I’ve been a touch nostalgic this week. Some years ago I was a homeless hobo bouncing around the contiguous states doing odd jobs and busking to make my way. I didn’t lament my fate or sob into my coffee while going through it, and even now I appreciate the many lessons learned from that chapter of my life. It was challenging, at the least, and I am glad to be past it, but occasionally I miss the liberty of travel. (I thank my dear wife for helping me when I could barely help myself)
By “travel” I do not mean heading to a place with an intent (beyond existing in that place). The travel I miss is the act of putting one foot in front of the other until one is no longer in the place one was.
I walked a lot. Along interstate highways and train tracks I made my way. Highways get a good bit of deserved grief, but on foot they can be beautiful. Barreling past at 80 MPH, you miss the tiny details. The world is a blur of green, brown, and gray with the occasional billboard or road sign to break the monotony. At the blazing speed of 3 MPH you see everything. I’ve stopped along a fence to talk to a rust-brown horse in the middle of Oklahoma that was as curious about me as I was about it.
All these experiences inform my creative works. From my music to my writing, everything has traces of my time “between”. That is the space where things happen, not where you were or where you’ll be, but where you are.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/ Roughing It
This weekend, my “itchy feet” (that’s hobo speak for “a desire to travel”) get a decent scratch. The family is heading out of state for a day for an event. We’ll gaze out the window and watch new parts of the world enter ours. As quickly as they come, they will go, but will have changed us. I can only hope that the kids won’t be staring at their tablets the whole trip. I hope they take a break, see new things, and let their world grow a little larger.
If the opportunity presents itself I will wander, if only for a moment, and expand my world. Even though the place we’re going is a place I have been before, there is always something new begging to be found if you take the time to look. It may be a shiny rock you didn’t notice before, or an angle you haven’t seen a familiar building from, but there’s something waiting for you to see it, feel it, know it.
Places are a lot like people. They may be the same person, but they aren’t the same moment. Neither are you. You have had experiences and thoughts that have shaped you even over the course of a few hours. You have lost and gained cells, hair, memories: you will never step in the same stream twice. So it is with places. No matter how familiar they are always changing, eroding, and shifting ever so much. Going anywhere is a new experience if you let it be.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach
Eventually we will come home and the tiny parts will slip away. We’ll forget the shiny rock or the horse we flew past at 80 MPH and settle into our exhaustion. I will fire up my laptop and plunk down some bigger stuff, shove my notes into Scrivener, and crack open a beer.
And while the shiny bauble that caught my eye will slide into the back of my mind, it will find its way to the page. I will slip it into a story without a thought to where I saw it, or when. It will have etched its mark on me, and by extension on my readers. If I do my job well, you will see it in your mind, like the horse at the edge of the highway.
I suggest this: travel, even if it is only a stroll around your neighborhood. Take it all in and bask in the difference each time. Find your shiny rock and let it inform your efforts, from writing to painting to daydreaming out your window at work.