I haven’t written much about why I decided to come back from to the States after traveling throughout Europe and a bit of the Middle East for only four months. It was supposed to be an indefinite adventure, but there was something pulling me back toward the land of my birth.
Travel is not always about exterior exploration; an inner journey begged acknowledgement. I felt not only a lack of community, but also a void in purpose. Traveling for the sake of itself was no longer sufficient. It’s a strange realization when you’re staring at a magnificent place of worship built by the Ottoman Empire, or watching the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky, or kayaking past a castle with the Alps looming in the background, and still contentedness eludes you.
For months, I had drowned the stories within me. They boiled with anger, rose up in protest, and somehow, I managed to submerge them with the brute force of a noxious mind. It was as if I was watching myself from someone else’s balcony, unnerved, wanting to intervene, but somehow too frightened to confront the saboteur I had become.
Stories are my life. Before travel, before Latin America, UCLA, animal advocacy, learning new languages, and all of the other things that have given purpose to my life, there was the art of the story. I hid within the pages of books when my present situation was too lackluster to endure (reading Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater during the humdrum of senior History class), and scribbled in notebooks until the pain in my hand dulled that which raged in my heart (saving me from the heartache when all of the flowers had wilted and my last grandparent- my paternal grandmother, the only one with whom I’d identified and somehow made my existence acceptable- died).
I am a writer. I don’t know how to navigate life without stories. And yet the days continued, coagulating and morphing into one thick, murky mess. I continued to walk the foreign streets, photograph the beautiful oddities, paste a smile for the selfies, gulp the endemic libations, have a laugh with the locals about global or political absurdities, and keep my journal pages naked and ugly as a hairless cat.
I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed options. And then I remembered a friend’s suggestion when were attending TBEX in Spain the previous year- a travel writing conference north of San Francisco. She said that I needed to go. Not that I would like it, or have fun, or any of those frivolous ways we express activities that take up our time and dull our minds. To get where I wanted to be in life, in my career, this was a necessity.
But I didn’t make it a priority. August of 2015 came and went and I found myself sleeping on a couch in Portland for $300 a month, still teetering between making it as a blogger (something I never really wanted to do) and actually pursuing what was pulling me- travel writing.
Sitting in my hotel room in Istanbul, the air conditioning blasting and the dramatic voices of a Turkish soap opera buzzing in my ears, I decided I would go. I would return to a hometown I hated and do whatever was necessary to show up to this conference, and also to show up for myself.
Candace said it would be magical. Don said it might change my life. Larry said I would laugh and also cry. All of these things (and many more) manifested in truth. Book Passage’s Travel Writers’ and Photographers’ Conference, and all of the beautiful souls that were present, gave me the compass to life that, somewhere out on the road or within myself, I had lost. The word “gratitude” has never seemed so feeble.