Making the decision to quit my steady job and reach for a passion was hard.
It required me to believe – not kinda-sorta-think-I-can-do-it, but really believe – in my abilities and to hang consequences on any failure to achieve my goals. It’s so much easier to avoid crossing that line, to continue on in a comfortable life with the mushy half-belief you might have what it takes to capture a dream. But the decision is only the first difficult obstacle; even when you’re walking the walk, there’s always a shadow of doubt trailing behind.
Case in Point
While in Argentina, I remember sitting on my rental apartment’s balcony on a balmy summer afternoon and drinking a large bottle of Salta Rubia beer. I felt that giddiness at accomplishing a major goal: I had quit my job and jetted to the southern cone in search of stories.
But I sobered up quickly. I was all too cognizant of the hard-earned money draining out of my bank account. The good times were racking up, but I couldn’t put my finger on the stories they told. Was this trip actually turning into story ideas that I could write about?
Last week, as I alternated between working on my latest vignette and reading Michael Shapiro’s A Sense of Place, a couple of ideas clicked for me that I thought might help anyone fielding the same internal questions I was.
Distilling the Journey
While my original quest for Argentina didn’t pan out quite how I’d anticipated, I was still being mindful and collecting copious amounts of notes, feelings, descriptions, and images during my travels. Tons of information flood the senses and, much like liquid in the process of distillation, only a fraction – the spirit – is retained. This is a highly (subconscious) editorial process made unique by a person’s particular point of view. Several people on the same trip will come away with several unique perceptions of that experience.
The notes were neutral, flavorless spirits sending my self-doubt on an extended bender. They weren’t stories.
Not yet at least.
Aging the Memory
In A Sense of Place, Isabel Allende says “Music is about silence…life is about pause,” to which Jonathan Raban might add “stories are about forgetting.” Soon after a trip the mind is so full of details it can’t yet see the important ones amongst the chaff. Writing about my time on Machrie Moor in Scotland, which happened more than four years ago, it became clear to me that what I needed was time. Time after the experience to see the story I would tell. There’s no substitute for it. Just ask the whisky-makers of Scotland. Or Mr. Raban:
…a kind of forgetting has to take place first, because otherwise you’re just landed up with the shapelessness of the journey instead of that imagined shape the journey begins to take on once you’re far enough away from it for the irrelevancies to have leaped out…
Of course a story can be written up, a portrait drawn up in the midst of the journey or directly after (deadlines make it so), but it’s interesting and exciting to think of the character that experiences will take on with age. Do we only end up remembering the highlights and darklights, as Ms. Allende suggests?
How do your travels translate into your stories, journals, or drawings? Is the “story” apparent during your trip or do you need to let it age?
Part of this post’s by John M (2007) via Flickr under Creative Commons