I looked over my new business cards, ordered so I could get them in time for my trip to New York City where I was headed to attend Robert McKee’s Story in Business seminar.
I liked the color. I liked the design. I liked the font. Pretty impressive I thought. And then I noticed my address. I live on Happy Valley Road. Would New York City take anyone who lived on Happy Valley Road seriously?
I had been so looking forward to this trip. I had recently been raked over the coals by a local group who thought my voice sounded too authoritative. Women cringed. Certain men responded with hostility to any sentence that came out of my mouth. If only I could do something about that voice, they said, maybe then they would like me.
New York City seemed like a refuge to me. An authoritative voice was just talking there. It’s how you ordered dinner, hailed a cab, or asked directions.
But then I saw it: Happy Valley Road.
Would an address as optimistic as that make me seem as alien and untrustworthy to urban dwellers as my authoritative voice had to the members of the group in the rural community I now live in?
My first truly rural experience happened shortly after I moved here. A German shepherd started running after my car as I headed down to Happy Valley Road. It was getting close to rush hour and Happy Valley Road, let’s face it, is a more or less thoroughfare. As many as five cars might barrel down the road at rush hour.
I had recently moved from a suburban town so immediately went into protect the dog mode. I stopped the car and started talking to him. Loping up the road came a second dog. He was enormous and it was clear to me that he was a wolf hybrid.
It was a sign, I thought, that I had moved to the right place. I have a wolf tattoo on my right forearm. The wolf hybrid lay down in front of my car. How very trusting. I was moved by his trust of me.
Another car drove by and stopped.
“Do you know who these dogs might belong to?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied, “but they killed one of my chickens this morning. I think that one,” she pointed to the wolf hybrid, “was the instigator. I called animal control but their truck is out of commission. It got hit by a drunk driver last night.”
Wolves get such a bad rap, I thought as she drove off. Remembering that I was in a rural environment, I now worried more that they would get shot than that a car might hit them.
I looked back at my car. I had left the driver’s side door open. The shepherd had climbed in and was sitting in the passenger’s seat, ready for a trip to the drive-in. I walked around the back of the car, opened the door and tried to coax him out.
I turned and saw that the wolf hybrid had followed me around the back of the car. There I was right smack in between the German shepherd, who occupied my car, and the ginormous wolf hybrid who stared at me with a look that said, “I hear humans taste like chickens.”
Well this was a conundrum. Was the shepherd my friend, trying to get away from the bad boy chicken-killing instigator, or was this part of the plan? Were the two of them hunting down tasty treats?
And then it occurred to me that rural living also requires street smarts—just a different kind than urban living.
I don’t honestly remember how I got the shepherd out of my car, but he did leave. As I drove off I still wondered, was the shepherd trusting me to get him away from the bad boy instigator or was he part of the plan? I drove past a house that had chickens in the yard and realized it was all out of my hands.
I enjoyed New York. I stayed in a hotel in Times Square with its overload of neon lights and teeming humanity; walked half a block to see Love Letters with Brian Dennehey and Mia Farrow. Made sure I was always aware of my surroundings.
No one seemed threatened by my authoritative voice.
I returned late in the evening to Happy Valley Road and the crisp clear autumn air, the darkness barely pierced by the lights of the farm across the street and the homes sparsely scattered across the valley.
This is where I live, I thought—somewhere between the optimism of a Happy Valley where wolf hybrids stalk chickens and naïve newcomers, and a teeming city where a human hybrid might stalk you.
It makes sense to me that I can live in both places.
As for my voice, well, I’m a writer. It makes me neither predator nor prey. Anyone can have an authoritative voice. You just have to make that choice. Like me, don’t like me, just know that without a voice, I’m not a writer so I’m not giving it up.
I’ve earned it. Get over it.
You now live on Happy Valley Road and I grew up in State College, Penna., home of Penn State Univ. and where the locals call the area Happy Valley. Well, it was sort of. We had no wolves to speak of but bears did come by for visits at night along with the usual assortment of raccoons, possums, rabbits, deer, ground hogs, squirrels and birds galore & (drum roll please) fireflies. Something we have none of here on the West Coast.
As for authoritative voices – not sure what you can do about it. People can change their hair color and apply skin darkening lotion but changing voices is a tough one. Perhaps yodeling lessons might work.
I was class of 64′. Met you when I was dating Susie. Please give her my regards
Hi Beam. Was your dad a philosophy’ professor at Penn State. If so I met you there. 1967-70. ????Hope youvget this and you are who inthiink you might be!!!!