I was with another writer working with students the other day, and one of the students asked if it was important for writers to travel. I told her that I thought that it was. The other writer said that she didn’t think it was. This is because much of my writing is based on travel and none of her writing is. She writes about Shanghai exclusively, which is her hometown, and she does so really well.
For me it’s important not so much because I’m going to write about different places. I certainly am, so that is a consideration, but because it gets me out of my own head and keeps my thoughts flexible. There are any number of ways to do this, but for me to keep creative and keep seeing old concepts from a new perspective, I have to keep moving mentally. Otherwise, I end up writing about the same things in the same way and that’s dangerous.
I’m glad that I’m traveling right now. I’m in Shanghai, China working with students here, and I’m seeing China differently than I would have imagined it. I think my biggest surprise is how little difference there is. Shanghai could be San Francisco or Paris. It is homogenized in a lot of ways that makes it familiar. I suppose that’s a tragedy in a lot of ways, but I never would have suspected that until I came here. There are those moments of pure China as well, but so much of the city has bent itself to efficiency in the same way that all major cities have that we’ve lost some of the uniqueness of the street life.
Anyway, I like that my illusions were taken away from me. I like to see them go and I think this gives me something new to think about and write about. The other writer is right, however. It doesn’t have to be travel that keeps us from being stale. It could be any number of ways to work our minds. My wife has a daily exercise for this where she forces herself to see one new thing every day. That of course changes the perception of the everyday. This is natural to her as a visual artist.
So here’s my question for you: what else should I do to keep my mind pliable?