Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011 - 1 comment

I travel. I write. I am a travel writer.

Mom bought me this journal at the Grand Bazaar when she was visiting in the fall. It was worth the ten lira purely for the fact that it was original - a tiny, unassuming work of art standing out amidst the cookie cutter mounds of shaker belts, mother of pearl Tavla sets, touristy t-shirts and jeweled letter openers that fill the over 4,000 shops of the Kapalı Çarşı. And thus, it is my hope that today, as I open this notebook and begin (officially, if only to myself) my career as a travel writer - that my words would paint a unique picture of the same locations that have been described time and again for centuries. I dream of giving a fresh melody to the old songs, planting new footprints on well-trodden paths, and capturing the flavour of now-cliché destinations and experiences so that those who have never lived them will be lining up in droves to purchase tickets to Over There, and those who have will be inspired to go live them again for the first time.

It feels fitting that on the cover of this notebook is a painting of an Istanbul ferry, seagulls and clouds dancing in the sky overhead. I've spent many a Bosphorus crossing scribbling away in a notebook (or, if I didn't have one on hand, repeating what I hoped were clever phrases over and over in my head until I could get my hands on a pen and a ferry schedule to jot them down on), trying to craft just the right words to describe the way the sound of the seagulls and the fog horns and the tinkle of teaspoons in tulip glasses rise to mingle with the sunset behind the minarets to form one of those iconic Istanbul moments. Much of my now-named passion for travel writing has been birthed out of my love affair with Istanbul and my insatiable quest to find a way to put its soul on paper - as if a city of 9,000 years of magnificence could be reduced to a few lines on a page. And yet I feel compelled to try.

As wise old Confucius once said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." And so I begin. After years of friends and family urging me to "write already!" and months of those shiny, fresh-from-Amazon travel writing books on my bedroom floor seeing little action apart from when I pick them up to vacuum, I've decided that today is the day.

I carved it in the stone of my Creative Journal, where I like to document monumental occasions of this sort: "I hereby declare myself a travel writer," along with today's date. I suppose a "travel writer" is essentially just "a traveller who writes" and "a writer who travels," in which case I've been one all of my adult life, with seeds of the dream planted long before that in Mr. Wiebe's poetry class and in crépe paper African huts in VBS. And while I've chosen, mostly, to limit my travels these days to the dirt roads leading back and forth to my neighbours' houses and to places I can ride to on my electric motorcycle, I do in fact buy my vegetables and hang my laundry and pour my çay in a town on the Mediterranean coast, in the Cradle of Civilization. The everyday doesn't get much more exotic than that. :) What's more, I've got a wealth of moments on Chinese trains and in Mayan villages, Syrian bazaars and Tibetan monestaries which, with some effort, I'm still young enough to remember, even if only as fodder for practicing my anecdotal skills.

The catalyst for this line in the sand was an email that appeared in my inbox on Thursday: "World Nomads 2011 Travel Writing Scholarship in Istanbul, Turkey." Hello! You have to write an essay on why you should be chosen, and the prize is a week shadowing a professional travel writer, gleaning from his input and experience, and doing research/revisions/reviews for the next edition of The Rough Guide to Istanbul. That assignment is followed by an "adventure tour" of hiking, horseback riding and sea kayaking through several gorgeous spots in Turkey - ironically, all of which I have been to and one of which I live in. It would be the chance to see the familiar-yet-fascinating through fresh eyes, all the while working on my writing skills and benefitting from constructive criticism. My mind has been consumed by this one thought for days: I HAVE TO WIN THIS THING!!!

And so, armed with "Globejotting" by Dave Fox and "Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Writing," my notebook and I are going to spend the day on the terrace reading the work of those who have gone before me, starting to find out what editors and publishers are looking for, and scribbling away as fast and as long as my hand can stand it.

I'm done waiting for "a season when I have time to write" or "til I figure out where to send my work." Goodness knows what I need most is to develop my research skills, find my style and voice, become an observer who uses all her senses, and learn how to describe scenes without using clichés. (See, I've used that word twice in the last hour!) The time to grow is now.

I recently finished reading "The War of Art" - a book on overcoming Resistance as the enemy of creativity. (Colourful language and slightly New Agey tilt aside, I highly recommend it.) In the first half of the book, author Stephen Pressfield details the various forces and excuses that prevent us from rising up and creating.

"Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it's the easiest to rationalize. We don't tell ourselves, 'I am never going to write my symphony." Instead we say, 'I am going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow.'" (p.21)

I've let procrastination steal the life from my best creative flashes for years. Even today, in all my "I'm ready to write" zeal, I've been tempted to give in to its innocent sounding hooks. "I'll start soon as I fold this laundry. And I'll need a cup of coffee - it's good for inspiration, and besides, it's cold up there. Oh, but the terrace is probably dirty from all the rain last night - I should probably squeegee it." And on and on it goes. (My inner Turkish housewife is my inner writer's arch nemesis.)

But I was smart. I decided to trick Resistance and (temporarily) avoid the terrace altogether (how low of it to pit my sanctuary of choice against me!) and plunked down on my (yes, unmade) bed and I wrote. I took that first step. And now, my hand sufficiently cramped, I am feeling satisfied with my small-victory-of-a-beginning, and most deserving of that cup of coffee.

And then it's off to the dirty, un-squeegeed terrace. Off to the journey and the stories it will become.