Roadheart, and where to find it. Breakthrough Work for 8/4/2014

*Roadheart: The much to be desired condition of suddenly finding everything astonishing, fascinating, and unique the second you are on a roadtrip…so that even the local gas station becomes full of characters and stories.

1. Take a practice run
The next time you head out to pick up a pizza, try to talk the landlord into a few more days grace on your rent payment, or take a kid to school, take a minute to pretend you’ve never before seen the road into town – and the town itself. Hold that attitude as long as you can. When you slide back into ordinary reality make notes to yourself (see #2 below) about one person who looked different, one scent you forget to notice in your daily routine, one way the light fell in a new way on something familiar.

2. Roadnotes; carry the right gear

Start carrying a little notebook and pen/pencil with you at all times. Reporters’ notebooks are perfect for grabbing Roadheart moments. Field notes don’t really work on a hand-held computer device (or whatever you call them!) The pathway between the heart and hand-writing is stronger than any other form of recording information – it has to do with the brain/muscle connections. My Roadnotes can look like this:

Fog rising up from an abandoned parking lot…yeah, that time the sunset burned through the clouds and shone in the windows of the old strip mall… magpie dead on the road…wet creosote smell…

Note: I also use my cell to call my home phone and leave a Field Note.


3.Follow your nose…and ears, eyes, tongue, skin…

An essential condition of Roadheart is that your brain shuts down and your senses catch fire. Use them. All of them. Dive into that wet creosote scent. Let it carry you. Later, when you write the piece on the Mojave roadtrip from Nipton to Randsburg, wet creosote will flow from your fingers onto the page. When the faint kiyiyiyi of a coyote pack wakes you from your sleep, yelp with them. Echoes of your coyote karaoke will set the rhythm for the piece you write on the road to Tonopah.

4. Walk away from the familiar

One of my MatadorU students, Matt Sterne wrote a strong piece for Matador Network on realizing that young travelers often end up hanging out with each other and lose the point of the adventure. We all do that. After all, since we don’t know when we’ll die, each day is an adventure. Leave your computer. Leave your car. Talk to locals. Eavesdrop. Let yourself be scared – and amazed.

5. Shut up and listen

I’m a local in an Arizona gateway destination. Foreign and American tourists, hikers, climbers, bikers, river-runners, Native American wannabes, and “experts” on the Southwest pour through our town. About 1/50 actually want to know what it’s really like living here, where the best local restaurants are, the best little used trails, how to have good manners on the reservations. Sure, they ask questions, but as one of us answers, their eyes glaze over and they decide they really want to know where Red Lobster is – or if they are a guy of a certain age, they lecture on the topic of their question. Learn to breathe after you ask a question or find yourself included in a conversation. If you’re breathing, you’re not talking – and you’re learning the real story.


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