In sixth grade I had a teacher who believed it was irresponsible to let us enter middle school and the world beyond without a comprehensive understanding of English grammar. I took to the rules, the language within the language, the sense of order and progress and clarity. From that refuge I sought out signs and sayings that needed correction, and communicated their failings with the care and condescension of a know-it-all twelve year old.
Every grocery store has a checkout line reserved for those with 10 items or less, even if it’s usually more. I’m looking at you, small man. But as any prescriptive grammarian will tell you, less should only be used for singular nouns: less money, less talk, less time. Technically speaking, the sign should read 10 items or fewer.
I have spent the last ten years accumulating nice things. I am surrounded by their certainty, their confidence, their contempt. But that is all they are, things. If your house were on fire what would you take with you? I would come out empty handed, perhaps with some papers so I could save a trip to the DMV.
As I get older and less certain, I’m finding I care about fewer things, if not any less. My girl, my dogs. Some friends and family. The Mets, somehow. Running, reading. Art, or at least the way it can make me feel. Beauty, truth, and travel makes ten.
Travel creates constraints, and constraints create clarity. You are only packing what will fit in your carry on, what you really need plus an item or two that communicates who you are – a book, a bikini, a baseball glove.
Some of the items in your carry on turn out to be redundant, or useless, or incorrect – next time I’ll pack this instead of this. As if you could experience the sensation of the new with certainty. Travel is uncertain, unknown, unknowable.
Travel is a new grammar. People are speaking a language you can pick up but will never understand. There are objects you will never learn the name of, warnings you will never heed, rules you will never know. In travel you quickly move from prescriptive thinking – things should be this way – to the descriptive: things are this way. All you can really do is take pictures and take notes.
The 10 items I carry with me may change, they will change, and I will forget why I ever cared as much as I did. But at the end of forgetting there is a freedom, however nuclear it may be, just as there is with ignorance, with not knowing.
Mike Selsky went with his wife Gigi and dog Billy to see their friend Julian in Mallorca. Mike’s photographs document Julian's art, his own passions, the island’s beauty, the blue sea. I have never been to Mallorca and don’t know the first thing about it. But photography is one way to get to the truth.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.