When I woke up on Singapore Air Flight #001 out of a drugged sleep, it was 10 AM by my watch, but pitch black outside the window. After a very cramped night’s “sleep” (if you can call it that) in economy class (any semblance of sleep made possible with the help of two Valium, two Advil and listening to Jim Greiner’s wonderful bells on repeat on my headset all night), I got up to stretch my very achy knees and stiff body.
As I made my way back to the bathroom, I realized that I was walking through the plane with writer’s eyes, writer’s ears, writer’s senses–because I knew I was taking you with me on this journey—because I was recording it, not just for me, but for you, my dear reader. I had switched into a whole different way of perceiving the world.
It’s like putting on a pair of tinted glasses; I was now searching out those quirky, unusual telling details that would best convey my experience to you. I started looking for little things—the woman in front of me watching an Indian music video on her TV with head-waggling singers, the man across the aisle from me doing fire breathing upon waking, the tiny little toothbrushes and single servings of toothpaste left for us in a small rack next to the tissues in the airplane bathroom.
In my mind’s eye, I recorded the fact that the stewardess (all of them serving this flight are slight, slender and willowy—I’m sure there’s still a weight requirement on Singapore Airlines—told me that the Asian-vegetarian special meal I ordered and refused at 2 AM last night had been thrown away after an hour due to the threat of contamination.
Because I know that I am writing for you, I am counting the number of mothers and fathers walking the aisles with their babies, noticing the high preponderance of families on this flight to Singapore, the biggest connecting hub in Asia, listening for the number of languages I hear spoken or see captioned on people’s TVs.
This is what it means to walk through the world as a writer. And this is precisely what I will be teaching my students in Bali.
photo credit: koalazymonkey via photopin cc
Just as a photographer carries different lenses to capture different effects, I have put on my writer’s lens. Part of me is no longer just having the experience; I am also observing the experience–seeking out the uncanny, the unusual, the unfamiliar, the obscure, the funny, the iconic. I am on the lookout for the telling detail, the odd juxtaposition, the small snatch of dialogue that reveals character or tells a story.
And in my pocket at all times, I carry a tiny notebook and a pen, so I can jot down the sensory details that will most effectively render the story for you.
This is what it means to travel as a writer.