Note that’s how travelling matters, not why.
I just got back from a couple weeks of various trips. One to Las Vegas (where I’m from) and a roadtrip to the Bay Area of California. Both were fantastic.
I’ve been a bit stuck in the desert lately, and for way too long, which I don’t love. I needed rolling hills, and I needed trees, I needed open windows on the open road, and I needed ocean. I needed rain, too, but California’s not the best place for that right now. Really, what I needed was anywhere but here. My girlfriend does an amazing job of putting up with my wanderlust, but I think even she was getting a bit tired of it.
Writers need to travel. So do plumbers, businessmen, nurses, teachers, and housespouses. Everyone needs to travel, okay? But writers especially. After all, the main job as a writer is to take people places they haven’t been to do things they haven’t done.
And so, in order to be, we must do.
Maybe that’s my inner bias talking. There have been great reclusive writers, but their greatness has been often in taking us inwards to new places, rather than outwards. No one picks up a book to be where they are.
I don’t even know anyone who picks up a pen to be where they are–but maybe that’s simply because I haven’t heard of them. Writers are dogs, the lot of us; we’re always sniffing at strange things and digging holes in random places to check for bones. Sometimes we find something great, and leave it on the most expensive rug we can find, but then we’re right back out searching again.
Still, one of the easiest ways to go new places inside is to go new places outside. This California trip was amazing. I saw places I hadn’t seen before, and, surprisingly, a few that I had.
We visited a beach that I visited with my mom and sister when we were visiting my aunt and uncle–I didn’t realize it until we were walking down to it, and passed the sign talking about the high incidence of shark attacks in the area. I remember that because ten-year-old me went to some pains to make sure my mom didn’t see it on our way down to the beach, so that I would be allowed to go swimming.
There are flashes of experience in life that simply can’t be bought, borrowed, or inferred.
So, this one time, here I am in Ghana, on the back of a dirt bike–they call them “motos” here–driven by a local guy about my age, zipping down a goat path. I’ve got a backpack with about thirty pounds of tools in it, of the sort you might use to fix, say, a borehole pump, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really need to hang on. It’s sort of like riding a horse; all in the legs.
It’s surprising what you can used to in a couple wee–
We’re airborne. We are surrounded by feathers. Then we are both no longer airborne and no longer on the goat path, but somehow still on the moto, still alive, and–I have just enough time to grab Razac’s shoulders, which I’ve been trying not to do, because I don’t know what’s culturally appropriate here–before the full weight of my backpack full of tools comes back to rest on my shoulders. We nearly fly off backwards, as the suspension on the rear of the moto bottoms out, then slam upwards again as Razac hits the brakes, on purpose or just trying to hold on, I can’t tell, and momentum shifts us forward.
We skid to a stop. A guinea fowl is motionless in the road behind us.
Razac turns around to stare at me, eyes wide, mouth open, presumably mirroring my own expression, then makes a sort of, “Murrruaggh?” sound.
The guinea fowl gets up, looks directly at us, and makes a sound like rusty gate being swung open and closed, then shakes its remaining feathers back into places, and struts calmly off into the brush.
Razac and I start at each, and, laughing, drive off down the path, at a slightly more sedate pace.
Life is not a scripted event, and it’s just so very, very, random, at times. We can’t really plan it, we can only prepare, react, and take what we get.
And so we do.
We take and we grow, we aim to be more than what we are. I’ve seen so many things, and every one has only made me want to see more. I finish a trip and I think, Wow, that was great, I really needed that . . . How soon can I go somewhere else?
I think it becomes habit-forming. Travel, write about all the new things, travel, write about all the new things, travel . . . and so on. That’s a bit of an aside, though, really.
The Why of the How
You don’t have to travel all the time to be a writer. You don’t even have to travel often, you just have to travel a little better, a little differently. See, there aren’t many roads you can drive, places you can visit, that aren’t already full of people, one way or another.
It’s less about taking the left fork instead of the right, and far more about walking the same road a little differently than the people who’ve gone before–but to do the second bit, you must do the first.
What I’m trying to say here is that writing isn’t about the goatpath, it’s about the guinea fowl.