The journey begins by establishing a purpose

Despite the way that the name of my blog hints at exotic destinations and intrepid encounters with foreign cultures, my “travels” this summer will be limited to my home state — but with a difference. I want to focus on four museum destinations in a 30-mile radius of my home, and I want each visit to bring me closer not only to understanding a culture that’s not my own, but also to recognizing the sturdy common ground that world cultures share. What I hope to learn about, say, Native American culture, will take on new meaning when I relate it to my own experiences and values. By investing more time and critical thinking as I view various museum displays and absorb their treasure troves of historical, political and cultural information, my goal is to begin to see the intersections with all that is familiar to me, in my Anglo-American –and, some would say, privileged — way of life. No doubt I will also receive a quick education in the wide gaps of difference between my self-identity and that of a person from a different ethnic, racial or religious group. The idea excites me, and I hope there will be a few eye-opening moments for you, too, as you “follow” me around town.

Why approach museum visits this way and turn my thoughts into travel pieces? I believe in getting out of my own little bubble of Phoenix, Arizona, where I have lived for 30 years, to see new places and faces — whenever the opportunity arises. Alas, this is a “staycation” summer, dependent on finding diversions in the Phoenix area. Fortunately, my city has a number of museums that can temporarily transport me to faraway places, figuratively if not literally. Furthermore, I’ve chosen four museums that I plan to describe in this blog as I study concepts in contemporary travel writing. The idea of the travel writer as ethnographer is something I hadn’t considered before, yet it makes perfect sense.

By the way, all of these museums offer excellent insights into cultures and identities that are not my own:

The Heard Museum, which is one of the best repositories in the world for Native American art and artifacts. I have visited it several times, so I’m eager to see how I’ll respond to the exhibits when applying the filter of identity.

— The Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, northwest of Phoenix, which contains a surprisingly rich store of Western art and cowboy artifacts, along with a rock and mineral display and dioramas of life in the Old West. It’s a must-see for anyone identifying as an Arizonan.

The Musical Instrument Museum, which pairs hundreds of instrument displays with interactive geographical, historical and cultural information from every corner of the world. Because the MIM is so vast, I will be concentrating on the role of accordions in non-Western cultures. I have a soft spot for accordions, as that is the instrument my father played.

The Irish Cultural Center, which I have neglected to visit all these years, figuring that my ethnic background of being an American Jew would preclude any interest in it. I’m sure I will be proven wrong.

I know, it’s an unusual kind of travel writing, not based on my actually hitting the highway, climbing a mountain, boarding a ship, or getting on a plane. But it seems that the blogosphere already has plenty of websites with highly descriptive text and photos of exotic places, often delivered in an awestruck and breathless tone. I want to dig a little deeper into the art of description and make connections between the sights at these museums and my own prior knowledge. I anticipate that many preconceptions will be shattered, and that my horizons will be generously broadened, even if I’m only consuming a quarter tank of gas.

As I make the rounds, I would imagine that James Clifford’s words about travel writing as it reflects comparative cultural studies will come to mind. In the first chapter of Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, Clifford mentions “diverse, interconnected histories of travel and displacement (18).” To me, the phrase is a good reminder that any culture never remains static, and that there is bound to be great diversity within one culture. Its roots may go deeper than what a traveler sees in one visit. In addition, every culture feels the impact of outsiders, and even runs the risk of diaspora. These are substantive issues that will help define my purpose and guide my writing as I work on this blog.

 

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The Heard Museum in Phoenix always has incredible contemporary art on display, as in this Allan Houser bronze “Gift of the Earth” (1991), which I admired in a trip to the Heard a couple of years ago. Photo by Deborah Ross.
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26 thoughts on “The journey begins by establishing a purpose

  1. Hi Deborah!

    I really enjoy how you set up your blog for this travel writing class. First, your title for this blog post goes very well with the title of this blog and the caption you have beyond it. I love that you write, “Self-discovery through cultural journeys.” I think that’s beautiful and I would love to have my blog focus more on self discovery. I think that’s the best way to be a travel writer. That may just be my opinion but I think it’s smart to tell us, as your readers, that you will be relating what you see to your own life and the ideologies you have. I know exactly what this blog is going to be about and it makes me excited to go on this journey with you, as one of your readers. If you are open to share, I would love to know more about who you are personally so I can have a deeper understanding of the journey you are going on. Finally, I love the picture you chose for the banner of your blog. Once again, you are really connecting this idea of self discovery to everything. Thanks so much for sharing!

    – Jordan

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    1. Thanks, Jordan. I hope my readers will see that I love learning new things and if I’m lucky my enthusiasm for seeing Native American and other cultures in a new light will come across in this blog format.

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  2. Deborah,
    The connectedness between the museums and your life captures “Self Discovery through Cultural Journeys” and resonates the focus of your blog—“ recognizing the sturdy common ground that world cultures share.” In addition, I think your welcoming invitation—“I hope there will be a few eye-opening moments for you, too, as you “follow” me around town” is another way of saying, “Let’s keep in touch.”

    I think it is perfectly acceptable to explore the options of travel writing, and you declare this eloquently: “I want to dig a little deeper into the art of description and make connections between the sights at these museums and my own prior knowledge.” I can relate to your sentiments. On a vacation to New Orleans with my husband and children, I realized that while I was introducing them to the city of my childhood, I was learning historical events about New Orleans for the first time—events that had led to the cultural sculpturing my life.

    I look forward to reading your reflections as you discover your culture. I predict that you will hit highways and climb mountains, the ones in your heart and soul. Stay awhile and enjoy the experience.

    Janise

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    1. Hi Janise — Thanks for your kind thoughts and words of encouragement. I know exactly what you mean about opening up the possibility of seeing even one’s hometown in a new light. When I go home to Denver, I make it a point to take in a cultural attraction that I never bothered seeing as a child.

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  3. Deborah,
    I really appreciate the awareness and autonomy on display on this opening post. Sometimes, hometown history and culture holds a treasure trove of unexplored stories, ones that can define a community if only more citizens invested in them. While I too, have known the thrills and excitement of travel abroad and into “exciting” zip codes, I am also learning the benefits of the staycation, especially if, as you demonstrate, that experience can focus on depth over breadth. The blogosphere is full of FOMO-enforcing photography and wish-you-were-here travel tips. I’m interested in your travels because they go inward – and that’s a geography that’s much less mapped than many would like to think.

    Another strength of this first post is the the influence of your personal style. You seem open to the advice and concepts presented by your class texts, but also have a strong sense of what your own style may contribute. Your essays in ethnography will undoubtedly be influenced by your background, whether in activism or bias, but also begin to take on the cultures that you study and describe in your museum visits. That, in essence, is what I’m hoping to read about – how you, from your own position, can react to and document explorations in the worldview of another. I am eager to read how you integrate the course disciplines into your own “backyard” adventuring!
    Cheers,
    Justin

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    1. Thanks so much, Justin! I have a feeling that our upcoming readings in this class will reinforce the advantages of looking inward as well as outward, wherever the journey leads. Also, I’m glad you brought up the overabundance of FOMO-style blogs. In the same vein, I get a bit irritated with listicles, such as “10 National Parks You Have to See.” Well, what if I just want to go to the Grand Canyon 10 times instead?

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  4. I lived in Phoenix for five years and only went to the Heard Museum once. I haven’t even heard of the other three! It sounds like you have a great summer planned. I think it is definitely possible to get to know your hometown with the view of an outsider. Your desire to make connections with the museum and your own prior knowledge is the inward journey that was alluded to in Module 1.

    When I go to museums whose topic doesn’t really seem to match the surrounding geography, I sometimes wonder how they got there. How did an Irish Cultural Center get to Phoenix? What historical event(s) occurred to create that demand? I will be curious to know.

    The openness of your writing is great. It makes me want to talk further with you about your plans. Revealing the reason for selecting the accordion is a nice touch. Your readers will be able to relate to that line of reasoning as I think it is universal.

    I look forward to seeing your blog progress.

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    1. Hi Renada! Yes, that’s the nice thing about a blog format — it’s possible to get a bit more personal, such as the reason why I’ll focus on the accordion. Sneak preview: the Musical Instrument Museum has on display at least 100 accordions from all over the world, dating back several centuries.

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  5. Hi, Deborah,
    My name is Leah, and I will be working with you on your blog.
    I have a word document with some comments that i would like to send you, so please let me know where I could send it.
    Have a good day,
    Leah

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  6. Hi Deborah,
    I like how your title fits with your blog. You decided what type of travel writer you want to be and set out to do just that by examining your home state through the lens of four museums. I like the idea of wanting to see what is around you every day but in greater depth. Will you address in each blog why you haven’t been to the museum or what has stopped you? Was it lack of interest, time, money, etc.? You mention that you want to see the art and connect it to your own prior knowledge. Will you cover the history of the museum or will your blog focus on your take and experiences? You also mention Clifford’s quote and how you would like to make a cultural connection. How will you address the cultures? Will your writing be based on your feelings from your cultural background or will you be more general in your terms of addressing your audience.
    I really look forward to reading about your staycation. I hope you have an enjoyable time at each museum. I can’t wait to see what you write about!
    Melissa

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  7. Hi Melissa — Thanks for raising those questions, especially the one about whether to make cultural connections with readers or with myself in mind. I’ll be thinking about that, for sure, but in the meantime, I tend to think I’ll be making connections to mainstream American culture. But I should probably throw in where I myself am coming from, as far as my background. Appreciate your insights!

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  8. Jordan,
    I’m really impressed with your topic! This is such a valid way to develop a sense of ownership and connection with your immediate context, and museums are important repositories of culture that need to be utilized and supported.
    Already, you are establishing a tone and purpose for your journey, which helps your readers determine your blog’s relevance to them. Your use of metaphor and diction create such a positive persona that ensures that even though you will be responding personally (and have right to be critical), you will show respect to the peoples you discover through your interactions in the museums. That cultural sensitivity will likely be important to anyone who follows your blog. So, remind yourself to consider your implied or ideal reader, the person to whom you are writing, and what meaning you want to ensure they extract from your entries.

    Great idea!
    L.

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    1. Hi Leslie — Appreciate the reminder about gauging readers’ interest in what is essentially my personal journey. I’m glad, though, that two of my destinations have to do with Native history and culture, which is in fact such an integral part of the Arizona ethos, and I’d like to think that I know a lot about AZ. BUT — I don’t know enough about Native American life as a fabric of AZ life. — Deborah

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  9. Deborah,
    I enjoyed reading your blog and like that you decided on going a different route with your blog. I for one think that your plan of staying local and learning and enjoying from what is in your area is important as it allows for you become a little closer to home. What initially caught my attention as I was surfing through blogs was your title. The idea of “self-discover through cultural journeys” I feel really encompasses what happens as we travel. I think that realizing that travel can bring about self discovery as well as the things that you actually discover will make for very interesting blog post. Therefore, I know what this blog is going to be about and can anticipate things to come. I will also say that I appreciated the links to the museums that you will be visiting as well as the brief description of them as I am not from the area and didn’t know what you were talking about. I look forward to reading your blog as you continue to develop it.

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  10. Hi Deborah!

    You have a very professional blog. Your visual is stunning and depicts the content of your blog very well.
    Your prose is equally professional, and your voice shines through. I applaud your goal to explore diverse cultures to discover new meaning to your own identity. Your blog has a multicultural quality, which is very relevant today, even though you are not intending to go to foreign or exotic destinations around the world. But you point out that some, if not most, of those exotic destinations/cultures can be found in our own backyard. I think your idea to focus on local institutions, like museums, etc. is a good one. There’s a lot of culture around us. Your use of a cited quote is appropriate. Very nice blog.

    I do have a thought or two, though. You might lighten up a bit. Your blog is professional, but I think its a bit too much so. If you lighten up a bit, be a little more natural or conversational, your blog will have a warmer quality, which will make it even more inviting to read. Otherwise, well done!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Beth. I’ll try not to get too caught up in relating my in-town travels to our scholarly readings. After all, I want to encourage readers to see these museums for themselves. And everyone will come to the task with different viewpoints, as we are learning.

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  11. Hi Deborah,

    Wow! You do a wonderful job of placing beautiful pictures, nicely chosen, above the text to illustrate what you’re wishing to convey. The combination of visual and text is very powerful in bringing out your meaning, and your site is beautiful. I would love to see more visuals interspersed throughout the piece, however. This is especially true with respect to the links to the Native American sites. I would enjoy seeing pictures of their sites.

    You indicate that you enjoy Native American culture. I wonder, however, as an American Jew is you would ever wish to travel to Israel. Have you ever been to the Middle East? I have an interest in this area, so I was just wondering. I know you’re just referring to your travels this summer, rather than the distant future.

    All in all, this is a beautifully presented post. I love the bold font at the top. It really draws me in. You may want to experiment with the font in the body. Thanks for a wonderful post! 🙂

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  12. Deborah,

    I love how clearly you frame the purpose of this blog and contextualize it in the type of traveling you are able to do this summer, in particular. I also appreciate your predictions about how you might see things differently now that you are writing about them. I am having that experience myself. As others have mentioned, your use of the photograph is lovely and I appreciate the caption you added to it.

    It’s so easy to live in a city (I am near Denver) and continue to put off going to places in your own backyard because you feel like they will always be there for later. I am actually heading out to the Denver Art Museum momentarily to prepare for my next blog post. I am hoping to see an Native American artist in residence there, which is something I probably wouldn’t have even known about if I hadn’t needed a new travel moment to capture. I will definitely check back in here to see how you capture your experiences!

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  13. Great blog posting and I love your desire to discover and learn outside of your normal environment. I have toured the Indigenous & First Nations Museums from the Smithsonian Native American Museum to the Black Feet and Crazy Horse Monuments. I’m fascinated by what I learn on each visit.
    I will hike and tour the southern AZ, cultural museums of the area within a 100-mile radius of Tucson and Yuma AZ.

    Again great blog posting as I look forward to reading more of you journey. 🙂

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