Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is the Explorer in Residence?

So, what exactly is this blog? What is the Explorer in Residence?

Well, short answer: I'm not 100% sure myself.

Long answer: This blog is still sort of a work in progress. An idea that's been bubbling in the background of my mind for some time now, and which I've finally decided to sit down, examine and figure out what it is. First, some history...

Back in 2007, my wife and I took a trip around the world. Over approximately 7 months, we visited 17 countries. Some briefly, some for a month or more. The exact figures aren't important, and if you are curious to read more about it, my wife and I detail our adventures extensively on my other blog, Strange and Benevolent. It was a singular and life-changing experience, and one that I took a lot away from. But, in particular, there were a couple of loose concepts that will hopefully for the backbone of this thing.

#1 The Value of Looking at Things as an Traveler:
Travel makes you mindful. When at home, going about your day to day routine, it's easy to sort of ignore or disregard the "normal" things going on around you, the places you see every day, the people you interact with on a daily basis, the rituals and the experiences of normality. But, when you are traveling, and there is a sense of "newness" to everything, you take time to notice the little things. The differences and novelty of the experience make you more mindful of your location, situation and the experience.

There's two side effect to this. First, experiencing something new is a thrill. And, being a thrill, you tend to regard it as an adventure, instead of a routine or a hassle... even if it would be otherwise frustrating. If you have a tedious commute every day in your normal life, you tend to resent it. It's something you just try to get through. And, as soon as it's over, you do your best forget it. But, if you are stuck on a rickety night-bus from McCloud Ganj to Delhi, even if you are tired and overwhelmed, it will be an experience you'll look back on as an adventure, and maybe with a chuckle.

Which brings me to the second side-effect: Since, when traveling, you are constantly mindful of what is going on around you; and since, when at home, you are always trying to "get through the day," both have a strange effect on your memory and how you experience time. There are vast swaths of my life that I can barely remember a detail or two. They were largely routine, and without note-worthy events, and most of those countless, anonymous days have been boxed up and stored away in some distant backwater corner of my mind, like the Ark at the end of Raiders. And, that's a little sad.

By comparison, while details have become fuzzy in the five or so years since we got back from our trip, I can remember at least some details from every single day of those 7 months. Sights. Smells. Sounds. Something about the act of being mindful and the novel nature of what I was experiencing on a nearly daily basis helped keep those memories from being condensed and packed away, never to be seen again. So, in a way, those 7 months probably sit in my mind the way 7 years of day-to-day life would. They loom large.

So, returning home, I couldn't help but think: What would happen if I could treat every day like a day I was traveling? Would it be possible to be mindful and look at the people, places and experiences of my "normal" life with the same novelty and thrill that I looked at the people, places and experiences I had while traveling?

To be honest, I sort of dropped the ball. I did make some stabs at it, most notably my Commuter Cam Project, where I took a camera with my on my walk to work, took pictures and then documented the journey. You can see my attempts here and here. I actually really enjoyed the experience (and was excited when other people took up the challenge). But, in general, too often, I've allowed myself to be sucked back into that zombie grind that seems to dominate the average week.

#2 I Can Be A Better Person

First off, let me just say that I don't think I'm a bad person by any regard. In fact, I'm pretty darned pleased with myself, and my life, overall. That said, when traveling, I found that I'd often get peeks of another me. A me that didn't have 30-odd years of baggage, self-imposed expectation, etc. When traveling, I wrote (well, blogged) prodigiously, read daily, wasn't ashamed to break out a book or sketchbook in a public place. Gave myself license to think about big concepts... history, politics, religion, philosophy, my place in the world. Introduce myself to strangers and make new friends. I picked up new skills (Tibetan cooking, driving on the left side of the road, ostrich riding) and problem solved in ways I'd previously thought unimaginable. In short, I challenged myself.

Sadly, when I got back home, and got back to working, a lot of that feel by the wayside again. I fell back into my old routines and ways of doing things. So, in a way, this blog is an attempt to rectify that.

I want to challenge myself again in those ways. Learn new skills. Push myself artistically. Think big and figure out not only "what do I believe?" But, also, "why do I believe it?" And, this blog is going to be the place for me to do it. This won't be a place for my to go on diatribes about what I think the world should be like, but it will be hopefully a place for me to parse out what I believe to be true, and why I think it. And, most importantly, it will be a place for me to challenge myself.

So, to return to my opening lines: While I have a feeling about the general direction of this blog, I'm still not 100% sure what form it will take. I have a feeling it will probably involve just sort of feeling my way along intuitively. Posting things that feel applicable, labeling and tagging those posts, and seeing what ideas and themes will emerge. What bubbles to the top. I also want to use this as a place to form challenges to myself (and to anyone else who cares to join me in them). In fact, I've got my first self-imposed challenge already on deck... but that will wait until my next post.

So, what does the name "Explorer in Residence" mean, anyhow?

Well, to be honest, you'll have to ask National Geographic. I "borrowed" the title from them. This is what it say on their website, about their Explorer in Residence program:

The Explorers-in-Residence Program was created to enhance National Geographic's long-standing relationship with some of the world's best explorers and scientists. With the support of the National Geographic Society, explorers-in-residence develop programs and carry out fieldwork in their respective areas of study. Our explorers' groundbreaking discoveries fuel the kind of critical information, conservation initiatives, and compelling stories that are the trademark of the National Geographic Society.

I first came across the title "Explorer in Residence" while watching this video on TED (watching TED videos is a minor an obsession of mine) by Wade Davis:

It's a pretty amazing talk, but what struck me first off was the fact that a person could have the title "Explorer in Residence," and that -short of being a knighted "Sir"- it was probably the coolest title you could call yourself by. I wanted that title. But, since my credentials don't measure up to Mr. Davis' quite yet, it would be unlikely that National Geographic would be bestowing the title on me any time soon.

Then I realized: I own my own business. And, as the business owner, I need a title. So, I was no longer just "Designer and Illustrator," my official title was "Designer, Illustrator and Explorer in Residence." Problem solved.

Plus, I just sort of like the pun of the whole thing, when applied to this blog. My goal, such as it is, is to be an explorer. An explorer of my city, my life, my world. But, at the same time I'm also leaving a very, shall we say, residential life. I'm a married, homeowner with two small children.

I am, truly, an explorer in residence.


  1. For the exact same reasons you described, I am trying to figure out how to get the same title. I'll probably add it to my LinkedIn profile as a start and add my own expeditions, similar to your travel around the world.

  2. Thanks, Darren for the comment! Yes, you should definitely add it to your profile. Since I "stole" it myself, I definitely don't make any claims to ownership of it. The world needs more explorers.

    Also thanks for "reminding" me of this blog. It has been sadly neglected. Hopefully, soon, I'll be able to revisit it.