THE VAGARIES OF SUSPENDED ANIMATION

Ticket to ride … and no, I'm not talking about cartoon characters who haven't been properly processed on the render farm.

I doubt this will be the last posting I ever make about air travel. The act of trusting your physical self to a metal shell of some sort, often surrounded by people whom you might not ordinarily even think to notice, is strong evidence to me that life only has meaning by force of will. Travel by plane particularly amplifies this phenomenon because at the beginning and end of almost every flight, you pass through the churning mass of humanity surrounded by generic, anodyne establishments shilling for unnecessary consumer goods and carbohydrates. This thing called travel has nothing to do with walking from one place to another.

Travel by car is entirely the same and entirely different. If you're driving alone in a city or town, you're isolated in a metal and glass bubble even as thousands of other bubbles pass perilously close at high speed. There's little you can do but actually operate the car. In fact, you'd better not be doing much else if you're the person behind the wheel!

Assuming you're driving with others, the experience shifts, but only a little. It's only in cars that we willingly choose to sit so close to other people in largely immobile states for extended periods of time. Even people we love don't generally tolerate suppression of their own movements when they're seated close to us. But here in the artificially imposed stillnesses of travel by modern mechanical means ideas flood in.

Artists hate restrictions, yet it's through restriction that artists often find their greatest inspirations. Some artists never travel at all. Some travel incessantly, wandering the physical world as much as they travel the world of ideas. But the very concept of travel alone fuels the creative soul, through inspiration, through exasperation, through anxiety, through epiphany. Travel is the act of willingly restricting yourself in order to move through space to a place where you may discover new freedoms. Through restriction, we find openness.

I struggle sometimes to keep a steady rudder beneath me on travel days, and the reasons are not what you may think. It's not just from getting up at odd hours, or schlepping luggage, or suffering the indignities of security queues: travel days always present a strange tension between the spontaneous generation of ideas and the nearly comical inability to do anything with those ideas while getting from one place to another. Travel days torment me with infinite lives not taken, with roads skittering off into uncharted stories that I can only glimpse through the window of my train or plane or rickshaw. The instant freedom afforded by travel bangs squarely into the rigid realities of inevitable plans already made. Spontaneity crashes into obligations; dreams meet practicalities. I experience alternatives, I invent possibilities, I dream.

Then I wake.

By definition travel requires movement over distance. In covering that physical distance, travel over many outcroppings of aesthetic terrain seem to stop. Except for an elite sliver of society, travel becomes an equalizer. Low-end material surroundings juxtaposed against endless streams of humanity place the wealthy and the weary in close proximity, and often it's impossible to tell the players apart on sight. Everyone wears comfy shoes, everyone obsessively checks the time. People may have vital things to do when they reach their destinations, but in the time in-between waypoints, there's a dislocation of creative acts. Reduced to nothing more than outward action through space, travel upends aesthetic momentum.

And all of this is to say, I relish a good trip. I marvel at the flood of new ideas that often rush in, sometimes while I'm ordering a cheap cup of coffee in an airport or in a shop on an anonymous highway exit, and sometimes days after I'm back home reflecting on what's transpired. Suspended animation yields kinetic force. By moving through the real world we learn how to create new abstractions of it, bit by bit, mile by mile.

--MS

PS -- Yes, yes, here's where the good people of 1AU ask our dear readers to share what you've read with friends and colleagues. And here's the place where you think, "Oh, sure, one more imposition of my precious time." Well, we're asking. It's something we value above rubies, above gold: if you like an idea enough to give it a moment's thought, then consider giving it a measure of freedom. When you share an idea with another person, you release an idea to grow freely in the world. Like what you see? Set it free.

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