Embarking on a Hero’s Journey

In March I departed for the Pacific Northwest and the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat; three days spent in the Cascade Mountains, devouring local grub and IPAs, communing with fellow writers and learning from some pretty impressive memoirists. (side note: there is talk of repeating the retreat next year, so aspiring memoir writers take note). Organizer and instructor, Theo Pauline Nestor, led my favorite session: “It’s Not JUST About You”. She introduced me to the concept of writers using memoir to tell a bigger story about the world we live in. I had an inkling of that, but when she explained it in detail, using memoirs by Cheryl Strayed and Joan Didion (writers I admire) to illustrate her point, the proverbial light bulb dinged above my head. This was what I needed — a way to connect my writing to the bigger picture, the shared humanity we all face.

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A Dog-Eared Page: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Yeah, yeah. I know.

I’m about a decade late to the Dave Eggers party. What can I say? I’ve already explained my extensive “to read” list of books—on my nightstand, the Kindle, the electronic list that grows exponentially and on and on.

Reading “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” is just that. Genius. Eggers’ stream-of-consciousness prose reminds me of “On the Road” and I find myself getting thoroughly absorbed in its pages.This passage made me stop in my tracks, dog ear the bottom right corner, grab a pencil and underline:

“…we’re putting something together that will smash all these misconceptions about us, how it’ll help us all to throw off the shackles of our supposed obligations, our fruitless career tracks, how we will force, at least urge, millions to live more exceptional lives, to [standing up for effect] do extraordinary things, to travel the world, to help people and start things and end things and build things…”

I stopped reading altogether to consider the tug we often feel as we go through our lives. This is a common question that I often find I wrestle with—are we doing what we should be doing with our lives? Is there something bigger, different from the norm, off the beaten path that we should be exploring? Something radically different that we should be doing with our lives if we would only be still and heed the call.

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.
— Alain de Botton The Art of Travel

Quoth the Traveler

Now here’s where I clean up!

Being a writer, a reader and teller of tales there are few things I love more than a good quote. I think it harkens back to my first Franklin Covey day planner, where on each daily calendar page there was an inspirational quote from Ben himself, Whitman or countless others.

To be able to develop a pithy quote or one-liner that is so simple and straightforward, but all-encompassing at the same time is a goal to which I aspire. Heck, all my books (and Kindle) are dog-eared and underlined with quotes and passages that are brilliantly written. And the frame of my office corkboard? It’s littered with quotes from the Yogi Tea bags. Hmm, although maybe that borders on slightly obsessive.

Day 14: Quotes

What’s your favorite quote about travel? Why does it stand out to you?

I can’t even remember where I was or where I first encountered it. But it had all the criteria of what I was looking for:

  • Notable author – check
  • Musings on travel – check
  • Aspirational and transformational – double check

Here was a quote that best explains what travel means to me. In fact, I wrote about in an earlier blog post (my first!).

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain “Innocents Abroad”

So simple, yet so profound. It’s the true gift that travel bestows on those who are open to it. It’s less about the sights, the postcards home to loved ones or the perfect souvenir. It’s about opening your eyes to the grandiose world beyond your doorstep; connecting with people who live life in a drastically different way and finding the common thread that links you together; and embracing a new culture, learning local customs and traditions as a gesture of both admiration and respect.

All the experiences you collect on the road find their way into your purview and your life is forever changed. And the best part? This travel experience is available to anyone with an open heart and mind. Whether you are heading to Bentonville or Beijing, the opportunity is there, waiting for you to seek it out.