I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
I've got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it's not, not made by hand
— Music and lyrics by Merle Travis
Perhaps because I am a military brat, having been transferred so often from one Air Force base to another throughout my years as a youth, I have always had an affinity for the concept of The Road. And perhaps, too, because of all those moves — Texas, Ohio, Central California, Alabama, North Dakota, Southern California, Virginia — I have always felt like a "pilgrim and a stranger." For years my standard joking response to "Where's your home" was, "I don't know. Got a spare bedroom?"
So I guess it's not surprising that lately I've been doing a good deal of thinking about writing as pilgrimage. There are so many ways this metaphor resonates:
As a writer, whenever we take up a new story, we embark on a creative journey, leaving our ordinary world and venturing into the extraordinary world of our imagination.
From the first line of our story to THE END (or for a screenwriter FADE IN to FADE OUT), we are for much of the time a stranger in a strange land, compelled to learn about the distinctive beliefs, behaviors and back-stories of our story's characters.
The path of the narrative is one we only come to know as we travel it, how it is in some mystical way the creation of our own hands, yet also preexisting and laid down by unseen forces within the story universe through which we wander.
"Traveling through this wearisome land"? An apt description of the writing process!
Even this — "I've got a home in that yonder city" — is applicable, suggestive of a writer's belief that there is a story waiting to be found and that once we do find it, we'll know it because it will feel like home.
For heaven's sake, now that I think about it, the name of my blog — Go Into The Story — is imbued with the spirit of pilgrimage.
Go. Into. The. Story.
All of this makes me wonder if writers have a predisposition to see reality as a journey, that this is one of the creative lenses through which we interpret reality, a default part of our World View.
I look back on my own life, these seemingly random, even disjunctive shifts, not only in topography, but also areas of focus — religious studies, academics, music, stand-up comedy, screenwriting, TV producer, teaching, blogging (?!?!) — yet despite the many twists and turns, I can discern a path, a circuitous one for sure, but a trail visible to my eyes because every step along the way, I have been driven by a calling: To respond to my Creative Self.
As I pad my way through this post, it seems fitting to meander through Yale University, a place where in many ways my own creative pilgrimage took root. These are the words of Richard R. Niebuhr, who like his famous father and uncle, received a Ph.D. in theology from Yale:
"Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys."
Those of us who are drawn to writing and to a creative life that supports and feeds that craft, we are pilgrims, we do create by taking journeys. Every line we write, every page we produce is one more step in our pilgrimage… to find out.
Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.
Writing and the Creative Life: Writing as Pilgrimage was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.