Friday, September 26, 2008

The Traditional (Pretentious?) Metaphor at the Start of a Journey

The Chicago Tribune Tower has chunks of something from every state of the union embedded in its outside walls. Not only that, but it has a few things from other places all over the world alongside them. Look hard enough and you can find just about anything from the Parthenon to the Berlin Wall.

I can imagine some people wandering up to the walls, scratching their heads, and asking "why did they do that?" It's a fair question. Why does some newspaper out in the Midwest want a building with little bits in it from random other islands and forests and buildings on the other side of the planet?

The truth is that I'm not sure I could tell you in words. I could be a cynic and skim it, just saying they wanted impress people, but I don't think that's the real reason why.

But after taking this picture of it and looking at it a little more closely, I didn't need a well-worded reason to like it. I just do.

Some people ask me why I'm doing this. What's so great about an adventure, anyway? Why have I picked up a backpack with about 25 lbs of stuff and decided to haul myself away from my home, family, friends, pets, and everything else I'm leaving behind. I don't think I have a good answer in words. Once again, it's not to impress people. If I wanted that, I'd do something easier, like sword-swallowing.

Obviously there's a lot of other, better reasons, like all the stuff I'll learn, the people I'll meet, the places I'll see, things I'll try/explore/record/eat/whatever-I-can-do-with-it. But it isn't any one of those things that led me to do what I'm doing. I don't know if I could give you one reason in words why I want this adventure.

But I like it.

I've spent the last few days back in Chicago chatting up a new director on his vision for his first play in Univeristy Theater, planning a fiction submission for a friend's litmag as she tells me about the "skeeziest conversation she's ever had about semicolons," getting travel tips from one of my favorite professors (eats lots of local yogurt, the bacteria helps your system adjust to local food), walking my cousin's husky-collie and border collie mix out by Lake Michigan, talking up scav at the local watering hole and tons more besides. It's been a great visit, I'm really glad I got to see all the people I ran into, ate with, carried boxes and or groceries for, and everything else. Thank you all, hope to hear from you and maybe even see you on the road!

With any luck, tomorrow is going to be the big day. The last one I spend in my home country for a very long time. My last night at home in Seattle was a sad one, looking at everyone and everything I'm leaving behind. But now that I'm on my way, things are looking up.

Next stop: Mexico City.


  1. Joel,

    I'm so excited for you, anticipating a year that will change you, irrevocably.

    And I want to hear all about the food.

    I'm so sorry we couldn't connect before you left Seattle. Having a newborn makes me a terrible email correspondent. But she's darling and growing, and when you return, she'll be walking.

    We'll see you then!

  2. Do your best to keep taking pictures, even of things that don't seem important. You'll want them later.

    If you need anything that can at all feasibly be purchased through an army surplus store, be sure to let me know. I can get almost all of that stuff extremely cheap due to the whole connections thing.

    Also, don't give in to the nagging homesickness. It will fade in and out constantly, but remember why you're doing this and everything will turn out alright.

  3. You've wanted to do this since you and I were in elementary school together. I totally get why you're doing this.

    Keep in touch, send me pictures (I second Jared's suggestion to take as many as you can).

    If you didn't go around the world, I would have been shocked. So go for it, maybe I'll meet up with you sometime.

  4. Thank you all! I'll make sure I get more in about food too. And pictures. I can't think of anything I want from surplus, but I certainly appreciate the offer! I'll let you know if I think of something.