Happy New Year everyone! I know, I know. Where the hell have I been these past months? Well, ‘where’ is a very good way to ask that. I’ve been in DC finishing law school; in San Diego taking the bar; traveling through New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Amsterdam; back in DC working; and in and out of Switzerland for work. My cat is none too happy about all of this, but really she should be used to it by now. (I am thinking about getting her a kitten though. #levelupcatlady)
But I’m back (for) now! I’m setting my intention for this blog now, and it is to monthly and hopefully more than that. This month: Lessons from Traveling.
I am lucky to have traveled to a good number of places. Well, lucky isn’t the right word. It’s more of a combination of a deep need to go to new places plus being in a position to make the financial sacrifice to do so and experienced enough to know how to travel (relatively) cheaply. (You can check out my travel Instagram (triptoytravels), if you are curious.) The only habitable continent I have yet to go to is Africa (plans are in the works). The more I travel, the more I know this: the world is incredibly different at the same time that it is incredibly similar. Those differences and similarities affect us. Not only in the obvious ways of the places we love and the places we hate, but also in the ways that they can affect our moods and how we interact in a given situation. The places we put our characters affect how our characters will behave.
You’re probably going “uh, duh,” right about now. Fair. That statement is pretty obvious. Let’s explore perhaps more nuanced relationships to place. I offer my own experiences with three places as examples: NYC, Ireland, and New Zealand.
I lived in New York for about a decade before leaving for law school. It’s a place I expect to go back to once I’m done living other places. It is the place where I grew up (as opposed to the place I was raised). A lot of who I am comes from being in that city. How I interact with it when I go back to visit has changed over the four years I’ve been away.
At first, going back was like going home. Getting on the subway felt like rejoining the world; being part of the globe. The air felt right. My feet felt like they were on solid ground. The City made space for me. The farther away I get from living there, though, the more those annoying tourist habits creep back into my body. I mind my bag more, keeping an arm over it in places I usually wouldn’t give a shit. I adjust my walking routes slightly to avoid certain people (read: men) when I used to walk wherever, ready to destroy any would-be catcallers. I notice these things, and I change them. Because New York is my city, even if I don’t live there anymore. And the way it taught me to own my space is something I am not letting go. But it’s becoming unfamiliar to me. Time is changing it. Time is changing me. It is an unfamiliar familiar.
Do you have a character that is going back to some place they used to call home? Ask yourself how long they’ve been away, how often they come back, and whether this is a place they are trying to hold on to. Then think about how the answers to these questions affect the way(s) they move through this place and how they respond to it.
I went to Ireland once when I was 18. The moment I arrived there gave me something I have very rarely felt since. I stepped off the boat over from Wales and looked around at the landscapes of green. Immediately, a calm and peace washed over me and stayed with me the entire time I was there. I didn’t become some chill person (I come from a spicy stock of people), but the tension and stress from class and college and life changes I didn’t realize that I carried everyday, somehow, let go.
From this experience, I know that there are places in the world that simply click for a person in ways that are not left-brain explainable. They may be where a person decides to live or (like me) is a place they’ve been. I want to go back to Ireland to see if that feeling is still there, to see if this experience is a function of place or of time and place.
Do you have a character that needs or has a safe space? How did they find it? How did they know this was that place? Safe places do not always have to be cozy or lonely or imaginary. Ask yourself what this character needs to balance out their life. Do they need calm? Or do they need frenetic energy?
I am totally in love with New Zealand. It is an impossibly beautiful place with actually kind people (except perhaps their prime minister and others in government). It is a land that is engaged in an ongoing conversation about race and colonialism that – in English at least – seems to not to diminish difference while at the same time approaching these issues as “we” rather than “us and them.”
I spent all of 10 days there, but I have been jonsing to get back since. Lord of the Rings doesn’t capture half of what the land has to offer. There are places I would be (and have been) happy to simply sit and let the scenery flow over me. Mountains that flow down to the bluest sea I have ever seen. Open green fields rising up to volcanic peaks. Stretches of empty shores serenaded by crashing waves. Yeah, I’m totally smitten.
Perhaps your character has a crush on a place. It is not somewhere they live or even their safe place, but a place that draws them back because their mind wants to experience it over and over. Or maybe it is working something out about it. Or maybe it hasn’t yet satisfied the hunger for the place. Ask yourself What kinds of places would your characters crush on? What is it about those places?
Now, I’ve had more jarring experiences and more experiences of wonder in places less Western than these three, but we’ll save those for a future post and conversation.
What places have you been or lived that have stuck with you? What experiences of how you responded to a place can you draw on? Drop your travel tales in the comments.