The personal profile Salman Rushdie wrote in the September 17, 2012 issue of The New Yorker is sobering, humble, inspiring, and melancholy. It is an account of his reactions and movements before and after the fatwa issued on his life in 1989. It makes me want to write, and to succeed, and to be principled and precise. It makes me want to observe. It’s really good and you should read it.
It also aligns with themes of surprise and expectation I was thinking about yesterday. One of my favorite things about traveling or moving to a new place is that it forces me into the moment – if I do not ask that gentleman, in our shared language of Spanish, how to get out of Amsterdam, our shared city, I will stay bound by small streets and identical canals and I will be disappointed because that’s all I’ve seen so far and I want to see more. So I ask, and I’m shy, but then I find a wonderful automated ferry and soon I’m in a nature preserve with an inexplicable small horse in a paddock. Sublime! Because all I have is this gentleman’s word, there’s nothing to do but plunge on and make it up as I go, and it’s obviously amazing because when you’re somewhere new all you need is a good attitude and you can’t be disappointed when you have no expectations.
That is the problem with constant access to information. In situations like traveling, where there are so many unpredictable factors – geography, language, which way the traffic goes – having access to that correct answer allows you to stop paying attention and just follow directions, cause it’s easier. I at least, turn back into myself, thinking about every left turn instead of the fact that I am in the Netherlands on an orange bike with friends and a small horse.
That was what so strongly spoke to me in Rushdie’s account. He details movements through time when he had no idea what was ahead; movements where he was forced to look around to know how to keep going. In unpredictable times, there is no better advice. It is the magic of serendipitous success that is gone when you are bound to your phone – but possible when you know where you want to end up, if not how you want to get there.