The choice of constraints and the freedom of creation
On May 30th, Daniel Baylis took the stage in front of some 300+ attendees, to speak about "Creating within constraints".
We often think of travel as a way to achieve personal freedom. Yet in your book, you insist on this "quest for meaning". Can one find freedom without meaning?
Firstly, I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that international travel is a privilege that’s not afforded to everyone — the very act of leisure-based travelling denotes a great deal of personal sovereignty already in place. To jaunt around the world requires a few important capacities: physical ability, a passport from a politically favorable country and a certain amount of financial wherewithal. Travel is an expression of freedom.
That said, an additional level of liberation becomes available to us when we travel. When we leave the social confines of our day-to-day life we are freer to try on new behaviors, start new relationships or even build more authentic versions of ourselves. A corporate lawyer from Germany might find an Indian ashram to be incredibly freeing. A Saudi Arabian lesbian visiting Montréal for the annual LGBT Pride festival might feel a profound sense of freedom. In this sense, travel can lead to personal freedom.
As for meaning — in many instances, freedom and meaning are two sides of the same coin. If one values freedom, goes on a quest for this freedom and finds this freedom (in its desired capacity), then meaning is inherent in the search — in the sense that achieving a self-determined goal is fundamentally meaningful. Conversely, if we were to look at freedom from a different perspective, it might be less meaningful. Let’s take the example of an individual who has been incarcerated for a decade and then set “free.” Is the act of walking away from a prison (and suddenly finding oneself with more freedom) automatically meaningful? Not necessarily. It really depends on what we individually value.
I went on a quest for meaningful experiences. Throughout my travels, I found these experiences by putting myself in situations that I suspected would be impactful: meeting new people, learning new skills and seeing diverse landscapes. Were these experiences freeing? Yes, in the sense that I walked away from my year of travel feeling like a more competent and skilled person — I became more of Daniel Baylis. Ultimately, I believe we’re each responsible to find or create meaning within whatever freedom(s) we have.
In the many countries and places you have visited, in which did you feel most free? Why was that?
During my talk I will bring up the relationship between freedom and constraints (i.e. the construct of freedom is irrelevant without the ideas of hindrance or restraint). When it comes to travel and feeling “free,” my mind immediately references the places where I felt the safest.
As we travel, we are often faced with a myriad of questions that address potential risks: Is it safe to go out after dark? Can I drink the water? Can I communicate in the local language? Are there any creatures that could kill me? Will I be swindled if I go into the marketplace? The times I felt most free were when I did not have to worry about addressing these questions.
Unsurprisingly, a direct correlation exists between a country’s level of development and the visitor’s ability to feel free: I felt a great deal of freedom in the south of France, while I felt more limited in India and Morocco. However, this *not* to say that I didn’t appreciate or enjoy the countries where I navigated more pronounced safety concerns. This is a good example of the notion that happiness (or meaning) is not contingent on absolute freedom.
In 1941, the United Nations published the Atlantic Charter, defining the "right to self-determination" of nations. How is collective freedom related to individuals' desire to be free?
From my perspective, the relationship is a chicken/egg scenario: which came first? Does the value of freedom on the individual level lead to the value of freedom on the collective level? Or is it the inverse? Perhaps they beget each other.
To use myself as an example, I greatly value personal freedom. But I was born and raised in Canada — a nation that puts a heavy emphasis in ensuring personal freedoms (at least relative to international norms). So do I inherently value freedom or am I culturally programmed to value freedom? (Also: Am I even able to answer this?) When we are raised in a “climate of freedom,” we have certain expectations and entitlements around personal freedom.
You chose to publish your first book, The Traveller, independently. In the publishing industry, freedom can be both a blessing and a curse. What is your point of view on the matter now?
You’ve summed it up wonderfully — independent publishing is indeed both a blessing and a curse. I opted to release The Traveller independently because this form of publishing truly embodied the spirit of my international journey. It was also a decision to preemptively sidestep my concerns about traditional publishing: that it would take longer, that I’d have less creative control, that I wouldn’t have the final say on the cover, that I’d have to focus on marketability. Ultimately, going through this process independently has taught me so much. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.
But “freedom” has come at a cost. At the moment, my biggest challenge is finding the best distribution model. For a project such as mine, digital distribution is relatively easy and Amazon’s print-on-demand service (CreateSpace) makes it easy for readers to get their hands on a printed copy. But I’m a big dreamer — I want to see The Traveller in bookstores across Canada! For this to occur, I need a distributor (as I can’t establish consignment-based relationships with each and every bookstore). The problem, however, is that the major distributors in Canada won’t deal with independent authors.
Photo: Pierre-Antoine Lafon