"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Essentials for the Traveling Creative

While this post has the word "essentials" in the title, this is really just a list of creativity-related items I plan to take with me on my semester abroad. If it were possible, I would probably take every notebook I own (I have a bit of an addiction), but unfortunately I have limited room in my suitcase.

1. Pocket Moleskine + Mini Pen Set: Both of these items fit neatly into my purse, and they are a huge help when it comes to staying creative on the go. In the past I've used my pocket notebooks for all manner of things, from to-do lists to short story ideas. On this trip I'd really like to break free from the rigidity of the lined notebooks I've used in the past and try to include sketches, poetry, and thoughts from the places that I visit. I plan to write sideways, upside-down, and in spirals. I plan to fill every page with doodles and words, and to really get in the habit of using my notebook as a catch-all for random thoughts I have while traveling.

2. My Favorite Notebook: My uncle gave me this beautiful Rhodia notebook in 2012 and I've been slowly filling it ever since. I have a strange habit of saving certain notebooks for special occasions, and that's definitely the case with this one. I bring it with me on all my trips and try to write at least one entry for each one. This notebook as seen Iowa City, West Texas, New York, Paris, and soon, London and Florence. While my pocket notebook will be for fragmented thoughts and observations, this notebook will function as a journal where I reflect more deeply on my experiences.

3. Shared Travel Journal: Since my friend and I both went abroad this year, we are documenting our adventures in separate travel journals and then swapping them at the end of our travels. While I'm not nearly as prolific in mine as she is in hers (she filled one journal in the space of 12 very exciting days), I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures with her in this journal.

4. Watercolor Supplies: While this watercolor set and notebook looks bulky, I'm very attached to it. The actual set is probably 20+ years old and I inherited it from my mom. I could probably go out and buy a smaller set, and maybe even a smaller notebook, but why not work with what you have? Doing watercolor sketches is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. It makes you look closely at your surroundings, and grounds you in a place much more than just snapping a photograph would.

5. Laptop: This one is pretty self-explanatory. I will need it for school work, updating this blog, and any other writing I do while studying abroad. I'm hoping to keep up with my creative writing projects while I'm there, probably through a website called 750words.com, where you write at least 750 words a day and it tracks your progress.

6. iPhone (not pictured above): The iPhone 6s, which I was lucky enough to receive for Christmas, has an amazing camera. I thought about bringing along a point-and-shoot, but I realized that it would just be another thing I'd have to carry batteries and a charging chord for, and so I decided against it. Besides, I know I will be posting to Instagram as much as I can.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my suitcase! How do you stay creative while traveling?

London and Florence Countdown:
Days until departure: 3 days
Excitement to Anxiety Ratio: 80:20

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Creation Over Consumption

Yesterday I had one of those afternoons where I click on something and then I blink and two hours have passed. Waking up from one of these internet trances is always a bit disconcerting. I usually feel pretty good about my internet use, mainly because I spend most of my time reading enriching articles or watching videos where people think critically about books, media, and art. But in consuming other people's thoughts for two hours on autopilot, without noticing my own thoughts or even my own body, I realized just how much more time I spend consuming rather than creating online.

I would bet that this is a pretty common phenomenon. It's a lot easier to consume other people's creations than to create your own. I often find myself inspired after seeing the things other people create, but I've begun to realize how rarely that inspiration is acted on, and even more rarely is it actually turned into a completed project.

Maybe this shouldn't bother me as much as it does, but after a year of watching inspiring youtube videos, consuming thousands of aesthetically pleasing Instagram photos, and reading countless blog posts (half of which were about "how to be productive"), I'm getting fed up with this habit of always consuming and never creating.

That's not to say that I believe all consumption is bad. Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum, as they say. But creativity also doesn't happen if you spend your time wishing it away. I've let myself become used to the ache of seeing something that inspires me and then letting that inspiration go to waste because "I'm scared" or "I don't have time." I'm tired of wrapping myself in a warm blanket of excuses.

That's why 2016 is going to be a year of creation over consumption. I'm going to follow my creative urges wherever they may lead. I'm going to fight the moon-like pull of all the other creative people doing creative things and instead start focusing on adding my own voice to the crowd.

That being said, I don't really have a concrete plan for getting past my consumption addiction (yet). It's easy to daydream about creating - that's a big part of what all of this consumption has facilitated: a lot of daydreaming. I'm not short on ideas. In fact I'm practically drowning in them. It's just a matter of picking one. Finding the nearest tool. And starting.

London & Florence Countdown:
Days until departure: 6
Excitement to Anxiety Ratio: 75:25

Monday, December 7, 2015

Announcement: I'm Doing a Thing!

BIG announcement, folks! In less than a month, I will be on a plane to Florence, Italy! I will be splitting my semester between Florence and London, on a study abroad program through ACM (Associated Colleges of the Midwest).

Why London and Florence? Well besides the fact that this program combines two beautiful, historic cities into one semester long experience, these places are basically the epicenter of my two loves: literature and art history. London is steeped in centuries of literary tradition, from Charles Dickens to Zadie Smith, and Florence is, of course, the birthplace of the Renaissance.

As a way to get this series started, I thought I'd share some of my goals for my time abroad:

Cultivate Curiosity: I strive to be one of those people that has an insatiable curiosity and who knows how to ask the right questions. Curiosity is a valuable asset because it gives you permission to be a newbie wherever you go. What's more, it's difficult to pass value judgements on things when you are curious about them. What better place to practice this habit of asking questions than when in a new place, experiencing a new culture, and meeting new people?

Make new friends: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but no less important. I'll be living, traveling, and going to class with people from different midwestern colleges, as well as living with a host family in Florence, who I'm hoping I can form a close bond with.

Become more independent: Travel is something I want to do a lot of in my lifetime, and this will be the least structured of my travels so far. While I'll have a support system of professors, administrators, and my host family, I'll still be responsible for travel between Florence and London, as well as planning any weekend or day trips I want to do on my own. Right now, the idea of even getting from the airport our meeting place in Florence is daunting, so hopefully this feeling of independence comes quickly!

Immerse myself in history and culture: This is a big one. One of my favorite things about European cities is that their history is constantly on display, from architecture to urban planning to museums. When I went to Paris with a class last semester, I felt like I only scratched the surface of Parisian history and culture, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to dive deep in each city, and compare my experiences.

Practice reflection: My mother is always telling me to write things down before I forget them, and this experience is something I know I want to remember. While abroad, I plan to cultivate a habit of capturing moments, wether in a travel journal, this blog, or letters to friends and family. I worry that I'll spend too much time capturing and not enough time experiencing, but my goal is strike a balance between the two. During times of immense upheaval and change, reflection is one of the few things that keeps me sane.

Needless to say, I will be keeping you updated on all of the preparation and my experiences abroad right here on The Blank Page. Just click on "Travel" in the categories section to see all the updates. I'll be attempting to post once or twice a week, though (fair warning) that may be sporadic at first, what with finals coming up. I hope you'll stick around for the ride!

Days until departure: 25
Excitement to Anxiety Ratio: 85:15