Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Trip List (and trip around the internet): Is travel good for you?

I am about to go on a trip to Honduras. I haven’t really travelled much the last few years, so this trip occasions reminders of my last trip cross-country, two years ago, that ushered me out of New York, an old job, and a relationship, and into the unknown. Why does the open road hold such wonders for us? In this I think I shall never grown up. Though when it comes down to it, a big trip, as magical and dreamy as it is, brings a whole lot of practical matters front and center.

Though it seemed silly later, the anxiety around leaving, moving, going “offline” and the preparations for it, mounted to a fever pitch. It was all mixed up with a breakup and a financial overhaul. And then, New York, sexy bitch that she is, decided to be all coy and inviting again just as I was leaving. Typical narcissist. I was warned it would be so, by the indomitable @bludog10003.

This list from that trip reminded me of the logistics in making dreams real. A nice corrective to my overly idealized visions. You cannot argue with artifacts. I love them, when they wash up from the past, randomly. It’s probably why I love writing.

I wrote a lot before that trip, and while on it, though less than I thought I would. Turns out that being on the road is not really conducive to writing. I need a fairly routine schedule to get a lot of creative work done.

Now, two years later, having finally outgrown my devotion to procrastination as a complete worldview, I think I’ll post a series on the move and the trip, including a visual essay I made–my first multimedia effort– that was originally going to be my ticket to artistic residency at Glacier National Park. I received a nice note with my rejection for it. I was going to send it out again to apply for Badlands, but I missed the deadline. My weak time awareness and turtle-y pace do wonders even when my procrastination is on the fritz. Sigh.

I see myself then as young and confused, gullible, but good instincts and a good heart. I guess I am, still, but less confused. I have engaged more, and become happier and more confident. Travelling alone helped. Thoreau said “the wildest are the most alive” and Whitman said “I am large, I contain multitudes” and then Frost said “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”

Gil Scott Heron said “Home is where the hatred is.” So…?

I had to get out and to render it as something other than escape.

Is travelling an avoidance of life? As with all things it’s the tenor of the thing that gives it meaning. So it depends what the point of it is. We all must decide for ourselves. Anything that fuels indecision and lack of commitment can be just avoidant, life in the waiting room. And we learn really nothing there, except we learn about dead-ends by going down them. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.” William Blake, via Susan Sarandon. But every choice has a sacrificial element to it, its shadow side. Thinking of the other road going on in some parallel world, helps, takes the edge off deciding.

The mind begins to rally around the decision once it is made, neuroscience and  psychology (modern-day Confucius) say. Unhappiness is not making it, eroding our ability to be satisfied with our choice.

I was just looking for a quote from a TED talk by a sociologist talking about the paradox of choice (watch it, it’s great):

and instead I randomly remembered his name, and googled it. Another Barry Schwartz (nice sync!) studies collective memory. Though the collective remembers better than individuals, and is therefore a more stable unit of continuity in life and history, it is also a fount or foundation of groupthink. It is not a guidance counselor of decision, only a datamine of results. Deciding things for yourself can net you some pretty harsh criticism from others, both true and outlandish, especially if you refuse to settle down to a few basic truths, or if your and a cherished other person’s truths do not trip along merrily together. And especially if it starts to look increasingly like a dream world to said others.

So what to do? Travel is a pressure release on life, reminds us of our fundamental fragility and separateness, and moving occasionally just shakes things up, it gives change within a tactical advantage. Though it will not just happen by osmosis, just because you’re moving.

I forgot where I started. Anyway, enjoy this week, the beginning of the rest of summer! See you in a couple weeks.



On Ray Bradbury

There are writers we love in our youth and ones we outgrow. If we are magnanimous we don’t disparage them later for being too symbolic or obvious. A few that come to mind include Poe, Dickens, and those genre writers that proved too entertaining to be taken seriously. Ray Bradbury somehow eluded the dangers of this latter category.

I’ve gotten much relief from Bradbury over the years, as a writer, long after reading Something Wicked This Way Comes (a book whose very title evokes the sublime), and Farenheit 451. When I read his Paris Review interview years ago, it made me stop and realize that as a writer I was trying too hard. I put the pen down for a while. Writing had become a pressured thing, and I needed to clear that out so that I could again create for no one’s benefit but my own.

He also took quite a bit of the guesswork out of the process.

“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”
—Ray Bradbury, Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 203


“I want you to envy me my joy.”

There are few writers who seemed to take such distinct joy in their occupation. Quite a different thing from Dorothy Parker’s “I hate writing. I love having written.” (I can’t find the source, I thought it was Hemingway.)

In this 2001 lecture at Point Loma Nazarene University, the then affable curmudgeon exhorts writing students to start with short stories to learn the craft. His theory was,  if you write a story a week, it’s almost impossible to write 52 bad ones in a row.

He wrote, and talked about writing, so straightforwardly, and he made it clear he was a steward of his own subconscious. He honored his source. Writer’s block is just your subconscious telling you to do something else, he said. Write what you want to read. He spoke in terms of “hygiene,” purposefully I think. Because there is a way to go about it and a way not to, a way that pollutes it. You keep the well clean and then drink from it. The well is basic, it is not interesting, per se. It is the beginnings of thing, not a thing itself.

There is almost a delicacy to this understanding that is itself rare. Is it modern life gets us into habits of ripping ourselves to shreds, killing the goose so to speak?

Not allowing the transmogrification of the process of living is a form of self-control that our overanalysis merely feeds and abets, like a stripping process or a splitting. We are gone to extremes of self-monitoring, self-making, that even the most ordinary impulses in us can have no outlet because we deny we should even need it. So we twist ourselves in knots and block our own flow.

Maybe it’s time to put down the self-help and pick up the Martian Chronicles again.

His actual writing advice is wonderful, too. In this video he argues that literature is a pressure valve for civilization, a place for us to indulge animal instincts and emotions. “We save up a tension of tears,” he says, “I come along as a writer, and help you to cry.”

But really the thing that stands out about Bradbury in all his interviews and lectures is that he seems like a relic, almost a fictional paragon of decency and romanticism, a pure talent, a pure intellect, unblemished by consumerism and careerism. It reminds me of having a conversation with my grandfather and coming away completely disillusioned about the world, but in the best way.

I’ve always been more of a nonfiction writer, but I dabbled in fiction when I was younger. Following a recent shift in writing goals, and in honor of Ray Bradbury’s passing (during the epochal transit of Venus) I think I’ll write a story a week until further notice. I will not necessarily post them here, but if anyone would like to join me, please do! It’ll be like a mini NaNoWriMo.

One last thing: Bradbury’s vow of poverty strikes me as a necessary thing for an artist (maybe anyone) willing to be more than career-minded, to dedicate oneself to a life of integrity, to live with goals beyond mere survival. Of course, poverty’s not the only way, but the fearless facing of it may be necessary, just so we’re not fooling ourselves. It’s enough to participate, it’s more than a career. It’s the art of creation.