Traveler, not a Tourist: Practicing the Art of Observation

Friday, May 22, 2015

I have traveled for miles on a raft down the Mississippi River.  I have journeyed into the heart of the Congo with ivory traders, I’ve burned books, I’ve witnessed a fisherman wrangle a marlin on open waters.  I have hitchhiked to the edge of the galaxy, flown to Neverland and back and time traveled to dozens of decades, all while never leaving my house.  I am a traveler, a wandering adventurer, a lover of the mystery of prose and all because I am a reader.1

But the truth is, not even the most eloquent novel can substitute for the experiential nature of global learning.  I’ve heard it said in higher education that English majors are world travelers because we can go anywhere in the universe between the jacket covers of a book.  However, the inverse is also true, for as St. Augustine succinctly put it, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”  Nothing can substitute getting up and going out.

To my great joy and delight, starting on June 3, I will be doing just that. I will board a plane in Chicago and step off in London, the very heart of so many classics of British literature.  In all honesty, I know not what to expect — and perhaps it's better that way. When we go into a new setting with expectations, they're either met and then we miss the complexities, or they're unmet and we're disappointed.  

I want to be a traveler and not a tourist.  Don't we all, really?  I want to savor the tastes, soak in the language, encounter the land that is saturated with so much rich history.  I want to see and understand.  And part of that means learning to see what is there and not just what I anticipate.

Of course, I can't quite shake my presuppositions of the stoic yeomen, British propriety and images of high tea elegance and antiquated bookstores.  But if that's all that I intend to find then I will be both blind and yet deliriously oblivious to the fact that I'm only reading the first page.  I want to find the England that the English people know.  In the words of the character from 88 Charing Cross Road, I want to find "The England of English literature."

Well this is it, my friends. I'm on the verge of a journey of observations. My hope is that much more writing can come from this, as I prod at the seams of the experience even as I'm living it, in a sort of "present day nostalgia."  As a writer, I value the virtue of noticing.  How often do we walk with our heads down to class, take the usual route to work, eat the same things and get into the monotony of a routine? When we do that, we can so easily lose sight of the beauty in the ordinary.  And sometimes it takes a change of place, of scene, of pace, of setting to remind ourselves of how truly much there is to see and how rarely we are attentive.

Getting up and going out doesn't always mean heading overseas, though.  It could mean doing something different, walking slowly to observe the enchantment all around, taking the scenic drive or time for solitude.  

In my case, it means travel.  This time, not just to the places I've read about.  For while I may have traveled for miles with Huckleberry Finn and soared through the galactic transport with Ford Prefect, I have not, in fact, been to England.  

Well, not yet anyway.

1This intro comes from a guest post I wrote for Family Christian, entitled "The Life of a Page-Turning Adventurer" 

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  1. Amazing post! And so, so true. I often miss the wonder in the ordinary, but I'm trying to take a step back, pause, and really see the beauty that God has put right in front of me.
    Hope you have an awesome time on your trip, and I expect lots of blog posts when you get back ;)
    Also, I tagged you for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers award (funny how that title works, right?). Here's the post for that:


    1. Thanks so much, Alexa! I so appreciate it. I'm trying to work on noticing the little things and hone the skill of observation. One of my teachers this year recommended finding "your tree" and watching it grow, noticing the details of it as the seasons change. It's been something I've really enjoyed.

      Best wishes! And stop by soon for more posts from England!

  2. Lovely post, Ciera! I just wanted to say I always enjoy and learn something new through reading your posts: they are always well-written and thoughtful! As an aspiring writer, they are very inspiring and encouraging. I have been wanting to start a blog for a while, but haven't found the courage to start... You are definitely an inspiration though! I hope you enjoy your trip to England! I can't wait to hear about it through your blog! ;)

    1. Thank you so much, Sabrina! I so appreciate you and your kind words — if you ever want to talk about writing, I'm always here. :)

      Best wishes! I hope your blog takes off!

    2. You're welcome :) I will definitely take you up on that! :) I admire your writing style and would love that! Thank you! :)