in the grip of a wild Elsewhere
Posted September 12, 2013
One of my grad school classes is called Writing, Reading, and Teaching Creative Nonfiction. As you might imagine, I'm really enjoying it. It's a whole class devoted to one of my favorite topics, in which I get to spend time doing creative writing and get revision tips AND get graduate credit for it.
We're reading a lot of really great short non-fiction, much of it from the collection In Short. The piece that has stood out the most for me is The Shock of Teapots by Cynthia Ozick. In it, she describes what draws her to travel. In large part, it's because of the way that our senses are heightened by new surroundings. Things we'd never notice at home become new and we get to see things, in a way, for the first time, recapturing some childlike wonder. She calls it "this glorious strangeness".
Of course, I identify strongly with these ideas. I don't know what it is to not feel a draw to new places. I understand that we all have different likes and dislikes, but when people say they don't really like to travel, that doesn't compute for me. I believe it, but can't really comprehend it. My mom is a collector and I always thought this was a difference between us until I realized that I'm a collector too - I collect passport stamps. I'm going to a new country soon and part of the draw is getting that new stamp, setting foot in a new place, checking another country off the list. (Which doesn't mean that a country, once visited, is counted as "done". I'd like to go back to most of them to see what I missed.)
I collect novel experiences and new settings. I like the way that travel challenges and stretches me, physically and mentally. On our first morning in Yangon, I was feeling unhappy about walking down the mucky street in flip flops. Then I looked around and said to myself, "What's the matter, Princess?" Then I got over my priviledged self a little bit.
This next trip is to meet up with Raj on his port call. Since his dates could change, I made my trip for more days than he'll likely be there to try to ensure that we'll at least overlap as much as possible. I started to think how it would be a challenge because I've never explored a foreign country on my own before. Yeah, EXCEPT THE ONE I LIVE IN. No, really. I forget sometimes. To be fair, I was probably eating Trisciuts and watching What Not to Wear from my American style couch at the time, so that could be related. No, we're not having the kind of Japanese experience we would if we were up on the mainland and living out in town. But we're having the experience of living on base in Okinawa, which is its own unique thing.
Cynthia Ozick summed a lot of this up in her piece when she was talking about having discovered this glorious strangeness on a trip she took to Scotland when she was young and was enthralled to be riding on a not-that-unusual bus. "It put me in the grip of a wild Elsewhere." YES. THAT. She gave me words for this relentless drive I've had for as long as I can remember. And a new favorite sentence.* I love the personification, the imagery of it. Wanderlust as a living, breathing creature that has a hold on me. I hope I never escape from it.
*Previous favorite sentence, courtesy of a student prior to a quiz: "The only thing I'm worried about is Boo Radley." It just works on so many levels.