I laughed when, after returning home from a late evening stroll around my neighborhood, I noticed two emails I had sent myself from the walk—one entitled ‘moon’ and the other ‘things artists do.’ Both were reminders of insights I’d had while walking, listening to a soundtrack ranging from Joni Mitchell to Arcade Fire to TV on the Radio to UB40, and contemplating what it was that was surrounding me as I walked. Due to the fact that I’m suffering from the sudden onslaught of a late seasonal cold, I had to walk at a slightly slower pace than normal, which perhaps afforded me more time and space with which to view the oceanside neighborhood where I live. It allowed me to notice the flocks of pelicans flying overhead, a sleepy pair of doves nestling close in a tree, a talkative pair of young girls pedaling scooters up a hill, an even louder cluster of frogs in a nearby pond. I thought a lot on my walk. I didn’t think at times. I observed. I gathered insights.
As a fiction writer, I suppose I feel it is something of my ‘job’ to pay attention to the world around me then to compile notes about it in the form of ‘fiction’—whether this becomes a short story, a novella, a novel, or some other less conventional form entirely is, I suppose, up to the nature of those insights. But first, back to the two emails I’d sent myself. The first, entitled ‘moon,’ was meant to remind me that the waxing near-full moon that hung ghostly white above the neighborhood, while apparently so ‘fixed’ in the dusk-gray sky, was actually spinning in the gravitational pull of earth while earth itself was also spinning on its axis, spinning around the sun, and the entire thing (the solar system, the galaxy, and more) was expanding outwards at a rate unknown to me (is this known to someone?) and therefore, the very idea that the moon appeared ‘fixed’ was an illusion predicated on my weak cognitive abilities as a human being—my optical senses, my tactile senses, and so on—which altogether were rendered pretty pointless when it came to the ‘reality’ of what I was looking at. Sure, to me the moon was fixed, but from another angle entirely, it was be anything but.
Which led me to my second thought, the thing about what artists do. This email to myself (I am a strong proponent of writing letters or emails to one self and opening them at a later date thereby illuminating how foolish the sense of ‘self’ is when one ‘self’ can write to another future ‘self’) noted in the body of the email the following, in the most verbose form in which evening insights often find us: “The unfathomable, awesome totality of the universe and the banal, inane singularity of it.” That is to say, in thinking of the moon I realized that I think it is the responsibility of good art to simultaneously expose the “unfathomable, awesome totality of the universe” and the “banal, inane singularity of it.” As fiction writers, we use characters, plot, stories, and above all, language, to point to something we cannot name (the unfathomable, the totality). This may seem like a mundane insight, but, yet again, at the time of the insight, it felt as if it was more like a mantra or creed, one that I will continue to plumb in my career as a writer.
Which takes me to why this silly little ditty about an evening walk ended up on this ‘travel’ blog. What else is travel for but to think and explore? To make insights beyond the inane, trivial existence most of us lead from day to day and instead access something greater? I would argue then, based on my experience tonight (as on many such walks or jogs or afternoons sitting reading or listening to music or doing anything other than writing a blog or checking Facebook or watching reality TV) that travel is something that does not require a long flight, a planned ‘adventure,’ or an exploration of a place entirely novel to us. There is plenty of novelty all around us, if only we take the time to pause and look (and write an email to one’s self?). And so I find myself back to the ‘reality’ of writing a blog, but still buzzing with the insight of a spinning moon and humming the tune that some Canadian woman wrote in the 70s well before the self I cling to as ‘me’ was even a thought, was even here to pay attention to the moon and everything else.
(Perhaps it’s no surprise I was listening to ‘Both Sides Now’ when I entered bong talk with myself. Who couldn’t love songs with lyrics like ‘I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow it’s cloud illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.’)