Issue 9: Horizontal vs. Vertical
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program

Five Movements in the Key of Transience

Janice Bockelman



Wish you were here.
Gone but not forgotten.
On the road again.
Life is short and the world is wide.

If it is true that 1/3 of Americans do not use all of their allotted vacation days, then 713 million unused vacation days float into the atmosphere, or something like that.

Time poverty enters the vernacular: one of the catastrophes of our time we are too busy to address.

At home, we clutter our lives with Play Places, BlackBerrys, 973 television channels, man-made, indoor mountain slopes.

We wonder why we continually reach for a getaway.

Anything that is not a tour, not guided, not packaged or wrapped or itinerized, not listed on the Internet, in a book, or magazine. Far-flung is key. This desire becomes popularized to mythic proportions and soon deserves a category of its own: off the beaten path.

We do not know where we are going, and it does not matter; loose lips and schedules untethered are rewarded by virtue of the spontaneous and cosmic. Or of all the drugs we took last night. To bring chaos. Or of all the drugs we take daily. To function.

In the 20th century, our nascent culture founders philosophically. A small and growing group begins to snatch those days back. Long-term travel blooms. It is fervent, professed by many and misunderstood by others, who deem it “irresponsible” and “indulgent.”

Flashpacking enters a select vernacular: the desire to go knows no class border.

Flash•pack•er: noun 1. An affluent backpacker that adheres to a strict meal and accommodation budget, spending freely for convenient, timely transportation and recreational activities in the chosen destination, thus adopting a flashy or stylish lifestyle at will. 2. A backpacker with a disposable income that maintains a tight budget by day and indulges in dining and comfortable accommodation by night. 3. A backpacker that travels with cell phone, iPod, digital camera, GPS, laptop, and other modern technology.

When one foot in front of the other is the mantra for the day, shoes have no matter. iPod and laptop are comfortably protected, owner aptly connected.



“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return.”

There is a kind of movement that shares the realm with comets, meteors, supernovas. Moving through space and time for light years, incandescent for an instant. 

The edge of a forest (an alley, a river, a border)
One foot in front of the other
Man becomes fleck.

Travel permits day-to-day movement within one city or a jaunt over the hill to the next, but suspends us just beyond the intimate sphere of movement, of routine, that wherever we are everyone else is enveloped in.

We float above or below the hum of traffic of everyday life in the orbit of motion, we move little, if at all one day, and take a great hurdle, across rivers and towns and countries the next. Still, the force field remains.

The currency changes from kip to dong to baht to peso to pound, to yen to crown to gilder, and even this we do not want to let go of. The pile of change grows.

Everywhere we go, things move slower than where we were. A state of mind?

At first the dilation of time, of a single day, the possibility, is dizzying, then gripping, then addictive.

The heartbeat returns, and it is not frenetic, it is not erratic.

There is a race of people who have mastered a lifestyle that revolves around a particular and persistent kind of movement. They are everywhere and nowhere, collective individuals that move in an orbit of their choosing, in the shadows of train stations, in the alleys upon straw mats, at corner tables and upon the floors of temples, in the cracks and gaps, sitting next to us. It appears they are still.

In them there is no past, no future, no nostalgia, only one foot, and then the other. They tell us, it’s not for everyone.
The in-between minutes of transit hold up the other end of paradoxical motion, stagnant pacing among the hours of the day that life is poured into.

When we travel, we live on maps in false permanence. Among the many difficulties with living on a map for any period of time is that time eventually sparks and restarts no matter how far we have come, or gone. The map dangles this element, the subjectivity of time, pausing for the moments and days devoted to it.

(Time’s up.)

Concentrated evanescence diminishes the significance of time. The conflicted state between lingering and moving troubles this; a state in which time would have been quantified by place, and twenty-four hour increments of time could have been acknowledged in vain.

Footprints come and go. But the eyes, those we will remember. 

We wait, move on, spiral out.

We swing closer to and farther from reality. We are pendulums of our pace.

A view from the airplane window: dappled stability among fields of transience.


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