Road Trip Summer 2017, interlude: Reflections on Journeys and Journals

U.S. Highway 10, central Minnesota. Highway 10 once stretched from Detroit to Seattle, now largely replaced by Interstate 94 and Interstate 90 from Fargo to Seattle.

As we prepared to leave the lands of our ancestors, we reflected on the journeys they and we have undertaken, and on the art of documenting, recording, and remembering those journeys. Just as our modern journeys take leaps and bounds by air or skim across the landscape at 125 km/hr in our automobiles, journals flow from our fingertips in a stream that can be cut up, deflected, and rearranged at will, making us much less cautious about collecting our thoughts before committing them to paper as with ink and pen.

My cousin Mary, a career journalist*, says I need an editor. It’s true. There is that fear of taking William Strunk’s dictum “Omit needless words” reductio ad absurdum, to just “Omit words:”  the needless words creep in and put down roots. The problem, then, is between recording moment-to-moment what we see and think, versus telling a story: giving focus to one thread of this experience that stands out and makes a statement about a key aspect of events, landscapes, or history that we witness.

Tl;dr, “Too long; didn’t read,” is the watchword of our modern society. When e-mail burst into the main stream 25 years ago, I noticed a trend: if you didn’t put the key point in the first sentence (and make the sentence shorter than two or three screen lines), the recipient didn’t read past that point, either getting a wrong impression of what you were trying to convey or missing the point entirely.

The “tl;dr” syndrome is a function of being bombarded with attention-getting distractions in a stream of letters scrolling up the screen of first, our desktop computers in office or den, then on laptops in the conference room, coffee shop, or airport waiting room, and now hand-held phones we carry everywhere. A poorly worded or rambling message can put us in physical danger, or cause us to miss a more-important and urgent message further down the stream, as the “You Have Mail” announcement becomes a stuttering, “YouYouYouYoYYYY”.

The old adage, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” becomes even more true in this age of information overload. I’ve found that the best way to grab a moment’s attention is to post a photo with a message. In fact, the modern social media engines will dig down into a post and display any photos they find at the top of the post, becoming a de facto robot editor: newspapers have long put photos at the top of an article to grab attention. But, then, tl;dr  kicks in: the photo becomes the only part of the post the viewer sees. Even photo albums have given way to a photo montage: a half-dozen images tiled into one. Click. Next post, please.

A journey, by nature, consists of a stream of images and impressions, particularly if the journey is an exploration, traveling to somewhere new or to a familiar destination by a different route. Such was this journey. We visited places we hadn’t been, at least together, or places to which we hadn’t been in many decades. The input stream is a cacophony of places, people, and events. Sifting through the data to distill useful information from which to construct a kernel of knowledge is a foreboding task. For most of us, journaling consists of a phone full of snapshots, some shared on social media. “Here we are, having fun.” Our modern smart phone cameras record the city and date, and the social media records the specific place. We can see who we were with, and that’s enough for most of us. The old-fashioned written journal is becoming an artifact of the past, when travel was slow and journeys hard, with plenty of time to reflect on the day’s events, before putting pen to paper.

If we do journal today, we use a tablet or computer, words and thoughts flowing from our fingers in near-random fashion, knowing we can easily rearrange, delete, or insert material later to make a coherent and concise narrative. Which we seldom do, unless prodded by external forces, i.e., the Editor, who may have a different agenda, and whose purpose is to publish knowledge, rather than mere data and facts. Why are those people together? Why is this fun? Would they do it again? Why in this place? What is interesting about this, and how does it advance our cause (or make a profit for us and our advertisers)? The other point is: a journal is a personal reflection and memory. If we publish it, we intend a wider audience. Who is our audience, and what do they need to know? Whether we have an editor to decide this or we self-publish (as a blog or social media post), those questions need to be answered, and needless words omitted.

Part of my reason for blogging is to tell the story of growing old in the twenty-first century.  We don’t identify with the twentieth-century stereotype of befuddled oldsters out-of-touch with the pace of modern life and technology, or carefree well-to-do retirees off on guided tours or cruises, or the average elders spending their days playing cards or bingo at the senior citizens center.  We’re still active in creative arts, volunteer to keep work skills sharp, and seek out our own active adventures, with quilting, weaving, bicycling, and auto touring, as well as continuing to write computer code, primarily for web sites..

At some point, whether through conscious editing or delayed entries, the journal becomes a memoir, more of a statement of “how we got here,” rather than “here we are.” For us old folks–and we are, in our 70s–journaling keeps our own memories sharp. Our tales of adventure may also inspire others to venture forth in their “Golden Years.” As a message to our children and younger friends, it’s a reminder that fun and adventure is in our nature, and it doesn’t stop as long as you are able to pursue it. So, we keep on, recording our adventures in journals, photos, and videos, learning the crafts of writing, photography, and videography as we go, as well as keeping as physically and mentally fit as we can manage.

The journey continues…

*Read Mary’s excellent blog at