Roam

Continued from Meander

Meander synonyms: drift, ramble, roam, snake, stray, stroll, traipse, gallivant, peregrinate, rove, vagabond….

There’s a sense of aimlessness to meander. It’s possible to meander an infinitely long time in a fairly confined space, get nowhere at all, and arrive back exactly where you started. Meander connotes a sort of feckless purposelessness which also infects most of its synonyms. But there is one…

Maybe roam offers a better indication of how I travel, how I move through life and existence. The point of roaming is to leave the boundaries of a confined space, whether geographical, cultural, emotional, philosophical, spiritual or any other kind of confinement we care to consider. That is, I roam to put distance between myself and wherever I am right now.

I suppose it’s easy enough to see conflict in this, both in the sense of an inner-conflict with myself here and now, but also in the sense of encountering external conflicts the further I roam from familiar conditions. New and unfamiliar can be confusing, disturbing and upsetting. I try, instead, to perceive all things new and unfamiliar as illuminating, as shining a light on new possibilities. Of course, what they illumine best of all are aspects of self which can change, a light which nurtures growth.

The further I roam from the safety of a familiar home, the larger I become.

To replace “roam” in that sentence with “meander,” or any other of its synonyms. alters the meaning; it makes the sentiment awkward. Oh. Right. Meander… where were we in the story I started telling in Meander?

Let’s see… take a year off from photography school; ski bum for winter; travel Europe for a summer … aaaand. Right. Ahem. I am back in the familiar safety of home.

Returning to RIT for another year of photography just wasn’t for me, and I had no idea what I wanted to do next. Fortunately, serendipity jumped in with both feet.

Talking about options with my father one day, he reminded me about his brother in Whistler, British Columbia, home of a major ski resort. Hmmmm…

I’d mulled that and other now forgotten options around in my mind for a couple days when a high-school chum on my summer soccer league team and I were talking. What comes next is heavy on my mind, so I ask him “what comes next for you?”

“I’m going West,” my friend, JR, tells me.

“Oh!” I’m piqued. “Where in the West?”

“San Francisco.”

To my credit, I don’t even hesitate. “If you go via Canada and drop me off in Whistler, I’ll split gas and accommodation.”

To my delight, neither does he: “I was going via Canada anyway.”

Sometimes, the universe pretty much lines everything up and all ya gotta do is say, “Yes.” Or, “YES!” Whether meanderer, roamer, explorer, pilgrim, or any synonymous sort of free-spirited traveler, it’s absolutely essential to understand when the right opportunity for route change comes along, and then, take the freakin’ fork!

I have no idea who I would be now if I hadn’t driven cross-Canada with JR. It’s not really necessary to think about, because so much of who I am now flows from that one decision. For now, we’ll just leave that as vague as it is.

I spent the winter in Whistler. Then, for reasons I can’t quite fathom even now, returned to the familiar safety of home. Maybe I hadn’t quite figured out I was a Canadian yet? I considered myself an American… albeit with a Canadian passport and a Green Card, and every member of my extended family had been born and raised in Canada. Regardless of my confused nationality, it didn’t take long to figure out I was in the wrong place. If home was familiar, I no longer was, and would never really “fit” there again. Maybe it was being 20 years old and living at home. Maybe “home” couldn’t be home anymore to the person I was becoming. A place loses its sense of security once you realize it’s the wrong place to be. By the fall, “home” was Whistler.

Not long after the mountains opened up, spending the days on the mountains, and the nights partying or gaming with friends, returning to school became important. Skiing and partying and being outdoors almost all the time was great, but ambition began to assert itself. Ski-bumming for three seasons in a row had already grown old. It was time to roam in a different space.

Not looking any further than Vancouver, one of the two local universities ran degree programs in film, communications and computing. The film program was the primary draw. Much as the art of photography moved me (and still does), I wanted my photographs to move, tell bigger stories with them than still photographs could. Reading novels, I’d realized, had long been a practice of adapting scenes for film with my inner eye. Film seemed like the perfect next step.

The communications and computing? This was 1983, and even though I’d never owned a computer (experience with them being limited to my uncle’s Commodore 64) and knew practically nothing about them, it was obvious even to me that communications, film and computing were on converging tracks. Having a finger in every pie would make for a lot of pie.

Maybe my delusions of grandeur were putting me on the Media Baron path?

On the other hand, here am I. For a living, I make television and movies working closely with directors, cinematographers and camera operators to place the set decorations in the scenes and camera frames you see on your screens. The work satisfies my creative urge. But, that alone isn’t enough to satisfy my sense of purpose. To fulfill that, I express myself through photographs and words via a communications media made possible, more than a decade after that night, by computers.

In hindsight, I nailed it. Go figure. Only just now does that realization come. Kudos to me for understanding even then the dominating forces which would shape my being.

That said, trying to study it all was a rather tall order. (Duh!) The first two years at Simon Fraser University exhausted all the communications courses of interest (the school killed its broadcast video department the same semester I entered, as it moved further towards educating administrators rather than communicators — not what I’d signed up for). The film school required a separate application for admission… (“Procrastination” will eventually show up as a synonym in some future post.) I’d taken the two “History of Film” courses allowed to students who hadn’t been accepted to the film program.

The night of arguably the most pivotal choice in my life remains etched in memory. It’s about 2AM, in a cinder block dungeon, illuminated by rows of green monochrome computer terminals and fluorescent ceiling fixtures. My eyes, which have been focused on the screen in front of me for most of the past 10 or 12 hours, became so saturated with the monochrome green that when I take a momentary break and look up, a red halo rings the fluorescent tubes. I shake my head.

Patrick, what are you doing here?

Good question. Not just for being in a computer lab, alone, at 2AM, with red auras circling every light source, suggesting a some sort of mystical moment. What am I doing at university, with my studies. More potently, where am I going?

Even when roaming, especially during a protracted stint far from your origin, there come times to stop, take stock, and consider what comes next.

How do I get a piece of paper out of all this and move forward? Or is a piece of paper even worth it?

Communications is off the table: life as an executive or government official is not for me. That left computing or film.

A film degree means having to apply to the program, getting in, and then another four years of university. OK. Doable. But over four years down the road.

On the other hand, in as little as two years I could graduate with a BA in computing, with a communications minor. A tiny bit longer if I want the BSc, which carries a bit more weight for programmers.

“But do you really want to be a computer programmer?”

Well, here I am in a computer lab at 2AM, 12 hours into it, and in no real hurry to leave. I love the creativity and problem solving of developing algorithms and software. This shit is cool!

“Can you do the kinds of things you feel driven to do with a computing degree?”

Money for Nothing
Dire Straits, 1985

This is 1985. Computer games are really beginning to take off, getting more sophisticated, with unlimited potential for artistic expression. Industrial Light and Magic is a largely computationally driven outfit that’s changing the way we make films. And Dire Straits has just released the first entirely computer generated video animation. Crude as it seems now, this is a groundbreaking moment. So, yeah, plenty of opportunities ahead for creating and expressing with computers.

Three decades would pass before I’d come to terms with whether the decision I made that night amounted to wandering off the path. What eventually become clear is that I was about to to roam off in all sorts of directions simultaneously. Ultimately, I can’t say there’d be any wisdom in telling the man alone in that lab to consider a different step than the one he was preparing to take.

He couldn’t possibly see what was coming.

Want to Play?

First, pick a synonym from below. Now tell us what you picked in a comment. If you like, add a few words (or a bunch of words) about why you picked it. Or maybe use it to inspire a poem or micro-fiction or… well, anything you like.

Some Roam Synonyms:

drift, meander, prowl, ramble, saunter, stray, stroll, traipse, tramp, trek, wander… more synonyms

EZPZ, right?

Just … play nice. (Check out the conditions of play if you’re not sure what nice means. ;))

You can also play by replying to any of the comments other people post. Use a thesaurus to find a synonym for the word in the comment, and reply with that.

Advanced Play

Want to play the advanced game? Use your chosen synonym as inspiration to create a new blog post: words, images, sound, video … just about anything, really.

You can think of this game as a one-word creativity prompt. Rather than give you the one word, I’m giving you a list of synonyms to choose your one word from.

I’ll post new words … frequently. Probably not daily, but often. However, there’s no hourglass counting down the time you have left. Feel free to play any word at any time.

If you create something I think is really cool, I’ll ask if we can repost it here, as a new word for others to play.

Here are the rules.

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