There has been a raging battle in my house for over a year. One fateful night, while out with friends (possibly drinking), my husband made a casual comment about how nice it was to “conversate” with friends without our kids interrupting. I laughed, raised my nose high into the air, and not-so-politely corrected him. “Conversate is NOT a word!” I clucked. And thus, the war ensued. (I should mention at this point, that every time I type the word conversate, Microsoft Word gives me the red, squiggly line of error.) Countless Facebook poles, comments, hashtags (#giveconversateachance, #legitimizeconversate, #notaword) even real-live phone calls have transpired over the last year.
Our friends and family all chose sides and got comfortable in their trenches. Most chose to align with the college-educated teacher of English (me); few, out of loyalty or stupidity, aligned with my ill-informed husband. Recently though, a phenomenon has occurred: people are switching sides citing the lyrics of Bruno Mars and Notorious BIG. I’m losing ground! I decided to do a little investigating to settle the score once and for all.
What People are Saying
The biggest player in this debate has been my husband, Kris, a mechanic and self-proclaimed expert on just about everything. Then again, he married me, so he’s pretty intelligent. And, truth be told, I spend much more time admitting defeat to him than gloating in victory. His stance is that conversate is more descriptive than plain old converse. Conversate would be used for deep discussions amongst friends or discussions regarding important topics. Dustin, Kris’s best friend, agrees with this definition, though his motives are either blind loyalty or just to tick me off.
On my side, I have an environmental engineer and a Doctor of education, Karen and Lakisha respectively. They maintain that the English language already has the word converse and therefore does not recognize conversate. Also on my side: my mommy and my sister, need I say more?
With the majority of people I poled flip-flopping, it was time to call in the big guns – I googled it. While song lyrics and Urban Dictionary would argue that conversate is totally a word, I wanted reliable sources. I consulted Merriam-Webster, Grammarly, and Grammar Girl. All three basically said the same thing: conversate is a backward construction – a word made from chopping off the noun suffix of an original word – and therefore a non-standard word in English. Unfortunately, all three sources stated that while it’s not technically correct, it’s still admissible in spoken language. One (Grammarly) even argued that the word could gain popularity and become standard someday. Yikes!
Then came the greatest evidence for my case thus far: the Google ngram! Ngrams are line graphs showing the usage of a word over time in published works. They are very useful for showing language trends, the emergence of words, and proving your husband wrong. Check out the ngram below:
Conclusion? I WIN!
Conversate in the Workplace
My final observations about this word would be that, while yes, people use it, they’re wrong. Still, if your boss says conversate in a meeting, it’s probably not the best time to adjust your glasses and give him the old “Umm, actually…” Still, unless you’re a rapper, probably avoid this one in spoken and written language.
Here I am again, my faithful friends, coming at you from 30,000 feet. That’s right, this week I’m off to Denver, Colorado for an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher training. For a self-proclaimed non-traveler, I do feel like I’ve been living out of a suitcase for a while! This week I traded the diapers, Teddy Grahams, and toys in my carry-on from my last trip with the family to visit my parents in Phoenix for my laptop and a good novel. In just a couple of days I will be finishing my grad class and ready to start on my summer reading list.
Sitting in the airport today, waiting on my connection to Salt Lake City, I overheard the chaperone for a youth group mission trip giving instructions to the well-intentioned adolescents. I didn’t catch all of his speech, as I was feverishly tapping out my discussion posts for class, making use of the free wi-fi, but I imagined his speech was very similar to the one my youth pastor gave me and about twenty other teens years ago on our way to Tijuana on our own mission trip. “Agents of change” was the term he used. We were going to build a house in less than a week for a less fortunate family with a Christian organization. As we did God’s work we would be “agents of change” not only by improving the physical lives of the family, but also by having the opportunity to share the word of God and help convert others to Christianity.
Now here I have to pause to say that, as this post takes a critical and religious turn, I have nothing against religion, spirituality, or belief in a higher power. This post is not about that. This post is about my naivete and my mistakes. My error was not that I believed in God. My error was that I saw a group of people who were different than me and I thought they needed “fixing.”
It was kinda like that movie, Saved, with Mandy Moore. . .
Anywho, back to the main point. One spring break, my junior year of high school, I hopped in the back of a fifteen passenger van and road-tripped down to Mexico. Armed with my bible and my Western ideologies, I sang in worship, helped make and serve our group’s food, and “helped” build a house. By helped, I mean I got the jobs that a dad gives a five-year-old who wants to help – “here honey, you can hold the flashlight.” Barring one quick trip to the Mexican ER (I sliced my finger open on . . . wait for it. . . a pair of salad tongs, and then passed out from the sight of the blood.) I counted the trip a major success. I felt good for “doing God’s work,” and a homeless family got a house.
(Sorry for the lack of picture here, we didn’t have digital cameras back then. You’ll just have to imagine me with pig-tails and a very trendy pooka shell necklace standing around looking useless with a hammer.)
In Need of a Guide
Now, sixteen years later, I see my mission as misguided. Listening to a speech by Rick Steves, a well-known travel author,which explained the progression of his philosophy of travel opened my eyes to its purpose.
Steves made two points that really stuck out to me. He said “I was raised thinking the world is a pyramid with us on top and everybody else trying to get there. Well into my adulthood, I actually believed that if another country didn’t understand that they should want to be like us, we had every right to go in and elect a government for them that did” At the time of my mission trip, I felt similarly. These poor Hispanic souls needed me to help them see life (and afterlife) the way I saw it. I pitied their way of life, their lack of belief system. Steves also believes that the purpose of travel is to connect with people, to learn, to experience the new and different and come out the other side with new understanding. This, was not my mission. My mission was to be the change I wanted to see. And I don’t mean the Gandhi make-the-world-a-better place kind of change, I mean I wanted the world to be what I thought was right. Simply put, I was wrong.
When I think of the term “agents of change” now, I think of Debbie Lisle, the author of The Global Politics of Contemporary Travel Writing. Lisle would have us question more and answer less. That is, we as travelers and Westerners should stop assuming we know it all, and start feeding our curiosity.
A New Agent
This is all very theoretical, and a tad dry I’m sure. What does it mean in the real world – the world outside overly complex reading and theorizing about my next vacation? I guess what it means for me is that I need to be a new agent of change. I’d rather be like my parents were in London (see my last post for that here) and learn about a new culture by actually talking to people and getting their story. I’d like to travel with intention, choosing destinations by what I can learn from them and what new experiences I can bring home to share.
But let’s be real, I’ve got two toddlers at home and a teacher’s salary. My travel radius is sticking under 2,000 miles for now. So I needed to think beyond my travel dreams and touch back down to reality. What small part of the world can I change?
As a teacher, I have the ability to influence hundreds of students a year. With this unique opportunity, I would like to bring outside experiences and perspectives to our classroom. Debbie Lisle encouraged co-authoring travelogues in order to diversify perspectives. I would like to translate that to the classroom by bringing in guest speakers who have previously unheard voices in ways that are sensitive and true to their experiences.
Now, I’m not saying I have any kind of authority to rewrite Gandhi, in fact I’m pretty sure that this entire class was geared toward me not rewriting the stories of cultures other than my own, but for me, I think I need to be the change that the world deserves, not try to change the world into what I want to see. I’ll keep doing that from my little hobbit hole over here in Central Oregon.
Please feel free to pop in and check up on me. Even though this is the last official blog post for this class, I hope to continue this blog and be the change.
Hello, dear readers! Today I’m coming at you from sunny Arizona, and I must say, I’m loving it. My last blog stirred up a bit of controversy for its less-than-flattering portrayal of Arizona, and for that I must apologize. This week, my family is visiting my parents who live in Goodyear. The girls, as usual, are being adorable and having a blast. My husband and I just spent two days up in Flagstaff hiking Humphrey’s Peak and eating at our favorite restaurant, Beaver Street Brewery.
I guess what I mean with this apology is that my preconceived notions of Arizona, my snap judgements, my “single story” was wrong. This week in my class, we watched a TED talk by an African author named Chimamanda Adichie about the danger of a “single story.” In it, Adichie explained that when society shows a group of people as one thing, and one thing only, over and over, we create a single story of those people, much like a stereotype. “The problem,” says Adichie, “with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it is that they are incomplete.” My single story, my stereotype of Arizona, was not untrue entirely, but it was definitely incomplete.
So, as I sat with my husband at the Gopher Hole Pub in downtown Flagstaff, I began thinking about other stereotypes that we hold, and began wondering if he has experienced the same phenomenon. I decided to ask him about his travel experiences and cultural expectations versus cultural realities. We got on the topic of England because it is a place we both have visited, though under very different circumstances.
Taking a drink from his Glenlivet 12 scotch on the rocks, Kris explained to me his expectations when he went to England thirteen years ago on military deployment at the start of the Iraq war. “I expected them to be snooty, well-to-do, you know, like, ‘my shit don’t stink,’ but they weren’t. The people in Fairford [an hour and a half west of London and where Kris was stationed] loved the Americans.” When pressed about where he got the idea of snooty Brits, Kris cited television and actors. Because he left quickly for his deployment, he did not have time to research the culture or the area.
I asked Kris about how that expectation met with reality. He told me several stories of interacting with locals and how “down to earth” they were. In one story, Kris talked about getting into a cab with three other non-commissioned officers to Swindon, about half an hour away. The cab driver talked to them constantly, frequently paying more attention to them than the road. Kris was impressed not only that they didn’t crash on the very narrow roads, but that the cab driver didn’t seem up-tight at all, and was genuinely interested in the airmen and where they were from.
Being nineteen at the time, Kris and his buddies were shocked that they could go into a market and see pornography out on display. At one point they even purchased a magazine and checked it out on a public bench without any judgmental looks or question. To Kris, this seemed like the opposite of the prim and proper England he was expecting.
I laughed and nodded as I sipped what our bartender called a Zonker and thought of my own experience in England. Being only in middle school at the time, I wasn’t socially aware enough to have expectations one way or another, so when we returned to my parents’ home in Goodyear this afternoon, I asked if I could sit down with them and chat. “Oh man,” my dad answered “I think its time for me to take a shower or something.” However, after much coaxing, and pleading for the sake of my grade in class, and after opening a Coors Light for him, he and my mom opened up about our European trip almost twenty years ago.
“I was excited to go because they spoke English and I could see Big Ben and ride on a subway,” my dad said when asked about what he was looking forward to about England. My mom noted getting to experience a new culture, like eating fish and chips and going to Piccadilly Circus, in a safe environment.
“A new culture, what did you expect that to be like?” I probed, my face lighting up at the opportunity to steer our conversation toward something that would help me write this blog.
“You know, friendly people, fish and chips, beer, driving on the opposite side of the road. I wanted to see what the simple daily activities would be like,” my mom replied. At this I made a mental note of our reading last week by Susan Bassnett about how women tend to write of the everyday occurrences in order to get an image of culture and smile that my mother fits that theory.
How did they get these ideas, this story of what England would be like? Both my parents explained that they didn’t do much of any formal research, this being in the days before the widespread use of the internet, but my mom had spoken to a friend at work who used to live there, and both had gotten a clear idea of what England would be like based on television shows, movies, and watching British actors.
So how did reality stack up to their expectations? My mom and dad both expressed that the locals they met were even friendlier than they expected. “At first, I was crushed, when stepping off the plane we saw guards armed with machine guns. I mean, I looked at your mom and we thought ‘What the heck is going on here?'” My dad responded, noting later that it was routine and that even the subway stations had armed guards which made him feel safer taking public transit.
The very next story my dad told to emphasize his point that people really were very friendly, was about just after we saw the guards in the airport. You see, I had gotten sick on the plane and passed out. It was the first time this had ever happened to me, and my parents as well as the flight attendants were very concerned. We were rushed off the plane as soon as we landed, given a first pass at baggage claim, and sent to a nurse at Heathrow airport. She was an amazingly kind woman who spoke to me and my parents in a comforting manner. “Do you have to spend a penny?” she asked me as she gave me a quick exam. This “spend a penny” comment is the one that sticks out in my dad’s mind. In London, public restrooms used to cost one penny to use, therefore a colloquialism was coined (pardon the pun) where “spending a penny” meant go to the bathroom. The fact that the nurse would use slang and ask me a personal question like that made my dad feel safe and looked after.
Another story, from my mom, was of her and my father heading down to the hotel bar after my sister and I were asleep one night. According to my mom, they struck up conversation with three local men just off work. “They bought us a round, we bought them a round, and we just had a very nice and open conversation about each other’s cultures,” said explained. “They were just as curious about us and our customs as we were about theirs. They didn’t seem uptight at all, really down to earth. I guess that was unexpected. British actors seemed to be proper and staunch, but the men at the bar were normal, using slang and speaking informally.”
It’s hearing this phrase “down to earth” again about the Brits that makes me realize that regardless of when or why we visited, all four of us (Kris, my mom, dad, and myself) held the same stereotype of British people being uptight or thinking they were better/ more educated/ classier than those of us from the U.S., a stereotype that proved untrue.
What made our single stories so credible, I wanted to know. My mom summed up Adichie’s TED talk perfectly without ever having seen it. “It’s the only reference I knew,” she remarked when I asked her why she believed the portrayal she saw on TV. TV, that’s where I get a lot of my ideas about the Brits, though I’m pretty sure they’re not based in reality.
Though even in my favorite British television shows, the Brits are always polite to a fault – as Charles Magnuson (an antagonist in the show Sherlock) points out in a gripping episode in series three of Sherlock as he defiles Sherlock’s fireplace just because he knows neither of the British gentlemen will stop him.
Maybe we were just ill-informed Americans; maybe all countries have single stories about other cultures; and maybe, just maybe, the blog I write will reach other cultures and create a new story for my culture.
Shout out to my gracious interviewees this week: (from left) Debbie Sevey, Kris Strong, and Jerry Sevey.
Welcome back, readers! It’s the first week of summer, and I’m already experiencing the sting of metaphorical sun burn. I’m talking about the sneaky ways that summer sun makes us think that everything is coming up roses. It seems that in my personal life as well as the theoretical lives of travelers (which I continue tor read about for my travel writing class) days are not always so sunny.
Okay, seriously, I’m done with the summer puns. What I really mean is, I just returned from a mini-road trip with my two littles to visit great-grandpa in Salem. While the girls thought we were just visiting, really, I met up with my amazing sister to help clean up after a burglary. Not exactly, the happy summer kick-off we were expecting. Though the girls had a wonderful time.
(Playing dress up with treasures found at great-grandpa’s)
Mommy travel tip of the week: ALWAYS over pack. Don’t listen to those carefree people who tell you to travel light! I have never once regretted coming home with too many diapers, but one majorly stinky car ride over the mountains had me regretting traveling light. I would rather have too many books than too few, all the dollies to sleep with rather than only the wrong dolly, and bring home clean clothes than have my daughter have to hang out in poopy pants (see the stinky car ride above). Plus, if you don’t use it, odds are some poor sap who did travel light will ask for your extra. Then you get to look like that mom who has her life together and remembered the one thing everyone else forgot! So pack an extra carry on and let the haters hate! But oh, how I digress.
This impromptu summer trip got me thinking back to the days B.C. (before children) when my husband and I were just starting out and making a big move from our home in Minot, North Dakota, to Phoenix, Arizona. Here again, though the sun shined, the metaphorical road was bumpy to say the least.
(Leaving North Dakota for the last time)
Now, I know that moving from one state to another to live is not your typical type of travel writing, but after all my reading about the topic, but in this move, my hubby and I were confronted with a new culture, a different style of living, and definitely a new climate, so though it was more permanent than my trip to Hawaii, I’m going to count this as travel.
North Dakota, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, was flat, desolate, isolating, and cold. At the same time, it was the friendliest place I have ever been. Strangers waved to me as I passed by them in my car. The ice and snow forced those who lived in ND to adopt an “I’ll get there when I get there” attitude. People volunteered at the local grocery store to carry bags to my car even in the below freezing temperatures. Residents never locked their cars or houses and would frequently leave cars running in the parking lot so they didn’t get too cold while the driver was in attending to his errand. True story: a friend of mine once had his car stolen while he was at a local bar. He went inside to call the police to report the theft, and have another beer of course, and by the time he came back out at closing time the car had been returned.
Still, it was time for us to move on, and jobs took us to sunny Phoenix, Arizona. While both Kris and I were psyched to put on shorts instead of parkas in February, the novelty quickly wore off as we tried to adjust to six highway lanes of traffic flying by us on either sides. Just days after settling in to our new apartment, I descended the steps and headed to our Toyota 4-Runner, turned the key, and heard. . . nothing. The catalytic converter on our SUV had been stolen. In the evenings, instead of listening to the farm report on the news (they tell the price of eggs and grain), we began listening to stories of murder and drug busts.
It did not take long for me to come to a decision: I hated Phoenix. I deemed myself better than those self-involved meanies who didn’t even wave when you let them merge into your lane. Oh, and TRAFFIC, don’t even get me started on the primal rage that bubbled over when those dang Arizonans cut me off on the 10! Their city was dirty, therefore they obviously didn’t take any pride in where they lived. And has anyone seen a group of people so obsessed with their own looks as those at Fashion Square Mall?
As you can see, I was experiencing my own form of colonial situation – a feeling of dominance over this new group of people – without the actual colonization. David Spurr (an author I read this week for class) says in the introduction to his book The Rhetorics of Empire, that one of the ways we assert dominance over another is through the use of language: naming or choosing to leave things unnamed, and boy did I have some choice names for the natives.
Homi Bhabha (winner of the coolest name award as well as a Harvard University professor) talks about this idea that cultural history is not linear, but rather extends outward from an epicenter with big events and small daily events mingling together. Using this line of thinking from Bhabha’s work Dissemination, I don’t see any major event, or a certain amount of time passing that made me change my mind about Phoenix. I guess in the end, no cultural history could change my mind entirely, since we ended up moving away after three years, but there was a definite shift by the time we left.
I bought some stylish clothes and bleached my hair. I learned to drive 75 down the freeway and cruise in the fast lane. I made good, caring friends at work who valued my opinions and humor. We emailed each other each week with three simple letters “PFF” – code for Pizza Freakin’ Friday! In addition to pizza, I came to enjoy the local cuisine: authentic Mexican food I had missed out on in North Dakota. After three years, Phoenix felt like it could be home, like it didn’t have to change for me to accept it.
Have I traveled to far-away places with indigenous tribes and tried to convert them to Christianity? No. Imperialism and colonialism in that sense is not in my realm of experience. But on a small scale, I have indeed judged the “other” who is very different from myself, and in my error, came out on the other side wiser.
Hello faithful readers! Before I get started, can I just pause us all to bask in the fact that the school year is finally over?
That is, the school I teach at here in Oregon ended today, obviously not my summer grad. class. Those of you in Arizona have probably been out for weeks, but in Oregon we shift summer break a bit to maximize our good weather. At any rate, I’m happy to report that grades are finalized, my supply list has been sent off, and my classroom has been cleaned and locked for the summer! Now, on to the real reason we’re all here. . .
This week in class we read all about maps, which is weird because I always thought that maps were just those pieces of paper everyone used before you could ask Siri. As it turns out, according to Joni Seager, a scholar and activist in feminine geography from the University of Vermont, and in my humble opinion a super smart lady, maps are “rich historical sources” that can tell a story just like a novel or memoir. I tried to think of my experience using maps and see them the way she does, but I was struggling. That is, until I remembered a short Hawaiian man at the front desk of a reasonably-priced hotel which shall remain nameless (because I can’t remember the name right now.)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away. . . oh no, wait, that’s fiction. Maybe it only seems so long ago because it was B.C. – BEFORE CHILDREN.
Six years ago, my husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary by taking a trip to Hawaii. (If you’re trying to do the math, yes, I got married basically out of preschool.) Anyway, it was the first major vacation that we ever planned, and I’m using the term “we” loosely here – Kris planned almost the entire thing. Though I had been once before, we were excited to explore the island together.
After a brief stroll on the beach – not too hard to find, we popped back to our hotel to make a game plan. It was clear we were outsiders here, so we quizzed the concierge. “How do we get to that one restaurant I remember liking from ten years ago?” “We want to go hike Diamond Head. Where is that trail head exactly?” “What is this ‘Punch Bowl’ everyone keeps talking about, and how do we get there?” “Isn’t there snorkeling around here somewhere?” Amidst our breathlessly excited inquiries I watched the man’s face transform from enthusiastic, to fake enthusiastic smile, to tired. Finally, he cut us off and said “Let me draw you a map.” Thank goodness.
Sketching quickly on a picture of the island on the back of a brochure, the concierge plotted out our own little treasure hunt. At the first X we would find the best beverages served in fruit:
at the second, snorkeling. The third: my favorite restaurant, Duke’s, and so on. He also crossed out areas on the pictures, remarking “Don’t go here, it’s out of town and sketchy.”
So follow the map we did, taking the map as fact. How subjective could a picture of different locations be? I honestly never thought anything of it until now. See, we had one outing that Kris planned for us long before getting to the island. We wanted to go skydiving. The company Kris found was across the island from our touristy city and hotel. VERY early one morning, a beat-up looking suburban came to pick us up at our hotel and drive us to Skydive Hawaii, deep in the heart of the crossed-off portion of our informal, ephemeral map.
What did we find when we got there? Some of the nicest, most laid-back people on the island who smelled. . . let’s say earthy, or should I say herb-y? Anyway, they were really laid back. We had an amazing experience skydiving and never had a single problem in the “sketchy” part of town. Apparently, the author of our map was biased, just as that smart lady said. Oh, you want a picture of skydiving? Who am I to disappoint.
This subjectivity reminds me of a TED talk I watched this week by Devdutt Pattanaik. He was talking about India and the West, but it applies here too. He said that there is THE world, then there is MY world, and there is YOUR world. I think he meant that we all have our own perceptions, and those perceptions are our realities. Maybe my concierge had a bad experience across the island, and that shaped his personal reality while my experience was one of the most exhilarating of my life.
Pattanaik also talked about how when these different worlds collide, they can sometimes create conflict. Now, Hawaii is by no means a hostile environment for those of us from the mainland, far from it. But I will say, there was a difference in culture, enough that our little trip became a “contact zone” of sorts. (For those of you who don’t spend your spare time reading postcolonial essays on travel writing, a contact zone is any physical space where people from different cultures meet and interact. The phrase was coined by Mary Louise Pratt in her work the introduction to her book titled Imperial Eyes) I remember distinctly walking down the street and stopping to watch a street performer and his parrots. I even took a picture:
The performer eyed me quizzically, and as I walked away he snidely remarked “Oh, you two definitely don’t look like tourists or anything!” At the time, I was a bit put-off. This guy made his living getting tourists to watch him, and here he is laughing at me for being sunburned and wearing a silly hat? Who did he think he was? Looking back, I hear my own cultural insensitivity in my entitlement. I felt superior because he was performing on the street and I was on vacation. I didn’t know him or his story, and I certainly didn’t know his culture. Really, looking at these pictures again, I can’t blame him:
While our trip to Hawaii was romantic, invigorating, and yes touristy, I think the most exciting thing was that it was new for us. We experimented with new hobbies like snorkeling, drank fruity drinks and tried seafood we’d never seen before, we jumped out of a freakin’ plane! But we also learned how to navigate a new and different city as well as a different culture.
P.S. – I can’t bring up Hawaii without giving a shout out to my dear mother, Debbie, who claimed she had a wonderful sense of direction and didn’t need a map to get us back to the hotel. While driving all over the island in a Suzuki Sidekick, she would periodically stop and say, “I can do this! I can find our hotel. Just tell me which way the ocean is!” causing the entire family to erupt in laughter as she suddenly caught on: we’re on an island; the ocean is literally all around us!
It’s a big, scary, adventurous world wide web out there, and today I officially embark on the great journey of blogging. Technically, this blog was created for a class I’m taking as part of my masters program, because sometimes having two pre-preschoolers and teaching language arts to middle schoolers just isn’t enough to drive me completely insane. Unofficially though, I hope this blog will grow into something more exciting and less formal. So bear with me for a couple months while I dip my toes in the blogging pool and test the waters. Okay, onto the important stuff.
This class I’m taking, it’s all about travel writing, which is pretty awesome, except for that part where I’m not super well-traveled. No worries, it’s all theoretical, right? What is travel writing you ask? As it turns out, that is a surprisingly loaded question – about as loaded as the 3yo’s suitcase when we go to visit grandma, because who can leave the comforts of home without four stuffed animals, sixteen games, three different kinds of snacks, two blankets, all the clothes in the dresser, and sixteen pairs of shoes? But I digress. Anyway, a week ago, before I started this class, I thought travel writing consisted basically of the guide books you can find at Barnes and Noble before you go on a backpacking trip. Nope. Let me introduce you to a big word associated with high-brow travel writing: ethnography. Ethnography is the description of customs and cultures, and all the super-smart travel writing you’ve never heard of is chalk full of it.
If you think about it, it makes sense: a traveler will naturally encounter many different cultures and customs during her journey, of course she would write about what she experiences. Some of the readings from my class this week were quite heavy on the ethnography scale. One, an essay by James Clifford entitled “Traveling Cultures,” was so theoretical that by the end of it, easy words like travel, native, and destination had become complex concepts that redefined (and made totally inadequate) the quick trips I take to visit my parents in Arizona. Another, by Joan Rubies, gave a detailed account of the history of travel writing. Spoilers, it’s more than just that European Travel: for Dummies you picked up when daydreaming about taking that big trip someday.
The writing I liked best, that I will hope to emulate in this blog, took the form of a short story. At first, Catherine Watson appeared to be just relating a conversation she overheard about Easter Island, her favorite place to travel, but as the story progressed Watson’s descriptions of the island transported me far away and relaxed my mind and soul. That’s why it surprised me so when she switched gears and made a social and political comment about Easter Island. Watson’s point about the culture of Easter Island was that the people had been basically forgotten by American soldiers who were once stationed there. She explained how much of the laid back attitude stemmed from overwhelming joblessness. These points were perfect examples of ethnographic writing blended into her narrative. The point was so subtle I didn’t feel preached at, yet there it stood, clear and unavoidable. That’s what I want to do. I want to lure my readers in with captivating tales of my travels, and then oh-so-subtly blow their minds with truth bombs.
Wait a minute, did I mention my two beautiful babes?
And what about this guy?
And my mountains of grading as a language arts teacher…
It’s hard to believe that I will ever have the kind of time and freedom to both go on these mind-blowing journeys and then write about them. I do go on less-satisfying but still memorable short trips with my family on a pretty regular basis. And I have learned a thing or two about traveling with small kids. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had to change your shirt in the middle of a flight, in coach, because the original shirt now has peach puree vomit all down the front. Bonus points if you forgot to pack a spare for your 1yo and she refuses to at least keep covered with the blanket you brought. If you make it through that without crying in the handicap stall while your babe cries in the stroller, you win. So perhaps my travel stories could at times flirt with travel advice.
What do you think dear reader? How can I serve you? Mommy advice? I’ve got diaper loads of that! Serene depictions of travel locales? Did I mention I basically live in paradise – central Oregon to be precise?
Perhaps a social comment or ethnographic flair? (Admit it, you scrolled up to remember what that means.)
In the immortal words of the Genie from Aladdin, “Life is your restaurant, and I’m your maître d!”
So speak up, make your requests. Your blogging wish is my command!