The first day Jules, Jessi, and I landed in Rio de Janeiro, we walked most of the day. We arrived in the morning and knew we couldn't risk naps. Sleep deprived, my vision slightly wavy, magic was everywhere. It would be, anyway: this was the beginning of an adventure.
But when we first saw an orchid peering down from a tree, we were astonished. Did these trees blossom in orchids? We looked closer, and saw the orchid roots tendrilling around the trunk. Then we noticed bits of plastic containers pinned to the trees by those tendrils. Someone had set the plants to grow there, parasitically perhaps?
We saw them everywhere, these orchids.
A friend offered an explanation so beautiful I hope it is true: the porters who stand guard at each apartment building in Copacabana and Ipanema began salvaging orchid plants from the dumpsters when people in the neighborhood trashed the orchids they received as gifts. They set the plants in the trees to give them a second life. The climate, the trees, all served the orchids well.
Living in Brazil, I could begin to write a prose collection that had previously evaded me. Much was new to me: those orchids tendriled to tree trunks; bikinis crocheted by artisans vending wares from sidewalk stands; poetry spraypainted on streetside walls and doors with word play in Portuguese (escrevo, esqueco; I write, I forget).
Has this happened to you? Where unfamiliar encounters dislodge what is familiar from its usual slots?
Yesterday I read an essay by Pagan Kennedy in the New York Times titled "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity." "As people dredge the unknown, they are engaging in a highly creative act," Kennedy writes, describing how people engage in those stunning insights though wandering, but with some intention, too: "You become a super-encounterer, according to Dr. [Sanda] Erdelez, in part because you believe that you are one — it helps to assume that you possess special powers of perception, like an invisible set of antennas, that will lead you to clues." The writer wanders with an attachment to the beautiful whimsy of dreams.
Maurice Blanchot described the writer as "daytime insomniac." I am interested in that kind of wakefulness: wakenessness within wakefulness, which, I like to think, becomes dreamy, like a poetic multiplication. The "super-encounter."
Our patterns, our routines, can give our lives form that also can greatly assist the writer. But to do efforts to shake things up just a bit, such as by traveling. That bit of intention toward our creativity is just what we aim to do with our traveling workshops (want to come join us in Ireland this June?)