Aug 15, 2013
03:12 PMArts & Entertainment
Rwanda and Actress Connie Britton's Hair? Literary Weave Buoys Connecticut Travel Writer
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What’s your writing process like?
I’ve always written, I’ve always been a writer, but I had 25 years of jobs. I really didn’t have the courage to do it for a living; I really felt like I had to go get a job and make a lot of money, or at least some money—have a regular paycheck and health insurance. But since I’ve become a writer full time in the past couple of years, I tend to be very project oriented. It’s almost like cooking a meal. It’s getting all the ingredients, getting all the parts together, and then being overwhelmed with all this stuff. And then you start saying, “Okay, you need to start with this part of the trip, you need to describe your dinner with this person.” So, it does kind of end up organizing itself. I find writing extremely difficult. You have to be okay with the fact that getting your seventh cup of tea, pouring out the previous cold cup of tea that you didn’t even drink, is really part of it. It’s just getting the electrons moving.
How did you transition from being a producer to writing full time?
I moved to the countryside! That was 11 years ago. I could finally do it—I sort of didn’t have any excuses anymore. I couldn’t continue my television career anymore. It was, “Here I am, it’s now or never.” Coming to it later in life is hard and I regret that I wasted so much time not writing. I lost a lot of years. Now, I have no time to waste. But I also think it’s made me very good at handling rejection. And there’s a lot of rejection. Twenty years ago I could not have taken it. So that’s sort of how I transitioned—I had a lot of things I needed to write about. And I think that’s what it was. The time was right.
Was it always your goal to be a writer?
Yes. Always. I always, always wanted to tell stories. I just really love words. I’m playing around with some of my old essays and putting together a travel memoir. I think the through line of this travel memoir will be: What is it that I like to escape when I travel? What is it, when I get there, that I will discover that brings me home?
What is something you’ve learned through travel? What is to be gained through travel?
It just has to be said: travel, for the most part these days, is hideous. Airports, security lines, the barbarian check-in. You have to pay for those lousy pretzels. Basically your knees are nailed to your face when you finally sit down on the plane. It’s very hard to glamorize that. As for other lessons, and what is to be gained … Human interaction is the same, and it doesn’t matter where you are. Joy and compassion register the same everywhere. Children are loved the same everywhere. There really is nothing to be wary about beyond common sense. I also think it’s really, really important to explore, to stay in the less popular neighborhoods—they’re usually cheaper anyway—to find your own little community. Like I said, you find your breakfast place, you find your pharmacy a person to greet in the morning. It’s not so much a sense of adventure to be gained, but just a sense of realizing that nothing should really keep you confined. The best things are going to be off the path.
Do you think that’s the best way to experience places authentically? What’s your advice on going somewhere and gaining an authentic understanding of that location?
I think again: solitude, or one adventurous companion. And just leaping a little bit. You go to Florence, the Duomo in wintertime or spring break, and there are a million American kids in North Face jackets. Yeah, you have to see the Duomo—but I would say, the best way to experience a place authentically (and save your money) is to just duck off the map and get lost. Try to find the restaurant that doesn’t have an English translation in the window. And realize that wherever you go, there will be people wanting to help you. You can ask anyone anything.
Is traveling alone something you had to get used to? What was your first solo trip like?
Now, I love being sort of disembodied from my life. I love discovering what I’m capable of, and it’s a relief to know how much you’re capable of when you’re a grown-up. It’s so easy to find your way around the world. It was different when I was younger —now kids travel alone all the time. But I think the first trip I took alone, I was flying from Moscow to Paris, the summer I graduated from college. That was fantastic. Back then there were no apps, you couldn’t just book a place online. I remember standing in the airport with one of those huge phonebooks, calling and calling and calling, and I couldn’t find anywhere [to stay]. I ended up staying in one of the most expensive hotels in Paris and paying for it with graduation money. [she laughs]. You do what you have to do; I couldn’t find room in a hostel or a hotel. I loved that feeling of independence. I still do.
How do you think technology has impacted the way you, and people in general, travel?
I think it’s affected it a lot. You can get directions. I think it’s making me a little stupider. Technology does a lot of your thinking for you. It can translate for you, it can orient you. But, it can keep you out of danger—you can always have a flashlight. Not to mention changing flights, checking in. I think that’s all really good. But for me, I don’t tend to post pictures when I travel. As a travel writer, I like to keep it to myself. If I’m posting where I am, I’m not letting the story sit with me. I like to come home and look at my notes—I take millions of notes—and that to me is always better than technology.
Also technology keeps you in constant contact with people. There’s the expectation that you’ll be tethered to your device and the people with whom you connect through it. And if you’re trying to escape your day-to-day …
I got a text when I was driving through Rwanda, and I just thought, “How can you really be immersed when your head is elsewhere?” I think that’s something we grapple with: how to be in the moment, the art of conversation, how to keep our distance.