A Challenge to the Explorer in All of Us

In the U.S.A., October 14 is Columbus Day – a day we used to celebrate, which now fades into the obscurity reserved for vaguely embarrassing things we’d rather forget we lauded (mostly due to their culturally insensitive properties).

13J12 Columbus*Public Domain image: First landing of Columbus on the shores of the New World, at San Salvador, W.I., Oct. 12th 1492. Painted 1862 by Dióscoro Teófilo Puebla Tolín, originally published by Currier & Ives.

In October, 1976, I learned about Christopher Columbus – the shining, kindergarten-colored version many Americans learned in school. The brave explorer, Christopher C, who set off to sail the ocean blue with three fine ships and a complement of equally charming crewmen. I wondered what it felt like, sailing off into the sunset on adventures–traveling far from home, with only the stars and my bravery to guide me.

Decades later, I see Columbus through less rosily-tinted lenses, but adventure? That still sings its siren song.

Writing lets me travel anywhere and any time. The only limits, my imagination. Books and stories stretch the boundaries even farther, taking me to places other writers had in mind–worlds they built, which I can now inhabit for a time.

When I speak at writers’ conferences, I hear from people at all stages on the writing journey. Some have many books behind them; others, working on the first. Just last month, in Colorado, I spent time with multi-published authors and with novices, and every single one of them expressed the same desire: to go wherever dreams might lead, to lands where no one else has gone before.

The love of adventure binds writers … and readers … and stories … and books. The love of “the new” crosses every border of land, and time, and race, and age.

And so, on a day that once reminded us of whitewashed conquerors, I’m issuing a challenge to all of you:

Find something to explore today.

Put down your life, if only for an hour or two. Examine something new. Smell a flower. Read a book. Eat in a restaurant that serves a cuisine you never thought you’d try.

Let’s re-purpose Columbus Day — return, if we can, to a time when three little ships and an ocean blue were a metaphor for bravery and an encouragement to follow our dreams, no matter how impossible they seemed.

You don’t have to sail an ocean, or even leave home if your schedule doesn’t permit it. But take the time to find an adventure. Learn something new today.

And then, come back here and tell me about it – I’ll tell you about mine too.