When I am struggling to write—and you may have noticed I have been struggling to write—I think of it as a problem with two parts. The first part is a failure of observation, or more indulgently, of not hearing the music. The words won’t come to you, or won’t come in a pleasing way. Your page remains blank. The second part is a failure of thinking, and for this words are beside the point. You have no through line, no sense for the finished composition, and whatever it is you do to find this missing element—reading, showering, sidling up to the bar—well, that’s what you should be doing instead.
It’s not that there has been a shortage of music. I spent the past three weeks in Colombia, and the stanzas would nearly write themselves. In a small town where the llanos meet the Amazon flashes of heat lightning mirror gunpowder bangs from games of tejo as beer bottles sweat on plastic tables. In a bookstore in Bogotá the clerk carefully balances on his stool to pull down an anthology of 20th century Colombian reporting with a frayed red cover. A flock of great green macaws splits the pewter sky of the Serranía de la Macarena at dawn.
These are things the world offers you when you look. But the parts resisted a whole. For weeks before leaving New Mexico I struggled with a draft that attempted to use the concept of a ‘home range’ from animal ecology as a scaffold for my own sense of place and the geography of daily life. “I would [define] home range to that area traversed by the individual in its normal activities of food gathering, mating, and caring for young”, wrote William Burt in a 1943 article in The Journal of Mammalogy. “Occasional sallies outside the area, perhaps exploratory in nature, should not be considered as in part of the home range.”
You see the seeds of something here that would hook me on the eve of travel, with its juxtaposition of the quotidian and the occasional but extraordinary. The way the natural world and the abstractions we use to explain it can provide us with a tool for making sense of our own lives and the riddle of being human. In the end, though, my desire to shoehorn this simple idea into something grander had more to do with projecting meaning onto the complicated privilege of those exploratory sallies than with thinking clearly. (Perhaps also the obligation of lapsed deadlines, and waning subscriber attention.)
Sometimes you push and push and there’s nothing there, no shortcut to the why. A term can just be a term; a trip can just be a trip, at least for a while. Now and always, thanks for reading.
That last bit resonates for me. I was just recently ruminating on how not all things--even big trips--are necessarily going to immediately contain the grander meaning that we somehow expect them to. Sometimes things just are and don't neatly fall into some pat structure of purpose and connection. That's ok.