One of the dichotomies of my personality I regularly struggle with is my inherent need to experience new things, especially so they can influence my art, and my seemingly-genetic predisposition to constancy and frugality (which I completely blame my father for). I’ve never believed that “write what you know” is bulletproof advice for writers (pretty much every “writing rule” I’ve ever heard is made to be broken), but I don’t think there’s any denying that a broader range of life experiences provides artists with a deeper well to plumb for ideas for future art. Unfortunately, various life circumstances have prevented me from having as many new experiences as I would have liked for a long time now, and a lot of those circumstances have also made me crave constancy as my world has blown apart around me these past few years.
Mom’s hospitalization and passing in 2016 was the most life-shaking event I’ve ever been through. and I think it was responsible for some of the new experiences I had in 2017. For example, while I’m sure that Mom would have been okay with my getting a tattoo, I felt a lot more comfortable getting one after she passed away, simply because she came from an era where tattoos were only acceptable for certain people (such as people who’d served in the military, like her father). My father didn’t even approve of me putting on temporary tattoos when I was younger, and I know full well that he would never have accepted me getting a permanent tattoo. (He’s also the reason why I still haven’t gotten my ears pierced, thanks to all the times he told me that I was “born with too many holes in [my] head to start with.” Yeah, I also blame him for a lot of my low self-esteem, thanks for asking.)
I’d been thinking about getting a tattoo for a long time (and it’s already been a positive for my career, as it will be featured in the upcoming anthology Bodies of Words by December Press), but the real catalyst for me getting my first tattoo when I did was because I knew that I was on the verge of moving out of Toledo, and I wanted to get my tattoo in Toledo not only because of the awesome shop and the awesome artist I got to work with, but also because I wanted “something to remember” Toledo by. I know that there are lots of ways that I could have brought part of Toledo with me when I moved to Colorado last December, but getting that tattoo felt like the right thing to do at that time, and I’m sure that I’ll be using that experience to help inform my future art.
That move was also responsible for another new experience for me, as I flew on an airplane for the first time in my life. I’ve never really had a reason to fly before — the only time I ever had to travel a long distance was when I went to a friend’s video game tournament in North Carolina for my thirtieth birthday, and I kind of wanted to drive that anyway so I could have my first solo road trip — and as I was weighing all my different options for how to get from Toledo to Colorado Springs, I felt that I was at a point in my life where I needed that experience of flying. I wasn’t sure if I’d really get a better opportunity in my life to fly, and with the help of friends in both cities, I was able to catch a cheap flight from Detroit to Denver that helped me shave a lot of time off of my travel, to say nothing of wear and tear on my aging car.
Now that I’ve flown, I can write from experience about things like turbulence, and cramped airline seats, and how much different food tastes tens of thousands of feet up in the air, and having to deal with a real jerk sitting next to you. I don’t remember the experience as clearly as I’d like, simply because I couldn’t fall asleep the night before (anticipating big experiences like that is a sure-fire recipe for insomnia, at least for me), but I remember enough of it that, again, it’s given me more material to draw from when I’ve been doing new work. I’m not sure if I’ll ever fly again — there’s that craving for stability popping up again — but it’s definitely not something I’d consciously avoid.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because one thing I’ve still yet to do in my life is ride on an Amtrak. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden on any real trains in my life (kiddie trains at parks and such don’t count), and despite the reputation that Amtrak has, I still think that taking a long train ride is something that would benefit me personally, to say nothing of my art. I’ve looked at YouTube videos and done other research about train travel, but as I always remind my students, as wonderful as research can be, it’s no substitute for getting out there and experiencing something yourself, if you have the opportunity to do so.
The key word there is “opportunity.” For many of my students, their paper topics come from past experiences that they’ve already lived through, often with great difficulty. As interested as I am in taking an Amtrak somewhere, I’m not exactly flush with cash right now, and I’ve been dealing with so many big changes in my life that taking a train somewhere just to take a train would be disrupting what little constancy remains in my life, for a reason that doesn’t make sense given my current circumstances. What I need right now is an opportunity to have those new experiences, to do things I’ve never done before and then to draw on them for my future art. The only question for me now is when that opportunity will come.