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.