The Strangeness of It All

If you’ve been following my adventures, you already know that I recently traveled overseas for a week. If you didn’t know that, welcome to the mayhem!

Lest you have any doubts, the trip was amazing. We got all of our catastrophes out of the way before it even began (missed our flight and had to do an eleventh hour rescue to get another one) so the rest of it went pretty smoothly. I got to see a neat little microcosm of northern Portugal, had some experience in ‘how the other half lives’ in more ways than one, and oh, yes, had a second wedding.

The trip was an odd combination of business and pleasure, because I couldn’t turn off the writer brain for an entire week. I didn’t write hardly anything, but simply looking around, taking pictures, and being present in a very unusual environment made up for it.

It must be said: I’m a homebody. I like to see new things, but actually getting out of my chair and getting to a new spot isn’t easy. It’s exhausting, no matter how much fun I have once I’m in that new place. When I’m bored, I watch travel documentaries.

But sitting in a dark cave, churning out novels and only interacting with people via the internet- well, that’s not particularly healthy. Or interesting to readers. I ‘m a firm believer in putting a small part of myself into each book, and if I don’t have new experiences, I’ll stagnate and so will my books. Maybe I’m compensating for my lack of creativity, but I find it easier to write about places I’ve been and cultures I’ve seen. The serial numbers get filed off, and the reader doesn’t know the difference. But it’s much easier to write about a medieval fair when you’ve seen its modern equivalent, the Portuguese farmer’s market. This one had live chickens and ducklings for sale, right next a clothing stall, one for fresh vegetables, and one selling the contents of a hardware/tool shop. Prices were posted, sort of; they were open to haggling, and according to Sarah, one should be careful not to speak English around the sellers, since all prices immediately triple if they think you’re a tourist. Fascinating stuff.

Prior to this trip, I’d fallen into a bit of a rut. It started as a routine, which is vital for most people including me, and became a trap that was increasingly harder to escape. My work suffered accordingly. The funny thing is, I grew up on a farm. Routine wasn’t a choice; the animals had to be fed, no matter what, and that added structure to the day. Even when I was sleeping eighteen hours a day, the horses still got fed and the stalls cleaned- that’s how ingrained it was. And because it was so normal, I used it as a foundation, a springboard from which I could jump to new and wacky experiences.

That’s all gone now, and while I was imposing a new routine on myself, I drifted a little too far in the other direction. Routine became a rut, and I was just as stuck as if I had no path at all. Hello, stagnation, made worse because I’m not particularly imaginative. I make things; I’m creative in the most literal sense of the word, but it’s all rather derivative stuff.

The solution, I think, is to have lots of new experiences. Travel to new places- which could be somewhere as simple as going to the next town over, that I’ve never been to. See lots of different people- interacting with them is the hard part. When I don’t feel like going anywhere, reading a new book in a new genre is an acceptable substitute.

I could be preaching to the choir, here. Most of us already know that life itself is more fulfilling when you have lots of different experiences, and it’s easier to create new stories when you can draw on lots of different memories. But sometimes we need to be reminded of this; it’s easy to get into a routine that becomes a rut, and before you know it, you’re a recluse peering out the window at night, vainly wishing to go outside and hoping no one sees you.

And since that would be sad, I’m going to step out the door, gas up the car, and do something. Even if it’s just picking up Dan and Sarah from the airport. Hey, I’ve never done that before; it could be interesting.


Photo by author of Guimarães Castle


  1. I have mixed emotions about air-road trips. I like being in new places and seeing things, trying new foods, learning things. I don’t like the process of getting from here to there.

    Yes, I’m a pilot who doesn’t like flying commercial. It’s a control thing. As in the back seat doesn’t have a set of controls. 😛

    1. I’ve trained myself to fall asleep in moving vehicles I don’t control. Including planes- I’m usually out by the time we hit cruising altitude. In a car, I can usually stay awake for half an hour, then I’m done. The alternative is getting motion sickness/minor anxiety attacks because I’m not the one driving. It’s the weirdest damn thing, but it works, except when I’m on a road trip and want to see what we’re driving past. Or when I’m the navigator.

      1. The driver has to watch the road. Motion sickness is caused by a conflict between what your eyes are seeing and what your inner ear is telling you about the motion.

      2. i really don’t like mountain roads when i am not driving… and somehow, when on the worst ones i have been on, the … uh, downhill side of the mountain road has been on the passenger side a lot.

      3. I pack an exciting book to read on planes.

        Warning: do NOT pack Debt of Honor to read on the plane just a few years after 9/11 – it freaked me completely OUT!

    2. I think it comes from knowing a little too much about what goes on behind the curtain…

  2. You are so right about needing real life experiences. Jobs I’ve held, trips I’ve taken, children I’ve had . . . Mind you I also pick up a lot from reading and movies, people talking about their own experiences, research . . . and Beta Readers tactfully (mostly) asking if I had that right, because . . .

    But it the things I can extrapolate from my experiences, that work the best.

  3. Been a while since I did much traveling. Never the time nor the money, I suppose.

  4. There’s a huge difference between visiting as a tourist, and visiting as a friend.

    Visiting friends in a different locale, and seeing their daily life, does expose you a bit to their culture. Tourism doesn’t.

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