Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Writer Travels

When we speak of travel, we usually speak of planes, trains and automobiles. And other various modes of transportation. But writers also travel on the steam of words. Words are our engine, transporting us forward in life – or, as the case may be, sometimes also allowing us to travel back over time. Words, unlike planes, trains, and automobiles, have no time constraints, nor is any geographical location, even one that does not exist geographically, out of bounds (ask any science fiction writer). Riding on the engines of words, we are free to explore without limitation. Imagination is our vehicle of choice.

Ever since I can remember, I have been a carrier of the wild wanderlust germ. It gives me no peace. It has no known cure. For a short time, sure, I am content to stay in place, content to explore the constraints of my daily routine. But not for long. I crave travel. Planes, trains, and automobiles, even ships and hiking boots and horseback, RVs and bicycles, any mode will do. I have been traveling since earliest childhood, as acclimated to being on the road as I am to staying at home, traveling no further than my backyard deck to let my gaze alone wander the distant horizon. Comes a time, however, when I have to hit the road.

I travel with favorite travel buddies, I travel alone. A journey, any journey, changes according to how and with whom we travel. Traversing the very same miles, taking in the same scenery, my journeys have varied dramatically according to my travel companion. A road trip with Mom is not the same road trip as with my best gal pal is not the same road trip as with a cherished lover is not the same road trip as with my two babies in tow. Conversations to pass the time and the miles differ, from topic to manner of expression. Some travel companions inspire lengthy and deep-diving philosophical discussion, while others inspire prickly silent treatment, and still others, a constant sparking of laughter. We tend to see the world according to the shared experience of and with our travel companions, and they with ours, at least to some degree, and so what catches the eye of one beholder fades into oblivion for another. Traveling with my father means lingering in the local art galleries. Traveling with a co-editor meant checking out the local Irish pubs and stopping by the nifty cigar shop every town surely has if you look hard enough. Traveling with my daughter means stretching every imaginable comfort zone I have – and that is an excellent exercise. Traveling with my mother means revisiting the erring ways of my early youth along those long road miles (ouch). Traveling with a lover imbues a shimmering sweet light to every sunset that lingers long into the night.

There is purity in traveling alone. In the coming days, I am setting out on the road alone, driving nearly cross country, from Michigan to New Mexico. It's a business trip, but there is no chance of keeping this to business only. I've explored this country this way and that, north south east and west, and there is far too much beauty to view and adventure to be experienced for any trip to ever be limited to business. My heart is already picking up its pace in eager anticipation of this new journey.

By now I know that traveling alone also means an inward journey. It means I have no one to distract me from me – but me. When I think I have had just about enough of me… well, tough luck, Z, there is just more me. Which is when something interesting begins to happen…

In every journey, there comes that moment of hitting a wall. When traveling with someone, it is a moment when you think you simply can't bear another moment stuck in a plane, train, or automobile with this other person, and the scream is stifled in your gut, squeezing its way up your throat, leaking from your eyes in a misty vapor, wisps of steam curling from your ears.

Get me out of here!

But, oh, there is nothing to be done about it. Not one thing. You are a gazillion miles from home, and you can't up and leave the house and slam the door. You're stuck. (Unless you don't mind leaping from moving vehicles or skydiving from jet planes.) Deal with it. Deal with each other, and when you finally do, the brick of the wall begins to crumble. Mortar chips away and stone grinds to dust. Bricks come tumbling down and a first sliver of light shines through the cracks. On the other side awaits the exquisite intimacy reached only when two people, in whatever type of relationship, are pushed beyond their personal comfort zones into new territory… together. Words are exchanged, all kinds of words, and a new level of relationship is created.

The same phenomena applies when traveling alone. The miles accumulate, the road stretches out and beyond, and I begin to reach that outer limit of boredom with my own worn-out thoughts, daydreams already frayed at the edges, and the conversations I have with myself in my own mind circle like droning flies. All I want to do is slap them away.

It is usually at that point that I have some kind of epiphany. The thought I tried so hard not to allow in—gets in. And you know? It's not such a scary thought, after all. That demon that I've been dancing with for some years now turns out to be a poodle in a tutu, not at all so intimidating, rather silly, in fact. I deal with it and shoo it off the stage to fully enjoy the new landscape.

What travel accomplishes, aside from filling our photo albums with great shots of mountains and oceans and amusement parks and tourist traps, is an inner journey that aligns itself with the external journey. In travel, we traverse the physical geography of a landscape as we traverse the inner landscape with its own shadowy caverns and mountain peaks and roller coaster rides.

What a writer gains in travel is irreplaceable. Keeping a travel log later proves to be a writing exercise like none other. New backgrounds are gained for an endless array of creative scenery. A deeper understanding of the human psyche, one's own and that of others, is revealed in a way that daily routine forbids. A life transcribed upon the written page must first be lived. In vivid color, mile by mile, traveling in and out of oneself.