I spent the last few days on the greener, cleaner side of bridge in Corte Madera, at the 20th Annual Book Passage Travel and Food Writers and Photographers Conference, AKA “summer camp for travel writers.” AKA “the perfect book end before I launch into the next chapter.”
The conference and the Book Passage bookstore in which it’s held occupy a special place in my heart: it was where Things Began for me. Or at least this blog.
Two years ago, I walked in to the conference, unsure and on a whim. I’d heard about it only the week before; it was expensive but I decided fuck it—it couldn’t hurt. I’d been getting my feet wet in travel writing doing an editorial internship for NileGuide, but was largely feeling lost with it. All I had was this hunch that there was more for me in it, that I loved the two things—writing and travel—not to give it a shot.
I left the conference buzzing with inspiration, and something like a sense of direction, the idea that I wanted to write first-person narrative. It’d been a long time since I’d felt that excited about my own writing. A few weeks later, I started this blog.
I wanted to do the conference a second time for one main reason: to get into Tim Cahill’s workshop.
“If you want to write well,” Spud Hilton told me at an event last year, holding up a copy of Tim’s Hold The Enlightenment, “just buy this book and study it.” I did. I read it like a textbook, scribbling notes on the structure and craft of each piece. I read it in lieu of grad school.
After my experience with Glimpse, I’ve been convinced I need more constructive criticism. I’ve been craving and seeking workshops. So once again, I said fuck it and coughed up the conference fee—it couldn’t hurt.
So I got into the workshop and it was great. I even got a copy of my piece back with notes from Tim (see photo), which I plan to frame (or at least put up on the refrigerator). And everyone in the workshop was great—gracious and respectful and enthusiastic, and there weren’t any big egos bashing about. I think I may have even made a few new friends.
I got a chance to hang out with writers I respect and editors I want to write for and editors I’d like to write for again. I got to drink absurd amounts of coffee and eat surprisingly decent food and sit on the patio beside Mount Tam and talk travel and talk writing and talk bullshit and witness a bizarre sighting involving a Segway. It was all fun and inspiring and motivating and really really great.
But more than anything, being at Book Passage again made me think about how far I’ve come in two years—all that’s changed and all that will change.
It often doesn’t feel like I’m going anywhere with my writing. I send queries I never hear back from, labor for months over the few articles I do get published. But being back there reminded me that, yes, there’s been progress in the last two years. It may not be as fast or dramatic as I’d like, but there’s still slow-but-steady movement in the right direction. Two years ago, I didn’t even have a piece to submit to Tim’s workshop, let alone something that would land me a seat in it.
My life is also different. Two years ago, I was still waiting tables full time; the idea that I could partially support myself freelancing was a far fetch. Let alone the idea that I could, oh say, move out of the city I’ve lived in my whole life and expat myself to Cambodia to work on a book.
But beyond even that, all that, my internal life is perhaps what feels the most different—the shift that’s made all the other, more tangible changes possible. When I attended the conference before, I felt awkward and paralyzingly shy; I barely talked to anyone. This year, I kept finding myself chatting and hanging out and genuinely enjoying myself, not feeling that anxious what-are-people-gonna-think-of-me twist in my stomach.
Andrew McCarthy was the keynote speaker on Saturday night, and he said something that made me snap to attention: “I feel like a better version of myself when I travel.”
I used to say the exact same thing. Almost verbatim. Perhaps even on this blog. And I realized in that moment that I don’t feel that way anymore.
Somewhere in the last two years, the chasm between my Home Self and my Travel Self has shrunk. I don’t feel dramatically freer, more open and alive on the road. I don’t feel that curious paradox of being more at home away from home, more comfortable where I fit in the least, less lonely when I travel sola than when I’m sitting in the middle of my own life. There’s less of the longing, the craving, the fantasy and the distance.
Somewhere in the last two years, the two versions of myself have moved closer together—if not becoming one person, becoming almost one person. And holy shit!—I think I might even like that person. Or at least be able to live with her.
Most changes I experience happen gradually, over time, so slowly it takes something external to remind of how it used to be. Attending the Book Passage Conference again was like that: the perfect book end.
I feel like a little bird ready to fly the nest—the carpeted, crisp-shelved, strip-mall nest of Book Passage, past that big green mountain and over an ocean into a whole lotta unknown. And, with the sun finally down and this finally written, I also feel ready to crash out.