Travel Lit. Blog #1: Overcoming Inertia
One of the basic tenets of Newton's laws of motion is the concept of inertia. Objects at rest, Sir Isaac Newton tells us, tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion, unless acted upon by some outside force. Now, for the physicist, or anyone with a high school education, this is not exactly earth shattering news. However, I was quite surprised to see how this law applied not just to gravity, but how it also fit the idea of traveling remarkably well.
In Albert Wendt's futuristic novel Black Rainbow, set in a New Zealand controlled by the government with absolute power, we are presented with a protagonist who struggles to overcome the inertia that has set in upon his daily life. For our nameless protagonist, his quiet, safe, repetitive life has become so ingrained in him, that he cannot bear to let go of it. The fact that said life is a miserable existence, one in which he goes to different "pods" in an office building every day, for years and years, to answer a seemingly endless parade of questions, is irrelevant to him. His attachment to this life stems not from a sense of fulfillment in it, but rather from the predictability of his daily routine, a comfort in knowing what to expect each and every day.
Indeed, our character's only real attachment in this book seem to be to this routine, as his freedom, his break from this routine, elicits a stronger reaction from the protagonist than when his wife left him. We see the stress that this freedom causes the protagonist in the scene in which he is first congratulated for gaining his freedom from the rules and strictures of the all-powerful state, thus allowing him to go anywhere and do anything. In other words, he is now, finally, allowed to travel. When the protagonist receives the news he is free, the old blind man, the man who was at every one of the protagonists meetings over the years, tells him, "You're very lucky, mate. Congratulations. Not many people get the freedom of the State. You can do what you like now, with total immunity" (33). Chillingly, though, the protagonist's only response is a nervous and frightened question back, as he replies, "But- what if I don't want it?" (33).
In many ways, we are not really so unlike Wendt's protagonist in regard to travel. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, secure and comfortable in their daily lives. How many of us, for example, experienced a fear at leaving high school, and home, when we went away to college? I know that I certainly did. The familiarity of home, its smells, the cooking, the people, was, and still is, reassuring to me. I had so many things set in my life in Long Island, New York, so many routines I was not even really aware of, such as who I hung out with on Friday nights, the route I took to school each morning, and how I dressed, in uniform, for school each day. The prospect of all this being shattered and replaced by the looming unknown scared the pants off me, as summer dwindled to a close and my freshman year approached.
Now, fast forwarding a couple of years, I find myself a junior, totally in love with my college. As this past summer wound down, I found myself eagerly counting down the days till I could return to school. Driving into Baltimore, Maryland, where the benches proudly declare this to be the best city in the world, I felt a rush of warmth for the city that has now become my home away from home. But what's the reason for this change? It is really quite simple. The more I establish routines at Loyola, the more comfortable and at home I feel at the college. I am by no means closed off to new opportunities or to meeting new people, and yet I, like most people, love the feeling of familiarity, of knowing, and of belonging.
I returned, this year, to the same job on campus at the pizzeria, the same team, Loyola club roller hockey, and, with some exceptions, I hang with the same group of friends on the weekends. Certainly, it makes me realize why, as miserably boring as the life of Black Rainbow's protagonist seemed to be before he gained freedom, he is so attached to it. We all develop an attachment to our routines, to knowing, and so often it is travel that breaks us out of this comfortable existence. Travel shakes things up. It puts us smack dab in the middle of something new, foreign, and utterly unfamiliar, pushing us out of our comfort zones and bringing excitement, and fear, back into our daily lives.
The same, though, is also true of travel that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. For some people traveling to new places and seeing new things becomes almost addicting, as it did for the famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo in Italo Calvino's fictional work, Invisible Cities. Those who have traveled and really experienced other cultures first-hand seem almost drawn to it, as if they could gladly throw darts at a map, and choose to live wherever the pins stick. I myself am not what anyone would call well-traveled, or an explorer, with most of my trips out of the United States being family vacations to island based resorts. Effectively, these places are like American light, seeking to provide the visitor with just a dash of culture, while keeping them within the safe cocoon of familiarity.
However, despite my own lack of worldliness, I can understand why we should embrace, not fear, travel, and the newness of the place it takes us to. By sticking with it long enough, I made Baltimore my home. I established routines and a comfortable familiarity with the city and the college, and, with time, I know that I have the ability to do this anywhere I go. Though we may enjoy the security of knowing what to expect in our daily lives, we should never become so attached to our routines that they imprison us. Never, should we have to say to freedom, to the prospect of travel, "But- what if I don't want it."