Writer as Traveler, Writer as Pilgrim I


Why we travel and why we write may be one in the same motivation. We hunger for a good kick in our metaphysical arse. We want to be shaken, stirred up, and swallowed whole by an experience and then find our place, settling a foothold once again in the mix of it all. Writing and traveling make the same demands of us. We are surprised at what discoveries we unlock within. We are shocked by our own biases and rear up against our stolid sensibilities which melt under the heat of any taste foreign, any sight or sound different.

In travel we are forced to divide ourselves between what is familiar and what is not. The weather grips us with a suffocating bear hug, and our skin prickles at the new sensation of humid heat. Our stomach rumbles from a new dish we’ve never tasted before much less heard of. As we slip from mountainside village to a cosmopolitan city center, we are constantly relaying information, processing the weather, the smiles and frowns of strangers on the train, the language, the scents of forests breathing in cool exhalations. We send minute telegrams from an unknown world to the known self. Contrasts bloom and comparisons complicate. We build walls: back home all restaurants are open between two and eight p.m., we think as we frown at the row of locked shops and restaurants. We erect bridges: graffiti covers the city walls just like our favorite urban niches.

Our habits disrupted, we no longer have any our familiar comforts. Our routine in travel is broken into fragments and we experience a psychic vertigo as we scramble to piece some of these shards together. In our journeys we find nothing is static, not our preconceived notions or our perception of self and others. Everything we’ve ever known or felt shifts like hand luggage in flight. We are upset in the most satisfying ways. And we see piece by piece in our comparisons and contrasts of what is familiar and what is not, the physics of experience because our bodies, our senses are subjected to new elements. Writing charts this transformation, recording and meditating from moment to moment.

Living and writing shuttles us between the the roles of participant and observer. How can a writer embody both simultaneously? Traveling as writer shows us the way. As a traveler, we are naturally curious. We anticipate every sight and sound, expecting nothing less than thrilling. We may sense a touch of dread or fear for the foreignness of our new surroundings, but despite our hesitations or, perhaps, because of our concerns, we become hyper-aware, completely present and immersed in the moment while we walk down centuries old cobblestone paths or when we sit down to a meal that resembles nothing like the food back home. And in this awareness, we note the structures and people around us, hypersensitive to the constant clanging of church bells or an air soaked always in incense. All our synapses firing, we submit to a constellation of internal explosions ignited by an onslaught of external triggers. Each experience that we try to pin down with words is an attempt to shock fluidity with momentary stasis.

Traveling awakens us with sharpened awareness, and our experiences ask of us, can we not be as travelers all the time? In our own rooms back home, is it too impossible to pay special attention as we bathe to the different tracks the droplets of water lead down our skin from one day to the next? At the sink, washing dishes, should we not note how the sounds of our neighborhood vary, one day the cry of a baby, the next a spat between siblings. As we rush through the daily grind,  can we not do more than sigh and shake our head at the car that rolls by bumping Tupac so loud, surely they can hear it on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. None of this should ever become a monotony, but an alarm call. If we expect new senses, we’re more likely to be open to them. Traveling reminds us to see the world anew every time we bat our eyelids. Wake up!

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