The Art of Reinvention, Anonymity, and Self-Discovery in Travel

The sky of Indiana

The sky of Indiana

My mind finally smells summer. I've been away from Indiana for the past two summers and away from Wabash during the summertime since I moved away ten years ago. Having spent the majority of my childhood outside, I've been unknowingly pining for the familiar olfactory triggers, which I still can't define well: aromatic greens of unknown classification, warming as though being slowly cooked, lawn mower engine fuel, chlorine and very cold water, heat radiating from the cement below my bicycle tires, sometimes fresh asphalt but most often cracked sidewalks and gravel-sprinkled roads.

Though some of these seem like multi-sensory experiences - not to mention fairly common around the world - I'm really only talking about my nose. I can smell all those things. The same summer climate can be found on about 60% of the Earth's land mass at some point in the year, but it is only in this town that the sun seems to electrify the atoms and molecules in such a way - for me.

Bias steals my reason when I believe this town could actually be that much different than the rest of the world. Everyone most likely has a sweet spot for their birthplaces, maybe less sweet than bitter for some, and memories are fantastically linked to senses and, in my case, inspiration.

Nostalgia Triggers

I'm not a weird uber-fan of sweeping my grandmother's back porch, but doing so the other day washed warming nostalgia overhead and allowed me to tap into the feelings I once had as a youngster, feelings I remember viscerally that I can now decode and translate with this older mind.

It's an exciting town!

It's an exciting town!

It was in the public library downtown that I grew to love plowing through books. Though my reading comprehension these days is borderline frightening, the visuals I concocted for the stories of Roald Dahl are still sharp in my mind. The movies were all sad efforts after my daily mental capades through Matilda's home and Charlie's new factory.

It was a means of wasting time while my parents worked at the office, but I used to pluck away at a typewriter and create five sentence short stories about personified animals with morals and cool names. Taylor Swan was my ideal girl name, now a nausea inducer. I still have these hilarious attempts at literature in a folder somewhere, along with the memory that I dreamt of being the youngest published author in the world. I had no burning story to tell, but the thought of purging my thoughts to achieve such a landmark was satisfying for my eight year-old self.

Cue to me, ten years later, finally figuring out I did have stories to tell.

The Reappearing Interest

And I have to admit that while living in Wabash I was, at best, ambivalent about being here, even though my daily outdoor activities were fascinating and my friends quirky and long-lasting.

We moved cities with the intent of snatching those opportunities from which I'd be out of reach in the rural north. In turn, I believe my senses were dulled, though they did become my flypaper for artistic inspiration later in life.

My grandma used to say, "All roads lead to Wabash" - her version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. I sometimes find my path back "home" completely mind-boggling, which looks something like Indianapolis - Italy - Misc. USA - RTW Cruise Journey - Europe - Africa - Asia - Indianapolis - South Pacific - Asia, again…and so on until all trips are accounted for, with the caboose being good ol' Wabash County.

As far from "as the crow flies" as you can make a round-trip, I'd say…unless that crow is very drunk. And never a plausible concept when the bubble of the small town seemed to draw impermeable borders.

Wabash friends

Wabash friends

And now I'm peddling through town on sidewalks that haven't been updated since my mom was with bun in oven. The people who see me cycling seem to know me, and I don't remember names, only encounters at fairs, churchs, and community theater performances. There are no strangers. Cliche, schmeeche - I'm having serious déjà vu.


Fresh from a recent trip that reminded me how much I love the clean slates and stranger-filled surroundings of travel, I'm feeling stumped.

Where are the lingering conversations I can't comprehend? Where are the strangers, and why do I want them around?

The ensemble of the town rarely seems to change, and so stays static my relationships with everyone. Feelings remain regardless of time, which seems to affect bodies rather than minds. There's little flexibility available for reinvention, as history is chiseled in stone. Aging doesn't guarantee anything.

My brother's advice upon starting my new school in Indianapolis was simple, and it stuck.

No one knows you here. You can reinvent yourself, if you want.

That sounds like a movie line. Maybe I'm getting confused. Disregard the wording and assume the same sentiment was relayed to me ten years ago upon the first days of my new schooling experience.

My parents after a wine tasting

My parents after a wine tasting

With a move [I couldn't conceptualize] an hour and a half south of childhood, reinvention became possible. And even though I've never felt unlike myself in a true, lingering sense, I did seize the opportunity to portray myself in a different light. Mannerisms, humor, interests - they all stayed, but I altered my air to put up with less than I used to allow. No longer did I slink away from moments of embarrassment or shame from the likes of the neighbor boys or the burly girls of bully stock. I didn't want to feel self-conscious about being the person I wanted to be, nor did I have the desire to exhibit any characteristic not indigenous to my being. Hence, no fake-itude.

And now I return, having flexed as a personality but not having evolved alongside Wabash. I wonder if I'm recognizable. Even though this renewed interest has brought me back in touch with the town of 11,000 of my upbringing, I'm unsure as to whether I see myself or a different person in the reflection of my memories.

Walking above Charley Creek, I wonder if it's purely time that strips me of my visceral connection or the fact that the person is not the same (just plus ten years).

When Does a Person Become?

When have I been most happy in my life? Would memories of the most fulfilling or satisfying moments be those which define my life's interests or purpose? Are we who we were coming from the womb and then slowly compromised as we evolved into civilization? Are we really who we are after a life-changing experience or a test that morphs us into a person we never thought we'd become? Was I more me in the 80s, playing in my backyard treehouse, or now - now that I ask these questions and still come out of the wringer being the way that I presently am?

These are the sort of questions that arise amidst the dormant and knowing air particles of my grandmother's house. Surrounding by the grooviest domicile on the block, I question the point I've reached in my being and wonder if the same mushroom cap hairstyle who used to watch TV in the nook on the left is still present and solid.

My Wabash abode

My Wabash abode

Being alone (with cat) in a house that holds my history, in a town that crafted my humor and habits, in a state that isolated my focus on personalities, I am grappling with concepts to identify what place and time have to say about my being. What person would I have become had I not moved? And if that hour and a half move was all I attempted, what person would I then be had travel been stripped from my pastimes?

When home seems to nurture a specific development of the self, how does travel - with its anonymity, chance for reinvention, trying challenges to the first installation of values - affect the development of our purest form?

Post-world travels, I tend to side with the tried-and-tested theory of being; being put through the wringer, slapped around, and pushed to a near breaking point will result in a person, fibers and nothing else. But are these challenges distractions from the primary meditation that would facilitate that pure knowledge? The answer to that question would restructure the entirety of our social make-up.

What Do You Think?

This is a post I've been writing since the commencement of my summer seclusion project and seemingly one of the main products I hoped to reap from the experience. I write for an unknown public audience, and in doing so, I'm inviting the collective "you" to think what you want. While this post could seem like a journal entry or simply a moment of deep, personal musing, I want these concepts to be chewed on by all. I don't write these ideas to be an exhibitionist but to stimulate a discussion on the art of travel.

Please leave your feedback on whatever was of interest to you. If you'd rather have your comment invisible to the public eye, leave a message on my contact form. Video comments are extremely encouraged.

Thanks for reading.

As You Like (To See) It, A Traveler's Melancholy

Though relatively young, and therefore jovial, and the product of a content childhood packed with humor, I've grown into someone that is constantly asked:

Are you unhappy?

Fijian Funeral Week

Fijian Funeral Week

Bawling at the table in my Italian family's home, seeming a mystery to the black and white of intercontinental correspondence, being irrationally testy at home, where the bubble is supposed to pet and nurture positivity; evidence seems to side with either insanity or discontentment. Why do I move, and therefore search, without landing on what will actually placate my soul? Am I attempting to obtain something intentional that is completely out of reach? Does no destination stop the longing to be somewhere else?

Am I carving my lifestyle with a bitter blade that hopes its creation won't win?

Whoa…I laid it on fast and deep, right into the pit of a wanderer's insatiable quandary - the unavoidable knife that static souls jab into the sides of vibrating shadows in the daylight.

What makes a person happy?

For what is a traveler traveling?

Are we unhappy, or does the world fulfill us?

And if it doesn't, what could ever hope to fulfill someone if the world cannot?

These aren't the constant thoughts in my head, as a brain with these fly-by musings would pound itself into whatever wall is closest. However, there are triggers in life that create wormholes for these trains of thought to come through. Yesterday's trigger was a movie by William Shakespeare, As You Like It.

As You Like It

As You Like It

Now, I'm aware that spouting off conceptual prose and quoting Shakespeare immediately makes me seem like an elitist with my four fingers in my buttons like a forefather. I watched this movie because it was at the library, because I'm hoping to learn more about storytelling and cinematography, and because I realized that approaching Shakesperean English the way I approach Spanish yields the same general understanding that reveals more to me of the language than I knew before.

In this play, a woman, exiled to the woods where she disguises herself as a boy for safety, spends a little time chatting with a man who is often found dragging his feet and wallowing in his own gloom. You may call him a melancholy fellow, if you talked like a 16th century Brit. I found the following passage to be amusing, hopefully not seeing my own reflection with too much clarity in the man's visage.

They say you're a melancholy fellow.

I am so. I do love it better than laughing.

Those that are an extremity of either are abominable fellows and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards.

Why? Tis good to be sad and say nothing.

Why then? Tis good to be a post.

I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation, nor the musician's, which is fantastical, nor the courtier's, which is proud, nor the soldier's, which is ambitious, nor the lawyer's, which is politic, nor the lady's, which is nice, nor the lover's, which is all these, but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

A traveler? By my faith you have great reason to be sad. I fear you've sold your own lands to see other man's, and to have seen much and have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

…..Yes. I have gained my experience.

I'd rather have a fool to make me merry than an experience to make me sad. And to travel for it, too…

Rosalind from As You Like It

Rosalind from As You Like It

I'm no master interpreter of Old Billy Boy, and since we know smarty boys like Frost love the satisfaction of deceptive prose, I'm hesitant to think the literal meaning of this dialogue is the point he's trying to make.

Is the traveler a fool, to make himself a hobo and satisfied only by other's possessions, from which he himself runs?

Is the traveler a fool, to find richness in experiences that can be lost with a quick blow to the head, though things can be lost just as quickly?

Is the traveler a sad fool, hoping to convince everyone he has harnessed the richness of the world's best?

And so I conclude my rambling in hopes I hear from you, the reader. If it's not necessarily melancholy but a deep and pensive state, do you feel Shakespeare is making a sad observation of travelers? Is this a dated view of possessions vs. experiences? What do you think of this passage and concept?

Comment below or contact me personally. I'm interested in dialogues, and without a rebuttal or echo, I'm merely talking to myself.

Consume & Update: Balance, Success, and Last Week

Today's documentation of the travel and blogging world is a little slim but can plunge you into a lotta deep thought.

The Four Burners and Success

Balance Your Life...or else

Balance Your Life...or else

Who really has a balanced life? I'd like to think that overall the way I conduct myself on a year-long basis levels out between travel and home, physicality and leisure, hermitville and social junction. As I've stated before, the concept of "live every day like it's your last" is, in my opinion, a bunch of hullabaloo. How are we supposed to make today a most brilliant day while also strive for completeness in all aspects of our life? That's a whole lotta pressure for one day. I'd have to spend all day today planning for an amazing tomorrow, which would defeat the point, right?

I chew on this thought today because Chris Guilleabeau brought up an interesting idea mused by David Sedaris:

One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work. -David Sedaris

The gist is that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

Especially in a country where we like to think we can "have it all" and also one where we define success as an outward appearance of money, power, and respect, this idea seems to be true for most Americans; not sure about the rest of the world, but I assume the same goes for most of them as well. We don't want to read this quote and consider its validity, because that means accepting imbalance and relative failure at one facet of our lives, of which we'd normally be prideful.

What do you think about this concept? Do you think the idea of the four burners is irrelevant or spot on? What's your stance on the balance of focus and pride in your life? Do you think one or two must slip to achieve some level of success? And what is success in your terms? I'd love to hear your feedback, so please comment below!

Other Discoveries

Problogger sets us straight on some typical blogger grammatical mistakes. Hate to lose my hold on proper English!

What do you think is necessary in redesigning your lifestyle to incorporate your passions and happiness? Did this guy get it right?

Do you think your travel experiences have had a direct impact on your political affiliations or sidings?

Update from Nomadderwhere

Photo on 2010-07-18 at 16.20

Photo on 2010-07-18 at 16.20

Delicious culinary concoctions, kooky Midwestern weather, biking through town and heat advisories, cinematic adventures and writing deep thoughts; this was my week. In some minute ways, the world seemed to stand on its head for me this week. I watched one Shakespearean themed movie...and finally understood them. My cat, whom is far from a lap pet, sought comfort in my bosom during an overhead thunderstorm. Wow, that was all that really stood on its head. My life this month isn't all that exciting! I guess that's what happens when you dumb your life down to a few elements and hope they function at their peak: cooking, writing, and summoning creative energy.

This week, I upped my game and pumped out a slew of content. Applaud me, why don'tcha?

I only have one more week of exploring the town of 11,000 of my upbringing, and I plan on soaking up the solitude with every molecule of my being. I visit daily locations I haven't experienced since my middle school days and am beginning to wonder if my quarter-life crisis is approaching early with an emphasis on the past rather than a fear for my future. Eh, I know I'm going to be alright. But am I the same person I was when I was four? These are the thoughts of this pickled mind...

And in case you like helping me out: I'm doing a little research on South Korea and Taiwan this week and would love some expert help on where to go and what to see, along with important facets of both cultures and histories!

Video of the Week: Seclusion Musings (Webcam)

My Wabash abode

After one successful week of relative seclusion in northern Indiana, I've got some thoughts to share - musings, if you will. Your feedback is strongly encouraged.

Notes from this week's video:

  • Musing #1: Reinvention

    • Have you ever become a person you don't recognize?

    • Do you take advantage of the easy opportunity for reinvention when traveling?

  • Musing #2: Anonymity

    • How does your anonymous presence on the road affect your attitude, behavior, mind, etc.?

    • Have you experienced the overfamiliarity of the small town or close-knit region? How does this change your state of mind or activity?

  • Musing #3: Constant Travel

    • Is re-experiencing your own town/city as valuable a teaching opportunity as perusing a new place in another country?

    • If home travel is considered "travel," where is the line drawn between travel and not? What differentiates the two?

Thinking of Indy in India: Day 50

Colors of India

Colors of India

My transformation began with the first step off the gangway. The equatorial sun toughened my already sun-kissed skin, pollution darkened my nostrils, mosquitoes feasted on my leg, and the stench of the city penetrated deep into the fibers of my clothing. Any Westerner would experience this discomfort with a visit to Chennai, but this is not the transformation I am talking about Now I sit under a canopy with yellow spices under my fingernails, jasmine in my hair, red and yellow pigment on my forehead, seasoned air in my lungs, dirt covering my bare feet, and the sound of a thousand school children resonating in my ears. These sensations are by choice and this decorative lifestyle I once found tacky is gaining my appeal.

I shot one hundred and fifty photographs, and the best ones were those that the school children took when I let them push the shutter. Vivacious curiosity captured even through the numbing effect of the flash. This moment is beyond storybook…it's time travel. Instead of bringing popular inventions and artistic prints like Marco Polo, I can only offer my worldly stories and a deck of IU playing cards. A coconut just crashed to the hard dirt ground, splashing its milk onto nearby flowers…THAT moment was storybook.

Smiles from old man gardener make me comfortable, but his eventual hover over my writing does not…ok, he just left.

I'll never be further away from home as I am now (unless I follow Sally Ride's footsteps into space), and it just shows that physical proximity has nothing to do with proximity in the mind. Home is a constant thought, here, in the land of colorful gods and caste systems. I can only imagine that when I return, India will come back to me in vivid memories

How will I change when I go back to my SUV, my air-conditioned dream home, my wasteful lifestyle? Will I be a snob with a knowing smirk and exclusive adventures that no one wants to hear? Will I drop every modern convenience and result to an ascetic life?

Never mind my literary fluff because I know what will result from these priceless journeys…a mind that give me confidence to test and question. The old gardener just asked if I ate lunch with my hands…yes…and it was good. Earlier today, I followed a band of drummers, adorning a welcome lei and a bindi, and with the turn of a corner, one thousand girls and boys came into view, sitting "Indian style" facing 10 empty chairs. Ten Americans stood in disbelief before taking a seat of honor. I could imagine multiple SAS people who would laugh at the situation or find it ridiculous, but as these children sat meditating and praying in unison for the prosperity of the world, I found great pleasure being in their company and not the shipboard community.

These children are many and fill this country with humor as vibrant as their sarees. It could be wonderful to fill your days with smells of wet soil or the sweeter sound of classroom recitations in unison, like the old gardener (who just offered me a handful of freshly picked berries). I can always have that option later in life, but for now I will search for this feeling deep in the bowels of overstuffed and under-cultured Indy, where at least I can enjoy my own family instead of the idea of others. I'll take it as a sign that I just ate the last offering of flowers from the gardener.

Just putting my thoughts into words...what do you think? Do you ever have similar musings?