Who Is Your Travel Muse?

1:02 PM Jmo 3 Comments

     I once had an art professor, when lecturing about content and connecting to an audience, bluntly state: "No one cares if you paint a portrait of your Grandmother." 
     I understood what he meant. He wanted his students to realize that when making art you should generally expand your content and connect to a universal theme rather than keep things strictly in a  personal context.   
   Though I understood the concept, I still found the statement to be a bit unsettling and rash. It stuck and has resonated with me to this day.
     Personal relationships, though exclusive and in context, undoubtedly shape us in to who we are today. So. Why not make art about them? 
And, why not write about them for that matter?
     Some of you may know, or might've noticed, that I have a tattoo on the inside of my left arm. The tattoo is of a mama elephant and her young nestling up against her. I get a lot of questions about it (especially since I've been in Africa). 
     Well, to put all the assumptions aside... the image represents my Grandmother and I.  I got it done on my first trip to Cambodia; the first trip that I one hundred percent payed for on my own.  
     See, when I was young, my Grandmother would babysit my brother and I while both of my parents were off working hard into the weekend. She would occasionally stay over the weekends and I grew up drawing and making odd little crafts with her. (Our favorite being dried mango pits that we painted to look like tropical fish.)  But, aside from the crafts, one of our absolute top things we used to do together was watch National Geographic. She used to record them on VHS them for me. I watched them over and over to the point where to film became worn and streaky. 
     We watched black panthers battle anacondas in The Amazon, worker ants make bridges of their bodies to carry others up the trunks of trees, and time lapse footage of the decomposition and regrowth of the forest floor. But, by far the standout of our National Geographic Explorer's video collection was a program on elephants in Africa. I distinctly remember my Grandma pointing out how the little ones will hold onto their mother's tails as they walked through the mud and the affection she had towards them. I think this was her favorite and elephants in general quickly kinda became our 'thing'.
     I decided to get the tattoo as a symbol to carry along with me forever. I decided on elephants because of her of course, but Asian elephants specifically to commemorate my first big trip. She would've been so excited for me (and scared I'm sure). And not to mention, proud. She pushed me in my creative pursuits. She loved to read and was constantly thumbing through articles or cutting out news clippings for my brother and I. She loved the idea of adventure and exploration.  And she loved us.
     Unfortunately, she was never able to travel abroad herself. She passed away too soon. Too young. And she was never able to see our elephants.  But she left behind two grandchildren, forever in her debt; using the tools she taught us on those nurturing Saturday mornings. I owe so much to her and her zeal for learning, exploring, and the belief that I could do anything.  
She is my travel muse.
I think about her every time I step onto a plane. 
So, now with my elephants, she gets to travel with me. 
     I do, of course, admire many explorers and naturalists who have left their marks in the pages of adventurer history. I love reading about old and new exploits and they continuously inspire and ignite  the flame.  (William Beebe and Otis Barton, the pioneers of the bathysphere,  are exceptionally high on my list.)  But. There's nothing quite like a grandmother to trump even the fiercest of idols.  For me anyway~

     Who is your travel muse? Who inspires you to take the next step, or perhaps the big leap? Is he or she a famed Arctic explorer? Or is it a family or friend? Who challenges, excites, and prods at you to do and see more?
I'd love to hear your story of inspiration.
Explore on.
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  1. It's something we discussed on a travel writing course I was on a year and a half ago - where the inspiration came from; what was the muse.

    Obviously when we're young we're all subjected to a large number of influences; my family travelled quite a bit, especially my uncle (who took regular business trips to Denmark and the USA) and my step-dad (who was in the Merchant Navy).

    I think my biggest 'muse' though was maps. I loved (and still love) maps, looking at them, seeing where they end, imagining what lurks outside of the book in the places not shown, or in the vast empty places that weren't very detailed.

    Possibly as a result of this, I still today also have a fascination with borders/frontiers, and with rivers ...

    1. Good point! I adore maps as well. I remember asking for an old globe for Christmas when I was little, haha.

  2. [I'm "Barefoot Backpacker" btw; it wouldn't let me comment either via Wordpress Logon (because I have a blog based at Wordpress.org not Wordpress.com), nor via OpenID through my own blog, because for some reason it didn't work ...]


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