Do you remember a time when it felt like you could be anything and do anything?
The world outside your doors was shot through with possibilities, and lands near and far seemed as exciting and mythical and fantastic as Mordor or Tatooine. The adventures you could have were as limitless as the world was exotic. Threads of hope, awe, excitement, and wonder wove into a tapestry often simply called childhood: that effervescent time before the choices of adolescence and adulthood shut off the lights and lock up the rooms filled with the precious talismans and worn totems of imagination and possibility.
I remember it well.
And those feelings rose up in me as I responded to some perceptive comments on my recent post about tourism’s slow death. I was agitated by my struggle to convey the idea behind the post. It covered a lot of ground – too much perhaps – and I didn’t go far enough in explaining what I meant. As I sat there staring at the comments I realized the truth was that I didn’t go far enough in understanding what I meant.
So Sarah and I talked (what else would I do?). The fact is I chafe at this search for authenticity. There is a key issue wrapped up in this feeling: encroaching monoculture, that somehow the markers of my American culture detract from the authenticity of foreign experiences abroad. Peeling back the next layer of this mental onion I see there is a conflict between feelings of familiarity and feelings of foreignness. I want that experience of foreignness and all its constituent parts: discomfort, excitement, anxiety, joy. Are these not the ingredients of being awake and alive?
So what if everything in the world was familiar? It’s here, in the Mariana Trench of my psyche, that I reach the origin of this whole shebang: Fear of a small planet.
Fear of a shrinking world of possibilities. Fear of omniscience. Fear of sleepwalking through life, of not living just killing time. It all gets very existential beyond that. Suffice to say that the conjunction of spreading monoculture with deeply integrated, globe-spanning technology and media further inflames this feeling of a shrinking planet. But there’s an essence of charlatanry in how it minimizes the unknown and expands the scope of personal power. Perhaps, in some subconscious way, these tools are meant to make the world feel smaller than it really is.
I know these fears are idle fears.
They grow in the absence of travel beyond known borders. The “size” of the world, whether big or small, is a matter of perception. The planet is only as small as I allow it to be. I can allow it to be written, drawn, defined, and packaged by the media. I can allow it to be as small as my state or my town or my street. Or, I can allow it to expand with every journey to a new place.
I remember that time of so-called “childhood” well because I still live within the hands of that clock. My imagination and wonder and awe want to soar into limitless expanses after too much time boxed up and moldering beneath the weight of years spent walking down florescent halls to threadbare meetings. It’s an unconscionable expression of conforming to the American Dream for a “dreamer,” as my brother described me in his best man speech. Ironic, isn’t it, that I’ve had this answer for so many years.
Traveling is a revivification of that awe and optimism and excitement too often left in the time of childhood. Travel, for me, is about enlarging the planet and increasing the scope of what I don’t know, about making me feel small, about filling the unknown space around me with the magic of possibility.
How does travel change the “size” of the world for you?
Listening to: Mogwai – Now You’re Taken
Original photo by Steve took it via Flickr under Creative Commons