Unpathed Water, Undreamed Shores, and Rediscovering The Daily Creative Writer
“How will it end?”
“As stories must when love is denied…with tears, and a journey.”
Shakespeare In Love
And with that last line, Queen Elizabeth brought the crowd to their feet in a lovely little theater in the heart of Edinburgh. The play, adapted by Lee Hall from the 1998 film, served as a tether point for my trip to the British Isles — a way to pamper myself after rough passage through the last several months of 2018, and as a portal to the grander themes of my Scottish adventure: creativity and perspective.
“When we are creative, our vision becomes broader and the world opens up to us,” explains Shelly Hi Carson, professor of psychology at Harvard. “[It’s] similar to the way our perspective broadens when we travel.”
A Riot of the Heart
“All journeys have a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Burber
When I’d purchased my tickets to the play months before, my only thought was filling up my evening so that once I’d arrived in Edinburgh, I’d have some purpose beyond roaming the streets, haunting pubs for the perfect pint, and filling up my travel journal. The movie is a favorite of mine, so I expected to be entertained for an hour or two – but I did not expect to feel so validated and connected.
Watching the drama unfold onstage — young Shakespeare trying to escape writers block and searching for his muse, Lady Violet trying to escape the prison of conformity and marriage for something a little more…real — a sense of validation…of the very “rightness” of my journey…overwhelmed me. I let myself get swept up on the drama of star-crossed lovers torn apart by circumstance. Most importantly, I became reacquainted with my own writer’s spark — which, sad to say, had sustained its meager flame on whatever flotsam and jetsam floated its way while I concerned myself with the practicalities of everyday life.
“I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And Love. Love above all!” declares Lady Violet in the play. “…love that overthrows life. Ubbiddable, ungovernable – like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture.”
I’d wager if you ask any writer — or aspiring writer — how they feel about their work and they will admit (perhaps after a whiskey or two) that they are seeking that same riot of the heart. The unbiddable, ungovernable rapture experienced when pen is put to paper or fingers fly along the keyboard.
Settled into my seat in the Kings Theater, I let myself bathe in the pleasure of hearing Shakespeare spoken aloud by talented, passionate actors. Here was the reason I’d embarked on this journey (which included 38 hours of flights and layovers and a late-night Airbnb disaster) — to get the message I’d been dodging for months (maybe even years) — a whisper that had turned into a riotous roar. “Write,” it demanded. “Write and then write some more…Keep on writing until the blaze burns so hot it turns the hurt and tears and regrets to rarified ashes. Then begin again. Rebuild. Reimagine. Be Reborn.”
Using Travel to Stoke Creativity
“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” John A. Shedd
My journey to the highlands began by impulse and a desperate need to escape. I packed along a journal, knowing there’d be thoughts to jot down and memories to record. I know enough of travel to understand how inspiration can shadow you on a red-eye, sit on your shoulder at a local pub, and lead the way down cobblestone streets and through unfamiliar trailheads. I’ll admit I hoped setting down footsteps in unfamiliar territory would stoke my creativity and get me back to the page.
According to research conducted by the American Psychological Association, I was right to follow my instinct. After study the lives of creative expatriates (Nabokov, Hemmingway, etc), researchers were able to chart a higher degree of creativity when correlated with time spent abroad. It’s got to do with exposure to new experiences as well as a need highly creative people have to explore new places and meet new personalities.
“Travel can make a person more open and creative,” concluded researchers.
I know I came home with a list of new projects to pursue and a renewed commitment to my craft. I didn’t expect to come home with more focus and purpose, and a more confident — if chastized and humbled — heart. But that’s why we leave our harbors and explore new seas: to find adventure but, more importantly, to find our way back home, smarter and stronger and more alive than when we set sail.
Travel as Transition
“Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.” Henry David Thoreau
As Queen Elizabeth so aptly observes in her closing line, when life shifts underneath your feet tears are an acceptable response and travel a worthy antidote. After the play, I tried to hail a cab back to my hotel, but none were to be had. Undaunted, I decided to walk, and set out on what the hotel clerk had promised would be a short, 15-minute amble back to Grassmarket and the base of Edinburgh Castle.
Oh, those best-laid-plans! How they make fools of us all.
Over 240 minutes later (thanks iPhone Health app!), I finally trudged into the warm, welcoming lobby of my hotel. A few wrong turns, some nearsighted redirections, and a less-than-accurate google maps app led me in a circle for miles. Thankfully, Edinburgh is a safe city, and with Christmas approaching, many of the buildings were done up in their holiday trim.
Once I realized I was hopelessly lost, I settled into the rhythm of my walk. I took deep breaths of the peaty, sea-tinged air. I cocked an ear to the crying seagulls and traditional music floating out of pubs, a little louder as a door opened to let in a thirsty patron or spill a gaggle of chums onto the sidewalk. I kept an eye out for a wayward taxi but also reveled in the snippets of home life that flooded out through the windows cozy apartments, casting warm light onto sidewalks slick with rain.
Taking it all in, I arrived at my final destination not frustrated, bedraggled and exhausted – but lit up with possibility.
“If you think it long and mad the wind of banners that passes through my life
And you decide to leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots
That on that day, at that hour, I shall lift my arms
And my roots will set off to seek another land”
― Pablo Neruda, Selected Poems