Monday, February 1, 2016

Leaving 'Home' Inspires The Writer's Story

I rarely saw my mother leave the safe haven of her home without my father. She raised two children, drove to the food store, dabbled in volunteer work, took a part time job to earn self-described "pin money," and waited for my father to come home to start dinner.

Finally, when my parents were in their 50s – my father’s work offered the opportunity to board the SS United States and take their first trip to Europe. When they returned, thrilled with the journey of sailing across the Atlantic and seeing the great cities, they embarked on several trips to Europe. The travel bug – although belated – had bitten and those trips represented high points of their lives.

But traveling alone like I do? It was simply out of the question for Mother, although once she boarded an Amtrak train to Washington DC by herself to visit me in college, something I wrote about in my memoir Morning at Wellington Square. That trip was an anomaly. She was too timid, too fearful to do anything without her husband.

As Gloria Steinem writes in her memoir: My Life on the Road:
Home can also be a "dangerous place" for many reasons, not the least of which is that it can breed complacency and destroy curiosity. Perhaps the most revolutionary act, as Steinem suggests, is a "self-willed journey". Whether we leave the comfort of our homes or not, the writer's quest is cultivating an adventurous spirit.

When I was 21, I boarded a flight on Pan Am to London. I soon learned that traveling alone could be as lonely as exhilarating. But mostly, I realized that if I wanted to learn more about life, I would need to get out of  my comfort zone and hit the road.

The death of my husband and my life as a widow – after I raised my sons – allowed me to become a solo traveler and fulfilled a lifelong dream that began when I was 21.  Or maybe I was living the unfulfilled life of my mother.

On a recent trip to Prescott, Arizona, I walked into a bookstore . . . one of those places where a sense of community is pervasive. The bookstore owner's small dog sat behind the register.

I have always loved fridge magnets. I’ve picked up many on my travels. I can’t tell you how many times they inspired comments. A favorite is one I bought on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. A woman in gingham apron wags her finger at two little girls in pigtails and warns, “Just remember the more you do, the more they expect.”

In this store in Prescott, I saw dozens of magnets displayed on a kiosk. Two stood out. As I went to the register to pay for them, the clerk, a man a little younger than me with unruly white hair down to his shoulders, grinned, “Love these,” he said.

I was surprised as I have often steeled myself for the Hillary Haters. But he said he loved the depiction of her as Rosie the Riveter. And he also loved the one about writing because "it wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but figuratively.” I knew that, too, which is why I selected it.

We got to talking about risk-taking in writing, about politics and about the history of Prescott. It felt energizing to be 2,500 miles from home, in a small town about an hour from the Grand Canyon, chatting with a perfect stranger and finding a connection.

Writing energizes, it opens new possibilities, teaches us important lessons.

What does it mean to have an adventurous spirit? How does travel translate into our writing lives?
 
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