If you want to have a Grand Adventure, travel alone and leave your camera behind.
In May and June, I took a three week trip to Italy—fifteen days of it spent traveling alone. When first planning the trip, I had planned to travel most of the time with an acquaintance. She bagged out ten days before the trip—yes, ten days, you read that right. Fortunately, I had sensed the way the wind was blowing, and had made extensive backup plans to travel alone.
Certainly, I was nervous about traveling alone in a foreign country. But all my life I had dreamed of traveling to Italy and was not going to let fear stop me. As it turned out, traveling alone was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I came alive. I woke up.
In Florence, the museum that hosts Michelangelo’s great David doesn’t allow photography, preferring you to buy their inferior photos in the gift shop. I have to thank them, because putting away the camera started something amazing. Because I needed some way to express my powerful feelings on seeing this masterpiece, I stayed at the David for two hours writing streams of poetry. After that, I continued writing poetry for the rest of the trip.
I have tried to keep a journal many times—aren’t writers supposed to do that? But I always, always failed. I was intimidated by the perfect journals friends keep—pasted with pictures, quotes, and neat, neat, neat. Friends urged me to keep a journal on my Italy trip. I tried--I really did--but was too overwhelmed, busy, and exhausted to write in any coherent fashion about what was happening. Then I met the David and discovered that journaling in poetry—in images and bursts and metaphors—worked wonderfully for me.
This was different from recording, it was living. I would start a bit of a poem, switch to something else, go back to an old poem, write three lines, start something else—you get it. I freed myself from being neat and pretty and perfect and renamed my journal WORD MESS. Like a mess hall where lots of food is offered, and you plunk what you want on your plate, go back for seconds, and don’t worry too much about the napkins. And us a battered little spiral bound notebook instead of a leatherbound, gilt edge writer's journal.
I returned from Italy with fifteen rough poems to develop, two new ideas for books, and ideas for revising a book in progress. Italy cracked me open like an egg. I don’t think this would have happened if I had been travelling with someone.
So here are three truths I learned about traveling:
1. A journey is not measured by the number of miles traveled or by the number of masterpieces seen, but by its impact on your heart.
2. The intended destination is only the point of departure for the real journey.
3. No Grand Adventure ever ends in the heart.
Go. Live. Write.