Preparing for a talk. That’s how I am spending my Friday evening; and that’s good. I enjoy public speaking. Telling stories is fun; but learning what other people want to share or hear about is better. Saturday, March 5th, 2016 I’ll give a talk at the Edmonds Library about Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland. Travel changes people, and a good trip inspires changes for years. A talk I gave after getting off the airplane has little to do with a talk I’ll give years later. It is now years later. I wonder what I’ll talk about.
When I say “I wonder what I’ll talk about” I’m not being facetious. I honestly don’t know. Tonight I am preparing the talk, getting the photos onto the new-ish computer (a Chromebook), pulling together the various things I carried that are now props for talks, watching the slideshow go by again, remembering the things to improve from last time, and refreshing my memories. The memories, the photos, the things I carried haven’t changed. Well, memories shift. The biggest change is the impact the trip had on my life.
I took the trip as an homage to my bicycle ride across America, a ride from 2000/2001 that became my first book, Just Keep Pedaling. That ride taught me about the similarities and disparities within America, the need to get out of one rut even if it meant temporarily getting into another rut, and my unexpected vanity and body image issues. Fifteen years later, those lessons resonate and percolate.
My trip across Scotland was also a rebellion. Yet again, I as doing all the “right” things, while my world was falling apart. The Great Recession was finally recognized as an echo of the Great Depression, or as I call it the Second Depression. My finances “should” recover soon, but the anxiety and delay created health issues, though it was tough to tell if they were real or imagined. I could either be patient and worrisome sitting at home, or I could assume the best and take a trip on the credit card. Besides, it was time to honor my previous life-changing achievement.
And, my life changed again. Good, deep travel can do that; and I’m glad it happened to me again. Scotland taught me about joy, perseverance, and finding community. All I wanted was some time off and a chance to get myself out of my new, regular rut. I found more.
Scroll back through previous posts (and buy the book, of course) to see more of the process and the change. One of the values of being a blogger and an author is a chronology that others, as well as myself, can read and interpret. We change every day, but without a record along the way, the changes can be so subtle that they seem inconsequential. Amidst the mundane, the revelatory happens.
Bicycling across America taught me about the great emptiness of most of the country, a sad insight into how many people feel trapped in their hometowns, a reinforcement of the beauty everywhere, and the power of community that is inherent with being human. The next time I give a talk about that book, I’ll tell the stories but weave in those insights and finish with avoiding the trap of body image and vanity imposed by advertisements.
Walking across Scotland reinforced the very thing that will shift the way I give a talk. People and ideas fascinate me. I’m more interested in the experiences and dreams of the people in the audience than what happened to me. I already know my story – and I’ll tell it. Now, however, I recognize that my story’s value is its role as a framework that engages others. I’ll talk about walking from Stranraer to Aberdeen, but I’ll be watching and listening for reactions to places, events, and people that resonate within members of the audience. I am less interested in what I have to say, and much more interested in what they have to share. I can teach, but I like to know what they want to learn.
I’m due for another journey. Unfortunately, my financial situation hasn’t improved. Book sales are nice, but it would be a rare book that would pay for the next trip (Ireland?). For the last few years, I’ve been working seven days a week, just like so many other Americans who are “employed” but who are far from being able to take two days off every week. Every week! Imagine that.
A bit of good fortune would go a long way. My walk across Scotland cost about $140/day. For under $4,000 I was able to take a trip that was memorable enough to inspire a very non-Hollywood book. For the price of an upgrade in a new luxury sedan (which I would only buy if I won the lottery), I could walk around Ireland. Of course, for that much money, I could also relieve the pressure from taxes. From what I experienced, the Scots would appreciate my frugal approach to such a sum – and would also cheer a grand gesture in defiance of authority. An interesting people.
I’ve started packing the truck. It takes more stuff to give a talk than it does to take the walk. I’ll cart in two or three boxes of props plus a computer or two. For the walk, everything had to fit inside one day pack. Picking what I would carry took a long time, but after I was there, I was committed and very little changed. Very relaxing.
If tomorrow’s talk starts like most talks, I’ll be nervous for the first three minutes, and then start getting the feel for the audience’s wants and needs. After that it will be a real-time synthesis of the basic storyline, integrating their interests, and making sure I hit a few key points.
I wonder what I’ll talk about.