The Intentional Tourist

by Christina Lay

Through no fault of my own, I purchased another journal this weekend. I blame the friends who lured me into the maw of Barnes and Noble, which happens to have the best selection of writing journals around. How can any writer resist those lovely blank pages, the promise of new doodling and scribbling adventures?

If you’re like me, you have a stack of blank journals. I don’t even want to talk about how many journals I have that are a third to halfway full, having been started with great expectations, or possibly even mundane ones, but then are shunted aside, having not fulfilled the promise of drawing worthy and profound thoughts out of my uncooperative head.

This new journal will be different, says I, for upon the advice gleaned from travel writer Lavinia Spalding’s Writing Away, I have set an intention for this one. Thanks to a visiting writer friend, who’s on vacation, I cracked open my new journal and decided to play along with the idea of beginning yet another mobile scrapbook, even though I am most definitely not on vacation.

The intention? Here is what I wrote on the first page:

My intention is to stay awake. My intention is to feed the well, capture the response, record the sensation, use big words, use little words in interesting ways, explore language, become a tourist in my home town.

Becoming a tourist in your home town is an experiment I recommend to any artist. We all know how easy it is to go about in a fog, barely seeing the familiar world as it streams by. On this Memorial Day weekend, armed with fresh shiny journals, my friend and I plotted on how to go about this. How could we find something new in a town we both grew up in? Because it was Sunday- I think, still pondering how this came about- my friend came up with the suggestion we attend church. She’s an atheist and I’m a nonaligned spiritualist, so we knew we’d certainly feel like outsiders whichever church we ended up crashing.


St. Mary’s Catholic Church

I harkened back to my catholic upbringing and the lovely old church I hadn’t set foot in for decades. Checking the service schedule, we discovered Spanish Mass was at 1:00 that afternoon. So now it really would be like traveling to a different culture. So different in fact our excitement turned to trepidation as we began to feel like interlopers and filled our heads with preconceived notions and prejudices.

In other words, the perfect setting in which to initiate the pages of a travel journal.

Spanish Mass at St. Mary’s catholic church was lovely, interesting, evocative, and ultimately, boring as hell. For me it stirred vivid memories and replaced a few preconceived notions with a dose of reality. Here’s an example, uncensored-

Expectation #1: Everyone will be shorter and darker than me. They will look askance upon my otherness. Reality: 1. True. 2. Nobody gives a shit.

I think I first read about the idea of “filling the well” in The Artist’s Way, that classic workbook for the artistically stuck. In that book Julia Cameron suggests going on artist’s dates, in which you set a date with yourself to get out and explore your world once a week. We as writers can tend to isolate, hole up in our offices, and pour out our innards onto the keyboard until we’re empty husks of our former selves. We need to rejuvenate our senses, fill our minds with new pictures and have the opportunity to react, respond, be awed, afraid, amused, saddened, angered. A writer’s travels need not be only to look at pretty things or enjoy pleasant moments in carefully constructed tourist traps. In fact, it’s better if it’s not. Become a tourist, but not that kind of tourist.

With or without journal, I suggest you set out on your journey through your day with a tourist’s mind set. Pretend you’ve never been to where you work before, never met those people, never hung out in that coffee shop on the corner. Your intention? To see the ordinary with fresh eyes. To find the new in the familiar. To fill the well, turn the compost pile, ignite the chemistry that inspires art.

Intend to be amazed.

2 thoughts on “The Intentional Tourist

  1. Ha. I have some of those blank journals, mostly given to me by friends who know that I am a writer, and that means I write, right? Nope. I type. In fact, my writing quickly devolves into scribbles, doodles and grocery lists. But I love your idea…. I might start an intentional tourist journal by creating a new folder on my Mac. : )

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