Travel or Journey: What is the Writer’s Question?

Zaria River Ferry by Jeanne Tabachnick via Africa Focus
Zaria River Ferry by Jeanne Tabachnick via Africa Focus

“Your piece is not about a journey. It’s just travel.” Sue, the radio show’s producer, glared at me, then around the table at the rest of the writers of her radio show. “You people have GOT to stick to the themes.”

Embarrassed silence was broken only by rustling as uncomfortable writers shifted in their chairs.

I raised my hand. “Could you please explain the difference?”

Sue sighed with exaggerated weariness. “A journey goes somewhere. There is a change between beginning and end.”

A timid voice ventured, “Your piece was nice, but nothing happened.”

Emboldened, another writer added, “The characters didn’t change.”

I ducked my head. “Oh, I get it.”

Only, I didn’t. The last time something like this happened, I didn’t get it, either.

It was the Art of the Wild writing program. Gary Nabhan gave my critique. He looked at me with sad reproach. “You’ve described more different places than any other participant.”

I’d filled the 25 page application with pieces on Algeria, Kenya, Arizona and Israel. It didn’t seem like a lot – not half those I’d lived in or traveled to.

Later, Louis Owens, another instructor said, “A writer must commit to one place and become truly part of it to hear its language. There is no other way to write authentically about place.”

Gary Snyder, Luci Tapahonso, Garrett Hongo, William Kittredge: every one of the workshop instructors said the same.

But none of them were global nomads.

Global nomads were raised in several countries. We don’t have a single, earth home. Instead, we feel at home on the whole globe – even those places we’ve never been.

I decided they were wrong. Surely, I could write “authentically” in a global nomad voice. I had an intense connection to the earth, even if I did move a lot. In every place, I found that connection.

Which didn’t really help with my submission to that month’s radio show: “journeys” not “travel.”

I sighed and looked around the dilapidated, third floor studio where the radio collective group was onto the next writer’s contribution. My thoughts drifted, again.

Despite endless practice, moving makes me psychotic. Last time my friend Eric held my hand through it, he said, “It’s like bad karma. You hate moving, but you’re condemned to do it all the time.”

“I need to explore, to see what’s over the proverbial hill.”

“You also need roots. Can’t you find some roots and keep exploring?”

I sat up in my plastic chair, suddenly awake. Was that it: have change, have journey, no travel required?

“Aha!” I cried – totally inappropriately as the group was now reviewing a delicate poem on dying.

Walkway at Night by R. Elena Tabachnick
Walkway at Night by R. Elena Tabachnick

Everyone stared..

“Um, I meant, ah…” I coughed loudly by way of further explanation. The others returned to their discussion. I didn’t care. I was grinning to myself.

Journey without travel… Wasn’t that the point of writing, after all?

I thought, “If I write about this, even Sue might buy it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *