Why Travel is Essential for Inspiration

The cool water of Lake Michigan slapped against my children’s bare feet, wetting the bottoms of their pant legs. They collected stones thought to be fossils, smoothed over from years or decades or lifetimes of the variability of waves at the surface of the glacial lakes.

The sun took a long time to sink below the horizon line. In fact, when we left the storytelling circle known as the Beach Bards, on the campus of the Leelenau School, at the lip of the lakeshore, the night sky was not yet black, the stars not yet defined in the air above us.

That’s the presence of summer in the north.

Celebrated Michigan writer and fellow Goddard College MFA alumnus Anne-Marie Oomen spoke about the importance of travel to create new material, to find inspiration for writing. She’d read a book about it (I apologize to the author for not remembering, we must always remember the names of those whose words inspire us), and I thought as I listened that yes, that is how it is for me, that when I go away, I find myself.

We all do, I think. We travel the world to better understand ourselves at home. We go away to create something beautiful. At home, in the presence of routine and clockwork, we stagnate and rush, which makes it hard to write anything ultimately beautiful.

But we do of course. We write because we must speak to the world, we must scream our truths to the treetops.

This morning, I woke to an open door wall with the cool morning just outside on the wooden balcony. It is as if this hotel room nestles in the treetops. And so I meditated in the plastic yard chair, amid the quiet and the bird calls, believing I too can live among the treetops, where there is more bustle and sway than at the thick, rooted base.

Isn’t that interesting. We know that on the water’s surface, there is more tumult and variation than at the bottom of the sea. Down in the deep, there is little to no variation, nothing to bother the clarity of what IS. 

How many of us have actually stumbled upon our true essence? Few, if any.

But it’s there for the discovering. And that is where the art of travel comes in – and I’m not talking about busy, rushes-through-airport-terminals business travel. I’m talking about the kind of exploration and adventure that comes from allowing yourself to stop in Grayling at the Au Sable park where the Army tanks and air force jet are propped for public view.

“Oooh, an airplane, and a tank!” Shaya called as our car whizzed past.

We pulled quickly into Spike’s bar and grill for a mediocre lunch where of course the kids could play pool and after lunch, after we slipped five forks into a lighter-than-air piece of coconut cake at a small cafe around the corner, we said, “Yes, we can take the time to go back to the park and see those tanks and airplanes.”

Even better if you can weave the flexibility and spontaneity of vacation into everyday life.

It was an hour out of our schedule, but on vacation there is no real schedule, it’s yours for the shaping, like a mound of clay in your palms. And Shaya’s awe and exclamation around those retired military vehicles and Eliana’s exhilaration at climbing to the top of the log cabin house and Asher’s triumph at not letting two little boys bully his little brother on the playscape, that’s what life is made of.

Yes, I nodded as my friend spoke, one must get away in order to find one’s voice.

We must travel and explore and discover and be alone with ourselves, in the silence, in order to find the voices that will carry our powerful words on the wings of clouds, so that anyone can truly hear us.

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