Long ago, when I started this blog as a place for me to get published when no one would give me the time of day, I got kind of lumped in with a whole bunch of “travel blogs,” journals of people who were on the road. And by lumped in, I mean linked to and promoted by, none of which was bad. I returned the favor at the time.
But most of the year, I am not actually on the road, I am at my desk, or in my living room with the newly-upholstered chairs from the place in Indepedencia (they actually recreated the “ikea-style” chair cover for those nordic chairs, in a fabric I liked, and this makes me ridiculously happy). This is not travel, this is my life, which in my case, takes place in Santiago, Chile.
Then a fateful thing happened in that Pam, who used to do some work for a women-oriented blog consortium (whatever, I don’t know how to describe it, the initials are BH), found my blog as one of her picks for “expat blogs.” This may have happened before or after that Lonely Planet competition where I was invited to clamor for votes in a most unbecoming way, and still lose to an expat blog in Spain, in which they taught people how to speak Spanish. At any rate, my category seemed to shift from “travel blog” to “expat blog.”
Later, that same Pam was in my house in Santiago, and between setting up my wifi and eating breakfast on the balcony and falling in a hole, she pronounced that my blog was not so much about travel (or expattiness) so much as it was about language. And I guess she’s right. It’s got a bit of culture, some language, some observations, lots of memories and cross-references. But what it doesn’t have is a lot of I’m-on-the-road-and-this-is-what-I-had-for-lunch.
And here’s why.
Usually, when I am on the road, I don’t say much at all on the internet. Part of this is because I want to be in the place, not in the place, in a café, typing about what I just did, and all the while missing opportunities to do other stuff. I have a hard enough time not existing in my own head much of the time, without sitting down to write about my own navel (figuratively). I want to be where I am.
I also feel like writing about what’s happening almost contemporaneously with when it’s happening–other than tweeting, which seems designed for just such things, as is Instagram, which Jodi recently pointed out, should generally be done in the moment, because it is not called Latergram (insert brief chuckle)–is generally fairly superficial, because that is the nature of an instant reaction. But I think my best (personal) work is more reflective, and it takes time. So I might tweet, or post a photo from time to time, but most of the time, when I’m not here, I’m not here.
Before going to Paraguay, I wanted to see if there was anything I was overlooking. I found a few blogs of visitors who had been to Paraguay (as opposed to Peace Corps, back-to-the-land, missionaries and colonists, of which there are also some). A couple of them had mention of crossing the border, snapping some pictures, getting hungry, getting tired, and leaving. I couldn’t tell why they were there, or what they got out of the trip. I felt like I was watching raw footage from dashboard cam of a car that drives slowly down the road someplace that I don’t even know why I’m there. Only more so. It’s the voyaging equivalent of reality TV. Quick (don’t have to process or edit), cheap (very little emotional investment) and quite possibly, plotless.
I guess in the end, to me, the interesting part of your blog is knowing what you thought about what you saw. Many fortunate travelers go to Tikal, to the Milford Sound, to the Atacama. And to Siem Reap, and to the Great Wall of China and the Louvre and to watch turtles lay their eggs in the sand in Costa Rica.
But what do they see, other than the main attraction? And what do they think about it, this place that they went? What did it make them wonder? want? miss? realize? conclude?
If you and I both go to the same place (awesome! where are we going?), we would each have very different experiences that day. I would go to the bathroom and be surprised at the large floral arrangement in a (hopefully) disused urinal, wonder how long it had been there, and if anyone has ever drunkenly used the urinal, despite the flowers. You would have squatted down to photograph a stencil on a wall and in so doing, caught a kid’s eye, which reminded you of your nephew, or your trip to Detroit, of how unfair it is that boys so often have long eyelashes, when women are exhorted to lengthen and define theirs. We were in the same place, but we saw different things. And then there’s what the things we saw meant to us, a kind of Roland Barthes semiotics-for-travelers inquiry. So when I’m looking for this depth, it’s not enough for you to show me the stencil, (or the penguin, or the gold ingot) or describe it to me. I want to know what it meant to you.
What I’m saying is, far more interesting than the things you see, is who you are.
What I want in blogs is also what, under the best possible circumstance, I try to give. Not every one of my blog posts is destined to be one of my favorites, and many of them will be nothing notable.
But when everything is aligned just right, I love pulling people into a story by showing them the similarities, flashing forward and back, taking them by the hand through on a walk through my experiences, so they can see why I contextualize what I do with the words I choose. This to me is incredible, as in it almost cannot be believed. The idea that while someone is sitting on the metro, or between job tasks, fighting with the office chair that always sinks down, no matter how many times they pump it up, I might be able to take them with me down into the rabbit warren of my mind, is magic.
So I hope you will forgive me for (probably) not taking you along to Peninsula Valdes this week, where my goal is to see whales without ever setting foot on a boat, and ignore the acrid stink of an uncountable (by me) number of penguins, and breathe in the Atlantic air of my childhood, and feel wind so fierce that it makes tears stream down my face, though I probably won’t be sad.
By the time I return, I’m sure to have eaten this thing, that reminded me of the time, that made me hope, or think, or feel. And if I’m very lucky, in the telling, I might just bring you there.
Great thoughts, though I can’t fathom why someone would complain about this? I go to different sources for different information and sites like yours are where I expect to find well-thought out ideas and stories, but not live coverage. Anyway, it was great to have met you in SF and to have heard your musings on blog categorization firsthand!
Cassie, there is pressure ro “live blog.” It makes me twitchy sometimes, but I’m going to stick to my guns, mostly.
Yes, stick to your guns! And stay away from boats… I don’t like them either 🙂
@Cassie, I don’t think Eileen is complaining so much as commenting on the value (or lack of value) inherent in the “I’m here doing this” style of writing inherent in a lot of in-the-moment blogging.
I’m gonna take this and run with it. Forgive me, and please don’t assume I’m speaking for Eileen, no way would I dare to.
Recently at a conference, I heard someone describe a lot of what she reads in blogging as “I’m here, you’re not.” That style isn’t service (useful information that aids travelers) OR story so much as it is status report. That’s valuable for friends and family who want to know what you’re up to, but that’s where the value stops. Unless you are somewhere staggeringly unusual (space, the Pole, north or south, Midway for the bird migration), “I’m here” isn’t much to offer a reader. Eileen’s point seems to me to be that it’s your interpretation of that moment that makes for interesting reading/viewing and furthermore, that interpretation takes some time.
(Puts down the mic, returns to seat.)
Hey Pam, I don’t take it that you were writing/speaking for me. And yes, status report. Look at me! then look at you! You’re at a desk! I’m on a boat! (god, please no boats, I get so seasick!). Midway for the bird migration, you say… Tell me more!
But you know, you could go to your backyard and watch the snow melt off the clothesline, and that would be interesting, too. Especially if you sneak peeks out at the arucaria/monkey puzzle tree while you’re out there!
Pam–Please don’t ever put down the mic. Or the ukulele 🙂
I never expect travel updates on blogs, but I don’t really mind them knowing that more is coming later. I actually enjoy them when they are on social media. If I were working at a desk (which I am) and one of you were on a bus (I like buses — I don’t like boats) and you posted a photo that said “look at me — I’m on a bus!” I’d be really happy for you and eager to see more even if it’s just a photo or anecdote from what you’re experiencing. If it sounded like the blogger was boasting, I’d unfollow but that hasn’t happened to me yet.
Again, I never *expect* these updates from anyone and certainly not a thoughtful, narrative site like this one. So yes, stick to your guns, Eileen–no pressure.
This makes perfect sense to me and I always find your telling of events is worth the wait. I much prefer to read something that has more context than a quickly dashed off list of this happened, then that happened, I went here, I went there. It’s what I aim for when writing about music too.
I still contend that those capybaras are not cute though, I don’t care how you spin it. 😉
Thanks, Ellen! Touché re capybaras. Also, what is there to say? Chirp!
Such thoughtful analysis, Eileen. I know exactly what you mean, it’s easy to get sucked into the “been there, done that” sort of travel blog mentality. Not everyone has the skill it requires to absorb and interpret their experiences and it is really hard to do on the fly. I’m glad you’re clear in your purpose and sticking to it.
Rosalind, thanks. I think we all do a been there done that registry from time to time, and hey, to each her own. But while I will read those for “energy” (See katie’s comment), I read them and never go back. I would be hugely flattered if I thought people were coming back to read more, and I love to read things that other people write that make me think and that I can point other people to. Thanks for popping in, it’s been too long!
Thanks Eileen, this is how I often communicate in direct, face to face communications, but with little success as life moves to fast for most to slow down and listen. I think it works better with the written word, but such is my fate as I keep trying. I loved your thoughts on this! My daughter also communicates this way, which gives me no end of joy! Thanks!
Thanks Tom! I feel flattered that you stopped to drop by and tell me. Your daughter sounds like an awesome human. I would expect nothing less from your child!
I’ve loved your last two posts. Quick, cheap, and plotless you are not- I’m glad people like you take the time to meticulously observe and reflect and let complex, rich stories organically stew. Your writing actually seems to have nutritional value, as opposed to many other slapdash stories that are more like an energy drink.
What I’m saying is, far more interesting than the things you see, is who you are.– Yes. Thanks for the reminder.
Katie, I double extra heart love what you just said. Tremendously validating. Nutritional value! I am so flattered, thank you!
I’m with you all the way. Been at this for nearly 7 years and have never, not once, live blogged.
Maybe it’s because we’re not in our 20s? Though I see it in people of all ages. For a while I felt like I was coming up short. I can be a conduit of what I see, but like I said, I think the important part is what it looks like to us. Thanks for dropping in, Barbara!
I’ve been contemplating this as well. On my last 5 week trip, I didn’t live blog at all. But I have another 3 weeks coming up, and I was thinking about it. Maybe a short update every few nights would keep the blog alive?
Hi Surya, thanks for dropping by. I don’t know, I mean, sometimes I’d rather be silent than give a cursory view of something that I think deserves much more depth. But to each her own. I have also been known to set blog posts that are unrelated to what I’m doing at a particular moment to trigger while I’m gone.
I don’t really worry about keeping the blog alive that much, I guess. I get more traffic on old posts than new ones, most days. (case in point, your visit!)
You could try live blogging and see how it feels to you. If it speaks to you, then by all means, do it. I just think it doesn’t speak to me.