This exceptionally punishing New England winter is, at long last, fading out. Grass is beginning to reveal itself in ash-colored patches around the yard. The snowdrifts that line both sides of the driveway are blackened from exhaust but slowly disintegrating into lower and lower ridges. I hope by Easter, the last chunk of snow will melt into the last drop of water and the great Ice Age of 2015 will be behind us.
It has been five months since 100 Places came out. Promoting it, discussing it, signing it, sending it out, writing articles about it, answering questions about it – this has been my raison d’être. I love the exhilarating aftermath of writing this book – the tail end, when I demonstrate my belief in it, and tirelessly (shamelessly, too) hope others will believe in it as well. It’s a very simple equation: I wrote it and I want people to read it too, so my job has been to get it into as many hands as possible.
But besides the talks I’ve given and bookstore events I’ve traveled to, it has been perhaps a little too quiet these last bitter cold months. The incessant snow and frigid weather has forced me inward. I’ve cosseted myself in the easy cocoon of my home, next to my notes and computer and books. Working all day. But not traveling. Which is a problem, because for a travel writer, these two things are one and the same. Lately, I’ve been waking up with a need to wander.
It’s hard to glamorize travel these days. It’s absolutely hideous and in some ways, degrading. Airports are ice cold bunkers manned frequently by staff that clearly despises you. Security lines are endless and humiliating. We are herded up like tranquilized animals onto planes where the too-small seats are stained with dried liquid of unknown provenance. They serve crappy food that you have to pay for, and you eat it off flimsy trays. The horror.
And…I live for it. I love this ritual of departure in all its poetic misery, because on the other side of it is an arrival. No matter where I’m heading, leaving brings fulfillment and if I’m lucky, a story.
The reality is that “elsewhere” is right there for the plucking, and I love how changed I feel that split second after I’ve clicked on “purchase ticket now.” It provides a singular rush, to cross over from the torpor of routine into that supercharged state of anticipation. Hallalujah, I’m on my way. This deliberate and sudden act of discarding my desire for comfort and complacency proves that it isn’t a real desire after all, but is an obstacle to the act of living. And for a travel writer, it is an impediment to the very important act of working, too.
So today, I bought a plane ticket to somewhere I haven’t been for 20 years. I will bring a stack of Field Notes and all kinds of pens and pencils, all tidy in a Ziploc bag. I’ll meet people and talk and write it all down, as I’ve done in Peru, Haiti, Russia, Indonesia, Sweden, and many other countries, as well as France, France, France. When I get back, gorgeous springtime will be in full bloom and the lawn will be fragrant and green again. I’ll plow through the books I’ve accumulated all winter, and read them outside in the sun, alongside my dog who can finally get up off his rug and run.
My work isn’t done on my book. When I get back from my trip, I’ll still be a devoted and passionate author, reading from it and believing in it, tirelessly, whenever and wherever I can. But behind the lectern, I’ll be that much richer. I’m always more alive when I’m in motion and as long as I am breathing, I’ll never stand still for long.