Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Monday, September 1, 2014


For the sake of promoting my writing family (and myself!), I'm participating in this blog hop. Rebecca Brooks tagged me, asking that I respond to the questions below. You can find her bio at the bottom of this post - and consider checking out Above All, her debut romance novel, published by Ellora's Cave.

Of the writers she's tagged, she asks four questions, to which I will now respond!

What am I working on/writing? I'm finishing up a non-fiction travel memoir about my year in Latin America. In 2011, I backpacked alone from Guatemala through Central America, then from northern Ecuador to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My route traced the one Paul Theroux described in his 1979 travelogue, The Old Patagonian Express. It has taken me years to write this book, and the pages have changed forms many times. I've pared 600-plus pages down to around 300, and I've broken it into four sections- Four Seasons. 

Ultimately, I'm proud of the book, for addressing questions I hadn't thought to ask five years ago when I first embarked upon my journey. How can we see the world with new eyes? Where does art come from? How can we pare down our lives so that we're living with much less? Mine is a book about opting for risk and choosing to trust, about plunging down empty roads and up mountains and into cities and towns, about learning a language and bumbling through, feeling stupider and simpler and more helpless because, all of a sudden, the words I always had turned useless. It is about being alone, and finding inspiration through solitude. We are told that the world is a dangerous place, and it is, but it's also kind, and travel reminds us of that. Each time I return to the pages of this book, I marvel again at the places I saw, the nights I spent, the buses I rode, the people I met. Even then, it felt like a dream.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre? Philip Graham once told me that all writing is travel writing - that all writing brings us somewhere, takes us someplace, shows us another realm, be it inside the mind or across the world. And so, in that way, 'travel writing' is exactly the genre for me, though my book doesn't necessarily live up to the standards of 'travel writing' as most think of it. My journey links the emotional to the physical, the inner to the external. I write about traveling both in the mind and over the earth, and I value the quality of every sentence. I think my writing differs from its genre because, as all good writing does, it transcends it. My book is not a journal, and it's not a guide. It's a book about being alive, about seeing the world, about writing. It's a book about beauty, and about being alone. It's not just about Latin America, though that is the setting.

Why do I write what I do? When I travel, it's easy for me to write. The words just come. When we travel, our senses are heightened, our eyes and ears alert, and we notice more. I love to write details, scenes, landscapes, flavors: I love to describe. I love to send myself somewhere else; writing makes that happen. Writing is travel. I write poetry, too, as of late. Still, I find myself returning to the same CNF themes I've always been drawn to - land, culture, travel and place. 

How does my writing process work? I write in the mornings, and I try my best to write every day. Recently, I read that Gertrude Stein wrote for just thirty minutes a day...but books came of it. Thirty minutes a day adds up to a lot if you do it 365 times. And so this is the basis of my writing process: sitting down, seeing what comes. Sometimes nothing does. Sometimes two hours pass and I realize I haven't had a sip of water, haven't peed, haven't spoken a word, haven't even stood up. I love these times, when I go away, when the writing lifts me from my own life and brings me somewhere else. It's a trance. All writers know - if we write, I think it's because we've tasted this thing. Our words have transported us, and our reality takes on new dimensions.

Next up: I tag Donigan Merritt and Miriam Sagan. They're both very busy so maybe they won't respond. But I love them and I'm proud to know them- so I'm tagging them here. If they have a little time, they can answer the questions above on their blog, then 'tag' some new folks.

About the Fabulous Rebecca Brooks:

Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.

Her answers to the questions above can be found here.

Happy Reading!!!

Friday, July 11, 2014

To Hen

Today is my grandmother's birthday. The willows are blooming here in Santa Fe, and after it rains, my garden steams. The earth is heavy with clay. I've been growing so many good things; I want to show her. I still think of her all the time. 

I still write her letters about my life: my job, my garden, my writing, my partner. My high-desert home. I go to sleep and dream and send the letters then.

Hen passed two years ago, and this was what I wrote:

To Hen

I think of Hen and I’m thinking in pictures: her garden path, blooming with primrose and myrtle, crocus and daffodil and peony where the sun shone. Hen in the doorway of her Menands house, greeting us, or in the library, reading the paper. I can remember best Hen bustling through the kitchen, her African violets lined up on the shelf over the sink. I remember the hallway where we could always find tins of cookies. I remember her dotted dresses, the way she applied lipstick, and the distinctive way she smelled, like cookies and her Yardley-of-London soap. I remember the places in her bedroom where we hid the thimble, and I remember her dresser, set neatly with brushes and combs and pictures of us. In one, we cousins are grinning in the sunshine, arranged in a line according to our height, and in another Poppa smiles gruffly from his seat on the tractor. I remember Christmases like fairy tales, meals around the dining room table, breakfast on the sun-porch and always the sound of Hen’s voice, the Yardley scent of her, her eyes bright upon us.

I think of all the places Hen has seen: most of all I imagine that trip she took to Innsbruck long ago, when she waited for hours and hours in the train while the German soldiers marched through the city. I think of her courage, then and throughout her long life. I think of the children she raised, and of the astonishing things they’ve accomplished. I think of Hen’s wry, clever smile, and the way she devoured books. She gave me crayons when I was very little and she said to me, Draw. When I got bigger, she said, Write something. She taught me how to move about the kitchen and the garden, and she introduced me to the realm of the artistic.

 David, my brother and Hen’s grandson, is living near Innsbruck now. He’s teaching English and thinking of Hen, all the while watching the mountains while the sun shifts and the snow lightly falls.  Hen is with you, I said to him when we last spoke. She is with you just like she’s with me. She is closer to you now than she has been in years. She knows that place, she’s seen those peaks, she never forgot that trip. Look to the mountains, or in the cobblestoned streets, and you’ll see her, just the way she looked in those old photographs we found in her bedroom years ago: her hair so dark, her skin unlined and her smile quick. May she come to you in your days and in your dreams, I said to him. You can find her in your own face and in mine, for we hold within us the gift of her extraordinary life.