Did you ever wake up not knowing which country you were in? I often awaken not knowing where I am. My head is so full of fantasy travel experiences that I have developed a habit of losing myself between the sheets whenever I lose consciousness. I sometimes have food dreams about favorite treats and endure constant cravings for things that may be thousands of miles away and years in the past. The ‘burger dream’ is as universal as the ‘green spot sunset’. For me it’s little ‘street treats’ and specialty items that I have found along the way. Such is the life of an unrepentant traveler. However, where you are can add and subtract a great deal from your daily life, depending on how well you adjust to varied environments and the reality who you are.
My choice to write professionally, as a novelist and travel writer, presents a unique set of circumstances to sort through. The writers life is a blank canvas. While travel writing is a ‘paint by numbers’ trade craft, we still have to prepare ourselves to leave everything behind, in order for the essential spirit of the art to flourish. Travel writing is art as opposed to the more subject driven sister study of journalism. Herein lays my personal dilemma. The diverse environments wherein I seek to stimulate my emotionally fraught artistic muse are also the diametric opposite of what I need during the intensely sedentary predicament I willingly assume when I begin to create a novel project.
We’ve all heard , read biographies and watched fictionalized story lines about writers, real or otherwise who shut themselves away in a mountain cabin, an isolated island or have barricaded themselves in a Manhattan condo and won’t answer the phone. In mid-novel I’ve been seen wandering dark streets at all hours of the night or day dressed like a disheveled bag-man mumbling to myself. My wife kicks me out to make me walk around the block when I get particularily backed up so my legs don’t atrophy from a lack of mobility after days screwed into my chair. I can tell you, that this state of self-imposed isolation, as presented in fiction, is true, and not an article of artistic license nor a measure of eccentricity.
Writing novels, my main focus , requires that I shutter myself away from all stimulation so that I can concentrate on a single train of thought. The riveting preoccupation involved during the creation of a novel of 100,000 words or more, along a plot arc involving complex characters within a theme, revolves around the unique mindset of the author, that’s me in this case, being able wake up in exactly the same frame of mind that I went to bed with.
This attention to detail is necessary to keep the characters, time lines, situations and spirit of the theme, flavour of the story and plot blending as a cohesive unified entity as we climb the ascending action ladder towards the climax and seek consolidation at the end. As such I don’t read newspapers, because the negativity that sells them depresses me. Such ‘stuff’ puts me off my game. Neither can I read any other authors while I work for fear that my unique stream will be polluted by images that do not originate from the ocean, that I by necessity exist in, for the purposes of creating the world within the novel. As I’ve written about in the past, derivation is the enemy of the wordsmith. Copying is schoolwork, pure creation is art. It is my goal as an artist to leave a unique footprint in the sands of time.
Recently my wife , Patricia, and I have completed our seasonal migration. She and I have created a lifestyle for ourselves where we travel for six months of the year during the Canadian winter and return when the worst months have passed. This has discombobulated my state of mind since April, but not entirely in a bad way. I was just getting accustomed to my new social life, language skills and schedule in the home we had made in a small suburb of Bangkok. I don’t know why, but the tropical weather has a rather novel effect on me physically. While living where the heat and humidity are high, I can lose weight regardless of what or how much I eat. I admit loving to gorge myself on what is not entirely healthy or low in calories. In Bangkok I can indulge in pastry, sweet ice coffee and ice cream and never gain a pound.
While living in Canada, I have to count every grain of rice I eat in order not to pack on the pounds. Ice cream and pastry are out of the question. The other thing I miss, as mentioned , is the social life of living in Asia. I enjoy being outside and walking everywhere rather being forced to drive my car because of a perpetual state of dripping inclemency that exists in Vancouver. The other thing you’ll ask when returning in Canada after life in Asia is, ‘Where are all the people?”
The streets in Canadian cities are nearly devoid of humanity. I miss my routine of friendly waves, brief hello’s and idle chit-chat with the street vendors when walking down the sidewalks in Bangkok. There are no food kiosks or superfluous vendors allowed on the streets or outdoors in Canada, and as such no ‘street life’. This lack of ‘personality’ leaves the Canadian experience rather dull and us Canadians feeling lifeless and without adequate human interaction. Patricia and I start to count the days until we leave again almost immediately after we arrive.
But…conversely this is exactly what I want as a writer. Here in Vancouver there is nothing calling me out to play, there is no where to go, nothing to do. It is perfect for my writing, zero outside interferences to contend with, and I am writing prodigiously during the time I am here. There is no cool ‘cafe culture, or historical neighborhoods to appreciate . There are no theater scenes, art hangouts, no urban vibe, no open markets of any kind to browse or galleries to take in or a museum of note. In this place I can live in perfect intellectual seclusion and write.
Don’t start feeling sorry for Patricia at this point, she is also a writer and creates/produces a series of textbooks for computer/technical junkies. In under two months I have finished twenty three chapters of my new work. This ‘void element’ could be a unique selling feature for attracting authors to Canada. ‘Come to Vancouver, there is nothing to distract you’. Of course I say this tongue in cheek. There are people here who will disagree with my assessment. They will remind me that all you need is a forty thousand dollar recreational vehicle and thirty thousand dollars worth of ‘outdoor gear’ and fun is hidden around every corner. I do not begrudge them their perspective, I just don’t happen to agree. As always, I hope my new book sells well so that we can continue to travel away from the gloom. Life is a journey, not an occasion.