Travel Writing – or Just Living?

Who would know better about what it takes to be an interesting and well-received travel writer than National Geographic? They put together a list of things that aspiring travel writers should consider during their travels. As I read it, I thought these were great tips for navigating your way through life on a daily basis.

#1 Assignment: Even if you aren’t on assignment for Nat Geo, you can give yourself a task or challenge to propel your journey. This puts you on a quest, and quests are excellent foundations for stories.

#2. Ask a million questions: Learn about the place you’re in. “It’s not necessarily expertise that separates a travel writer’s trip from your own. It’s urgency, an appetite for discovery, and an absolute necessity for answers.”

#3 Hire a Guide. They know the coolest places that you might not find on your own, and become an excellent resource for questions about the location. Even if you’re at home, there are parts of your town that others might know better. Find those people. Hang out with them.

#4. Find places where you can engage, and “go local”. Wander off the maps, step into locals pubs, take a class, or accomplish everyday tasks like getting a haircut or going to church. Isn’t this what we all do day to day in our own lives? It’s the attention to what is happening that is heightened when we travel.

#5. Walk. Travel slowly and eschew convenience for opportunities to stop and interact as much as possible.

#6. Get coffee. and while you’re there, try to strike up conversations. Apps and social sharing platforms like Traveling Spoon, Couch Surfing and Meetup can help open the doors to things that are going on in the region.

#7. Take Notes. Collect things. Take pictures. There is so much going on, collecting things you can sift through later in a quiet moment can inspire new ideas or suggest a shape to your experiences.

#8 Take a Break. Don’t forget to sit still for a while. It’s a good opportunity to be still and just absorb what is around you. If you really must plan every moment, consider finding a place for sunrise and sunset and being still while you watch.

#9. Embrace Change and feel free to scrap plans when something better/more interesting comes up. Have a plan to provide initial structure, but be flexible.

#10 Let go of your emotional baggage, and strive to be in the moment while traveling. As George Stone writes in the article, “Don’t compare, don’t anticipate, don’t vacillate, don’t cogitate. Simply embrace the present possibility of having an enlightening experience that reveals something you didn’t know about the world – or about yourself.”

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The End of the Story

Thank goodness for the lovely Brain Pickings essays by Maria Popova. In an essay titled “Susan Sontag on Storytelling, What It Means to Be a Moral Human Being, and Her Advice to Writers” Sontag is quoted as saying:

Endings in a novel confer a kind of liberty that life stubbornly denies us: to come to a full stop that is not death and discover exactly where we are in relation to the events leading to a conclusion.

and

There is an essential … distinction between stories, on the one hand, which have, as their goal, an end, completeness, closure, and, on the other hand, information, which is always, by definition, partial, incomplete, fragmentary.

Like many, I have been sequentially enjoying the storylines of several TV series recently. But according to Sontag’s definitions, these are not stories at all because they are designed NOT to come to a conclusion. And yet, the elaborate worlds, the plots, the suspense, hardly fall into a common understanding of the word “information” either.

The rhythm of the current series – and that includes book series that have a financial disincentive to conclusion as well – is to weave a continuous rope of several storylines so that as one storyline resolves, another propels you into the next episode, the next volume. To take advantage of the attention economy, some marketers even propose a similar serialized strategy for email marketing.

It’s hard not to admire the mastery of such, in the absence of a better word, storytellers. Compelling characters. The intricate dance of the story – weaving different plots and sub-plots together into a graceful and coherent whole, both believable within the framework of the world and also different than anything that has already been addressed in the narrative that just keeps going, and going.

And that continuous going – maybe that’s what stops us from asking the question – have we lost something essential when we lose the endings of stories?

 

 

 

You’re Not Going to Believe – The Oatmeal

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe

Oatmeal-Believe-Screenshot

There’s part of me that thinks I should just leave it at that. This comic by The Oatmeal is worth the read, and wonderful on so many different levels.

There are things – mostly believable, if uncomfortable, things – to be learned, but more importantly for me, there were things to be felt. It was a small journey in self-awareness. Believe me, the few minutes it takes to scroll through the full comic are minutes well-spent.

HT to the wonderful chain of people on FB who conveyed this to me, Mark Ivan Cole, and Ben M. F. Rapson, and of course much gratitude to The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman whose work is always such a joy.

Caro Diario

Dear Diary.

VIP and I watched Caro Diario by Nanni Moretti tonight. I’ve been hearing about the final chapter in this movie for years from VIP, and it was finally time to watch the film for myself. VIP says that Moretti is known as the Italian Woody Allen. Appropriate.

However, I wasn’t prepared for what we saw.

In that last chapter, Moretti is struggling to deal with a persistent night-time itch that is keeping him awake. He sees one dermatologist after another – the best that Rome has to offer. He takes a roomful of prescriptions – a set that he surrounds himself in one of the ending scenes. But it isn’t until the Chinese Medicine doctors, realize that what they are doing isn’t working, and suggests that he should get a chest x-ray for his coughing that he figures it out. That’s when they find the cancer. There is a brief scare, downplayed in the film, that it’s an inoperable, incurable form, but then they realize that this Hodgkin’s, and that the symptoms of this cancer including itching and insomnia.

It’s an interesting story, but the first part of the film is the part that intrigues me most.

The first chapter, My Vespa, about Moretti’s views of Rome from his Vespa is a lot of footage following Moretti as he winds along Rome’s streets. There are references about Paolo P(?)’s assassination, and we go to visit the spot with no further illustration on who the man was or why he was assassinated. The monument is in an overgrown field, casually protected by a few fences.

We see dancing, and a strange scene where Moretti confronts Jennifer Beals from Flash Dance, and her (then) husband about learning to dance. She categorizes Moretti as “off”, “off-center”, “whimsical” and finally “dumb”. The film reflects these traits, but Beals misses “funny.”

It took me a while to relax into this pace of story-telling. VIP says that it’s because it’s a story about slowing down and appreciating the small things after beating a disease like cancer. It’s certainly a tribute to Rome, her streets and cities, with some odd commentary about Italian films

In the second chapter, Islands, Moretti and his friend Gerard visit several islands in search of  a place to work on the idea for his next film. Each island visit is a caricature of what that island is like. It’s travel blogging at it’s best.We were having a conversation about writing about travel earlier today, and I thought if only you could capture the essence of a place like this, you would be a very successful, or at least entertaining, travel blogger…

I loved this film, in all of its subtlety, and slowness, with it’s incisive cracks and humorous observation – with it’s appreciation of life and whimsy (by which I do not mean “dumbness”). I wish I could describe exactly what it is that I liked so much about the film…  Perhaps that’s what’s missing for me as a writer. That ability to come right out and say what it is.