“I discovered long ago in collecting and classifying marine animals that what I found was closely intermeshed with how I felt at the moment. External reality has a way of being not so external after all.”
You may have noticed that we’ve posted less over the past few weeks. (If you haven’t noticed, that’s ok, we’ll forgive you!) This is partly due to circumstance, just the general busy-ness of life getting in the way, and partly a conscious choice. We’ve discovered, as much as we love this blog, that it changes the way we travel. Let us explain.
It’s become accepted wisdom that virtually everything in life is subjective. We can argue about questions of “historical fact” or “truth” or “faith,” but when it comes to something like travel writing, I think we can probably agree with the postmodernists, who tell us that what we see depends on where we stand. In our case, we’ve discovered that what we see also depends on what we happen to be holding in our hands or on our laps at the time.
If I’m looking at a scene through the viewfinder of my camera, I see different things than I would without that lens. If I’m observing something with my laptop open in front of me, or even with a pen and notebook (the kind with paper, not a keyboard) in my hand, then I approach it differently. Instead of losing myself in observation and letting go of self-consciousness for a split second or, if I’m very lucky, for several minutes, I’m constantly in my own head. I’m thinking about how to put what I’m seeing into words. I’m narrating. It’s like the difference between genuinely listening to someone speak, and just nodding along while you formulate your next reply. It not only changes my reaction to a particular scene or situation but influences those aspects that stand out to me, how I remember events later, even my basic perception of what’s happening in front of me. It changes everything.
Recently, Alissa has been cheating on Steinbeck with Annie Dillard. Since Steinbeck’s been dead for almost 50 years, she didn’t think he’d mind too much. In any case, one thing she read in Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek really smacked her upside the head. Dillard says that self-consciousness hinders our experience of the present moment. The second we become aware of ourselves observing something, looking over our own shoulders, the thing we’re looking at disappears.
She describes herself watching a muskrat on the banks of Tinker Creek. “He never knew I was there. I never knew I was there either. For that forty minutes last night I was as purely sensitive and mute as a photographic plate; I received impressions, but I did not print out captions…And I have often noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves.” (198)
We think this is hugely perceptive. One of the reasons we travel the way we do is to escape exactly what Dillard describes here, that constant inner monologue that inhabits us as we go about our daily lives. Writing this blog is wonderful in that it allows us to share our experiences with like-minded people, to have conversations and get feedback that would otherwise be impossible. It’s an amazing thing in that respect. But it also changes our travel experience. If we’re zipping along a two-lane country road and Matt whips out a notebook to write down something we’ve seen on a sign or record an impression he’s just had before it slips away, then he might miss something while he’s bent over the page. That’s a risk we’re willing to take, but it is a hazard all the same.
So we’ve taken a break over the last few weeks. We’ll be back on Saturday with more travel notes and (hopefully) witty observations, but for today we’re just going to leave you with our musings about blogging. And also with this photo, which we hope you’ll enjoy!