Monday, February 11, 2013

When to Put Down the Book

Another weekend, another adventure!  Where, you ask?  AFRICA.

It's casual.

The most glorious sunset.  That's Africa.
Yep, I spent three days in Morocco, exploring the beautiful cities of Tetuan, Chefchaouen, and Tangier.  Cool, right?  Way cool.  Every few minutes I said to myself, "Is this real life?  This cannot be real life."

Guess what?  It was real life.

We left Spain on Friday, crossing at the Straits of Gibraltar.  As we sailed for Ceuta, a Spanish city located in Morocco, we watched the most glorious sunset I have ever seen.  With Africa to one side, and Europe to the other, the sun dipped below the Mediterranean horizon, momentarily lighting up the sky with a million colors.

A street in Chefchaouen.  Notice the mountain.
We spent most of Saturday in Chefchaouen, a picturesque town on the side of a mountain.  (Almost all the towns are on the sides of mountains).  There I had my first experience with a Moroccan market:  unlike in the States, it's acceptable--no, expected--that you haggle.  I'm terrible at it, but it was still a ton of fun!  Like when I turned my back on the shopkeeper, strutted away with mock confidence, and sure enough, he called me back:  "Okay, okay, you can have for 70 dirham!"

I thought so.

Anyway, now I'm loaded up with a beaded shirt, a sundress, three giant bags of Moroccan tea, several grams of saffron, some soap, earrings, a scarf, three pairs of harem pants, and a magic lamp.  (The Disney nerd in me could not in good conscience go to Morocco and not get a magic lamp).

I'm on a camel!  In MOROCCO.

After a Moroccan lunch, we headed for Tangier.  The next day we rode some camels, explored Tetuan, and finally, went back to semi-reality, a.k.a. Spain.

So what does any of this have to do with reading and writing?  Lots, actually.  I could talk about cool settings, or gender roles in books, or world-building, or fun dialogue (I mean, just think about the banter between a shopkeeper and a potential customer).

But instead, I'm going to talk about not writing and not reading.  Sometimes, it's actually a good idea :)

The three cities I visited are relatively far from each other:  at least an hour, sometimes two or more, on a narrow road that winds through a rugged countryside.  Lots of bus time to get work done, right?  Good, because I had a ton of reading to do:  reading for class, reading for my internship, research reading for my WIP, reading friends' manuscripts, and so on.

Moroccan countryside.
I turned on my Kindle.  Looked down.  Read a sentence.  A paragraph.  And turned it off.

How could I stare at a page when the beautiful Moroccan countryside was rolling by my window?  I can read anytime, I can write anytime.  But who knows when I'll next see Morocco?  Even if it's from a bus, through a window, the vista is so breathtaking, so awe-inspiring, that I'd be a fool to miss it, even for a gripping page-turner.  Because guess what?  This is real life.

Market in Tetuan.

It's those moments when real life becomes as awe-inspiring as fiction that it's time to put down the book, look out the window, explore and dream and live.  Writers always inhabit the heads of their characters, but every once in awhile, they need to leave those characters behind in order to go on their own adventures.  Otherwise, they'll miss the wonderful story called life.

What if I had been a good student and did my assigned readings while on the ferry?  I would have missed the Most Glorious Sunset.  And if I had read on the bus?  Or if I had been writing?  I'd never have noticed the rippling streams that course through the hills, or the little boy riding a donkey, or a multicolored herd galloping in sync over a field.

Books are great.  I love books.  I love words.  They truly are magical, but it's important to remember that they are just words on a page.  Powerful words, but words nonetheless.  Simple inkblots.  Turn away for a moment, and you'll find that the real story is the one that's all around you.

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