FOR THE LOVE OF ADVENTURE
by Veronica Schwarz
A talk presented at the 2021 Festival of Writing -
For the Love of Writing
organised by the Society of Women Writers Victoria
Hello. I’m primarily a non-fiction writer with the occasional short story to my name.
So let me tell you a story. A true one.
Several years ago, I was on the subway in Mexico City. One of my favourite places – Mexico City, not the subway.
I found a seat on the train facing the way I was headed, sat down and looked around. A few seats away from me, facing me on the other side of the train, a man sat folding a piece of paper. I watched him folding over and back, over and back. He looked up and saw me watching him. I politely looked away and gazed around at the others on the crowded train, some standing, others seated.
I couldn’t help but look back occasionally at the man carefully folding his piece of paper. He was engrossed but looked up at me occasionally.
The train reached the stop where I need to change for another line. Without looking back, I got up and stepped onto the platform, sucked into the mass of fellow humans in the tunnel to the next platform. I stepped onto the next train just as the doors began to close, and right behind me, was the man with his piece of paper. He sat down several seats from me and continued folding his paper.
A few stations on, he stood up, as the train stopped. Walking towards me, he held out his now unfolded paper and handed me a perfect paper miniature of a Mayan pyramid. “Gracias,” I said as I took the tiny model. Smiling, he nodded to me and got off the train. He had reached his station.
As I told you that story, what thoughts were going through your head?
For me, it was a perfect example of the kindness of strangers.
I travel a lot. I meet many people. I mostly travel alone – around the world, around Australia or around the corner.
The possibility of adventure is always there. It often depends how you look at things. And it nearly always involves other people and some movement on my part either to a particular location or out of a comfort zone.
I am not antisocial. Quite the contrary and I have many friends. Experiences shared increases its intensity. When we are with others, there is considerable happiness in a shared experience. There is comfort in a shared sad or hurtful experience. And I do appreciate both those times.
But being alone is a different experience. When I am on my own, people talk to me, help me, do kind things for me. I usually introduce myself to people and find that, when they know I am on my own, they mostly offer help, or watch out for me, or provide me with helpful information. I love travel, I love adventure, but I do not knowingly put myself in dangerous situations. I use my spidy senses and trust them. I stay where there are other people. I watch where local families go with their children and spend time there too.
Sometimes when I meet people, they are amazed that I am alone. Most men say to me the equivalent of “Good on you!” in the local language. Most women say, “Aren’t you scared?” A sad commentary on women’s place in the world and our lack of freedom compared with men. We’re not from different planets but we do live in different atmospheres.
When you travel alone, there is less distraction and the possibility of total focus and absorption in an experience. There is freedom of choice, without the distraction of conversation or compromise. You choose what and how much you want to experience.
And then comes the pleasure of sharing through writing. Many of my friends and acquaintances love to armchair travel with me. I write blogs, posts, articles and emails. The greatest accolade I can experience for my writing is the statement from a reader, “I felt like I was there.”
My book on Joan of Arc, Ride the Wind. Choose the Fire,. was inspired by my admiration for a teenage girl who turned the tide in the One Hundred Years War, but the format for the book was inspired by my travels in France. Visiting towns where Joan had battled both soldiers and sexism, mixed with royalty and raised sieges, defied and confounded judges while retaining her sense of humour, I came upon the idea of imaginary interviews with the Maid, in each of the towns she had been. I shared my experiences of the towns as they are today and compared them with the way they were in Joan’s time, telling a little of the history of each place. Finally, in my imagination, I interviewed Joan as she described what happened to her in each place. What an adventure that was – from her birthplace to battlefields and villages, palaces and prisons across France, to the marketplace in Rouen where ten thousand people watched a nineteen-yea- old girl cruelly burn to death.
Knowing I will probably share an experience,through my writing of blogs, posts or articles and books, heightens my awareness in the moment and gives me even greater depth of emotion, knowledge and understanding of my own experiences.
For anyone, whether you write or you don’t, I highly recommend occasionally doing things alone. Go for a walk, sit in a park or at the beach, go out for a meal, see a movie - alone. It is a different experience. You will begin to notice more and feel more intensely. Look at the light on water, see the jewel drops on a spider’s web, see the sun filter through delicate leaves, experience the kindness of strangers, smile, feel your connection to everything around you. You will also find that the wonders of adventure are everywhere – even in your own back yard.
If you would like to find out more about my writing or get a copy of what I have said today, check out my website. The address is my name veronicaschwarz.com .
My motto which I would like to share with you is : Ships are safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for.
Veronica Schwarz Website: www.veronicaschwarz.com
Links to Ride the Wind. Choose the Fire. The Story of Joan of Arc.
Clear Print edition
Also available in Audiobook