By Punch Pulse Correspondent Lindsey Clark
On the scale of human emotion, the idea of being vulnerable probably falls pretty low on most people’s list of favorite feelings – generally, we struggle against it or try to avoid it, because it means owning up to the fact that we might actually need someone else or that maybe we can’t do everything ourselves, and who wants to admit something like that?Â I’ve heard it cursed, I’ve heard it denounced, but I have never heard anyone define vulnerability as being empowering – but that is exactly how National Geographic travel writer, director and actor Andrew McCarthy described it at a recent talk at the National Geographic Society. McCarthy, who has been writing for National Geographic Traveler for several years (who knew?), is the author of the new book, The Longest Way Home, which chronicles some of his travels around the globe and how they helped him truly discover his sense of self. During the conversation (and throughout the book), he talked openly and honestly about his struggles to find his place in the world, give himself fully to his relationship with his fiancee, and how he came to understand the concept of what home really means through travel. As someone who constantly sought solitude, McCarthy’s travels were largely solo expeditions, even several years and two children into his relationship with the woman who eventually became his wife.Â Like many of us, he skirted around making himself vulnerable to others until he realized it’s importance – for instance, when you are in a foreign country where you know no one, do not speak the language, have no idea where you are going or how you will get there, and you have to rely on the kindness of complete strangers and ask the most vulnerable of all questions:Â will you help me?
The idea of traveling alone is thrilling for some (like me) and terrifying for others (also me), and while The Longest Way Home could certainly be described as a travel book, it is less about where he went and the sights he saw as it is about the experiences and encounters McCarthy had along the way – both good and bad – that eventually helped him discover who he was and what he had been running from for so much of his life.Â The event, part of the National Geographic Live! series, was in two parts – first with McCarthy being interviewed by Don George, contributing editor of Traveler, then the audience was free to ask their own questions.Â (Before the first question could be asked, McCarthy assured us all that yes, Molly had been great to work with and was a great kisser, so apparently he gets that question a lot.)Â Following the close of the conversation, he stuck around to sign copies of his book for the hundred or so people in line (myself included), and I got a chance to ask him if his travels had ever taken him to a place that he didn’t like (Luxemburg) and get a picture (which I immediately forwarded to my college roommate who’d had an overwhelming crush on his character from Pretty in Pink).
I have to admit, two days after the event, I found myself hovering my computer mouse over the “purchase” button on some plane tickets to Europe – I’ve been debating a trip for a while and was coming up with every excuse under the sun as to why I couldn’t or shouldn’t go.Â What if I don’t speak the language?Â How will I get around?Â How am I going to afford this?Â Where will I stay?Â What if I get lost?Â I still don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but McCarthy talked about using those fears to actually motivate himself when he’s traveling, so perhaps that was one of the factors that led to me clicking that button (well, that and the fact that I’m planning to see one of my favorite bands play in Germany).Â In fact, when I was reading the book on a flight yesterday, I was reminded of something that he’d said at Nat Geo, which was that he’d often felt he needed to travel because he was afraid to do it, which is something I can really relate to.Â Hiding from fear is never as rewarding as facing it head on.Â And it certainly won’t get you as many stamps in your passport.
Check out the schedule at National Geographic Live! for upcoming events, including talks and events with authors, scientists, explorers and photographers.Â The Longest Way Home is available at bookstores and online.Â And just in case you’re wondering, yes, McCarthy is still just as dreamy now as he was in 1986.
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things film and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey serves as an Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much theater as possible, Lindsey enjoys the arts, live music, spending QT with her dog, Lincoln, and being little sister to fellow Punch Correspondant Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.