How to be an Explorer of the World

February 29, 2012 § 3 Comments

Guest post by Anna Marie.

It rained all day Thursday in Chicago. The best days to be outside here are when weather is happening; it’s a reminder that nature still exists, the city can’t escape it. I went for a bike ride. I got distracted by the way street-light travels through puddles. I stood on the sidewalk, and the sound world soaked in.

When I’m feeling a bit stale, lost, or overwhelmed by Chicago’s grid system, somehow weather finds its way to me, as do the books of Keri Smith. They meet me along the wandered paths of museum gift shops and little bookstores. Her books poke me in the sides and ignite flames in my ears. They make me want the freedom to live out the oddities of existence and to be ravenously curious about everything. They give me permission to step outside of expected behavior.

Here are three of her books I recommend; they will challenge you and make you smile. They each have their own focus on how to shake out of normal routine, to get us to imagine.

Challenge #1: Deconstruct familiarity

How To Be an Explorer of the World is filled with guidance and quotes that encourage us to stop taking things for granted, start seeing them as though we’ve never seen them before, fight assumptions, and begin to love ordinary things for their possibilities.

The book takes us through a series of explorations to help those of us who don’t know where to start. Here are some of my favorites:

Document any naturally occurring faces you find on your travels. Look for them in plumbing parts, fixtures (door hooks), in nature (trees), in human-made objects, in the clouds, etc.


…Document an overheard conversation.
Alternate: collect words you find interesting.

Einstein used “thought experiments” (questions that can only be solved using the imaginzation), on a regular basis. He actually formulated the special theory of relativity by asking the question, “What would it be like to travel on a beam of light?” It is interesting to conduct these thought experiments in the midst of everyday life.

Anna’s Thought Experiment: What if I could dive into a puddle and arrive in that reflected world? There were puddles for two days from the Thursday rain. I kept walking around and staring in them, taken by their pond-like ability to inspire rest, despite their size and shores of pavement.

In a puddle I can see the reflection of branches from a city tree. If I could dive in and appear in those branches, then puddles would be physical portals into dreams. Of course. I see city branches, but when my mind dives through, I arrive in a forest, with a vast sky and landscape of stillness, solitude. No social norms or career conveyor belts, only the old stories of the trees, a place where my heart can listen and expand beyond the grid.

Challenge #2: Let go of perfection, assumptions of what success is.

In Wreck This Journal, each page is a simple instruction on how to wreck the journal (the person who took a picture of theirs has done a delightfully thorough job of the wrecking). It tells you to do things with it that make you uncomfortable, like:

Break the spine right away,
Scribble on it everywhere,
Not to follow her instructions,
Leave it somewhere outside overnight.

There is also a page dedicated to negative thoughts (“What is your inner critic saying?”). I had to stop and journal when I read that, because my inner critic was saying a lot: “This is dumb. This is not even helping me. Why would we learn to be so orderly as adults if it were only hurting us and we just had to unlearn it? What if nothing interesting happened when I left it outside? That would be really disappointing and I’d feel dumb.”

At the beginning of the book she warns that in order to create, you have to destroy, and that by going through the book, you may begin to partake:

“You may begin to see creative destruction everywhere. You may begin to live more recklessly.”

Challenge #3: Co-create. We change human history, we change the nature of things.

This Is Not a Book takes us through a piece of work that is anything but a book. Every single page starts with “This is…” followed by a word, description, and/or set of instructions revealing what that page is besides a book. Every page requires interaction to make it something other than a book.

For example,

Some of my other favorite pages were:

this is a PUBLIC SPACE
invite people to add something to this page

select a piece of writing you really like. Read it out loud, where others can hear you.

1. Make a list of your personality traits
2.Take those traits and exaggerate or embellish them. Create a character (or Avatar) with these traits as superpowers.
3. Create several superhero accessories.

I know that I am not alone. Many people I have talked with feel lost, wondering if we can find a meaningful place for our talents and passions, trying to reconcile what we’ve learned and are encountering about what’s true, about the nature of reality. I have nothing figured out. I leave you this last thought from How To Be an Explorer


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§ 3 Responses to How to be an Explorer of the World

  • cousin Sarah says:

    Very insightful Anna. I’m amazed and intrigued by the woman you’ve become.

  • Alyssa says:

    Thank you Anna! I think I’m going to write a response to this blog because it brings up so many thoughts and ideas! I’ve been getting lost in “A Wrinkle in Time,” and also in people’s faces, their wrinkles and shadows. Since I started drawing, I can’t escape the small intricate parts of a person’s face…I love wandering in ebony pencils…

  • Anna says:

    Anna, I really liked this post. I am trying to get back into being critical–not in the negative way, but in a way that we recognize things and develop opinions and learn.

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