There is a poem in a surfing video I recently rewatched again for the umpteenth time called Castles in the Sky.
It’s a beautiful film about, well, surfing. But as fragments of this poem are interspersed throughout the film, it conveys a sense of simplicity and adventure that comes with traveling alone with no schedule, no agenda, just enjoying the unpredictability of what might come next.
Or maybe it just reinforces the romanticized stereotype of the wanderlust surf bum.
Either way, I appreciate it because it reminds me of both the psychological and geographical journeys that occur when we embark on some new adventure.
These journeys might involve starting some daunting creative project, taking a trip to the other end of the world (or to the other end of your neighborhood), or maybe just doing something that you fear but which you know will be good for you in the end; like striving to experience the world in a new way by learning a new language.
And then, one day, while it seems like you haven’t been moving forward at all, you suddenly realize you are experiencing the world a little differently than before, with a little more soul and gratitude:
There was once a man who became unstuck in the world — he realized that he was not his car, he realized that he was not his job, he was not his phone, his desk or his shoes. Like a boat cut from its anchor, he’d begin to drift.
There was once a man who became unstuck in the world — he took the wind for a map, he took the sky for a clock, and he set off with no destination. He was never lost.
There once was a man who became unstuck in the world — instead of hooks or a net, he threw himself into the sea. He was never thirsty.
There was once a man who became unstuck in the world — with a Polaroid camera he made pictures of all the people he met, and then he gave all the pictures away. He would never forget their faces.
There was once a man who became unstuck in the world — and each person he met became a little less stuck themselves. He traveled only with himself and he was never alone.
There was once a man who’d become unstuck in the world — and he traveled around like a leaf in the wind until he reached the place where he started out. His car, his job, his phone, his shoes — everything was right where he’d left it. Nothing had changed, and yet he felt excited to have arrived here — as if this were the place he’d been going all along.
Next Steps: Getting Unstuck in Time & Space
1. Re-storying the self through time-travel
“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
Slaughterhouse Five is an autobiographical, time-traveling science fiction novel by Kurt Vonnegut about a man named Billy Pilgram –– an American prisoner of war captured after the Battle of the Bulge ––who somehow has ‘become unstuck in time’ after being abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore.
Tralfamadorians experience time in a strange way. As one Tralfamadorian tells Billy: “I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.”
The story is rich and is worth re-reading from time to time. It can be read as Vonnegut’s time-traveling journey across his own life experiences as a method for re-storying his life and his relationship to time and place.
In other words, one takeaway from the novel might be that the act of ‘re-storying’ one’s life is vital to creating purpose and meaning. As the philosopher Martin Colemen puts it, Vonnegut’s novel shows us how,
“it is vitally important to tell the stories of our own experiences, to others certainly, but above all to ourselves. This is how philosophy performs its functions: Philosophy is not a problem solver; it is vision, imagination, reflection... It is the habitual practice of asking what is going on here. The failure to do so results in a loss of individuality and meaning. Vonnegut shows how art is especially helpful in this regard.”
2. Writer’s Block? Get moving
The poet Mary Oliver carries a notebook with her, writing while she walks, often in the woods. Something about motion, and keeping moving, helps the words flow. She also writes right after going for a swim. How does physical movement encourage intellectual movement for you?
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
–Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
3. When doors of opportunity open, walk through them. Or, be like the unstuck bookmark
Watch this amazing short film about a bookmark who ‘becomes unstuck in the world.’
It’s a good reminder about how close our next adventure just might be, whether that adventure is inward psychologically, outward geographically, or both. Or perhaps the lesson here is: go surfing.
“A bookmark is stuck in a forgotten book that is one day knocked over by wind. It experiences its environment by surfing the pages that turn in to ocean-waves, enjoying the ride of its life. As the book cover closes light reveals new challenges.”