Confession: This may be one of my favorite posts for this entire A-to-Z Challenge…
Why? Because as a full-time poet/writer/editor, the days when I am able to cut loose from my daily grind (yes, I have one, too, haha) and just GO–creating my own adventure according to the pull of my Wanderlust Muse–those are the days where I feel most alive and full of creative ammunition. On those days I am able to recharge my old, poet-soul and breathe in life, living in the spirit of possibility and, most importantly, inspiration.
Sometimes I plan my Day Trips. And sometimes…Adventure yanks me out of my house before I even know what happened. I don’t think I am the only Creative who is haunted by the siren song of Experience, which dictates our every word placed to page. And experience comes from adventure–from living with a purpose. We draw from our own experiences and knowledge when creating poetry. But how does one gain that kind of experience and knowledge? Not holed up at the writing desk, that’s for sure. You need to get out. Go out. Spread out. Speak out. Reach out. And live out your days to their fullest extent. That’s what Day Trips are for. They get you out of the house, away from reading about life on the screen or in books and actually experiencing it in order to write about it. These adventure days feed our insatiable craving for poetic material, and are crucial to our process. They don’t have to be extravagant or far-reaching…they just have to be fulfilling according to your unique need.
Granted, there is “fiction” poetry and “nonfiction” poetry. Fantasy and imagination are beautiful things to be celebrated in poetry, absolutely, but for the most part, poets draw most of their material from personal history. We use our experiences to create our world of poetry, and it truly helps our cause, our work, if we actually comprehend what it is we are writing about.
Whenever I think about what it really means to fully understand something through experience…to understand it in such a way that you are quite literally penning a piece of your Self to paper…I keep hearing Robin Williams’ character, Sean, in Good Will Hunting:
…if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right–“once more unto the breach, dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend‘s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself… (boldface added for emphasis, as the bold words are familiar, recurring themes in poetry)
I think the writer who composed this monologue for Williams’ character, Sean, absolutely nailed it on the head. He blatantly told Will (Matt Damon’s character) that sure, anything and everything can be read in a book or researched or self-taught…but that doesn’t mean jack squat at the end of the day. As a poet or novelist or blogger or storyteller or essayist or columnist or what-have-you…nothing you say holds any power or meaning or credibility without any honest-to-goodness experience. We are all capable of reading up on something or using our trusty sidekick, Google, for some personal assistance on a subject. But it will be found wanting. It won’t be true to You; it will be a fabrication of your imagination. And, don’t get me wrong, sometimes that’s perfectly okay, to stretch your mind and your knowledge to use it for the creation of a piece. (Hey, that’s what our wonderful imaginations are for, right?) And, honestly, sometimes it truly is impossible to *know* what a particular experience would even look like or feel like, so we have to reach for the words. We have limitations, naturally, when it comes to writing on certain topics (historical events, for example, as we are limited to what the history books say, for the most part). And, yes, that’s perfectly okay.
But that shouldn’t stop us. Because poets don’t want “okay.” We are designed with inquisitive minds and wanderlust spirits, eager to learn and challenge the norm, the accepted, the “okay” ideas of this world. And so we go–we wander and travel and gaze and admire and absorb. For ages, writers have dropped everything and packed their bags and tossed caution to the wind for the sake of chasing an Idea, a Memory, a Story–be that in the form of a person, a location, or an item–all of which could only be realized through hands-on experience. To see it with your own eyes and just breathe in its presence, ingesting its own story. Your reader, your audience, can often tell when you are inexperienced with your content. It feels…wrong, if I may be so bold. One can tell when it is lacking true emotion that comes from experience. I can write about what the Sistine Chapel looks like on Google Images, but it would be a completely different poem than if I wrote about it while I sat beneath its wonder. No poet honestly enjoys taking that risk of writing the unknown as if it is known; not only can that undermine our credibility, but it also removes the very reason why we write. You see, generally speaking, most poets simply want to share their words with the world in the hopes that they mean something to someone. It would basically be fraud to that someone if we wrote without even some grasp of the subject, no? We would be feeding our reader a lie simply because we have the ability to manipulate words into a pretty pattern of unique words and line breaks, and most readers don’t know any better. We are called to write honestly, and with integrity. Therefore–do your research, dear writer! And not in books or articles or videos, but in life. My goodness, it gives us every excuse to have an adventure–what rational poet wouldn’t love that? We need not to see, but to observe; need not hear, but listen; need not smell, but breathe; need not taste, but savor; and need not touch, but caress. Life is poetry. Adventuring to experience is what inspires it. Like Sean implies, one cannot talk about love or beauty or joy or suffering or loss until they have really lived it and felt its undeniable reality. There’s nothing quite like the real thing.
Acknowledging the innate need to ingest and digest Life, people like us get up, get out, and follow the promise of the day’s possibility in order to create the best poem or prose possible to honor that authentic snapshot moment or feeling or story. That’s why day trips and adventures and escapes and retreats are so important to the poet and writer inside us. So go–find your next adventure! Let it fuel your creativity. It’s all right there…just waiting to be discovered.