(As promised, here’s the end result of my Hoffman exercise focusing on the rhythm of writing)
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
The airport is as busy as a beehive, cars come and go, passengers get out or get in, their suitcases following dutifully. Electric air. Those suitcases tell a story, brand new or beat up, color coordinated or borrowed, with tags for identification and ribbons to distinguish them from the herd, imprints knotted and stickered onto their rough and roguish surfaces. Tickets and passports peek out from pockets already bulky with mysterious contents. We take with us what we can’t live without, or what we can’t imagine leaving behind. We need it all.
I grew up, in fits and starts – alone and sometimes unattended – traveling, first along the highways and byways of the American west, and later by planes and trains and even the occasionally ferry. Always on the move.
Before I’d reached the age of three, I’d already glimpsed Joshua trees out of the curved back window of a midnight blue VW bug. Pavement flying fast underfoot. Although I’ve always loved the beach – with its azure sea and warm, embracing sand, sea gulls squawking as they glide over seals and otters poking heads through tangles of sea weed – the desert was my first destination.
As a teenager – awkward and shy with an abiding love of new wave music and black eye liner, a get-up at odds with my secret desire to some day blossom into a central coast version of Gidget – Europe beckoned. I was seduced. All that history, the museums, the literature, the great rivers (the Seine! The Thames! Stratford-upon-Avon!), and the poetic Cliffs-of-Dover. I thrilled. Tramping across patriotic fields of poppies, romance and adventure beckoned with promises of royal intrigue, rich melancholy and just the slightest touch of class. I drank it in. One great gulp.
When I graduated from college, with a shaky major, a shakier future and a stable job as a hotel desk clerk at an Inn approximately 2 miles from my house; my aunts and uncles made sure – through gifts and morale support – that I finally made it to Chile. Tickets and cash can get take you anywhere. And so I discovered the land of my ancestors in that cradle of Latin American prosperity. Highways and high-rises. Quiet beaches and an overstuffed capital…the final explanation of every family quirk, habit and predisposition.
To this day, when I look back to the time I wore baby-doll dresses with Doc Martens and listened to Nirvana nonstop, one golden summer stands out – oddly devoid of rain, and full of a heat that can sometimes still reach out from the past and comfort my cold bones – the three months I spent in sunny, cheery Ireland, roaming from Dublin to Kilkeny to Blarney Castle, gripping pints of Guinness in my greedy paws, lazing with half eaten sandwiches in St. Stephens Green, and wondering how I could turn this memorable summer into a permanent way of life. I never figured it out. But I still try.
Mexico, land of salt and tequila and inexpensive silver jewelry battles with Canada, neighbor to the north who’s charming inhabitants are not quite us, but not quite strangers: both are easy to get to, but I often overlook them – distracted by desire for the exotic, the different, the final piece of a puzzle I’ll never complete – and so they fade out when I recount my travel tales, recollected only when I glimpse a photo of a 20-something trip to Rosarito Beach. I remember staring down at the rain slick streets of Toronto from the 20th floor of a high-rise hotel: melancholy, but electric with desire. I didn’t know what to do, but something surely must be done. I was paralyzed.
The unsolicited invitation – offered up in a telephone call that flashed a local area code followed by the words “Govt of Israel” on my caller ID – to Israel, land of milk and honey (and hummus and baba ganoush), beleaguered hold out surrounded by surly neighbors and constant threats, oasis in a harsh desert, with scarce water resources and innovative technologies designed to protect and sustain its citizens through war, siege and apocalypse – was, to say the least, unexpected. A breathless yes and a quick plan developed. Then there I was. In the promised land.
And even though I can claim footsteps on three continents and a couple of islands, I want more stamps – in different colors, shapes and sizes, some embossed and others smeared with the heavy hand of the immigration officials stern hand – in my blue, battered and pockmarked passport. Spice it up with color.
In journals, bulletin boards – and a tiny corner of my brain – I carry a long and extensive list of the places, palaces and provinces I want to explore, investigate and visit. It grows with every checkmark.
I can see now, when I look back on my favorite moments in the world – whether it’s watching a leaf succumb to gravity on the dusty cobblestones of Soller or staring in awe at the twisted bones decorating an out-of-the-way chapel in Rome – I realize that while the Louvre is nice and the Coliseum requires an essay all its own, given the choice, I’d rather walk along the unexplored path, skip down shady lanes, and see the tiny corners most tourists never imagine. I want the details.
When I think of the perfect travel moment – the one that made it all worth while and lit that spark of desire to see the world and place my feet in the prints left by the explorers and investigators and writers before me – there’s a battle in my heart. The first contender is young and brave. A childhood full of scenes-from-a-road-tip: speeding along the interstate, cuddled with my cousins in the back of my parents’ red station wagon, singing songs and whispering secrets, wondering over the mysterious language uttered by the adults around us, squinting at each other through cigarette smoke. Don’t open that window! A tribe of children, absent-mindedly humming along to the Bee Gees on 8-track, making up our own words. Staying Alive!
But as a young woman a different memory emerges: I’m scuffing up my shoes on the cobblestones of Oxford, peering up at the moss covered stone while the tour guide drones in the background, and even though it’s the farthest thing from my “real life” and my true abilities, for a moment I can see myself there: in nubby cardigans with a book bag slamming against my hip as I navigate a big wheeled bicycle on and off sidewalks and down side streets on my way to class. I belong. Suddenly I imagine the possibility of feeling at home in another world. I crave more worlds, more possible lives, more realities, and infinite versions of myself. I still do.
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