Tar Baby and the Stickiness of Story Telling

I’ve been re-reading Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, and it is as mysterious to me now as it was 40 years ago. Morrison always makes you work. She prefers metaphor to clarity — why did Son hide in the closet for three days? She is a little disdainful of me — why is she so obviously withholding clues about why Michael won’t visit his parents? Morrison wants you to consider some hard questions, but she isn’t going to answer them for you or to make it easy for you to answer them yourself. For your effort, however, she offers wisdom — not necessarily hers, which is abundant, but your own. I mention all of this because I think I got a little bit of wisdom from Tar Baby.

Before I get to the Tar Baby wisdom part, here’s some context. I’ve been writing Camino Milagro postings since 2014, when I first decided to travel without a purpose or a home. Originally, Camino Milagro was a way of keeping in touch with friends and family who might be curious about where I was or what I was doing. Before long, it became the little bird on my shoulder, telling me to pay more attention, to talk to people whose lives were different from mine, to find the joy behind the pain. Writing has helped me understand how travel has enriched my life in ways I never expected, and also to understand that I’ve ever only just scratched the surface.

Like all good things, writing comes with a cost. I’ve known all along that writing about personal experiences, however relatable I try to make them, is a narcissistic exercise. I shouldn’t expect anyone to care that I walked along a castle wall in Wales or rode a nameless horse in Mongolia. Thank you if and when you did, but my compulsion to write about me can be oddly uncomfortable.

There are other issues. Just as writing makes me more attentive, it also interferes with my experience. Sometimes I am thinking about what to write instead of being in the moment. Being an observer is being an outsider, safe but not life.

But Tar Baby….I’m rambling on about all of this because I’m about to take off on what is likely to be my last journey as a nomad. I’m going to Spain for a month, where my journey began in 2014. And I am not going to write about it! The fact that I’m not going to write about it isn’t important to anyone but me. But the reason is important to all of us. And that’s the wisdom I learned from Tar Baby:

”At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens -that letting go – you let go because you can. The world will always be there – while you sleep it will be there – when you wake it will be there as well. So you can sleep and there is reason to wake. A dead hydrangea is as intricate and lovely as one in bloom. Bleak sky is as seductive as sunshine, miniature orange trees without blossom or fruit are not defective; they are that. So the windows of the greenhouse can be opened and the weather let in. The latch on the door can be left unhooked, the muslin removed, for the soldier ants are beautiful too and whatever they do will be part of it.”

Letting go…one of the keys to the kingdom.


  1. Very insightful.

    When you go deep and share your internal experiences while traveling here and there, I think it opens doors for all of us readers to do likewise in our day to day lives.

    I hope you reconsider your decision not to write about your upcoming trip (and share your wonderful pics).

  2. That’s a beautiful passage. However, I’m with Vic. For me it would be really hard not to photograph what I’m seeing, to better understand it. And perhaps this can be a completely new way for you to experience and savor the world, and Spain. Yet I want to hear all about your discoveries and insights! xoxo

  3. Wonderful post, Kim! I love the passage from Tar Baby. And I totally get what you mean about photos and writing getting in the way of the experience. that happens to me all the time. On the other hand, I am always so happy to have the photos and narratives later to look back on them. They are so great for memories.

    This will be a wonderful experiment for you, to see if you can not write. You will probably be thinking about what you will not write! 🙂

    Good luck, and have a great trip!

  4. I am also in Vic and Wendy‘s camp… I really enjoyed the blog and your daily insights and photos. However what you describe is a new kind of freedom and if that’s what sounds right to you now, go for it! By the way I love your picture of the gossamer curtains and cranes. And woman walking along the beach. Just gorgeous.

    1. Saw a quote recently that is related: “Travel and tell no one Live a true love story and tell no one. Live happily and tell no one. People ruin beautiful things.” -Kahlil Gibran
      It really is the biggest challenge to be present in the moment and not outside of it as an observer. Lovely, thought provoking post.

      1. I guess I should not be surprised that Kahlil Gibran and Toni Morrison share these sentiments. For me, it’s not because people ruin beautiful things (although they sometimes do). It’s because beautiful things should stand on their own. See you in April Miha

  5. Kim, I began following your blog because it was different from the numerous travel blogs I’ve so far encountered on WordPress. Your posts offer a different perspective in that you make an attempt to connect with the people, their lives, and culture. That being said, I understand your decision not to write about your upcoming trip to Spain. I did not grow up with a camera at my fingertips. I’ve never felt compelled to photograph the beauty around me. The joy of lived experiences is more than enough to enrich my life. Enjoy your stay in Spain 🙂

  6. Kim,

    Somehow, your website didn’t want me to post – at least when I hit submit, nothing happens.

    Just wanted to say that I disagree with “narcissistic“. The hunger to share experience, to be witnessed, to display some thing of beauty is Social par excellence. It’s a way of bringing together all of the people who give a damn about what you may be experiencing.

    That’s one of the reasons why I love your blog. Let me know when you’ll be in Spain, and if you’re there at the right time, I’ll put you in touch with Pilar or maybe with her sister Carmen. I think you met pillar one night at a Glenview restaurant right here in Oakland.

    Keep on scribbling!

    1. I would love to see Pilar! I’ll be in Madrid on May 2, plan to stay a couple of days but may stay longer if needed to have a visit. Please connect us on email 🙂 Big hugs Mijo

  7. Kim,
    I really appreciate your reflections. And I totally support your decision to experience Spain and El Camino without writing and taking photos, to focus on being present. As Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Many of us have been running all our lives. Practice stopping.” and “We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”
    Xxoo Karen

  8. Dear Kim, Just so you know, it has been my pleasure to read all your writings! You are gifted in your words and the stunning photographs that support support those words. The added pieces of history, commentaries and quotes are the icing. I love the idea of simply being present. I know I miss a lot when I am thinking about what my next comment will be or what I would say or do if….. And, most decisions can always be revised, and even reversed. If the writing muse re-awakens, you can always embrace it! May your travels be safe and exciting!

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