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.”