Migrating Miss’ thoughtful and interesting blog post on why people travel got me ruminating on my own reasons for enjoying travelling and for deciding to become a travel writer and blogger. I am interested in my local area and I appreciate the many different reasons why many people would prefer to stay at home. Maura Kelly is right, just looking through Migrating Miss’ reasons for enjoying travel, many of them are existential:
To Challenge Myself
Because life is too short
To know myself
To Not Look Back & Wonder
Some of these reasons resonate strongly with me. I am very aware that ‘life is too short’ and I don’t want to ‘look back and wonder’ but then travel isn’t for everyone, some people feel their place in life is where they are and have no need to wander the globe and yet for me travel is an urge, even a necessity and it is a big part of who I am.
I enjoy learning and I certainly learn best when the learning is reflected in the place, geography and culture I am in. On our trips we like to stop to explore historical sites and learn about why places are culturally important and for me this learning has more relevance when I am standing on the spot. Looking over Culloden Moor I can feel some of the pain of the soldiers as the Jacobite uprising fell apart; I got a sense of the long span of human history when I walked in the steps of the pilgrims at Delphi and finding the layers of history in the city of Berlin is a thrilling experience.
But thinking about why I love to travel also got me mulling over how I see and experience and in this I am concerned with my observations moving on to interpretations, while appreciating that my own way of seeing a place as a white British woman will be individual. I try to be mindful of my surrounding and I am delighted when I manage to see the familiar as if it were new and walk down a nearby street with new eyes. But in truth it is arriving in new places when all my senses are really heightened. Everything happening around me can feel strange and inexplicable and I am bombarded by new smells, colours and sounds and my brain will be trying to interpret the meaning in the landscape and the way people use the space. In my own culture, in the north-west of England, I take so much for granted; I know how to use the bus, can identify the crops in the fields and understand the language people are using and my brain will take short-cuts as it doesn’t need to make sense of even the smallest detail. I can be creative about what I see anywhere but insight can sometimes get lost in the humdrum day-to-day. Travel opens up my imagination, offers new perspectives and encourages my brain to make new connections.
What has become clear is that for me the buzz that I get from this sensual surge and unfurling of my imagination in these new places has become addictive and after a short time at home I am ready for another fix.
I tell anyone who will listen that I am retired now [with a huge smile] but I am still working at writing travel articles for MMM , as well as this blog and occasionally posts on my Memorial Bench Stories blog. I have been publishing my writing for about eight years now, starting with our Blue Bus Blog and moving on to magazine travel writing not long after. But still, every time I write a piece I struggle to be comfortable with what I have written, feel it is truly finished, let it go and put it out there for judgement. Being able to decide that something is good enough to publish doesn’t seem to get any easier [in fact I think it gets harder]. I want my writing to be interesting, entertaining and just perfect and so I edit and edit again. I read it out loud, I print it and read it through repeatedly and I keep procrastinating, trying to reach some idea of perfection that I am not sure I would even know even if I created it.
I have been reading about writing and story telling recently and I am starting to try and change my mindset and stop trying so hard. Although I still don’t think it is a bad thing to aim for perfection, I see that I need to recognise that point when I must embrace imperfection, face my fears and publish. I need to let go of striving for an ideal piece of writing and concentrate on publishing something that is honest and true.
Of course I make mistakes and have to learn to laugh at the goofs I make. I am a flawed individual making a mockery of the perfectionist I want to be. But it isn’t really this that makes me hesitate over the publish button, it is the fear of demonstrating my vulnerability that stops me and a concern that critics will concentrate on my faults, rather than anything I have achieved. On really bad days when my confidence is at rock bottom, I compare my writing with the writing of my heroes and it doesn’t stand up at all and so I wonder what is the point of even trying. The grip this anxiety has on my output is interesting to note and sometimes difficult to break out of.
Julia Travers in a Be Magazine article wrote brilliantly on this subject; ‘I had a friend in college who called editing “shooting puppies,” because it was so painful to cut off valuable pieces of a work to make the whole stronger.’ This describes perfectly the physical pain I feel when I have to ditch what seems like a nice phrase or paragraph that perhaps took hours to research and compile because I know in my heart that it doesn’t fit the narrative I am creating or the word limit.
So, although I can’t promise I won’t make mistakes or post duds that are boring festooned with shoddy photographs, rather than hang my head in shame I will try and remember that those rough edges are part of what makes me a human individual and that one person’s perfect is really annoying to another.
I have been working through The Real Good Writer’s DNA lately, exploring what I can do to improve my writing skills. Having been ‘to the deep, dark places of [my] brain’ one of the themes that has emerged is how much joy I get from being with my friends and I have been following the exercises through and reflecting on these friendships.
I’m not ashamed to say that I need my friends and in many respects the Real Good Writer’s DNA exercise didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. Times with friends are lots of fun, they make me laugh, they introduce me to new experiences and perspectives, they keep my feet on the ground and my friends have gifted me with a large bundle of happy memories. However clever and resourceful I occasionally think I am, friends have helped me get through tough times, put things in to perspective when I have lost the plot and when I put myself down my friends will point out my strengths.
I was aware of how much I enjoy being with my friends but I hadn’t realised how deep this went and I was surprised how strongly this came out of the Real Good Writer’s DNA exercise. I am not a woman who has lots of friends; my ‘best friend’ is certainly Mr BOTRA and I am comfortable with my own company but the friends I have I truly value. The workbook encourages deeper reflection on themes and I also started to explore how and why I always keep something back from my friends and try not to smother them and make too many demands on their time and energy.
That said, I don’t hang on to friends no matter what and I have no time for ‘toxic’ friends. We all know who these are and we sometimes hang on to them for commendably loyal or sentimental reasons. These might be judgemental (rather than critical) friends, negative friends and friends I cannot trust. These sort of ‘friends’ sap my energy and I have learnt it is best to let go of them.
As a child I learnt about friendship through books, including AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh [a firm favourite] and what better place to learn about love and friendship than in those beautiful stories:
‘I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen.’ AA Milne