You are what you is.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Notes on Transition

David Foster Wallace once argued that conquering the preoccupation with self was pretty much the whole objective of being alive.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I transition from my career as a travel writer into the next thing, whatever that thing may be. To be honest, the thought scares me a little. Preoccupation with self is a big part of who I am. The fact that I think this makes me different than anyone else is itself probably symptomatic of my narcissism

Several years ago, a lifetime ago, I was living on an island called Penghu with my future ex wife. I'd just finished work on my first guide for Lonely Planet, and was exhausted. 

The Author, 2007

Looking for a way to visually describe the exhaustion that I felt, I had Laurie take some photos of me covered in items from the 35 pound sack of brochures, pamphlets and business cards I'd collected during my research.

I liked the picture. I liked it so much that I used it as my "action shot" for the book itself, the seventh edition of the Lonely Planet Taiwan guide. (That's the sixth sticking out of my hand, the guide I was updating). 

I like to think that the image both captured the moment and set the stage for my career as a travel writer. I had plenty of fun, and more adventure than any one man deserves during my years as a guidebook writer.  

But - image of me naked under a stack of travel detritus notwithstanding -  I always treated the job seriously. It was always a job.

As a teenager, I worked in New York City as a bike messenger. It was an intense and formative period that shaped me in many ways. I always felt there were parallels between being a bike messenger and being a travel writer. Both jobs required constant motion, great rapidity and heavy deadline pressure. As a bike messenger, my runs were all short, generally within the confines of one small island (as indeed Manhattan is, stripped of it's massive population, economic weight, deserved pomp and cultural significance).   I had no interest in the content of the information I was charged with moving; I was a mere conduit, as personally vital to whatever story they were part of as a raven in Game of Thrones is to the news of various intrigues they carry between castles in Westeros. My connection to whatever data I was carrying was transitory; there was no "me" in it after It had left my hands.  

As a travel writer, my runs were far longer and more complex, spanning the globe. My role in data transmission was not merely that of courier courier, but as shaper, intimately involved and ultimately responsible for the accuracy and quality. Still, in the end, my job as a travel writer is largely similar to that of a bike messenger: To transmit data and information quickly and accurately. That I have been allowed to interject myself into this work has been something of a blessing. Keeping this blog has been something of a blessing, a ready-made excuse for preoccupation with self. 

This afternoon I was working on my resume, tweaking this phrase, trimming that word, trying to suss out the questions that define me to a potential employer.  Am I fully fluent in Mandarin or merely highly conversational?   Should I define myself as a writer or content creator? Do I mention my understanding of Search Engine Optimization even though I despise SEO?  

My girlfriend came over, so I put the whole frustrating business aside for a bit, but not before asking her to help me with a project I'd been thinking of for a while. I wanted to recreate the shot from my first book, but this time, instead of using brochures and maps and business cards connected to the job I'd just finished, I covered myself with the books I'd authored or co-authored since then, throwing in a few of my recent magazine accomplishments (Bicycle Times, though if I had hard copies of the last three years of Destination Belize and the fancy in-flight magazines & other assorted publications I've contributed to over the last couple of years I'd have thrown those on as well.)

A couple of books have gone missing, but sharp-eyed readers who care to look will see I used a couple of titles twice. Not many though. I suspect it all evens out.

From the looks of things it looks like I'm still a long way from conquering the preoccupation with self.   Perhaps a new occupation will help?  

And on that note, Are you looking for a Writer or Content Creator? How about an all-around World-Traveled Ideas Man or Bilingual Screenwriter?   If so, check out my resume here. 

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