Why Radiant ZigZag?
Welcome to Jacob & Jessica’s travel blog. On this page, Jacob has written a description of how he came to name the blog and the themes connected to that name.
Here’s the short version: We’re traveling for a year! We want to keep a blog so you can follow us along as we share images, descriptions and stories. What to name the blog? Radiant ZigZag Becoming! Why? To reflect the beauty and constantly changing nature of travel (and Life) and the sense of moving into the unknown, with loss always by our side. As we tell the story, it will be fresh…radiant, even to us. Want to follow along?
The long explanation:
“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardor and paradoxes – than our travels,” writes Alain De Botton in The Art of Travel. Just as one turns to guidebooks for advice on where to travel and what to see there, I turned to this book for reflections on why and how to travel. Being happy with life in SF on the basic level of friends, partnership and work, and well aware of the “wherever you go there you are” phenomenon, I am not demanding of this journey to fill empty places I have failed to fill elsewhere. We intend for it to bring Jessica and I closer together, and expect to be invigorated and challenged in unforeseen ways. We are eager to see what our lives might be about once unencumbered by work and the routines of our city life. Both of us sharing interests in healthy community living, food and personal and cultural transformation, we intend to seek out communities that are expressing the values of sustainability and interpersonal connection. Esalen is a natural first stop (and one we suspect might set the bar high).
De Botton reminds us that the reality of travel is different from the anticipation of travel. In the anticipation of travel, we have images of distant foreign lands filled with delights that bring expectations of relaxation and enrichment. For Esalen, I anticipate deep connections, lots of time wandering the land while meditating and learning photography. My mind convinces me that, of course, in a month I’ll learn a ton about farming. On Kauai, we’ll decompress with hours of luxuriating on the beach and the nights will be quiet. I also project expectations based on my other trip to that island. These are natural movements of the mind, however pointless they are. I don’t anticipate that our room will be adjacent to a family vacationing with a baby, who’s overly effective cries wake up those not compelled to provide care. I don’t anticipate the line at the car rental office, which always frustrates then dilutes my excitement at arriving at my destination. Anticipation, like memory, abbreviates, and it is often the mundane and undesirable that is left out. Mostly for me, this process happens through images. Short flashes of scenes that seem to be unintended thoughts that I then take to be pretty good representations of the future (or the past, in the case of memory).
On one of my last nights at home, I watched Terrence Malick’s 2012 film, To the Wonder. To many it will be viewed as a brooding and self-referential (to Malick) “art film”, or possibly be seen as impalpable and boring. To others, including Roger Ebert (it was the last film he reviewed before his death), it is a refreshingly sublime antidote to the overdone overly-explained and dramatized narratives of films that appeal to the mass audience. Though I often happily participate as a member of this mass audience (I did nap during Malick’s Tree of Life), I approached this film in the mood for visual poetry. I’ve been packing up my entire apartment as I contemplate how one prepares for a year-long round-the-world journey. Noticing anticipatory images move across my mind. As each large and tiny item was sorted and put away, the last eight years of my life in SF flashed before me in images set to the dreamy pop and tender ambient music playing in the background. Abbreviated, of course. Rebranded, perhaps. I was trying to think of a name for this blog, then while browsing Netflix for something to watch, the title To the Wonder appealed. This phrase evokes many of the feelings I have now, hours before departure: Surprise and openness mingled with a sense of the beauty of the unexpected. Awe, curiosity and gratitude. Also, the grief of letting go. I am moving out of the relative certainty of my life and leaving behind, perhaps, the general disregard and lack of presence that comfort and routine can tend me toward. I am going to the wonder.
The style of the film is of a contemplative dreaminess. There is hardly any dialogue, what little narrative there is comes through in whispered voice-over, and the images drifting by – sensual touches between new lovers, tides coming in, faces full of loss and longing – are far more evocative than explanatory. Thus it mirrors and lures the unconscious. Images, sounds and smells arrive through the doors to the mind, each really just a flash, and our thoughts are the whispered (though sometimes harsh) voice-over. Perhaps the honey-jasmine smell of honeysuckle triggers a memory of raking leaves with your father in the backyard during early fall, then comes a warm feeling of cozy family sweetness or perhaps a resentment and some tension in the belly. Or a figure sitting alone in a coffee shop, appearing sad, drags behind it our own loneliness and longing, and we fall in love as we watch her stir her coffee and next we construct entire fantasies. Often we’re convinced they’re true and start to plan around them. All from flashing images and transient feelings. The mass-audience story-addict of the ego is hooked by the Malick-director of the primary-process mind.
This film, our dreams, anticipation of and actual travel, this whole life, really, before the mind catches up and labels it, judges it and owns it, is Radiant ZigZag Becoming. I take this unusual phrase, which resonates with my preference for verbs over nouns when getting real about life, from Margaret Doody’s introduction to the 1740 novel Pamela by Samuel Richardson, which Malick instructed the editors of his film to read (Doody’s introduction, that is). The novel itself is a novel in letters, and one might describe a personal travel blog as a memoir in letters. As we tell our story we will always be in the middle of it. It will be fresh…radiant, even to us.
I intend to post lots of images. Dreamy and evocative, playful and inspiring, maybe even mundane and documentary-like but celebratory of this planet and we the precious people that inhabit it for a brief time. In the photo below are three of the most precious to me.
Ebert asked in his review of To the Wonder, “Why must every motivation be spelled out?” He asked this as a critique of films that use detailed narratives, which I am linking to the critique mindfulness makes of the discursive mind. He goes on to observe, “Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?” This is incredible to read with the knowledge that it was his last review, as if after viewing literally thousands of films (some estimate close to 10,000) he might be complaining a bit, and was spiritually uplifted by Malick’s attempt to reach deeper. Perhaps, at age 70 and many years into a struggle with cancer, he was reviewing his own life and was deeply touched by a film that follows the structure of memories, dreams and reflections. Also, aren’t our own minds often telling the same story? Doesn’t it get repulsive or at least boring after awhile? Though we’re in a new relationship or got a new hair style, or have ventured out to distant lands – our mental patterns persist until we slow down enough, pause, and discover the frightening and loving potential of presence. That is also my intention for this journey, and for this blog to be a space to document what arises while radiant zigzag becoming into the unknown, where something worthwhile is sure to happen.