I don’t know any teenager who doesn’t have a list of journeys. Places they have to go before they get caught up in life and tied down to a house and a job. In that brief time between Secondary School and College, the world is their oyster, and they could go anywhere, be anyone.
If you have a serious conversation with any teenager, their journey will eventually come out. I don’t know anyone who has no interest in exploring the world beyond cold, wet Ireland. I count myself firmly within that majority, if not universal, group who need to see some of the world before it gets buried beneath boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, children, houses and jobs.
I have a list, which I’ve kept safely in my head until now, but I’m going to share. You can laugh, but I bet you have, or had, a list. Maybe you wrote it down in a shorthand notebook that you kept buried in your wardrobe, maybe you kept it in your head or you could’ve decided to share it with the world. Did you actually tick off the place names on your list, or is it still in your wardrobe, or in an unpacked box in your attic, overcrowded now by old prams and broken toys?
I still have a chance to tick the names off my list, make those journeys and see the world through eyes that are barely adult, but far enough along to make sense of it. Being a three-year student of Geography, I can’t help but know about the world, and places like France and Spain aren’t high on my list; they aren’t there at all. The places I read about in my French textbook and study in the Geography classroom hold no attraction for me. These tourist traps are probably the safe options, but nowhere is safe today, and I don’t want to be a tourist, I want to be an adventurer, a hobbit leaving the Shire for the first time. I have my whole life to spend destroying beaches and the beauty of the Majorcan coast. I can try to decipher French directions every time I drag my middle aged self over there.
My writer’s mind demands that I visit the exciting places, like Japan, Australia, India, China and America. I may not like what I find in some of these places, but people don’t want to read stories set in their backyard, or if those people exist I’m not one of them. I’m an inquisitive person, so I need to satisfy my curiosity, even if it involves visiting overcrowded cities and doing battle with really big spiders. I can’t spend my whole life in the Shire, so here’s my list, my journey.
Japan has always fascinated me, to the extent where I took some very unproductive Karate classes even though that didn’t sound much like a Japanese sport, and Karate Kid is set in America. Hence the short life of my toe dip into Karate; I still have the white belt and the loose fitting trousers. My search for integration of Japanese culture into my life led me to Kendo, the art of the sword. I loved that; it didn’t require me to punch anyone and I learned to handle both the bokken – wooden sword and the shinai – bamboo sword, with ease. The only fault in my technique, according to my sensei, was the fact that I’m too nice, and I have to actually wallop people when I’m fighting them. Despite the fact that we dress in armour when we fight, I could never really hit people hard. My first sensei figured that out when I was just beginning, and he chased me around the hall, pushing me back as our kissaki touched and urging me to hit him.
I want to go to Japan when I’m older, maybe stupidly challenge a kendo grandmaster to a fight and cross blades with people who practice Kendo like we practise football.
Second on my list is America, which to most people now isn’t exactly exotic, because practically every show on television is set in America. Still, there’s a lot more to America than Seattle or New York. Going to America doesn’t mean a weekend in New York to me; it means the Grand Canyon and Wal-Mart, Boston and the Rockies; pretty much everything.
Australia is oddly attractive, and though I’ll probably lose my mind over mosquitos and spiders, it’s somewhere fascinating and exotic. It has rainforests and deserts and beaches, so it’s pretty diverse and the history is really interesting.
India is one of the journeys that would scare me the most, because everything I’ve studied about India has detailed the poverty and the shanty towns. I wouldn’t want to ignore that either, though, because it’s something I need to see because I’m a writer, and before I go inventing worlds I need to understand the one that I live in.
China has also fascinated me, though my dad hated it when he went there for work. I get that, having read about the poverty and the pollution in the big cities, but China is a big place and the mass migration to the cities has left a lot of the very isolated, though still impoverished, rural villages, most of them centred around the rice growing trade. I find it difficult to get to grips with the sheer size of China, how much land is in that one country, and hopefully that’ll give me a view that’s bigger than the small island that I live on.
That’s my journey, places I’d like to go even if some of them wouldn’t be the nicest places to go. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually make those journeys; life having this talent of overtaking you, shoving you on a train with no emergency brake, but it’s a list, it’s my journey.