Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Riding elephants and other writerly pursuits

Some of you may have noticed that my regular bi-weekly blog posts have been absent this past month. Comments, emails, and book updates have also been few and far between. And I confess that I have not done a lick of writing either, except for personal emails and lively anecdotes about distant lands. Instead, I have been galavanting around the Far East, drinking in the sights, sounds and tastes of China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

It's been wonderfully liberating. A writer's life is rarely free of obligations and to-do lists. We don't work nine to five and we don't get weekends off. Even when we are not anchored to our notepad or computer, we are usually thinking, planning, plotting, juggling demands.  The idea of taking a whole month off and escaping to a parallel, non-writing universe was daunting, and indeed in this cyber world, complete escape was not possible. Emails from my former life sailed across the ether, bounced off satellites and landed in the inbox of my borrowed Playbook, demanding action. Bio and photo for the Malice Domestic program book, topic and description of my keynote address this summer, contacts and promo information for my new book, schedules for the upcoming Ontario Library Association signings... Etc. etc.

To most of these requests, I was able to reply that I was out of the country, without access to my files, and with only intermittent and unreliable internet access. I promised to handle everything when I returned (Hah! Be careful what you promise). Most of the time that worked. Intermittent and unreliable internet was a very real obstacle, but also a handy excuse for not doing the requested work. There were related, equally valid excuses. In China, for example, there is a firewall blocking access to most social media sites. Hence no Facebook, no Wordpress or Blogger, not even the dreaded Twitter. Freedom! I couldn't have posted my blog even if I'd wanted to. Furthermore, I couldn't open attachments on my Playbook. I'm sure there was a way, but I couldn't figure it out (and psst... I didn't try too hard).

In my writing life, I am used to checking my email every hour or so, checking Facebook several times a day, and generally keeping my finger on the electronic pulse of my world. During this month of liberation, I was lucky to get fleeting access once a day, often not for several days, and with very little time to do more than scan the inbox for crucial emails. When we did have access, it was funny to watch all us cyber addicts huddled hungrily over our various devices, muttering and laughing as news from our outside life filtered through to us.

The rest of the day, however, I rarely gave that world a second thought. When you are atop the Great Wall of China, riding an elephant in Thailand, drifting down the Mekong and cycling through Lao villages, all else is eclipsed by the sheer adrenaline rush of the experience. Travel and adventure does more than just liberate, cleanse and rejuvenate; it puts us back in touch with our real selves. With visceral experience, with our senses and our emotions. With the raw earth beneath our feet.

As writers, all too often we function in a small, circumscribed world. The proverbial "writer's garret". Alone with our imaginations and our manuscript, surrounded by fictional friends and invented drama. Increasingly, our social networks and human interactions are also from within that lonely room, using emails, Facebook and other electronic communication as a substitute for real contact. There is something touching about receiving 52 Happy Birthday wishes from Facebook friends, but it doesn't begin to compare with a real birthday party.

All of us need to get out and ride an elephant, chase a dream, race bareback along the beach, or do whatever really stirs us to feel fully alive. But for a writer it is especially crucial. Without those reminders, without the full experience of joy and fear and the discovery of new frontiers, how can we write with conviction about the full breadth and depth of human drama?

Everything I experienced in the past month will find its way into my writing, somehow. For a writer, all experience is grist for the mill. In fact, I am already wondering how to get Inspector Green up on top of an elephant. What quest, what twists of plot, could possibly get him there? And what fun I will have in the process.

Once a writer, forever a writer.


Rick Blechta said...

Shouldn't your post's title say "...and other riderly pursuits"?


LD Masterson said...

Hmm. So I either need to stay off Facebook for a while or ride an elephant. Well, I know which one I want to do. *grin*

Hannah Dennison said...

What a truly fabulous and inspiring post! It really spoke to me today so thank you. What a magnificent trip. Welcome home!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I've always wanted to ride an elephant. The closest I've managed is a few minutes on a camel.

Welcome home, and thank you for this great post. You've inspired me to actually take a trip this year instead of telling myself I don't have the time.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I want to travel more. Your trip sounds wonderful. What prompted you to choose this one?