Because I said I would.
I haven’t written about anywhere I’ve been yet. Not leaving Melbourne, not my flight, not LAX airport, not Toronto, or Charlottetown or North Sydney where I am presently staring out at a stormy sea that has deprived me of puffins. But that is a grief that I’m not prepared to talk about yet. Too soon, too soon.
I’m a reticent travel writer. I’m doing this because there simply comes a time when you have to put your words where they belong and where, in my case as a teacher of journalism, I keep telling my students to put them – on the page.
Before I flew to Canada for the International Association of Literary Journalim Studies conference in Halifax (starts Thursday, I’m on a panel – there aren’t enough words to encapsulate that panic so let’s not even go there) I banged on to my classes about travel writing – good travel writing like the beautiful prose of ‘Kingdoms of Stone’ by Doug Hendrie and bad travel writing that is, well, everywhere.
I made them write the worst travel writing they could in class and the awful thing was that most of them could have been published on any travel blog – they were that good at being bad because it is what we read all the time. So then came the ‘teaching moment’. Avoid clichés, I said. Give your readers something they don’t expect, I said, something that will surprise and delight them, something that will take them where you are.
In a gift store in Charlottetown I saw a journal that had, written in pink cursive script (there’s a clue that badness is afoot) ‘put your heart beats on the page’. I stopped. And felt my stomach clench. I could not think of anything worse. Why share? No. I like telling other people’s stories, stories that they know I am telling and that they want told – or sometimes, it is true, after talking with me (in a professional capacity – I would never, ever do this to what I call a ‘real person in the real world’) they don’t want them told. And that is even better because that means that they have something that they need to be held to account for and, with careful research combined with blunt questions I can usually open them up like a can of worms and Do Some Good.
That is how the journalist in me thinks. I do not want to bleed on the page, thank you very much, I faint at the real sight of blood and the thought of haemmoraging my life, with all of its boring minutae and crippling insecurities and overblown conceits that come with being an incarnated walking flesh monster onto the screen is not my idea of fun. Or yours I’m reckoning.
So this blog will not be that. It is not a confessional. It is about being picked up out of my ordinary life and going somewhere and seeing things that I don’t expect, that surprise and delight me and take me out of my head that I live in far too much and that plonk me down, fair and square, where I am and tell me, very loudly: ‘This! Look at this. Now. Because if you don’t it will be gone.’ And I want to ferret it away safely somewhere. Here.
Also a disclaimer: this blog probably won’t be in order because although I like to kid myself that life follows an orderly pattern despite all my best efforts, mine just doesn’t. I read this beautiful Guardian article on Nick Cave (who I have a love/hate relationship but whose ‘The Ship Song’ and ‘Into My Arms’ soared me along a storm lashed highway in Cape Breton) and he said this which I give you as my ‘get-out-of-linear-narrative-jail-free’ card:
“The idea that we live life in a straight line, like a story, seems to me to be increasingly absurd and, more than anything, a kind of intellectual convenience…I feel that the events in our lives are like a series of bells being struck and the vibrations spread outwards, affecting everything, our present, and our futures, of course, but our past as well. Everything is changing and vibrating and in flux.
So now that I have established myself as an insufferable wanker who will write what she likes by invoking the Untouchable Spectre that is Nick Cave, let’s begin.