Posts Tagged 'travel writing'

Three Year Bloggiversary, Two Weeks Late

Party time. Clearly.

The three-year anniversary of this blog snuck up on me. Which really it didn’t; the “domain expiring” warnings kept appearing at the head of every page until, two days before the whole shebang was to be shut down, I finally renewed.

I debated doing some reflective post about what’s happened to me in the three years since I started this thing, when I was about to leave on a trip to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, my first sola backpacking trip in a few years. I thought about doing some list of things I’ve learned, clips I’ve garnered, other writers I’ve connected with, favorite posts, most popular posts, blahblahblah. But the laziness got the better of me (you noticed how infrequently I’ve been updating as of late?) and I decided to let the anniversary come and go without any fanfare. Cause who really cares anyway?

Then good old Pam Mandel at Nerd’s Eye View wrote me, asking for a pithy quote about travel blogging to be included in her TBEX workshop on creative travel story telling. I was honored but a bit baffled; the folks over at TBEX are doing good things, but their things seem to be on an entirely different end of the spectrum than my things, with different goals and objectives and measurements of success. I frankly didn’t think I had much of value to say to them.

But I gave it a good think, as I cruised around town sucking exhaust and sunlight and other carcinogens. This is what I came up with—far more than the pithy quote requested, but my unfiltered, unadulterated thoughts of travel blogging, gleaned from my three years in the mix.

It was actually quite nice to sit down and get them out. I debated crafting this, or at least even editing it, into a proper post, but again with the laziness. So, a little cut-and-paste action:

I think I’m kinda a strange person to give advice on travel blogging, since I don’t have a terribly successful travel blog. I mean, my stats are decent (I think, I haven’t ever thought to compare them to anyone else’s), but I’ve never made a dime off my blog or gone any press trips. Or even been offered any press trips. Or offered anything besides link swaps and vague “business transactions” that are probably money laundering scams. Nor have I really tried to get those things, so there you go.

My background is in literary writing and I think that’s really shaped my approach to blogging. I think of my blog as an electronic zine. Does anyone remember zines? Collaged, Xeroxed, DIY affairs? I used to make them in high school, sell them at local book stores and record shops or else just directly out of my backpack. Mmore than anything I made zines in order to get my voice out there, in order to be heard—because there was something in me that could not be still (to paraphrase Sylvia Plath), that compelled me to write and publish, and the only means available to do that for a 15-year-old kid in public school was a zine.

I started my blog almost exactly three years ago; non-fiction was a new genre for me and no one was gonna publish my work. Largely because it wasn’t very good yet. But there were still things I wanted to say, conversations I wanted to start or be a part of, questions and insights I wanted to share, so I went back to my DIY roots and started blogging. It’s really not so different for me, just a more expedient, less messy and time-consuming version of what I did as a teenager.

Maybe that’s not encouraging, but blogging has given me a lot of intangible rewards. One, it keeps me writing regularly, even if it’s just a short, funny thing I whip out in less than an hour. Blogging has also shaped the way I travel and even live. It’s kinda like keeping a daily gratitude list; because I’ve been doing it for so long, there’s a part of my brain that’s always on the lookout for something to blog about. Keeping a blog has provided me with a reason to do things I normally wouldn’t, because they’re expensive or hard or weird; for instance, I was able to justify flying to a random town in Southern Italy for a street art festival, where I had one of the funnest weekends of my life and met someone who’s become one of my closest friends. Blogging has also put me in touch with other writers and helped me build a community of like-minded individuals (again, not so different from zine-making).

Perhaps the most gratifying thing, as I move more and more into publishing, is having the space to write exactly what I want to write. I don’t have to worry about editors or marketability or anything on my blog; I can say totally and 100% what I want to say. Strangely, I think that’s where the “success” of my blog comes from, if you can say there is any. I’m convinced that the most important and precious thing a writer has is his or her own voice. The craft can be learned, and should be learned, must be learned—but the thing that makes great writers great (at least the ones I love) is the strength and conviction of their voice. No one wants to hear the same old stuff, the nicey-nice. Or maybe they do, but there isn’t any longevity in that. When I read, I want to feel something. I don’t even necessarily want to agree with the writer; sometimes it’s better when I don’t. But I want to believe them, if that makes sense.

Of course, it can be a trap, self-publishing. It’s easy to fall into a groove where all you get is “wow, that was great” feedback; where you’re not getting any constructive criticism that pushes you further and deeper; where you become mad self-reflexive and exist inside your own little feel-good world. (“There’s a reason people such as Miss Quinn publish in the zine format,” a Letter to the Editor of my first published piece proclaimed. “They lack the talent to do anything else.”) And I’ve definitely felt myself falling into that at times. It’s a fine line to walk, between utilizing the rejection and criticism of the publishing/literary world to help yourself grow as a writer, and comprising your voice to that world; and similarly between using your blog as a platform for unrestrained self-expression, and using it as a masturbatory oversharing sesh. I think exactly where that line is is different for all of us, but it’s crucial that we each identify that line and stay mindful of that line, traverse it like tight-rope walkers and use that community we’ve built as our safety net.

None of which may be very good travel blogging advice, but is nonetheless what I’ve gleaned from my three years blogging, seventeen years self-publishing and twenty-five years writing.

Now gimme my party hat and my cake.

How Hip-Hop Saved Me In Cairo

So. On my way to Cambodia I went to Cairo. (No, it’s not actually “on the way.”) I went with a lot of expectations and very little planning—pretty much a sure-fire way to ensure disappointment. It was really hard and kinda sucked. Until the last night.

You can read about it here. And then repost it, tweet it, tumble it, whatev. Cause that’s how we do.


Bones In The Dirt, Best Women’s Travel Writing and Thank Yous

So… this is big news:

“We are interested in including your story ‘Bones Surfacing in the Dirt,’ in our forthcoming book, The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 8, to be published in April 2012.”

Which is great for a number of reasons, perhaps chiefly that it delivers a boost of encouragement just when I need it most.

Some of you may remember the crowdsourcing I did on IndieGoGo a few months back, raising funds to help me move to Cambodia and extend my Glimpse project into something book-length. Some of you may have even kindly contributed. And some of you may be wondering what the hell is going on with the project and when the hell you’ll be getting your postcard/zine/etc.

Well, answer number one is that a lot depends on the Cambodian postal system. Haha. But a lot has been shifting and taking shape for me in terms of my project, and I was waiting for official word from the BWTW folks to write an update.

It was a year ago now that I first came out to Cambodia. I thought I was here to write about someone else’s tragedy, someone else’s story. But the more I worked on the “Bones” piece, the more I realized that the story I had to tell was much more my own than I’d thought.

And I guess you could say the same’s true this time around, with this project. I most definitely still plan on writing something book-length, and I most definitely still plan on writing it about Cambodia. But over the course of my 4+ months here, the focus has begun to shift. I’m still super interested in the long-term effects of the war, on trauma and the ways it affects both individuals and a society. But I’ve realized that’s only one of the fascinating stories out here. Or rather, it touches on all the fascinating stories, is like a kind of thread between everything.

It gets draining, all the Khmer Rouge talk. It’s mostly among the foreigners. As one friend says, there’s a certain breed of expat here who’ll chalk everything up to Khmer Rouge—any problem or quirk or peculiarity in the culture.

It’s both true and untrue, both a legitimate reason and a scapegoat for all the country’s problems: “the war just ended.” But when you put that beside the general silence of Cambodians, it’s an uncomfortable contrast. And not one I’m sure I want to participate in.

But that’s not the only thing going on here. It’s a crazy intense confusing place, utterly confounding for a Westerner—and it’s modernizing super rapidly. There’s construction all over the city; there’s people getting kicked off their land to make way for foreign-owned development projects; there’s millionaire pedophiles getting royal pardons and dodging extradition; there’s human trafficking and sexpats; there’s shady NGOs and fake orphanages; there’s all the wayward foreigners that wash up on the country’s shores—myself not excluded. (Because no one ends up here on purpose; we’ve all got a fucking story—a deep inhalation and a “Well…” If we lived in Paris or Rome, that would be the reason: we’d be in fucking Paris or Rome. But we’re in Cambodia. We’re all a little wonky, some more than others.)

A journalist friend here was complaining about his deadbeat staff. Cambodia is kind of the place were “Australian journalists go to die”—his words, not mine. He was talking about someone saying it’d been a slow day, and he’d said, “Bloody hell, this is Cambodia. Don’t tell me you can’t find a story—you can’t walk outside with tripping over stories.”

And it’s true. I’ve started to realize that, beyond just the war history and its effects, I wanna write about that: Cambodia, now, in this moment, and what it’s like being a foreigner here. Of course, the Khmer Rouge is a part of that—even if you hear about it ad nauseum, there’s no escaping the fact that so much of what I see everyday is a result of it. But that’s not all is is, you know? I guess it’s like childhood shit, friends of mine who survived fucked-up and horrific childhoods—it’s always kind of there, but it’s not all that’s there.

Is this making sense? Probably not, because the ideas are still forming. I’m definitely in observation mode—so much of what I wrote before was about those initial encounters with the country. Right now I’m just sitting back and watching; I feel like it’ll still be a good few months before I have anything of substance or value to say.

Which makes me feel a little unsteady, a little worried sometimes about the project and all. So the BWTW announcement came just when I needed it—like a little nudge, telling me I was on the right track. (I hope.)

On that very positive and celebratory note, I wanna give a shout-out to everyone who helped me get here—through love, support, encouragement, whatever.

Thank You to:

Hugh Bright, Eva Holland, Bailey Nichols, Stephen Beatty, Patricia Marquardt, Katherine Peck, Shana Breeden, Katherine Palau, Lileana Ayende, Joshua Samuel Brown, Meara Breuker, Melanie Westerberg, Shannon Purcell, Erin Gilmore, Ben Sturtevant, Ekua Impraim, Cheri Lucas, Carlo Alcos, “zwiebel16,” James Marquardt, Miranda Gibson, Aaron & Emily Quinn, Alicia Goode, Nhu Troung, Suki Khalsa, Mary Howe, Judith Tannenbaum, Beverly Quinn, Tracy Waugh, Sharon Bjornson, Morgan & Candice Tigerman, Sarah Menkedick, “Sam,” “Lynn,” “Lu,” “Hai,” and of course, Mom & Dad.

Thank you all so much for giving me a 1000 other little nudges.

“The River That Empties Into The Ocean”: Glimpse Piece #2

Wax refugees from Khao Lan

So. Finally, finally, nearly a year after I originally landed on this continent, the second piece for my Glimpse project was published. You can check it out here.

The piece depicts my trip to the Thai border, where I searched for the remains for an old refugee camp my friends’ family passed through. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ll recognize part of the journey. What I didn’t write about at the time—because I knew I wanted to save it for this piece—was the strangely fortuitous meeting that occurred after I’d returned to Cambodia, made entirely possible by this blog. (Hey, I still may not have monetized this thing, but at least I’m getting something out of it!)

With the publication of this piece, I’ve officially completed the Glimpse Correspondent program. As such, I was asked to write a few words about my experience. What I basically told him was how incredibly valuable the program was to me. Getting the clips was nice, getting a stipend was nice, but what it really came down to was the editorial guidance. Sarah hashed through some insanely deep-level edits with me, giving me the kind of feedback you usually have to pay a lot of fucking money for.

I was gonna come out here and do the project regardless—I’d already booked my tickets when I’d heard my project was accepted—but it would have ended up being a much different project if it hadn’t been for all the support and guidance I received. I think the process pushed me to grow a lot, both creatively and personally. And I secretly kind of doubt I’d be back out here now if that hadn’t happened.

So read up! It’s mega long, so grab some coffee and get comfy. Then tell me what you think—and what you for real think, not what you polite think. [Insert smiley face]

How Do You Write An Expat Blog, And Other Life Questions

Here's my terrace, for lack of a more relevant picture

So… you may have been able to tell by the infrequent and half-assed nature of my recent posts that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing here anymore. With this blog, I mean.

Well, okay, I guess my life too.

I know how to write a travel blog. Not a super successful monetized one, but the kind of travel blog I want to write. I know what kind of material to look for and write about: snippets, character sketches, first impressions, cultural clashes, bizarre moments—the other-worldly, almost out-of-body moments that travel affords, that I’ve been craving and chasing for years now. I can even write a good informative, service post from time to time, and not feel totally smarmy about it. And when I’m not traveling, I know how to write travel-themed posts that manage to be relevant.

But I don’t know how to write an expat blog.

I’ve been in Phnom Penh for a little over two months now. I’ve left the city once, for 2 days; I’ve got a couple little trips planned, including one to Malaysia over Khmer New Year. But for the most part, I’m staying put. I’m focused on establishing a life here—getting a job and friends and more furniture and houseplants, a routine and rhythm to my days. It’s not dynamic, exciting stuff; there’s no a big wow, must-see factor. It’s kind of just my life, and I’m not sure how to write about it here.

I’m not sure of a lot right now. I’m new at this—my first time being an expat. I’d always been intrigued by them, as a traveler. You could spot them, you know—the ease, the breeziness, the comfort with which they walked down the street, talked to vendors in the local language, went about their business with the kind of self-possessed air of a person reading a book on the train, when you just know it’s their commute home and they’re thinking about dinner or what TV show they’re going to watch or whatever—mundane shit.

Now I’m one of them, and there’s a lot of shit that feels mundane, uninteresting to write about. Which isn’t true, of course—it’s just that I don’t know how to write about it.

And I’d always wondered what expats thought of travelers. I’d talk to friends, whose feelings ranged from indifference to embarrassment; one girl I knew, living in Santiago, would avoid eye contact with other gringas, she wanted to badly to not to be associated with tourists.

But for the most part, for me, they seem to exist on this other plane, walking up and down the riverside in their flip flops and tank tops, and they kind of fade into the static of life here, right along with the construction noises and metallic audio recording of the egg vendors.

But it’s funny, cause sometimes I notice them, just kind of watch them, and it’s a strange, unexpected feeling that comes up. It’s not jealously, but a sort of wistful longing. They have a kind of structure, a context and definition: They are travelers. They are passing through. For the most part they have book ends for being here—return tickets and lives waiting, houseplants being watered by friends in their absence. They have closets, I imagine, where all those zip-off pants and Tevas will return to.

And for the first time, I don’t have that. I don’t have the security, the knowledge of a life that’s waiting for me somewhere. Here’s my life, but I’m not exactly sure what that life is yet. I’m discovering it, and it’s exciting and scary and lonely and exactly where I need to be right now.

But I don’t know how to write about that.

But inbetween-nees seems to be the theme these days. I’m 29: I’m not old, but I’m also not young anymore, and there’s wrinkles where there didn’t used to be wrinkles. I don’t know what clothes to wear; I’d go to shows back in the States over the summer, and the band would look like they were 12, and everyone would be young, so young, glowing with young in a way that seems ravaged and obscene. And not me.

But I’m not totally sure what “me” is anymore. Or I suppose I should say, where me fits in this new life, that has yet to form. It’s slowly taking shape—I can feel it and I have a faith, which might be a blind faith but is a faith nonetheless, that it’ll all gonna work out.

I just don’t know how to write about it yet.

Cities Like Boys: Vela and the New York Edition

So I’m a little late on this, but am stoked to tell y’all about a brand new venture I’m a part of: Vela.

The brainchild of ever-the-bad-ass Sarah Menkedick, Vela is a website that features the travel-related writing of six women. The site is a venue for women to write like women, and to define whatever that means ourselves—not to have to write in opposition to or in the style of the male-dominated publishing industry, just to do our own thing. “Written by Women”—check out Sarah’s spot-on manifesto for further thoughts.

I was beyond honored to be asked to be a part of the project. I’ve followed Sarah’s work for awhile, and she was the editor for my Glimpse project, so I was down to ride along with whatever she was scheming up. But the other ladies involved are just as awesome. Makes me wish we could have a meet-up or something, an anti-Sex-In-The-City lady date (no cosmos).

So the plan is that we publish one piece a week. This week was my turn. In “Cities Like Boys” I further the theme I touched upon in a blog post I wrote a few months back—how more and more, I relate to cities like people. In this piece, I focused on four cities that I feel like I’ve had relationships with. I made them boys, cause it was more fun that way.

So, furthering the theme (you can really get on a roll with this exercise), here’s a little epilogue—the New York edition:

JR eyes

You know, they say two things about New York—that he’s dangerous and that he’s rude. I’ve never found either to be true.

He’s a bit brusk, for sure—not all nicey-nice, and busy, always moving, defenses and filters and solid glass gleaming, to keep all the crazy out. But New York’s always been friendly with me, always eyed me kinda curiously—“You’re a different breed than we got out here”—the 21-year-old working student who hadn’t taken a vacation in four years; the vegan traveling with her brother, bleeding money; the girlfriend sleeping on the floor in Brooklyn, an apartment that shook like an earthquake when the subway rolled by; the 26-year-old couchsurfing with her best friend, a couple tattooed freaks. Toss in 2 day-long lay-overs, and New York’s seen me grow up in a way other cities hasn’t—the evolution of a traveler.

This time I came without maps or a guidebook or an itinerary, just left myself to the mercy of New York, and what that says about me now, I’m not sure.

But we’ve always been cool. And he’s got a sort of charm, you know, in all that toughness—the accent and the slang and the shit-talking and the posture—almost a kind of character he plays: the New York Guy.

And I’ve always been kinda enamored with it—a type of working-class macho we just don’t do on the West Coast. But it wasn’t until this time, this trip—curled up in the dim, light-shaft, perpetual-dusk of New York’s heart, an air mattress and the cling of old weed smoke—that I feel like I finally understood it.

It’s like a kind of persona he assumes—not an act, per se, but a version of himself he likes to present. And he turns it, not off and on (because it’s never all the way gone), but up and down, like a light dimmer, and I watched New York do that—on the street, in the subway, when some drunk bridge-and-tunnel guy was being a dick at 4am in the East Village—almost a type of defense: the New York Guy.

And it’s charming as shit. And I can’t help but laugh, and the Duane Reade clerks say, “Keep her smiling,” and New York says, “Yo, that’s that Cali smile”—and if New York were any other city, he’d say it with a wink. But he doesn’t.

Hey, it's a crappy iPhone 3 photo, don't judge

But then there’s this other side, that in all the previous trips I guess I’d only glimpsed. We took the train out to Roosevelt Island one night, broke into an abandoned small pox hospital, tromped through the dirt and gravel of a sleeping construction site towards the water, Manhattan like a glittering snow globe—a layer of glass and you can never quite touch it. It was still, and neither me or New York said a word for a moment. And then New York said, “Yo, this is like the Mercedes of trespassing,” and you both laughed. Then we rode the cable car back—up, up, beneath the belly of the bridge, steel wires quivering, and I thought how glad I was New York doesn’t get earthquakes.

And on the last night I curled up beside New York—started talking about my move and my project and without really meaning to, told New York about that gnarly shit that came up in Phnom Penh, that I’ve been too busy to think about the last few months but that I’ve felt sitting, waiting, watching, on the periphery of me.

And New York got real quiet, and it was only like a half hour later that New York said, “Yeah, I’ve got my own shit. And I think about it all the time.” I didn’t ask what that was—just listened and watched that other side, the one beneath the persona, unfold and open up—it all quivering under the veneer of “New York” like cable wires. I felt a monumental tenderness welling up in me, but it was a sad tenderness, because New York is something I could never quite touch, not then or now—not in 1 night or 5 days or 5 trips or nothing.

Because New York will ravage you. You’ll run with New York and pretend like you’re 22. You’ll eat dollar pizza and falafel and bagels, and you’ll drink 100 cups of battery-acid deli coffee. You’ll stay up till 4am, and when you wake you won’t be able to tell what time it is in the perpetual dusk. You’ll smoke on 7th-story fire escapes, and sneak up to Soho rooftops, and you’ll crunch through sidewalks of drunken miniskirts and food trucks, and you’ll be exhausted when you’re done—because you’re not 22, and you can feel the first chill of age rushing through you, an October breeze, and you’ll know that, won’t be able to forget that, even in all the fun and charm and “Yo, word?” of it—you’ll keep thinking of that song you listened to all goddamn summer: “You wanna get young but you’re just getting older.” And even New York can’t make you forget that. Or maybe he makes you think of it more.

But you can pretend for 5 days. And on the last day, the morning you leave, you’ll put on yesterday’s clothes and walk for coffee. You and New York will stand amid the trees, in front of a university neither one of you could afford, and you’ll give New York the biggest fucking hug you can; you’ll say thank you and you’ll mean it, fuck you’ll mean it.

And then you’ll flash that Cali smile, say something noncommittal, and you’ll walk away without looking. Because when you leave New York, it’s always best not to look.

Book Ends at Book Passage

Feedback from my workshop with Tim Cahill, featuring a personalized note to Jim Benning (World Hum) #donthatemecauseyouaintme

Brain-fried, bleary-eyed and so tired I feel like I’m on drugs, I’m sitting at my desk with the window open and forcing myself to blog. Partially because I’m going camping tomorrow and won’t be able to for a few days, and partially because I want to capture the excited ideas flapping around my head. But mostly because I can’t justify going to bed while it’s still light out.

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.

FAME Festival Pre-Coverage @ Hi Fructose

Remember those impulsive plane tickets to Italy I purchased a couple months ago? Well, the impetus for the irrationality was FAME Festival, an annual street art event that takes over the ancient ceramics town Grottaglie. Aside from overall dopeness, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the connection between street art and place—because what better way is there to explore a subject than to travel and write about it?

So I’ve been not-so-secretly trying to weasel my way in to writing for arts and culture publications. I’ve managed to work my way on to Hi-Fructose’s blog, with some pre-coverage here. Be sure to check in for updates as the event draws nearer!

Monetization Madness: Horn Players, Slam Poets and Why I Turned Down an Opportunity to Make Money on My Blog

From Flickr, not my stats

Yesterday I turned down an opportunity to make money on my blog.

Ridiculous, right? Isn’t that what every travel blogger wants? Isn’t it the dream that keeps us clicking fingers over keyboards and battling faulty WiFi connections around the planet: to fund our travels through a well-trafficked and heavily monetized blog? Click-throughs, AdSense, commissions. SEO and analytics and Top 100 badges. “Travel Blog Success,” “Monetize Your Blog,” “8 Steps to Building a Profitable Blog that Funds Your Travels.” Purchase an eBook, book a hostel, buy a flight. “Get advertisers contacting YOU.”

Well, I did. Without trying. And I shot them down.

It all happened, as most things do, via Twitter. A travel service that I actually have used and like contacted me wondering if I’d like to be a part of their “exciting new campaign.” “I’m hoping that we can create a relationship in which I email over exciting news, offers and competitions that (nameless company) has over the year so that you have some new content for your blog.” So, um, do you want to place ads or have me write posts related to your promotions on my personal blog? “The latter.”

It would have been easy and relatively painless. And also goddamn boring, both to write and to read. And if I wouldn’t want to read it, why would I want to put it up on my own blog? To improve traffic and make a little cash? I do contract work writing what is essentially marketing content for a trip-planning site. I pour hours into crafting pitches for sellable articles. I fucking wait tables. Why am I gonna compromise on the one place, the one thing, that’s really mine?

It sounds snarky, but that’s really just a defense mechanism for feeling unsure of my direction and a little jealous. Why jealous? Because if your goal is a have a successful and profitable travel blog, the trajectory is much more clear, much more linear: write on these topics, have a couple give-aways and contests, become an expert in something, brand yourself—get in where you fit in and get paid. There’s nothing wrong with that; being self-supporting through a blog is actually pretty bad-ass. It’s just that, when I browse through the most trafficked travel blogs, I realize that they’re (for the most part) not doing what I want to be doing. Which, I’m beginning to suspect, is write first-person narrative inspired by travel.

Trip-planning has its place. When I’m getting ready to go on a trip, I want to know what to pack and what buses to take and Top 10 tips and Top 10 undiscovered gems and Top 10 Top 10s. But that’s not what I want to write, not where my heart is. The travel blogs that I love and read regularly aren’t the most popular ones; they’re narrative-driven, thought-provoking and literary.

My blog is still young, in utero, 9 months old and dreaming fetal dreams of personage. “What kind of readers do you want to attract?” a friend of mine who’s helping me redesign my site asked months ago. “What are people coming to your blog for?” I’m starting to figure it out. And ads and stats don’t have much to do with it.

When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time doing Poetry Slams. The spoken word scene was popping off, Bay Area underground hip-hop was at its height, and every kid who could string a rhyme was taking to the stage. I took after-school workshops with an excellent literary non-profit and performed what felt like once a week. But I wasn’t a Slam poet. I couldn’t beat box, couldn’t freestyle (unless I was seriously faded), wasn’t a performance artist. I read Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski; instead of quoting Mos Def in my pieces, I quoted William Burroughs.

I learned, early on in that, to be okay with what I was. And that the kids that got all the applause and won all the competitions weren’t producing work that was necessarily any better or worse than mine—just different. A lot of it was bullshit, and a lot of it was really good. I met kids that weren’t into the scene of it all, but loved writing—kids I still keep in touch with and whose work I still respect. I’m immensely grateful to have been a part of that community, even if my own addiction-drenched lyrical poetry didn’t ever fit in, prompted more raised eyebrows and dead silences than standing ovations.

I’m finding myself again in the same situation. There’s a lot of great travel blogs out there, and I’ve “met” a lot of great writers. There’s really this awesome, supportive community out there, and I’m glad to be a part of it, however tangentially. But again, as usual and as always, what I’m doing and my vision of where I want to go doesn’t align with the dominant trend—isn’t raking in perfects 10s and bringing down the house. And again, I’m learning to be okay with that, and to stay true to myself.

When I was a teenager, amidst all the Slam Poetry woo-hah, I saw a documentary about Wynton Marsalis. He was talking about being a childhood prodigy, how he’d learned some fancy trick that horn players are hip to but audience go nuts for. He did it at a show and the crowd lost their mind and he basked in the thunder of their adoration.

After the show, on his way home, his dad was real quiet. Finally, he said, “Son, if you play for applause, that’s all you’ll ever get.”

I’ve kept that one with me all these years. And I’m still not performing for applause—or writing for advertisers.

Lady Love: Digging In to the Blogroll

Thank you, Flickr, for another gem

I’ve got a long Blogroll. What can I say?—I gotta lotta love.

Recently, I’ve seen some fellow bloggers do posts breaking down their favorite blogs. I was honored to be included in both Abbie Mood and Nancy Harder‘s lists, along with some really great writers I often read.

These posts got me thinking: I should really call out some of my own favorites. Many of my go-to blogs aren’t as widely read as I think they should be, and this’ll serve as a chance for me to give an extra shout out to some deserving, ass-kicking writers.

So I’ll start with the ladies. Five of my absolute favorite lady travel bloggers are…

Click Clack Gorilla

I’m not sure how I discovered Nicolette’s blog, but I’m stoked I did. This girl is old school, a DIY, dumpster-diving punk currently living in a house without heat in Mainz, Germany. She writes killer prose about digging around abandoned buildings, au pairing, living on the cheap and trying to keep warm through the winter. What I love about this blog is that it’s something different—utterly non-corporate and unapologetically  its own. It reminds me of the kind of writing the filled zines I’d find at the old Lookout Records. Thanks for keeping it real, lady.

Girl, Unstoppable

I’ve been following Ekua’s blog for awhile, so I was excited to see her get some big-time props from the folks over at Matador recently. The blog’s title says it all: Ekua is an adventurous lady who writes from a Bay Area perspective about her travels around places like Ghana and Bolivia, as well as her life here in San Francisco. One of my favorite features of her blog is travel quotes, especially this one, from a kid she works with—priceless! Despite living just across the Bay, and talking about it for months, Ekua and I haven’t been able to get it together to hang out yet. One day…

Kanitha Heng

Kanitha’s self-titled blog is a well-kept secret that shouldn’t be. Her stuff is seriously off the hook. She’s an engaging, provocative American writer currently chronicling her travels through her parents’ homeland, Cambodia. Her prose is both unafraid and tender, exploring cultural chasms and haunting histories. Kanitha’s writing consistently blows me away. Get on this shit, y’all.

Posa Tigres

Okay, so technically it’s a joint blog between Sarah, who does the writing, and Jorge, who does the photography. It’s quite the dynamic duo, and Sarah’s writing is some of my favorite out there. She doesn’t water shit down, or shy away from tough subjects—case in point, one of my favorites of hers, about the cultural implications of taking a Dia de los Muertos tour. She writes about living in Oaxaca with her boyfriend—beautiful prose that’s not nuggetized or easily digestible. Get ready to think.

The Mija Chronciles

I started reading Lesley’s blog a few months ago, enraptured by the photos, recipes and, most of all, her sumptuous descriptions of regional Mexican food. She’s currently living in Mexico City with her husband, and writes not just about food, but Mexican culture and the expat life. She’s a solid writer with journalistic credentials, and her tweets about what she’s cooking constantly get me salivating. She once casually invited me to come down to Mexico City for a foodie tour. What she doesn’t know is that I totally plan on taking her up on it one of these days…

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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