Friday, January 27, 2012

Explorers and Adventurers

 S.A. Andree taking off in a hydrogen balloon.
The other day I was driving in the car, listening to this show on npr. In an interview with the author, Alec Wilkinson, the story was told of how S. A. Andree, a mere clerk in a Swedish Patent Office, and two of his colleagues took to the air in a hydrogen balloon with the intention of crossing to the North Pole and eventually landing in San Francisco. It was the late 19th Century, when the North Pole was a place of mystery and speculation and many hundreds of explorers had perished trying to reach it. S. A. Andree wanted to rise above those who had tried it on foot or dog sled, so he studied weather patterns and the wind and came to the conclusion that it would take him about 60 hours to reach the top of the world. He even packed a tuxedo in his luggage hoping to be dressed appropriately when he met the dignitaries he imagined would be there to meet him when they landed. Sadly, S. A. Andree and his two companions never reached their destination and were lost in the fog that consumed them and their balloon, just three days out into their journey. They were the first men to be lost in the air. In the interview, Wilkinson said this about what happened to them when the balloon touched down on the ice, never to rise again:
They were suddenly no longer explorers — 
they were adventurers. 
And no explorer wants to be an adventurer.

I loved this notion of "explorer" and "adventurer" and could not help but look at it as a metaphor for the process I go through when writing and illustrating a picture book. Like S. A. Andree, I am compelled to write and paint because of the mystery, the unknown that will come if I just put pen to paper or brush to canvas. In the beginning, I have my ideas and imaginations of what the story will be or what the pictures will look like, but like S. A. Andree's balloon adventure, it rarely goes as planned. 

At one point in the interview, Wilkenson said that Andree was: 
        Faced with the thought, 'If I don't go now, I may never go again, and I will never know the mystery,' 
... like a temptation one finally submits... to the idea of: 'I must.' "

This yearning and succumbing to the notion of "I must" also resonated for me. I have notebooks filled with story ideas and sketchbooks filled with painting ideas, and all of them call to me; "I must" bring them to completion. It is always in the beginning of a book project when I am starting the story or beginning the first sketches that I feel like an explorer. As time passes and I become more involved, it is often then when my exploring balloon thuds to the ground and I become the "adventurer" on a journey of highs and lows, sprees and difficulties; trudging through the snags of pages that don't flow and the images that refuse to resolve, and just like S. A. Andree and his hydrogen balloon, sometimes my stories disappear in a fog, never to return. 

Luckily, I am an explorer in the warmer climates of Minnesota, at least compared to the Arctic! And there is no danger of perishing of the cold in my studio. And luckily, I love the adventure of writing and painting as much as the initial exploring, even with its bumps and tears. So I am happy to begin and begin again, pulled by that mystery that is mine to meet. 

And when it comes to your writing or art-making, are you an explorer who would rather not become an adventurer? Or are you willing to be both? 

No comments:

Post a Comment