GETTING LOST

“I needed to be away from home and family, to wound myself, in order to realize where I came from; to leave in order to return.”      – Colum McCann, Seattle Arts and Lectures, May 2012

Last week I heard Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin) talk about ‘The Art of Getting Lost.’

Getting lost is something he does intentionally – most recently on a 1200 mile bike trip across America. But he’s worried that modern technology can make it hard to get lost. GPS keeps us oriented in space; texting, email, facebook etc. keep us constantly in contact with friends and family. We don’t get much practice being lost. “Will this need to hunker down, close curtains, always know where we are, where we’ve been, lead to a lockdown GPS on imagination?” he asked.

I started to think about creativity. One of the salient features of a creative person is an ability to hold disparate ideas simultaneously, to be comfortable with the mystery unsolved. Is this what McCann means by being lost?

Born in Ireland, McCann is now an American citizen, so he knows what he’s talking about when he says, “As readers we are emigrants. We leave the country of ourselves and are never sure where we’ll land.” I think it’s the same when we’re writing. We arrive as emigrants on the opening pages: discovering places, meeting new people and enduring that feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on. Stories ask us to stretch in all sorts of directions, to step inside the other.

So here’s to getting lost, both literally and literarily. “Don’t write what you know,” McCann advised, “Write toward what you want to know.”

–Laura Kvasnosky

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “GETTING LOST

  1. So next time you tell me to get lost, I'll take it as a compliment? Actually, I have just gone through a huge moment of getting lost when my computer crashed. This may seem perverse, but there was a kind of a sick thrill to it and I think that has something to do with regrouping, re-finding yourself, or at least reconstituting your electronic life. Thanks for the post.

  2. I have a friend who used to go on Sunday drives with his grandfather. Whenever they came to a cross roads, his grandfather would flip a coin to see which direction they should take. The object was to get more and more lost and then eventually find your way back. That does sound like many a manuscript. My friend, by the way, is a blues pianist and he does know how to weave his way off the main road of the song and find his way back on again.

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