I wish I had a dollar for every time someone tells me how cool or fascinating or enviable my job is—writing audio tours.
And I can never disagree. It suits me just fine.
After all, I get to release my deepest urges–the urge to learn, to teach, to entertain, to celebrate, to empathize, to wonder, to travel, to investigate, to share… all combined into the purpose of awakening the same urges in others—fellow travellers. Folks like me, who are curious and who hunger for authentic life and great stories.
I have written on a remarkable range of topics throughout my life—from how to be an FBI agent to how to fracture an oil well; from Civil War-era earthen forts and ironcladsto World War II-era bomb sites and submarines; from Japanese gardens to Russian female fighter pilots; from Baroque swirls to Modernistic angles. That’s a really small sample too. The total list stretches on and on…
And while I emerge from each writing job with a much deeper knowledge of the topic, I strive never to be the “expert” on day one. My value as an interpreter of great artifacts, sites, and stories requires that I do not arrive at the client’s doorstop as an expert on their topic. In fact, I work hard to resist the tantalizing temptation of advance research.
In the same way that some folks protect the innocence of their children, I’ve learned to protect the innocence of my mind. While I am proud to possess expertise as a communicator, I am able to reach my audience more effectively by initially approaching my topic with that very “innocence.” I want to encounter the topic, site, or story with the same perspective as the first-time visitor who will be taking my audio tour.
I seek what Zen Buddhists call the “beginner’s mind.”
The gentleman who wrote the book on this (literally) was a renowned Zen master named Shunryo Suzuki. He opens his classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind with these words, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
Once I start down the path of gaining expertise, I cannot ever have the experience of the first impression again. The thrill, the wonder, even the confusion of the initial encounter can never be retrieved. Yet my audio tour is designed to guide that first-time visitor who is in the throes of discovery. My job is to make sure he or she leaves the site connected deeply to the story. That’s what Q Media is all about.
Therefore, I have learned the value of “recording” in my memory the sensation of encountering the site, the collection, or the artifact for the first time. I make note of the way it enters my eye and my initial perceptions. What is this about? What is more important and less important? What does it mean? Where does this fit into my worldview? What surprises me?
Just as important as my intellectual perceptions are my physical perceptions while exploring the site. How do I feel? Where do my feet want to lead me? Am I uncomfortable? I will occasionally do a body scan to note specific physical reactions. Historical and nature sites offer the additional bonus of multi-sensory perceptions. The smell of old diesel. The sound of the wind through the bamboo. The texture of old walls or loose stones in the rocky path.
And every now and then, there are moments of complete astonishment. I turn the corner and there it is: T-Rex, the P-51 Mustang, Esherick’s spiral stair, the Forward Torpedo Compartment, or the ruby slippers. I stop in my tracks and let the shivers take over.
These are the moments that can never be recreated.
They are the gifts of the Beginner’s Mind.