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Part 2 : Beyond Postcards

For years now I've tried to appreciate the beauty of travel on a higher level than the postcard-kindergarten level. (Must I take the time to add the tedious disclaimer that there is nothing wrong or evil about postcard kindergarten, when you're a vacationer or an RV newbie. It's just that years of experience at being a full-time traveler encourages one to progress so that travel remains challenging. That's only natural and healthy. Geesh, the time you have to spend smoothing feathers. 

What I aim to do is replace the "eye as the window of the soul" with a different metaphor: one of trying to imagine "Total Experience" as a real and tangible sensory organ -- the main organ that can truly appreciate this rather different way of life.

Normally my successes on this project are singles, bunts, and sacrifice flies. Home runs are rare indeed. But since one did occur last year near Socorro, NM, I wanted to write about it, but didn't feel up to the task.

One of the difficulties in writing about powerful experiences of any kind is the overuse of the first person pronoun, "I". I saw this, I felt this, thought that, ad nauseum. How can the reader get anything out of writing that seems too egocentric? When the passive voice is used, the first person pronoun is reduced in its obtrusiveness; but remember what was said of the passive voice by Strunk and White. The second person pronoun does help some, although it can come off as accusatory, if you know what I mean. The third person pronoun seems too formal and academic. How does "one" put up with a description of what one sees, described as best one can...

Perhaps a generous reader will just overlook first person pronouns and put himself into the situation being described.

Another trick for transcending the egocentric is the metaphor. Aesop's Fables, Greek mythology, the King James Version of the Bible, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Hans Christian Andersen are the places we used to mine for metaphors. But changes in the educational system have weakened these traditional sources, without offering new ones.

Classic movies are a possible new source of metaphors. But not all readers are familiar with the specific classic movie chosen, unless it be the Wizard of Oz, and most of its metaphors have rusted over into cliches. So this technique has its limitations. Still, classic movies are drastically easier for a broad audience to access than at any other time in history.

The semi-classic movie that I choose is Tender Mercies, starring Robert Duval. (It's an "indie" that won an Oscar for Best Film circa 1980.) There was a scene in the movie that knocked my socks off just as powerfully as my hikes around Socorro, NM. Only later did I realize there was a connection that might be useful for other people to think about.

In the movie, the Duval character was a country-western songwriter who was on his way down in the world, thanks to the bottle. He went to see his ex-wife sing; she was still at the top of her game. Her first song was a bawdy little bar-ditty, that had me rolling my eyes with disdain. Anybody who has a low opinion of "Nashville" would have reacted similarly. 

She finished the song, the hayseeds all applauded and slapped thar sods, and she got ready to sing 'em another one. Aw shee-yit, I thought, they're not really going to make us endure two of these damn things!

She closed her eyes and started singing the second sawng. But it was the opposite of what I expected. I stopped breathing during this second song, even though it was really only a piece of a song.

Only later did I realize what a devious psychological trick the movie-maker had played on us. It had lowered our expectations to such a level that a good song would absolutely knock our socks off. (The female vocalist, although a Texas girl by birth, had amazing musical credentials from Broadway. Fortunately I had no "Memory" of them (ahem) so the surprise and shock wasn't ruined.)

And that's the same trick I had played on myself, accidentally, by reluctantly giving the benefit of the doubt to an unpromising dirt road on BLM land near Socorro. It was an impressive example of how subjective the outdoor experience can be. Your expectation, your preparation, count more than how high the mountain is, or how red the silly arch is.


Disclaimers are for wussies.
Teri said…
The Battle of the Blogs. A new reality program, except I don't own a TV. Maybe we can do it on YouTube.
George said…
I didn't see the movie but my take on your description would be different. I think the first song was meant to simply plant your feet in the moment. To put some space between the action that had just occurred and what was coming in order to assure some readiness. You can't be ready if your mind is still in a buzz. I wouldn't call this a trick, simply a necessary step. Secondly I might add that I highly doubt if everyone who watched that movie had the same reaction. Agreed? If so, then entertain the idea that the whole experience occurred because of YOUR readiness for it to happen. You just needed a spark. It could have been alot of things, not just this one thing.

Second subject. Just because people like to post and look at postcard pictures doesn't mean that they lack the ability to experience what you just described. It's just that it's a lighter activity, easier to work with. It's relaxing, it's uplifting, it's just very enjoyable for many people. Most people. It is an injustice to make it an either/or situation or that one is superior to the other. They each have their place.
What you described above, your experience with the movie is all about one's ability to get out of their head and to move their awareness into another place. To BE that experience and, momentarily, to actually be able to forget oneself completely. I do mean completely. It is awe. Majesty. Beauty. All those rapturous moments when we simply are not in our own heads. Really good sex will do it too. It is an experience that we are unaware we are having until it's over and we are looking back. That is because at the moment, the "I" in us is not conscious. It has surrendered itself to something bigger. Interestingly, it seems these moments rate as the most joyful moments of a person's life.
I do completely agree with your major point though. "Your expectation, your preparation, count more than how high the mountain is, or how big or steep or red the stupid arch is."
Very true. It is one's inner state that CREATES the beauty of the experience and not the outer stimuli.
The words just haven't been invented yet though that can do justice to what actually happens inside someone who is experiencing this.
So if I understood you correctly, great. If not then this will sound like I've gone off the deep end and in that case, just ignore it. LOL.
Boonie said…
Glenn, you're right, but I don't want it said that I won't make allowances for "softies" in the readership.

Teri, the Battle of the Blogs, eh? Good title. Box Canyon got off pretty easy, don't you think? In the past I've had to "demand satisfaction" from another blogger, and settle the matter once and for all on the field of honour.

George, I agree that postcards can be enjoyed by a perfectly sensible and intelligent person who's in the mood for it, temporarily. But travel blogger after blogger burdens the blogosphere with a surplus of pretty scenery, as if the main purpose of this lifestyle is just to be one more dumb tourist on his (extended) July vacation.

I appreciate your point about trying to forget yourself completely when having powerful experiences.
Bob Giddings said…
It is an adage as old as Aesop that familiarity breeds contempt. The first thing that happens when we encounter nature in depth or on a grand scale is that we quite literally lose ourselves in it. The second is that we become proud of that fact, and allow our egos to return us to the false comfort of the commonplace.

"O well, just how red is that cliff? And how far that distance? I've seen the like before..."

The task is to realize that such familiarity is a folly all its own. It is not an end to ignorance, but rather merely a new level of it. When we grasp that, we can again lose ourselves in what lies before us.

Boonie said…
Bob Giddings, I don't disagree with what you wrote, but I am having trouble understanding it. I'll just have to keep rereading it...
George said…
Bob, interesting reflection. Don't quite see that when we lose ourselves in the experience that we then become quite proud of it. I think for me the ego did the opposite; it lost some steam. Thinking about it now, I guess I used to think that my ego was me, one and the same, but that the type of experiences we are talking about seemed to prove that there is something else in there separate from ego. I'm not a religious person so I don't mean to imply that.
I do agree we return to the commonplace since it is impossible to maintain the separation from ego for a long time. But still, when one does so, it still isn't quite the same as before.
I also think that seeking new experiences gets boring. Endless thrill-seeking. Almost seems one engages in this to just keep the mind busy and occupied so it doesn't drift off into more challenging work.
Bob Giddings said…
Well, to riff off a previous comment, explanations are for wussies...

That said, I was just following the argument of your "postcard" rants 1 & 2.

You: "An experienced traveler has to move onward and upward when it comes to his appreciation of the outdoors. The postcard-worship of the newbie/vacationer is no longer of much use to him....So what are you supposed to do about it, exactly?"

Me: "familiarity breeds contempt."

You: "One of the difficulties in writing about powerful experiences of any kind is the overuse of the first person pronoun."

Me: "we...allow our egos to return us to the false comfort of the commonplace. "

And then I added the observation that "such familiarity is a folly all its own."

IOW, when we lose interest in something because it is a "cliche", the problem may be not with the object but with our eyes. Cliches get to be cliches by starting out powerful and true. As Eliot said, "human kind/ cannot bear very much reality."

Of course, not every picture captures even a cliche. Just that much is a considerable accomplishment.

There. Is that any better?

Happy Thanksgiving!