The Art of Wandering


Recently, someone asked me what I was planning to do during a visit London this summer.  I laughed and said, “Plan?  There is no plan!  I’m going to wander.”  The woman looked at me like she wanted to commit me to a mental institution.  It’s not the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of a “you’re nuts” look, (and it won’t be the last).  I wander a lot.  Just about everything I do involves at least a little detour off the well-trod path.  If that makes me weird, then so be it.

Wandering doesn’t mean there’s a lack of focus.  It’s a form of learning that inspires creativity in multiple realms.  This is no secret as countless individuals from Da Vinci to Edison have proven it over and over again.  They had the ability to see the world without limitation and we laude them for it to this day.  Yet, there remains a stigma over the art of wandering.   It’s considered eccentric.  Or crazy.

One writer in particular touted the virtues of wandering and I often look to him as a reminder that life is much too big for a narrow view.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was unquestionably a pretty serious and intelligent guy as he dabbled in various fields of study from politics, the law, science, art, and literature. He even played with the study of color.  Some would call him indecisive, but Goethe was simply wandering.  He had the will to be curious of more than one calling and he gave himself the freedom to explore.   In four small lines, he offers inspiration to do the same:

Keep not standing,
fixed and rooted
Briskly venture,
briskly roam.

Funny how no one ever wanted to put him in the nut house.

Sometimes it feels like the whole point of life is to get lost just so I can find my way back.  Wandering is essentially curiosity without boundaries – there’s no endpoint or timeframe.  It’s just the moment and me having an intimate conversation.  Whether it be down the streets of an unfamiliar city, between the pages of a random book by an unknown author, or among the words of a story I’m writing there is always something to discover.  That something would be bypassed if I only followed the perfectly drawn lines of a plan.  There is magic out there, but it purposely hides in the most unexpected places.  And it can only be found through the act of wandering.

Perhaps it is easier to travel with a roadmap, but where is the spirit of living when every step is carefully choreographed?  Failure to wander is the same as standing still.  The scenery never changes and new possibilities die before they can live.   Given the choice to wander or stagnate, I’m with Goethe.

c.b. 2011