Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Great Urge... in the Words of Steinbeck

"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don't improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.

"When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay. This art of the process is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teen-agers in new-hatched sin, will not think they invented it.

"Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process; a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has a personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognzied can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it."

Interestingly, La Framéricaine mentioned "Travels with Charley" in her thoughtful comment on my last post. I own the book and read it a couple of years ago. Her comment inspired me to pull it off the bookshelf and reread it. When I picked the book up, a receipt fell out of the book. I bought the book exactly 2 years ago to that day... June 1st! A flood of memories besieged me. I bought it at the OSU bookstore before I headed to Baltimore to drive cross country with my sister. What a great road trip that was and how it inspired me to make that first great trip to Paris just a few months after! Sometimes I like to leave receipts, photos, leaves, or notes in the pages of books as I read them. They definitely prove to be lovely memories that always surprise me much later. Ah, memories. How powerful and inspiring. I mean, there the book has been sitting for quite some time and certainly I did not forget that I had read and enjoyed it. But it was that receipt that triggered so much awareness!

This great urge to journey is as much a part of me as my brown eyes and eager smile. It doesn't diminish, it never goes away. I so feel the itch Steinbeck so wonderfully describes in this opening passage of "Travels with Charley." The heavy sound of a train in the distance, its destination unknown but its journey certain. The exciting feeling I always get when I go to the airport, even when I am not the one traveling. Driving down an unknown road, great music playing... the rush of feeling that the open road brings. It haunts me, it pleads with me, it sees right through those substitute experiences I try to appease it with.

I give in. I yield. I soar.


La Belette Rouge said...

Thanks to you and La Framéricaine I am reading this lovely book as well. I know you are a big Steinbeck fan. He is not usually my favorite. But, I am really loving this book. I LOVE his chapter on Texas. He so brilliantly encapsulates all I have felt about Texas and so much more.
Thanks again for the tip.

I am loving reading travel lit before the big adventure. And, like you, I love that sense of freedom and lack of responsibility I feel when on a trip. Whenever He-weasel and I begin a road trip I feel my whole being exhale. I love that feeling.

Richard said...

I love that openning paragraph because it is so true of being (and not just the urge to travel): we do not change.

I hate it (and have hated it for at least 30+ years) whenever my dad would tell me that I would feel different when I am older. I don't. I am still the same peron, just older. And the cruel thing is that while I haven't changed, my allotment of time continuously decreases. sigh.

(ok, ok,some things do change, I no longer find Big Turk as tasty as I did as a kid, as literature The Hardy Boys are kind of lame, but those are really specific temporal manifestations of who I am, but they ar enot who I am).

Randal Graves said...

I really have to stop reading your blog or it's going to be too difficult to fight off the desire to start road tripping all over the goddamn place. ;-) I try to appease such gods with music and writing, but sometimes it isn't enough.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it isn't enough. Why do we want more? Is the appeal to flee and wander an innate thing? Possibly not, since I know so many people whos lot in life is to be a robot.

I haven't read this book and probably will not for a long time. The wiki gave me an overview which made me cry. All I had to do was look at the photo of him and his dog. *sigh* As you know, my late dog Sammy and I did an American road trip together.

I think his death affected me more than I admit. He was a dog that inspired me to do,to go and to experience...with him.

I like what you said about the destination being unknown but the "journey certain".

La Framéricaine said...

b, my wanderlusting amie,

...as in wikipedia's definiton"...

Middle High German: wande"rn, to wander, and Lust, desire) is a German loanword.

It is commonly defined as a strong desire to travel, or, of having a strong desire to explore the world.[1] Some consider it to be a simple linguistic compound of wander and lust.

"Also characterized by a homesickness, it can be understood more at a deep level of the human condition as a search for a new philosophy, religion or place.

After gestation in the mind, wanderlust, like a locomotive chugging to final destiny, then takes a body on a restive trip that takes long time to accomplish."

"In short, wanderlust is a trip, or a need to understand one's very existence, that starts with the first step of a long journey."

I am so happy that the "Travels with Charley" reference resonated with you so strongly. I read that book for the first time when I was 13-14 years old in 8th grade, living in Bumfuck, USA. The impression that it made upon my young mind never faded.

I agree with Richard, I still have that kid's pissed-off, ready-to-ride-shotgun outlook on life.

Thank you for making a place for me in such wander-minded good company. I feel at home. I love what you've done with Steinbeck's inspiration, it soars right along with you!

Bonne continuation à nous tous!

Riana Lagarde said...

truly inspirational you are and a fabulous writer to boot. surrounded by good friends as i can tell by the commenters.

sub-urban rambler said...

i took this book with me- to my first travel to the east coast, when given a travel grant [back in 87]- wanting to 'own' the sensibilities that steinbeck put forth in this tome. wahiawa was not exactly bumf**k, usa, but it is, as all of hawaii, isolated by virtue of geography, but in many important respects as well. it has since inspired an incurable itch to be somewhere else. and inspired an approach to traveling to be as respectful and understanding as we can be...

i do save those receipts and other reminders in between guidebooks too...

love your site!

Iheartfashion said...

I read Travels With Charley back in high school but remember so little of it (except that I enjoyed it) that I may have to pick it up again. Thanks for the reminder!

b said...


I hope you are still enjoying the book, if you haven't finished it yet. I am a big Steinbeck fan. Why is that? My obsession with masculinity, perhaps? Whether real or perceived? Hmph! Oh, I digress.

Reading travel lit before the big adventure has been helping me immensely. Those wistful moments are popping up all the time and reading such literature really reiterates what I have to do, what I truly want to do. And yes, so beautifully said... I too feel that tremendous expansion when I start out on a road trip, feeling "my whole being exhale." I so need to experience that and so much more that only such a journey can offer.

b said...


We do and do not change. I actually do feel a bit different as I get older, but no, I wouldn't say I'm a different person. My desire to travel and write are always there and have been since I can remember. However, the accumulation of experience undeniably effects us. Experiences may not alter those essential desires/traits, how we do things, or what we fundamentally perceive, but it does effect us.

b said...


Haha. I'm sorry. Yes, it is contagious! I too try to appease that desire with writing, reading, music, etc. It only works for me for so long and then I realize all that just intensifies my desire to travel, explore. It is time to give into those gods!!

And please, don't stop reading my blog! :(

b said...


Oh, I know! I try to tell myself that wanting "more" in this sense isn't about greed. It isn't about owning, possessing, hoarding. It is just about being alive, expanding. I believe that wanderlust is innate. I think a lot of people might suppress that desire to wander, but really, I just don't think everyone feels the desire to wander quite to the extent we do.

I am so sorry that Sammy is no longer with you, physically. I think it is so wonderful that you traveled with him. He really does seem like a dog who shared that wanderlust with you. I'm sure you have amazing travel memories with him.

The journey is certain, necessary. The destination is forever roaming for me it seems.

b said...

La Framéricaine,

Hello to you my fellow wanderlusting amie! Thank you for this great etymology on "wanderlust." I love words and I love that this goes beyond just a desire to travel, "also characterized by a homesickness, it can be understood more at a deep level of the human condition as a search for new philosophy, religion, or place. After gestation in the mind, wanderlust, like a locomotive chugging to final destiny, then takes a body on a restive trip that takes long time to accomplish" Yes! Absolutely.

I know that this journey before me is just the beginning!

Thank you, as always, for the very beautiful words of encouragement. I'm so glad you feel at home here. Your presence here is hugely touching and inspiring for me. It reminds me that home really is not a fixed physical place... the comfort of home can be felt in the presence of beautiful, like-souls such as yourself! And that reduces any loneliness I feel now and will surely feel on the road. Thank you for being here!

b said...


Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for the very kind comment about my writing. I really am so fortunate to have such wonderful blog friends. They are a huge force behind my courage to embrace this journey. Your blog is so lovely, by the way. I've been there several times before and just love the design and photographs.

b said...

sub-urban rambler,

Thank you for visiting my blog! "Wanting to 'own' the sensibilities that Steinbeck put forth in this tome.".... beautifully said. I can imagine that a person could feel quite isolated in Hawaii, as lovely as it might be. Even bumf**k USA seems vast compared to an island. :)

I also greatly appreciate your comment about approaching travel with respect and understanding. That aspect is becoming increasingly significant to me and I truly do enter this journey focused on such. Your words are a great reminder and I've written them down, as they beg constant repeating.

Aren't those receipts and reminders great when you find them much later?!

Thanks again for visiting!

b said...

i heart fashion,

It is a great book and a rather quick read. I think you'd enjoy it again! :)

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog and I enjoy your writing style tremendously. I am just curious to know what kind of magazines you read regularly for inspiration.


b said...


Thank you so much for visiting my blog and your kind comment about my writing. It means so much to me. I actually almost never read magazines anymore. I read other blogs and a lot of classical literature, philosophy, and the occasional academic/journal article. All of which provide much inspiration. Other than reading, observing people and nature proves so inspiring for my writing.

How about you?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reply. I love photography and do not read/write much. You paint with words!!!


Anonymous said...

'You paint with words'. She said it. It's so true. I'm looking forward to your first book signing. Can i have my copy autographed with a little heart next to my name? hehehe

b said...


Oh, you so made my day with that comment! Thank you so very much. I have a camera but do not possess any talent with photography. Do you have a blog or website where some of your photography is featured? I'd love to see your stuff!

b said...


Aw, thank you! I too am looking forward to my first book signing! Haha... a heart next to your name, eh? :)