To hear this blog read aloud by Tresha Haefner, click the triangle below or go to this YouTube Video
Nothing tells you how much you need to write like being confronted by a new place.
When my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Alaska, I made the mistake of leaving my notebook at home, on purpose. I was “on vacation” I told myself. Writing was “work” and I wanted to stop working, stop writing, stop editing for a week in order to focus on relaxing, loving the man who had just put a ring on it, and gaining back the weight I had lost before the wedding by eating fudge. Leaving my journal at home proved to be a pretty stupid idea. Alaska is stunning. Full of exotic nature and unusual landscapes – oceans teeming with friendly sea life, steep rock faces dotted with mountain goats, and the desolate moonscapes of glaciers compactly frozen hundreds of yards under foot. Every day I saw something that wanted to be written down – otters swimming in the mist of Resurrection Bay, eagle-eyed Eagles resting on their rock’s peak, blissful Dall’s porpoises roiling through the surf of our boat. Plus, in my newly wedded status I had all these new feelings I wanted to record, process, and keep track of.
A second reason I should have kept writing was that Alaska is… how do I put this… really quiet. After you’ve looked at all the scenery, sailed the tributaries, pointed at the eagles and eaten the salmonberry jelly, the only thing left is space. A vast surplus of space. More space per capita than any state you’ve ever seen. That much space quickly starts clearing brush in the mind and I found myself with very little to do but daydream, feel my feelings, and wish I had brought more paper.
By the third day, I found myself rising before my husband (my husband, my husband, my husband) and sneaking down to the breakfast lounge to drink a pot of coffee alone, and write about Alaska’s wondrous sights in very small print on the back of my breakfast napkin. Salmon carcasses decaying into the lakeshore, red tundra weed blowing in the breeze. The splish sound of sea life breaching the cold, cold water. The ripples from our paddles dipping in and out of the bay as we kayaked through the surf. After that, I felt better, authenticating these memories with my pen.
And that’s when I realized what my writing means to me. Why it is necessary. Like eating or washing behind my ears, the need to write does not go away when I go on vacation. It increases. It helps me navigate my life, the changing landscapes of my journey. It helps me remember and expand those memories into meaning. It helps me explore the outer regions of the world and to traverse the inward jungle, growing at a million miles per minute. When I see something new outside myself, it shakes something new inside myself and I need to pick it up, examine it, write it down and take it home like a souvenir.
Since then, I’ve written copious passages on weekends and holidays while traveling to the desert of Borrego, Del Rey beach in Florida, the suburbs of Colorado, the lusciousness of Molokai Island in Hawaii – everywhere. Traveling allows me to open up in a way I can’t do at home. Not only am I filled with the sensory stimulation of a new place, but I’m also less encumbered by my daily routine, my habits, my ordinary thoughts about dishes and diets and what to buy my mother for Christmas. When I walk into a fancy hotel nobody knows that I don’t (usually) have the money for a fancy hotel. When I walk on the beach, in my swimsuit, nobody knows I am a visitor. Nobody will recognize me, or ask me to return a phone call, or remind me of my personal story, with its triumph and struggle for identity. When I travel, I am just a pair of eyes and ears, floating around this new landscape, writing down how the sights entertain my heart.
Travel creates a liminal space, a time and a place where you can grow, change, learn, invent or re-invent yourself. I can see things I’ve never seen, but I can also see things in a way I’ve never seen them. I can be as old and urbane as the Seine. I can be as fresh and wild as a new world warbler. Dumb as a rock. Happy as a cardinal. Fluid as the wind, unattached to this “Tresha” baggage I carry around Los Angeles. I put myself in a new state of mind – animal, vegetable or tourist. When I travel I can become anybody, and mainly who I want to be is a writer, sitting in a coffee shop, observing the native humans grazing in their natural habitat. Being on vacation is the place where I not only feel most safe for writing, but most inspired as well.
When I’m at home, writing can feel like work and it gets trying. Trying to be a professional. Trying to finish poems and blog posts. Trying to use my writing to make people love me, publish me, envy me, and pay me. In other words, I’ve been trying to get it right. Write.
But on vacation, I get to experience writing in a different way. Writing is for me. Writing is a way to record what I love, put my challenges in context, open exciting ideas, take time away from the hustle and bustle to get clear, get centered and get real. When I write on vacation I don’t think, really, about trying to write “something.” I don’t try to finish a poem, or work on my book, or do anything well at all. I just sit down and put pen to paper as images and thoughts flow through me. I write for fun, for beauty and to celebrate. As Whitman says “I celebrate myself, I sing myself,” and I embrace the new world I am in, supplying lyrics to the melody that surrounds me.
This is my advice to those of you taking vacation: use it to get reacquainted with your real writer self. Don’t just get away from home; get away from the pressure of being good, of accomplishing or finishing, and dive into it from the pure joy, freedom, even the downright laziness of being on vacation. Make yourself a pure channel of discovery and write the world that only you can see. The porpoises deserve nothing less.