It’s such an evocative word, isn’t it? Wanderlust. It sounds so perfectly like it’s meaning that we don’t bother with an English equivalent.
I first learned of wanderlust when I lived in Austria and spoke German as a child. Though we moved back to the U.S. when I was seven, my kinship to the word has always felt stronger for that connection. Modern German usage actually tends away from the word wanderlust when talking about desire for travel, in favor of the word Fernweh. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but I love the translation: “Farsickness.” Farsickness! As in, the antonym to homesickness (Heimweh).
There are moments in my memory that are so fraught with this Fernweh—the longing, the ache, the sheer need to get away into some faraway, unexplored place—that to think of them stirs the feeling in me all over again. With summer so close, I’ve found myself daydreaming of my precious few days of vacation. And as I’ve been listening to Wild (Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail) on my way into the office, I keep fantasizing about quitting my job and taking a hiking trip of my own. I’m forever asking myself, a little impatiently: What is at the root of this compulsion?
To escape the mundane, to explore the unknown, to discover, to uncover secrets. It’s the what, but not the why.
I find, too, that it’s the same feeling driving me to sit and write. I need to know what happens to my characters, I have to get inside their world, explore it, see it for myself, know what it feels like and why. And not just the physical world, but the emotional landscape too. Why is she throwing her life away for a cause she knows is hopeless? Why is he willing to trade family loyalty for a fleeting chance at success? How do they muster such bravery in the face of overwhelmingly bleak odds?
I can feel the seed of an answer when I sit still long enough with the why of it all: Is it possible that I’m trying to plumb the depths of my own spirit? Maybe in exploring the unseen corners of this untamed planet that is my home, and uncovering the hidden motives of my characters’ hearts, I’ll somehow glimpse more deeply inside the hazy, illusive mystery of my own Self.
I think that’s the long way around to answering the question, “Why do you write?”
I’ve scrawled Beethoven’s words on the inside of my writing notebook and I linger over them every time I open to a clean page:
“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”
Are you an adventurer at heart? How does wanderlust manifest itself in your life or your art?