May I Write You A Poem?

I’ve been thinking about travel a lot lately.

Instead of thinking about the whirlwind, endlessly long, empassioned lists of places I MUST VISIT, I’ve been thinking purely about the act of it. Traveling.

Brendan Leonard‘s The New American Road Trip Mixtape is about his travels and what he thought about, talked about, and realized while on the road or on rock faces. I was reading the chapter where he went to Yosemite, while I, too, was in Yosemite, and I felt that each page was a subtle knife, that he could be climbing on the rock above me, or that we’d cross paths on a trail as he buckled in, about to climb, and would suggest I come with. A call to adventure. Amongst many lines in that book that I haven’t been able to kick, is this:

The mountains are where I remember being with my friends. The timeline of any friendship is a series of scenes or memories, times where you were together over the course of the relationship. I’ve spent plenty of time with my friends drinking coffee and sharing dinner at restaurants; but those scenes always fade in to the background, overshadowed by adventures like this.

This resonates with me, and is something I want to keep in mind as I choose activities which fill my days… what will we remember? What will not just fill, but fuel us? Where are we most likely to take the ‘wow’ of the nature around us, and turn it in to an ‘aha’?

One of the first things I do every morning, is roll over in bed and scroll through the photos of National Geographic photographers. (My coworker recently admitted that her favorite work out music is Disney Parade Soundtracks, so I guess this is my not-so-guilty secret.) They’re gorgeous fuel my wanderlust. But what really transports me are the stories underneath. They put me in to the photo, that exact momentwhat it took to get there, and what it took to get home.

They’re amazing stories about amazing lives. And while I would love to live my life in a way that creates these true, epic stories, most of the art I currently make is fiction. Fantasies. Imagined Characters. Other worlds. And I really, really like this.

Though I love working with conceptual, surreal narrative photography (like the work of my amazing friend JB Knibbs), and following these adventure documentary photographers, it’s only in the past few days I’ve thought about combining them. Brendan Leonard (writer) and Carl Zoch (photographer) are currently doing a series where Brendan writes fiction about one of Carl’s amazing images. There’s only three so far, but I. Love. Them.

I also love the outdoors. I often find amazing landscapes, and while I want to photograph them, I long to add something to it. A character who is exploring, summoning, embodying, or juxtaposing this place. Props, art installations, light or shadow, words, images… I want to awaken them with a story. I would like to not just capture what exists, but create something more.

I recently was lucky to be able to attend a showing of Joe Rohde‘s The Leopard in the Land. In it, he talks about the differences between people who travel to consume the land and culture, versus to interact and understand it. He uses his painting as a way to bring something, so as he accepts the hospitality of strangers, he is also giving something.

Deep in the Altai Mountains, a Mongolian family invites The Leopard in the Land Team in for dinner and to stay the night in their Ger (yurt), citing the weather is too harsh to camp and keep traveling. Joe paints a portrait of the family for them in gratitude. The connection and exchange, as they stumble around language barriers to discuss cooking methods and paint brush choices, is beautiful.

As I travel, I want to be able to offer something. Selfishly, I would love to have it be a reason to interact with people, to learn their stories and perspectives. I’ve been thinking about what I could make and offer while I travel. I know from my work as an experience designer, that I long to help people Be Their Best Selves, and embody a dream/ability/strength/challenge/success/love they aren’t normally able to, if only for a little while. I would love to do a series of unique portraits and stories of people I meet, each in a similar nature to that. Should I swap to an instant camera, so they can have it in that moment, without waiting on importing, processing, and sending? But I’d like to be able to reach even people who aren’t comfortable in front of the lens. Perhaps then it could be a different subject? Fulfilling the images and text impulse, I also love graphic novels. I could see myself creating small comics, even just single strips, for people. My drawing and coloring skills aren’t as strong as I would like, but is it the act and the conversation which matters most?

What would you like to see inspired by how you share your world? What would you like to help make?

Brian Sonia-Wallace will write you a poem based off of a word or topic of your choice. I could see him in a back-alley bar, pulling an eccentric combination-briefcase-and-typewriter on to the table with a gentle thud. He turns to the person he was just speaking with, and says, “I’m sorry, you were talking about your fear of falling, and it got me thinking. May I write you a poem?”