Noticing the Journey

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One morning I was given a lift into work by my parents. I climbed into the middle seat of the back and then spent a while leafing through emails on my phone, followed by aimlessly watching the road blur above the dashboard until we arrived. A perfectly average lift, by any means; nothing remarkable about it. Yet in making these unremarkable journeys time and time again, I have begun to ask myself an important question:

                          When was the last time I really noticed a car journey?

I don’t mean just noticing how far I’m travelling and which turnings we took to get there; but being aware of all that we were passing through. How many people driving or being driven right now are actually looking out of their windows and thinking about the landscape that they’re in; about the noises, the shades of colour, the rise and fall of the fields and forests and buildings as they merge? And then how many people are seeing nothing but the blur of the motorway at seventy – an interminable rush beyond a window; hearing only the sound of the engine and the air buffeting small gaps in the windows as if “outside” does not exist at all – as if a journey is only a state of limbo between destinations?

If you were to ask someone who had driven from Birmingham to London yesterday what they had done on that day, they’d probably say something like,

“I went to London”, and then they might tell you what they did there.

Or, just after arriving in London they might say,

“I’ve been driving.”

Driving.

It calls to mind the image of a car interior and wheels rolling by at high speed. There is no place attached to it, no sense of a world it fits into, just an idea of getting somewhere fast. This is convenience – the quickest route from a to b – and in many ways it makes sense that this is what we routinely settle for, in our modern world of crammed schedules and fast-paced living.

But this is not the way that journeys have to be, and it is not the only way to travel.

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The moment you decide to take the scenic route on the train, or choose to cycle through the woods, or boat your way down the winding waterways of a country, you are forced to slow down and look around, opening yourself up to something quite amazing: noticing the journey. Not just noticing the journey as movement, but as a discovery of place, self and mind.

As you slow down, you allow yourself to become more aware of your own thoughts, of the interactions between yourself and your environment, and begin to engage mentally with the full height and breadth of a space as a historic and imaginative pool of potential. Giving yourself this mental breathing room in your day to day journeying is how problem solving is tangled out, how we process our own desires – how poetry is born.

It’s too easy nowadays to neglect making time for ourselves in this way, time for making sure we understand how we are connected to the worlds we inhabit. It’s also time we need for processing and distilling observations and experience into something meaningful, something that lasts in the mind.

Walking or floating down the canals of the UK, for example, offers up a whole wealth of ideas and stories if you allow yourself to slow down and engage with the journey: in the conversations of passersby, the memories of long lost boats and boaters, the years of trains and wars and disuse, and the rallies that brought them back into being. There is so much there to contemplate whilst the leaves bow in and out of view, and the birdsong and constant running of water set the pace to your thoughts and movements.

This slow time for contemplative thought is, for me, much of what makes poetry and poetic thought possible. It is an opening-up to feeling the sensory past and present of place and moment, to feeling the rhythms that surround us and that we automatically orient our lives around. It enables us to learn how to play off these feelings, pushing and pulling against the pulses and sounds to create something evocative, something that captures the unique way our thoughts fall against one another and gradually coalesce into meaning.

I find that poetry is so often a discovery of new and beautiful ways of seeing. It captures the unexpected in the things that we think we know – life, love, cities, nature, people, words. But in order to access any of those multitudes of perspectives, in order to see the extraordinary within the ordinary, we must allow ourselves time for observation of our surroundings in the first place.

This is what a journey can be, if we let it; this great storing-up of inspiration, a way of focusing the mind and processing ourselves. So next time you’re about to get into a car, think about slowing down and taking a different route, think about getting out of the car and experiencing some new way of getting to and from the places you think you know; think about what you don’t know – what is waiting to be discovered all around you.

About the author of this post

32880562_10208750525599857_7033432400910614528_n.jpgJessica Kashdan-Brown is a poet and writer based in both Bath, where she lives, and Coventry where she studies as part of the University of Warwick Writing Programme. She is currently working on the installation of a poetry route within the Bath flight of locks along the Kennet and Avon canal. This is a large-scale poetry project designed to draw attention to the Bath canal as an imaginative space, and as an alternative mode of transport to cars in Bath. For more details on the project, please follow this link.

 

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Between stations: exploring the art of subway tracks

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Looking somewhere between an electric circuit diagram and a Mondrian painting, subway – or underground – maps are exemplars of ways to present difficult information in an accessible, visually engaging and, crucially, easy to understand, way.

Londoners may well be familiar with the story of Harry Beck’s famous ‘diagram’ of the city’s underground system in 1931, which presented dozens of lines that both criss crossed a few miles of central London, but also spanned dozens of miles outside the city, stretching out into the suburbs.

Beck’s approach – plotting lines on a grid running vertically, horizontally or at 45 degree angles – meant that it was not possible to tell the distance or precise geographic location of stations at a glance. However, Beck reasoned this was unimportant: what passengers needed to know was how to get from one station to another as efficiently as possible and where to change between lines.

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Beck’s 1931 ‘diagram’ of the London Underground system

Beck’s design revolutionised the design of underground maps across the world. A traveller from London will be able to read the subway or metro systems in New York or Hong Kong just as easily as if they were travelling between Elephant and Castle and Harrow and Wealdstone back in their home city.

Unsurprisingly then, the design of tube maps is a source of inspiration for artists and designers, as they offer clear examples of how to present complicated data effectively, and creatively.

A fascinating new project from Nicholas Rougeux, the creator of the inspired ‘literary constellations’ suite of visualisations of the opening lines of famous books, has now taken the humble tube map a step further.

In ‘Between Stations’, Rougeux breaks down famous subway systems into the segments between each station and rearranges them to fill a common simple shape: a circle. Each diagram shows every segment in a subway system while maintaining geographic orientation (no segments were rotated). Some segments serve multiple lines, like in in Chicago where the segment between the Washington/Wells and Quincy stops serves the Purple, Pink, Orange, and Brown lines. In these situations, a segment was included or each using that line’s colour.

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Rougeux breaks down famous subway systems and rearranges them into the simple circle

Explaining his methodology and process behind each of the new maps and animations, Rougeux says: “Arranging the segments this way reveals geographic identities unique to each city. For example, Chicago is a grid-based city from north to south and east to west so its diagram has more mostly horizontal and vertical segments while London’s segments appear more curved because the city’s layout is less ridgid. New York City’s layout has grid-based areas but they’re on an angle from true north, so most of the lines are diagonal.”

Explore the art of subway maps for yourselves. Check out Rougeux’s project.