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Thinking Is The Best Way To Travel?

Thursday, 25 July 2013

And that, my friends, is likely the first and last Moody Blues reference that you will ever hear from me (a song title from In Search Of The Lost Chord, if interested). Especially since my premise is just the opposite:  traveling is the best way to think.

Yes, traveling is the best way to think.  Going to a new place with new ways of using one's senses leads to new ways of thinking.  If you have been in one place too long, your thoughts are stale, your observations become pedestrian (I know, you are now hoping for some non-pedestrian thoughts from this man in a different place, but I may disappoint you).   Still, I would argue that this is applicable whether you are thinking about work or pleasure, about the personal or the spiritual or the apocalyptic.

To turn onto a street lined with palm trees when you are used to walnuts and maples is a guarantee that different memories and associations will commence almost immediately.  The smell of the salt air, the way the giant clouds race across the sky in the afternoons, portending a brief, violent storm, these sensory benchmarks of a different world chase the old one out of your head.  Is it any wonder that the ubiquitous emails, the well-meaning phone calls from another place jar your sensibilities?

In the book I'm currently reading, Hemingway's Boat, the author opines that one of the reasons Hemingway's writing style changes in later life is because he is writing on or facing the open sea (in Key West or Bimini or Havana) rather than in the restrictive confines of a Paris flat.  Hemingway himself refers to it as a "loosening," and he even writes the occasional sentence which reaches Faulknerian length.

Though one need not the vast expanse of the ocean or towering mountains to rock one's sense of self, there is no doubt that these natural extremes, like the emptiness of a forest or the gentle rush of a stream, demand contemplation.

Here in Florida, as there on Long Island last week, my thoughts, to put it simply, do not tend towards work, and that alone makes all the difference.  The work-related email I receive feels more like a distraction to be put off or dispensed with quickly while I am down here pondering why the person here alone is less lonely than the people "back home" who are lonely without him, or considering, as happens increasingly every time I am down here, retirement and what shapes it will take.

As the title of Nicholson Baker's collection of essays from the mid-90's suggests, "the size of thoughts" varies, and with a chance to remove some of the clutter of daily, repetitive thoughts from the mind, there is a hope, at least for me, that some of the bigger thoughts in my head have a chance to get a little elbow room, to set up shop for awhile, to raid the refrigerator, so to speak, so that they may  nourish themselves, maybe even with a little repetitive mental exercise, get themselves into some kind of shape.

I let you down once again, though, by reminding you that I have no particular great insight to report.  But the possibility is here, the ground is fertile.

And while I dream of great thoughts, I pummel myself with just a different dailiness--exercise routines to maintain, the details of setting up and maintaining a living space, the demands of what to do that will allow me to say that I've been on vacation and done X (because people always want to know), where to eat.  Still, all of these concerns are simpler and more easily fulfilled here, and that is reassuring.

The irony of all of it, all of this thinking, perhaps, is the discovery that by traveling, we aren't trying to get away so much from a particular place or circumstance.  That is probably a futile gesture in 2013 anyway.  No, what we seek most is a vacation from ourselves.  We are tired of who is inside of us.  But that companion always tags along, and the best we can hope for is that he will behave a bit differently in a new place.

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