. But for rural people in the 19th century, this was just how you survived in the world.
So as I prepare to move again — and, indeed, as I travel around the country talking about all these moves — I'm going to think of "pulling a geographic" in terms of the Ingalls family and not someone who necessarily needs a rehab program. Meanwhile, I would be so incredibly jazzed if I ran into Melissa Anderson. Apparently she's about two days ahead of me on the tour circuit, but maybe a locust storm will descend upon her (stuff like that always happened to her family) and she'll get delayed.