Elephants, plumbs and intentionality

by Steve Brock on April 11, 2012

To get a photo like this of Bryce Canyon at dawn, you need an early start...and intentionality

Q: “How are an elephant and a plumb alike?”

A: “They’re both purple except for the elephant!”

I laughed so hard when I first heard that joke.

Then again, I was about nine years old at the time.

It may not be as funny to me now, but it does point out that some comparisons can be stretched too far to be relevant. Others, while not immediately obvious, can be highly informative.

Take the comparison between photography and travel. On the surface, the connection seems clear: we take pictures on trips. But in that one little phrase, “take pictures,” lies a clue to both good travel and good photography.

Professional photographers often refer to “making” a photo versus “taking” a photo. It’s the same with a trip: You can “take” a vacation or you can “make” a meaningful journey.

The difference can be summed up in one word: intentionality.

The more intentional you are in thinking through your shot before you release the shutter, the better the photo. Similarly, the more intentional you are in planning a trip, being open during the trip and reflecting on it later, the better your travels.

Being intentional applies to so many aspects of life. For example, I remember a talk once where the speaker mentioned something to the effect that, “It is unlikely that we will mature in our spiritual life apart from intentionality.”

Not impossible. But unlikely.

Similarly, you can take a quick snapshot or just show up in a new place and you could have a nice picture or good trip. But you increase the likelihood of either being truly special when you are intentional in your planning, your execution and your follow-through.

Over the next few entries here on The Meaningful Traveler, we’ll explore ten ways in which making a photograph and making a meaningful journey are similar and how you can increase the likelihood of improving the experience with both photography and travel.

But for now, take a moment and ask yourself how intentional you are in the things that matter most to you: your relationship with God, with loved ones and friends, with your work and with the areas of life that recreate you.

Are you just phoning it in? Living the equivalent of a snapshot? Or are you intentional about spending time in pursuing what is meaningful?

Making meaning takes time.

"Making" a photograph sometimes means spending as much or more time after it is taken. And it still requires intentionality.

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Inside jokes

by Steve Brock on December 1, 2011

Here you see the broader scene in which I witnessed the little hitched horse in Portland

The story of the troll in the men’s room in Vienna is a good example of one of those experiences that occur between traveling companions that last long beyond your trip. These shared experiences become shorthand or secret code between those that were there.

Often you try to explain the experience to others. In the best cases, your listeners will nod, maybe laugh appropriately and possibly get some sense of what happened and why it mattered to you. They become insiders to your story.

At other times, they will hear your words but stare dully as if listening to a lecture on horticultural policy in the EU and the implications on the European debt crisis. Conversely, they may look at you, eyebrows up almost to their widow’s peak and mouth agape as if you had just said that you were dating Kim Kardashian and that was a good thing.

In reality, it doesn’t matter.

Sometimes inside jokes – for that’s essentially what these are – apply only to you or those on the inside. Other times, even those on the outside can appreciate them even if they weren’t there and in a small way become insiders to your story.

Take the urban legend that led to Travelocity’s mascot, the traveling gnome. The way I heard the story years ago, a woman looks out her front window one morning and discovers that one her Snow White and the Seven Dwarves lawn ornaments is missing. I believe the victim was Grumpy, which only seems appropriate. She assumes vandals, neighborhood kids or a gardener with a grudge have taken the painted, flat, metal little guy and left her with only the happy dwarves.

But she’s wrong.

A year later – a full year, mind you – Grumpy is back in his regular spot in the lineup only now he has an envelope taped to his hand. Inside the envelope are photographs of Grumpy all over the place – in front of London Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Coliseum, etc. She never learns the identity of the dwarfnappers.

When I first heard the story, I pictured the scene from the perspective of the homeowner. But now I think about it from the vantage of those who packed Grumpy along with them and set him up for shots all over the world.

I suspect their little inside joke got better and better as they went along. I also suspect they still laugh about it today. I know I do, and I’m on the outside of it.

Public art? Inside joke? Enjoyable discovery? Yes.

So a few weeks ago when my wife and I took a long weekend trip down to Portland, OR, I had to laugh myself when I came across the scene in the photos. Here, on a busy commercial street was a little toy horse tied up to the old hitching post still embedded in the curb.

Did the perpetrator do it for his or her own sake? Did they do it alone or with friends? Were they one of the nearby shop owners who could peer out and see if anyone noticed their little horse? Or did someone do it and walk away never to know the surprise and delight this little scene would provide to a passerby like me?

I’ll likely never know.

I’m just glad that someone out there recognized the value of shared humor, even for a stranger like me that stands on the outside of their inside joke. I may not have instigated it, but I can still participate in my own way, make it part of my own story and for that moment, feel just a little bit like an insider.

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The missing joke

by Steve Brock on June 16, 2011

Now if only he was raising his front foot, it would be far funnier...

For those of you who attended my presentation on The Power of Place at Kiros, I mentioned that I left a joke out of the talk.

The joke was to illustrate the point that while we’re on our trip is usually not the best time to complete creative projects. Instead, travel is where we gather the sparks of ideas, the raw material that we collect for later synthesis and application. You can read more about this notion here.

I thought I’d lighten up an otherwise fairly serious presentation with the following joke. But when I did a run-through for timing purposes at home before my wife, she informed me that:

  1. She’d already heard the joke. From her mom. Who doesn’t tell jokes. So that alone should clue me in about the possible quality of it.
  2. She saw minimal connection between the joke and the message.
  3. If I had any desire to preserve even a trace of dignity and self-respect, I might be wise to leave it out. She can be quite incisive and diplomatic at the same time, my wife.

You judge for yourself:

“A man was driving along the highway, and saw a rabbit hopping across the middle of the road. He swerved to avoid hitting the rabbit, but unfortunately the rabbit jumped in front of the car and was hit. The driver, being a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over to the side of the road and got out to see what had become of the rabbit. Much to his dismay, the rabbit was dead. The driver felt so awful he began to cry.

A woman driving down the highway saw the man crying on the side of the road and pulled over. She stepped out of her car and asked the man what was wrong.

“I feel terrible,” he explained. “I accidentally hit this rabbit and killed it.”

The woman told the man not to worry. She knew what to do. She went to her car trunk and pulled out a spray can. She walked over to the limp, dead rabbit, and sprayed the contents of the can onto the rabbit. Miraculously, the rabbit came to life, jumped up, waved its paw at the two humans and hopped down the road. 50 feet away the rabbit stopped, turned around, waved at the two again, hopped down the road another 50 feet, turned, waved, and hopped another 50 feet. The man was astonished. He couldn’t figure out what substance could be in the woman’s spray can! He ran over to the woman and demanded, “What was in your spray can? What did you spray onto that rabbit?” The woman turned the can around so that the man could read the label. It said:

’Hare Spray. Restores Life to Dead Hare. Adds Permanent Wave.’”

             (Source: )

Huh? What do you think? I was going to conclude that this guy went home with plenty of ideas for new product innovations.

Should I have left it in?

In reality, it doesn’t really matter. Here’s why.

I’ve been thinking about this joke. What sets it apart from being pure “pun-ishment” are the final three words. So I’ve considered going out, buying a lucky rabbit’s foot and bringing it home. I would then wait for a quiet moment with my wife, raise the rabbit’s foot, and then give it a little wave, sort of like William and Kate’s at the Royal Wedding and say rather sheepishly, “…Adds Permanent Wave.”

At that point, my wife would probably do one of the following: 

  • There’s a 7% likelihood she would shake her head in sadness and walk away, dropping the subject.
  • There’s a 14% likelihood she would ask incredulously where and why I have a rabbit’s foot and completely miss the connection to the joke.
  • There’s a 9% likelihood she would just change subject and tell me to go take out the trash or go re-landscape the entire backyard.
  • There’s a 70% likelihood she would pause, stare at me for about three seconds, then laugh and walk over and give me a hug and mention how goofy I am and we would both know why we married each other.

This is a perfect example of the Power of Place: I had to give a presentation in another city not far from home in order for me to realize the amazing value of what I have at home.

Every day.

Even on bad hare days.

Maybe my wife was right.

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Attitude at Altitude Part 2

by Steve Brock August 13, 2010

In addition to saying, “Thank You,” a good attitude and some positive words – even humor – can show appreciation for those who serve and travel with you.

Read the full article →