I just learned about the Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test, as Bechdel prefers to call it to credit her friend, Ms. Wallace) from Andrea Lundgren’s recent blog post. This test requires in fiction or movies that 1) two women be present and named 2) talk to one another 3) about something other than a man.
I do find it intriguing to ask this question as I write my first novel about a young American unconventional horsewoman in the early 1900s. I have created as a part of the plot that Fiona, the main character, travel to India. There she interacts on various topics with her host in Calcutta, Amita, who becomes both friend and mentor to her.
Topics they discuss vary about Christianity, Quakerism, and Hinduism to questions about the social mores expressed in public Indian erotic art. The two women broaden their dialogues to include the value of education for women to the psychological foundations of women to chart their own adventures.
I am pleased to know my novel passes with flying colors. Fiona and Amita are “stars” in this regard.
What about your fiction? Does it pass the test, too?
The types are a four-part combination of four spectrums of likely thoughts, actions, behaviors that generate a personality type. These types are used to better understand ourselves and others, to improve communication between different types, and to work more effectively. But the types should not be used to label or box people into narrow definitions of self or others.
There were four possible pairs of personality traits:
Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
These four sets of dichotomies create sixteen personality types. A brief description of each can be found at The Myers-Briggs website.
INFJ and INFP are closely related because three of the indicators are the same INF.
Isabel Briggs-Myers, the daughter of Katherine Cook Briggs (the co-founders of the indicator index) says,
Good type development can be achieved at any age by anyone who cares to understand his or her own gifts and the appropriate use of those gifts.
Read Lauren’s insightful blog post to understand the increased likelihood that you (and I) as a writer will be an introverted (I), intuitive (N), and feeling (F) person who leans toward perceiving (P) or judging (J).
It wasn’t until I started coaching so many other Highly Sensitive People (who are also highly creative people, empaths, and intuitives) that I realized there is a very good reason so many of us have turned to writing as a lifeline.
Another way to revise our travel stories (or any story or scene) is to use the senses to describe the setting, the characters, and the action. Using the words “I smell…, we heard…, or you may taste…” is NOT the point. We can imply the senses by using rhythm with our words or utilizing descriptors that convey the sense itself.
The interior room, used for yoga class at the Red Buddha Yoga and Wellness stands rather zen-like. The space feels quiet and serene, much like a chapel. Reverence for the body, the yoga poses, the breath. The stillness massages the nerves of my skin.
The other yogis arrived this morning for the same experience I’m expecting. We are greeted by a massive red-and-yellow bouquet, incense curling in the air, and lemon water to sate our thirst.
We adore Meg and her soft, lilting voice keeping time with the music while lightly snapping her fingersto the inhale and exhale. That musical voice of hers takes us into, through and out of each yoga pose.
Meg, the golden-headed goddess, lithely floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife, birthing her thousandth asana. We follow the motion, the hold, and the releasewith ease.
The chamber sits with a cool, bare floor. It is wall-to-wall empty, but ready, waiting for the birth of Nirvana. With nothing to impede our progress, the breath-beating music relaxes us, Meg’s entranced voice focuses us, and we move to the breath that entrains us together.
Feel the difference? See the richness of the prose? Grasp a sense of the place, of Meg the instructor, the experience? Do you understand the yearning for a place like this by the participants?
Then you know the value of writing with our senses.
I offered a flow writing activity. 1) Describe a memory from a notable trip. 2) Before writing, prime the pump (brain) with six words that convey feelings about the memory. 3) Then write fast and wild and free without stopping, editing, or rethinking. I allowed them about eight minutes and called time.
I’ll share my timed, flow writing as an example that I wrote during the last three minutes of their writing. Here I write about the new yoga studio I visited on Isla Mujeres this year.
Feelings: calm, quiet, dark, serene, zen, meditative
Flow Writing Example (think-rough draft)
The new indoor yoga studio is rather zen-like. It’s quiet and serene, like a church. Reverence for the body, the movement, the breath. The others are there for the same. We love Meg. Like a goddess, she floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife — birthing her first one-thousandth baby or asana. The space is sparse, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. Nothing to impede our progress. The music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the joy of the breath.
Next I suggested a three-step revision process to illustrate that our first draft is never what we want it to be.
Look for any noun that is general and make it more specific. If you have written the word “car,” now replace it with a make or model, Lexus or F-150.
Strike every verb that is not an action verb (was, had been, would have been), and rewrite it so you use an active, powerful, explicit verb. (My example will show what I mean below.)
Then add at least one simile or metaphor to give the reader a deeper understanding of what you are describing.
The interior room at the Red Buddha Yoga Studiostands rather zen-like. The space feels quiet and serene, much like a chapel. Reverence for the body, the yoga poses, the breath. The other yogisarrived this morning for the same experience I expected. We adore Meg and her unique skill of guiding us through yoga poses. Meg, the goddess, golden and lithe, floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife, birthing her one-thousanth asana. The chambersits with a bare floor wall-to-wall, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. With nothing to impede our progress, the music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the breath that entrains us.
From this example, I hope you can see how using a few emotion-packed words before writing focuses the brain on the outcome of a description you want to write. Allowing the mind to write freely without the “editor” stopping or slowing you, gets words on the page from a travel experience.
Then a simple revision of replacing general nouns and passive verbs with specific, precise and meaningful substitutions can bring the writing to life. Add a simile or metaphor for color and interest.
Do you have other simple ways to edit your work to make it more dynamic and readable?
Ira Progoff’s “Stepping Stones” Journal Writing Exercise
Stepping Stones is a journal writing exercise developed by Ira Progoff. He conducted research about how individuals develop more fulfilling lives. In his role as psychotherapist, he found that clients who wrote about their life experiences were able to work through issues more rapidly. Through this research, he then developed and refined the Intensive Journal Method to provide a way to encourage the processes by which people learn, grow, and develop as individuals.
I have adapted his Stepping Stones process to use in reflecting on your travels. It is particularly useful in writing a memoir or learning to explore the world more intentionally. Give it a try!
Stepping Stone Activity #1
Make a list of what happened during a memorable event or series of events during a past journey. Use short sentences to convey what occurred. Begin the list with your starting point. “I am packed and ready to go.” Here is my list from a trip I made when I was twenty-seven to the United Kingdom in 1980 with everything on my back and no plans. (If you are interested, read my coming-of-age, travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.)
I am packed and ready to go.
I arrive in London.
I find hospitality with M&M.
Hospitality turns caustic.
Take train north toward Scotland
Stay lost in Edinburgh
Enjoy the magic of Isle of Skye
Regret the turbulence of schedules
Relish the oasis of York
Relax in the calm of Wales
Plagued by disappointment in schedules
Headed to London and home
Stepping Stone Activity #2
Now choose one of those events and list stepping stones, as Progoff calls them. Using the four functions that make a complete experience, recall your responses (or stepping stones) in each category. The functional categories are: feeling (heart); thinking (mind); intuiting (spirit); and sensing (body). See my examples below taken from and using the bulleted item above, “plagued by disappointment.”
Disappointed in self
Questioning: How did I get in this mess?
Blaming: I should have known better than to travel without plans
Rethinking: I should have anticipated this. I should have considered traveling with a friend
Obsessing: I should have; I could have; I better not next time; Why, what, how? Now what?
It will get better. This can’t continue for another week.
Just keep going. It will get better.
If it doesn’t, I can go home early.
I’m tired of making decisions alone; I’m ready to go home.
My Achilles’ tendon is pulled taut.
The backpack seems heavier each day.
I’m exhausted; I no longer am rested when I wake up.
Stepping Stone Activity #3
Now review your lists above as a holistic view of that experience in your travels. Writing about an episode in time helps you recapture the journey that shaped your response, reaction, or reflection that may, in turn, have influenced your destiny. Start your summary with these words, “It was a time…” Writing can help you learn from a missed lesson; one you did not fully absorb; and/or guide you to be intentional in the future. See my summary as an example.
It was a time when my body was breaking down from the amount of walking and carrying weight with which I was unaccustomed. It was a time when train schedules fell apart because I didn’t know about national holidays. I was lonely with no one to help make a decision whether to stay or move on. I had wanted this trip to serve as another marker of independence. I had looked forward to it and now was so disappointed in myself—hoping for a good ending. I came to question every move I made or didn’t make. I obsessed questioning myself and berating myself for not being up to the adventure. I felt my confidence wavering and I felt defeated by one happenstance after another that wouldn’t let me enjoy the rest of the trip. I just wanted to go home. But being a never-give-up kind of person I didn’t want to give in. That was not the picture I had of myself. I decided to let the cost of going home or staying make the decision for me. That too didn’t work. It came out a wash. So, in the end, crying on a park bench in London I made the decision to go home. I wondered what people passing by must think of this crybaby. It was not the picture of myself I had in my mind when I left home.
You can see from the example of my troublesome trip that this writing exercise offered insight into myself. The trip had crippled my body and as a result my view of myself as a confident young woman striding through the world. I literally limped home early.
What this activity does not show is the pride I carried back with me, nonetheless, because I had walked the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I had accomplished it, though with a different end in mind.
Open your thesaurus; go to any letter in the alphabet. Pick words from that letter that prompts questions that may help you think about your characters, plot, setting, dialogue, actions, emotions, and especially tension. Then for every word, develop a question that can push you deeper into your story, hopefully building tension in your book, story, or scene.
I chose the letter “D,” because desire is the beginning of all tension. Your character wants something—whether it is an external goal, like the inheritance, the murderer, or a lover; or an internal motivation, such as confidence, freedom, acceptance, or maybe to be understood by someone. Desire can be dampened, dangerous, delayed, or denied. (Yeah, I’m leaning heavy on alliteration, but just in this one blog.)
See, I’m just playing around with words. Being playful is the heart of the creative process. Also, you can think of it as a working exercise in which you can use random words that will take you to unexpected, and yet productive, powerful places in our writing.
Here are the ones I pulled and the questions I drafted for each. The queries provide me tips, hints, and techniques that in turn give me ways to access new ideas for my novel.
Dilemma: What kinds of problems can I generate for my protagonist, Fiona?
Discord: Where can I create relationship issues between characters that make the story more complex and intriguing?
Draw (either stalemate or attraction): How can I bring in mistakes or misunderstandings that generate a stalemate? How can I illustrate the first attraction between characters and then continually enhance that attraction over time?
Denial = What element(s) in Fiona’s life can I deny her to thwart her primary desire, to gain acceptance from others when she’s unconventional?
Dream: How do I articulate Fiona’s dream or desire through action and dialogue?
Disaster: What natural disaster is logical and reasonable based on the setting and environment to add depth, complexity, and tension to the story?
Disappointment: How can I express disappointment through body language in various characters?
Danger: What dangers might my characters encounter that will force them to know themselves better?
Dire straits: What situations could I develop within the plot that create emotional tension and make characters have to fight for what they want?
Dogged problems: What problem(s) won’t go away; and therefore, continue to frustrate and inhibit Fiona in the pursuit of her longing?
Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. — E. L. Doctorow
FIND YOUR OWN PROMPTS
Replicate the exercise, or use my example as a launching pad. Plunge in and find the questions you need to answer for your story or scene. It can aid you in writing fiction, your memoir, a story, or a difficult scene.
What kind of success or struggles did you have with this approach? I’d like to hear from you.
“The stranger at the heart of my journey is me—transformed.” — Joseph Dispenza in his book, The Way of the Traveler (p. 97)
Dispenza suggests in his book that the people we meet in our travels can serve as mirrors of ourselves in what we portray to the world. Or these folks, whether strangers or not during our adventures, may contain qualities that we lack and wish we had. For our memoir, this is one way to gain insight that we need to write a more textured and full-bodied story of our life. So try this.
How to conduct the EXERCISE
Recall memorable folks from your travels. List three or four with names or descriptions, if you don’t know names. Then write characteristics of each. Examples might include; interesting, odd, cavalier, smart, engaging, irritating, or rude–whatever comes to mind. This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish we could call ours in our inner world. Now can you use these characteristics of yourself clarified as you write your next scene or story from your life and/or travels?
This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish was ours in our inner world. When you identify what these characteristics are from viewing the characters you encountered, now can you use these clarifications of yourself when you write your next scene or story.
In my memoir, At Home in the World, I encountered a pastor in Hawaii. As a seventeen-year-old girl, I saw him as intelligent, culturally insightful, and eager to share what he knew with me and other summer missionaries that were more than half his age. His tutelage grew out of his caring for others. He cultural take on the world was crafted from his Christian background.
Passage from my book, At Home In the World
I write about him, “Dr. Shiroma, as a Japanese Christian is an enigma. As a pastor, he is over-educated. He carries his history, culture, and language with him, yet he lives in another country with a history, culture, and language that have been antithetical to his own. Christ’s love has found a way around all that and claims it all.
“… He explains what happened to the Japanese post-WWII, tracks the trials of Hawaiian statehood, and illuminates interracial marriages that created an amalgamated Hawaiian culture. I learn words I may never get to use, like miscegenation and mulatto. …
“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology with us, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. More synapses in my gray matter, more connections in my white matter. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.”
Because I did not have this exercise available to me when writing my memoir, I did not make the most of this encounter with Dr. Shiroma. Here is what I could have done with passage and created a more nuanced memoir. (Maybe I’ll rewrite it.)
“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.
“Time spent with Dr. Shiroma opened my eyes to the diversity of the world outside of my small Arkansas town. I felt my heart open to the history of the Japanese in America. I felt the reality of different races intermarrying not as a problem, but a way to minimize our differences. This cultural idea, contrary to traditional views, shaped my future self and view of the world. I left Hawaii with an understanding of myself as a global citizen. Not as a Christian set apart (as some would have wanted it), but a Christian committed to making the world more open and compassionate.”
See how studying a significant person on one of my travels, helped me see myself more deeply? Something I might not have been able to do without insight from the exercise.
Have you tried something similar with simlar or different outcomes? Are you willing to try this and share your results? Let us know.
This is what we often tell ourselves–what I call myth bluster or misconceptions about our writing. And sometimes others imply it by their lack of interest in our work or a comment that sounds and feels negative to us. We must believe in ourselves and our ability to improve over time. Here is what we need to be thinking instead to bust previous myth bluster.
Myth Busters: If I write, I am a writer. If I don’t write well, I can learn to write better. Work makes wishes come true.
The truth is it is all a matter of perspective. We can tell ourselves a different story about our ability to write, and then start making progress. So put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Start writing what is on your mind or in your heart.
I’ll be offering some writing prompts in the near future. I hope they will be useful to you.
Here is another myth buster to previous thinking or myth bluster:
Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible.
Why go to a “travel journal writing retreat” while traveling? Why not? What better time? Why not here (Isla Mujeres, Mexico) and now (February 7)?
Get inspired to write your nightly notes or scribbled itinerary or captured conversations while in route. During the “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” workshop, discover new techniques to trap your memories on paper in words and sketches. Share your journal writing experiences with other travelers. Explore multiple journal writing tools and techniques to use, as well as identify topics you might not have thought to pursue.
You are on a break from your day-to-day routine. This is when you are more open to taking in new perspectives on your travel, your world back home, and/or who you are and want to become.
What better time?
Travel time provides the perfect circumstance for nourishing your creativity. You have more flexible time. Different scenery offers new outlooks. Various people (you might not otherwise spend time with) come and go temporarily from whom you can learn.
Why not here and now?
The Red Buddha yoga studio serves as lovely, soulful place for a writing retreat in Isla Mujeres, Mexico; February 7, 6-9pm. The three-hour workshop costs $50 USD (or equivalent pesos), a bargain for the fun of spending time with like-minded folks and for the years of enhanced journal writing experiences you will log.
Transformative travel happens when …
sojourners anticipate, mentally rehearse, and build expectations for the future;
explorers experience places, people, and circumstance that challenge and test them;
adventurers return home with stories that have transformed their thinking, actions, and perspectives.
I invite you to go Candace Rardon’s website for her FREE e-book, “Travel Sketching 101” launch and giveaway. Even if you are not an artist, this is a lovely book with ideas for sketching–even for those of us whose artistic genius matured and ended in the third grade, like mine.
I tell you about this because I believe her instruction book can greatly enhance our travel journals with images. Visual images, like words, help us collect and retain memories in our travel journals.
REMINDER: I will hold a fun, interactive writing workshop on Isla Mujeres, Mexico entitled, “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” on Tuesday evening, February 7, from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Red Buddha yoga studio, #22 Juarez Avenue. You will get to write from 2-3 different prompts, share, practice writing with all six senses, and develop techniques, topics, and tools.
In the workshop, you will get to write 2-3 different entries from prompts given, share, practice writing with all six senses, and develop techniques, topics, and tools.
If want to take advantage of this unique opportunity while traveling for only $50 (or equivalent pesos), please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or complete the form below, as soon as possible to hold your place in the workshop. Pay on site.
Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing
I had always thought that travel books and travel writers were all about where to go and how to get there. “Been there, done it, got the t-shirt” mentality. But the following quote from Arthur Frommer dispelled my thinking.
“The only things that interest me are people and ideas. I love going on trips that shock me, where everything I believe in my religion, my politics, my social outlook is immediately challenged with diametrically different viewpoints.” – Arthur Frommer –
Frommer took his interest in people and ideas and turned it into an international travel business. His advice is one way to start thinking about the Travel Touchstones workshop, where we attempt to turn standard excursions into transformative travel.
How? Several ways.
Anticipate (play out in our mind or rehearse) what you may encounter and decide how you want to experience what lies in front of you. Often setting a ‘theme’ for your travel may be sufficient to help you get more from the journey into the world. What do I mean by theme? Choosing a cultural phenomenon, like the place of food in the French lifestyle, to investigate as you meet people, eat in restaurants, or shop in grocery stores. Or say, select something about yourselves you want to explore, like notice when you feel threatened, defensive, or uncomfortable and why.
Learn to pay attention to the little things. Use your senses to experience all there is along the way. Not just through the eye of the camera, but sounds and scents, textures and tastes. Note how children are viewed by the country’s culture. Watch for body language in place of verbal attempts. Put your brain and your senses on high alert to help you experience more than you typically would.
Discover what kind of journal writing tools you want and need for the particular journey, find journal writing techniques that make it fast and fun and fulfilling to write, and anticipate topics and themes you may want to pursue. With tools, techniques, and topics in your toolkit, you are ready to hit the road.
These are the three key areas that participants will explore in the upcoming “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” workshops.
Dates and Locations
Saturday, January 14, 1-4 pm; Kerrville, Texas
Tuesday, February 7, 6-9 pm; Isla Mujeres, Mexico, at the Red Buddha Studio
Join me and others to learn how to enjoy transformative travel through creative journal writing. For details and registration, email me at email@example.com.
Please visit Kelly’s website, Compass and Camera, for her post on the Gathering of Nations (Native American Nations that is), 2016. Her blog is soulful and insightful. This post is short and sweet, so be sure to read the last paragraph for her takeaway. Kelly is truly a world traveler and can take us places we will never see otherwise. Take a trip on her site and enjoy your armchair excursion. Enjoy!
Kate has learned the “write” way to set goals. As an organizational and staff development specialist in my previous life, I know her advice to be “write” on target. Take a look at the guidance on setting New Year’s resolutions from Kate.
It’s that time of year again. As the new year approaches, we begin to think ahead to what it may have in store for us and what we want to accomplish for ourselves. The television is flooded with commercials for dieting products, nicotine patches, and storage crates. The air is buzzing and hope begins to balloon in your chest. Even though January 1st is just another day, we have given it social and psychological meaning, and it marks an almost-tangible transition. You have goals, resolutions, and you will keep them.
And then the magic dissipates, the champagne goes flat, mid-January or early February hits, and you suddenly do not care about those resolutions. And even if you do care, you convince yourself that you do not have the time, energy, or resolve to stay committed. Is this just the hectic reality of life? Maybe. But it may also be…
I have been a member of multiple writing groups since the early 1990s. Each one differs with advantages and disadvantages. Each time someone joins or drops out, it changes the dynamics. If you know you have thin skin, be willing to grow thick skin; or forego this until you do. It is not for the faint of heart. Knowing what you want out of a writing group helps you start one that meets your needs and desires.
FIRST ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS
Do you need to learn to write first, before you start or participate in a writing group? If so, take a class or workshop, read and study the craft of writing, and/or just write.
Do you want a group to edit your work only, analyze your work (plot, characters, and pacing), and/or to discuss the writing process? Are you willing to do the same?
Can you find writers who offer you the same feedback for which you are looking?
Do you work best in one-on-one pairs, small intimate groups of 3-4, or larger writing groups? I have found 8-12 is max for a dynamic group that allows time for all.
How often do you need to meet in terms of your personal writing schedule? Can you draft enough writing to meet once a week, every other, or once a month?
MEETING APPROACH: Example #1
Some groups have a leader that organizes and moderates the group time. Usually that is someone quite experienced and published. Members simply bring a copy of their manuscripts for each group member that cover 2-5 pages, perhaps a scene, or a short chapter.
Everyone reads his or her own work aloud. If the writer wants to hear their work from another voice, then another member reads it.
Reviewers then offer suggestions on editorial comments on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They provide what works in the piece and what does not work. They can also explain where they became confused or lost.
Advantage: This particular way of running a group requires less time, by giving on-the-spot feedback comments.
Disadvantage: Writing group members do not have in-depth time to review and reflect on the writing, so comments are usually limited to surface responses.
Writing level: This specific approach is useful for experienced writers who do not need as much feedback and are skilled at writing and know what in a piece of work. They can offer feedback promptly.
MEETINGAPPROACH: Example #2
There are groups that meet once a month or every other week to give them more time to write and more time for readers to review each other’s work before the meeting.
In one case I have been part of a ‘leaderless’ meeting. We each took responsibility for different things that needed to be done.
A group I belonged to years ago met once a month. Here is how it worked. For example, during the month of December each writer brings sufficient copies of their chapter to distribute to each person. During the coming weeks, we read and comment in writing on the manuscript. At the following meeting in January, we would take each manuscript and make our comments, explain why we made them and discuss issues of point of view (POV), pacing, character development, and other big picture issues. In that same month, we distribute next month’s work for review. We handed the manuscripts that we marked up to the writer for his or her revisions.
Advantage: This gave us extensive feedback on a broader scale of what is happening in a novel or essay, and how to address the issues. We included edits, as well as the movement, rhythm, and pace of the story or article.
Disadvantage: In this setting, we did not read our pages aloud, so we missed hearing our words, which often lets one hear awkward words or phrases, or missed words. During a month between meetings, so we could forget where we were in a story.
Writing Level: This approach gives inexperienced writers and reviewers time between meetings to read, study, ponder, and decide how to reply to the writer. Inexperienced writers grow quickly into more experienced writers and reviewers.
The next example comes from my friend and mentor, Sheila Bender. You can signup for her newsletter at WritingItReal and consider membership. The 3-step feedback process proves to be productive for most any writer and reviewer.
Step #1: Identify the “Velcro” words, phrases, or sentences that stick with you in some way, that resonate in a good way. The purpose of this step is to give the writer positive feedback on what is working.
Step #2: State the feelings that the writing creates in you from mad-sad-glad to anxious-afraid-relieved. This report tells the writer whether she has achieved what she set out to achieve. It lets her compare the reaction the reader has to what she hoped to create in the reader.
Step #3: Inform the writer what questions you have after you have read the scene or chapter. Tell him what left you wanting to know more. Share your curiosity about unanswered questions with him. This allows the writer to know if he needs to flesh out the scene more or if he has overwritten it and needs to pare it down.
2. Advantage: This example provides objective feedback that keeps comments less personal and more focused on the writing.
3. Disadvantage: It requires reviewers to think deeply about the story, which may require more time and effort.
4. Level of reviewer: Anyone reading a scene or chapter is able to offer their opinions on these 3 items. It empowers inexperienced reviewers that they have significant input into another’s writing.
FEEDBACK APPROACH: Example #2
This example is taken from a workshop instructor, Karlene Koen. I took her course, That Damned Novel, through the Writers’ League of Texas summer retreat in 2014. Her process is similar to but slightly different from Sheila Bender’s approach. Answer the following three questions to provide feedback to a writer about his or her work:
What did you like about the scene or story? (I would add, what did you not like about it and why? That’s the key, “why.”)
What do you still want to know?
Where did you get lost?
Answering these 3 questions has similar advantages and disadvantages to Bender’s approach and requires little experience as a reviewer. There many other versions and adaptations of writing groups, but this overview can get you started.
I can sum up my advice after twenty-five years of working in different types of writing support groups. Some have worked for a while, others have lasted years. But when one is still not viable, it is better to end the group than carry on in misery. If you are the only one unhappy, leave respectfully and gratefully for what it has given you.
You can mix and match the meeting and feedback approaches.
Comments and recommendations always should be about helping each other grow as a writer.Constructive criticism is the goal.
Writer, remind yourself often: Don’t take it personally.
Reviewer, remind yourself often: Don’t make it personal.
Feedback is about your writing, not you. It may feel personal in that someone is trying to help you specifically related to your writing.
For the writer to defend or explain his or her work, wastes time and is not the point. It is best for the writer to listen and take notes. As creator of the work, a writer is free to disagree and can choose to use or not use comments offered. Own your work.
Everyone in the group should be actively writing. Equity in giving and receiving feedback is crucial to the sustained health of the group.
Groups often need a leader to organize and moderate the meeting. I have been part of a successful leaderless group, in which all members took responsibility for the meeting. You must decide on the right person for the leader.
Help your fellow writers when they read your work.
Always double-space your work so others can edit between the lines.
Number the pages, so the group can reference page and paragraph when discussing it.
Put your name on the submission – it should be obvious why.
Now, what has been your experience with writing groups? What has worked? What has not worked for you? Please share your experience with us.
My coming-of-age, travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, is on sale.
For black Friday and through the holiday season, I have reduced the price for the paperback from $16.99 to $9.99.
During the gift-buying season, I have reduced the price of the Kindle version from $4.99 to $2.99.
Signed Copies at Kerrville Market Days, December 3
Pick up a signed copy for yourself or a friend for $10. You can find me at Kerrville Market Days, December 3, 2016, at the Ag Barn on the Kerr County Fairgrounds. I’ll be signing and selling them from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.
Consider buying a copy of the book in print or Kindle version
For a girlfriend
For a young mother raising self-reliant kids, especially girls
For a young woman, coming-of-age herself
For an older woman who has been an adventurer and will enjoy the adventures of a kindred spirit
My Biggest Fans
Although the story is about a young woman’s travels alone and with others, some of my biggest fans have been men from my high school graduating class. So don’t forget to buy it for the men in your life as well.
Community members joined Schreiner University students in celebrating International Education Week, November 14-18 and participated in the Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing workshop. Sonja Lind, Ph.D. and the program director of The Changing Global Society initiative sponsored the workshop.
My husband, Lynn Jones and I volunteer at Schreiner University, our local liberal arts university. We encourage and prepare students to expand their learning through travel and study abroad by taking this workshop.
Experienced travelers from the community and university students explored journal writing topics, techniques, and tools. They participated in two writing exercises and discussion about how to prepare, anticipate, and rehearse before travel.
This prep increases the chances that one will travel more intentionally and more purposefully and as a result, enrich one’s experiences.
The preparation before travel and the reflection after a journey create learning that is deeper, more enduring, and much more transferable in the future.
College students cannot ask for much more out of an experience that is to prepare them for participation in a global world, which is one of the foundational directions of Schreiner University today.
Journal Writing Tips:
Read Globejotting before you take the next trip. (See the book cover to your right.)
Take a small journal that will fit in your pocket, purse, or bag. Keep it in a Ziploc bag if needed to protect it from rain, sand, or spills.
Ask a child you meet while riding on public transportation to draw in your journal for you. You can accomplish this, even if you do not share the same language.
Intentional Travel through Creative Journal Writing
Have you considered spinning memories into stories, essays or memoirs?
Have you captured a trip in journal entries & been disappointed by the results?
Have you traveled as tourist, pilgrim, adventurer, learner, intentional sojourner?
Have you yearned for adventures, but not known how to make them happen?
This workshop will build writing skills and insight into intentional travel!
(Bring paper and pen. No travel experience or writing experience required.)
Workshop Leader, RHONDA WILEY-JONES
Registration Fee: $65 (refreshments and materials included)
Saturday, October 22, 9-noon, 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX
To register send a check by October 15 to Rhonda Wiley-Jones, 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX 78028. (LIMITED to 14)
Share adventures or misadventures with others in a fun atmosphere.
Reflect how to travel more purposefully, independently, and intentionally.
Practice journal exercises (not to critique but to share if you want) to develop insight & clarity.
Consider types of travel (pilgrims are not tourists) to match with journal writing supplies.
Develop observation skills; build writing skills using the senses; and mix fiction with fact.
Select journaling methods to match your travel circumstances and/or writing style.
Stimulate imagination with tips, ideas, and suggestions shared.
Make new friends and get to know old ones in new ways.
WHAT PREVIOUS PARTICIPANTS HAVE SAID
Thank you, Rhonda. I’m a fan!!
Many useable/practical ideas and suggestions
Great class—plenty of time for questions & sharing
I was surprised to learn so much in your workshop
It never occurred to me I might write & sell articles
Rhonda Wiley-Jones, M.Ed., author of her travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, is world traveler, journal writer, blogger, fiction writer. She’s conducted this workshop with audiences, such as the 2016 bi-annual Story Circle Network national conference, 2015 Schreiner University’s Global Programs, and the 2013 Schreiner University’s Innovative Learning Program.
To travel intentionally. What do I mean by that? I want my journeys to be purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate. I want to make the most of my time and my investment of resources in a trip. I know in the past I have missed moments, experiences and meaning in the midst of being overwhelmed by inconveniences; or from stiff, sore muscles that I typically experience due to travel and/or lack of rest. I always travel with fibromyalgia, so I have to think ahead.
To travel intentionally. One way to do this is to prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally before heading out. Here are some ways I get ready.
I can travel more intentionally if I anticipate my physical needs and take my comfort items, which let me stress less: water bottle to fill, snacks, meds, blanket or scarf, pillow, and NOT too much stuff that I will weigh me down.
I can travel more intentionally if I take time before I leave to think about situations I may encounter, like hosts that want to go, go, go and see everything. I have learned to state my intentions before we leave and again when we arrive. I can say, as an example, “We are coming to visit you and want to spend time with you and the family, to catch up on your lives. Seeing ALL the sites is not our goal, but to spend daily time with your family, the kind of time you spend in your typical week. Please don’t feel as if you must entertain us every minute.”
READ BEFORE YOU LEAVE
I can travel more intentionally if I read about the places we will see, much like I did last year when we went to Peru to visit friends. I like to do Internet searches and to read about the sites and the history behind them before arriving. In this case, I bought a tourist book on Peru. I, also, enjoy reading a book by a local or national author that gives me a feel for the culture. Last year before leaving I read, The StoryTeller by Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian classic. If possible, I will visit a native from that country or someone who has been there recently.
EMOTIONAL OR SPIRITUAL PROVISIONS
The thing we rarely do to enhance intentional travel is to anticipate things about ourselves that may influence the trip. For example, are we open to meeting all kinds of people? Are we willing to try our little bit of Spanish (or whatever language) while there? (I’m particularly bad about this.) Are we ready to stretch ourselves by volunteering in the place and putting ourselves in unknown situations? Are we open to trying new foods, especially raw or totally unexpected and unfamiliar items?
And are we willing to prepare ourselves with spiritual awareness that we may need, like patience, tolerance, acceptance, listening, and/or compassion?
JOURNAL WRITING TECHNIQUES
Journal writing techniques range from simple (summarize each day in 5 sentences) to standard (record what you saw and did) to more inclusive (capture your reactions, emotions, or fears to what occurred). Seize the day’s events, using all the senses. Ask others to write their view of the day’s events in your journal. I could go on and on.
TRAVEL TOUCHSTONES WORKSHOP COMING UP!
I use creative journal writing prompts to help me and others to become more conscious and deliberate in preparation for intentional travel in a three-hour workshop, Travel Touchstones. It offers travelers three major things to better prepare them for capturing the moments and mood, the mystery and magic of their sojourns.
1) Introduce anticipatory questions that will help focus on the upcoming journey.
EXAMPLE: If visiting one country what questions (and of whom) can I ask to learn more about the country’s political system and how it affects global relationships?
2) Discuss kinds of travel and what journal writing supplies fit with each.
EXAMPLE: If traveling to the boundary waters for a nature excursion, what special writing materials will you need in that environment?
3) Offer journal writing techniques that fit various environments and personality types.
EXAMPLE: What theme will be of interest to you in the area you are going to visit and that you plan to write about every day? Food, architecture, education, or ways people dress culturally?
TO REGISTER FOR WORKSHOP
October 22, 2016 from 9:00-noon at 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX.
Registration fee: $65.00 includes refreshments and materials. Leave questions below in form.
For Texas Hill Country residents to register, please send check to
I have learned that pre-travel groundwork puts me on high alert for what actually happens, whether it is what I expected or not. I experience more by this preparation.
Some of us are up for anything; but most of us hold back in one area or another that may keep us for gaining the most from our travels. For those of you who live in the Texas Hill Country, don’t miss this three-hour, fun-filled workshop full of ideas, writing and sharing.
Revision is the only way to improve our writing. — Rhonda Wiley-Jones
The only kind of writing is rewriting. — Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast
Hopefully you saw the first version of this scene in the previous blog post, Drafting a Scene for my Novel. (If not, review it to get the most out of this post.) After taking it to my writers’ critique group yesterday, see my revisions below in red. They represent changes I made as a result of their comments and from my own need to clarify what I wanted to say. (NOTE: I use the word, Moslem instead of Muslim, because in 1906 that was the preferred word.)
THE REVISED SCENE
Pastor John led the way out of Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of flowers. John opened the gate for Fiona to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. Fiona followed his chivalrous behavior wondering what he was doing, until she recalled Ramita’s words, “Pastor John needs a wife.”
Awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. Her innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering on shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but after a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”
“You have a keen eye.” He pointed to a small sweetmeats shop and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages and the language of Moslem speakers.”
Fiona tried the word on her tongue, “Ur-du. Right? That feels funny in my mouth.”
He laughed at her reaction and said, “You would like the taste of these sweets in your mouth as well. Bengal is known as the sweet tooth of India.”
Now standing in front of the bakery, he pointed out the wonders displayed. “That is called pathishapta. It’s a rolled pancake stuffed with a cream of coconut, milk, cream, and an ingredient from the date palm, jaggery. My boys love it.
“See those ball-shaped treats? They are made from a condensed milk and coconut, and often made to celebrate Lakshmi Puja.”
“A prayer ritual, usually performed during Diwali, a major Indian festival. The third day of Diwali is considered auspicious and set to greet the god Lakshmi. They believe that the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, comes to bestow gifts and blessings. She is thought to revere cleanliness, so devotees clean their houses and decorate with lights, and prepare delicacies as offerings. The more satisfied she is with the visit the greater the blessings, wealth and prosperity the household will attract during the next year.”
“Do they celebrate once a year or more often?”
“Only during the Diwali festival. But there are many festivals throughout the year. Unfortunately, there are no festivals while you are here. And that’s a shame. I wish you could experience one of them.”
“Yeah, me, too. And what is that?” Fiona said, pointing to another round treat.
“That’s a rasgulla. Of all things, it is a ball of unripened cheese soaked in sugar syrup. Actually, it’s pretty good.” He pointed to another item. “The malpoa has different versions. The one made in here in Bengal is a cream pancake deep fried with raisins and syrup applied later. That was Martha’s … ”
He stopped himself abruptly and then apologized. “I shouldn’t speak of my wife to you. It’s not my place to burden you with my memories.”
“No, no, that’s okay. You will always remember her fondly and why wouldn’t you?”
He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because the lettering is Hindi. In missionary language school before getting Calcutta I learned that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.”
Fiona tried to walk in the crowded streets without touching John’s shoulder, but she felt the moist skin from his arm from time to time. She stiffened when he reached for her hand. In tight places he slid his arm behind her and nudged her forward. She took measured steps.
“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”
“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”
“In Urdu, over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels. Then in Hindi about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of letters, much like we have the “oy” sound for the words joy or voice. The written script may be different in the two; but if you speak one, you understand the other when it is spoken.”
“That doesn’t make sense to me. They seem…”
“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”
“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”
They stepped prudently around a Brahma bull lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them. Fiona from the top of the ghat, man-made stone steps from the upper street level down to the river, looked down to see women washing clothes, while locals and pilgrims bathed before prayers. The wide passageway led down to the Ganges, the holiest of all rivers, or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all Indian rivers.
“I’m so tall and white; so out of place, like a pot roast at a bake sale. What’s the word for foreigner?”
“Pardesi, which is Hindi. Though this is the Indian continent, did you know there is no such thing as an Indian race?”
Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”
“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans; creating many skin tones.”
“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.”
Avoiding the marriage subject, she said. “I suppose sun exposure deepens the skin tone, as well.” Then she sniffed the air, like a dog and asked, “What is that strange scent? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”
He looked about and then pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes. His only other possession appeared to be an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man with eyes closed sucked on a tube from the instrument.
John said, “That’s called a hookah, a smoking machine used for opium.”
“Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”
“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests or healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state.”
He guided her closer to the contemplative. “In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a painkiller, doctors use it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”
Fiona pointed to the man. “He seems to be lost in thought. Why do you think he is using the hookah?”
“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God.” He chuckled and then sobered. “I would say there is only one way to God through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.”
Fiona fought her discomfort fueled by his closeness and attention. She fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it on ship. The compass had been Uncle Louis’ parting gift to Will. And he left it with her so she could find her way in the world without him.
The compass reminded Fiona of how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It provided the only certainty she had about anything right now. North was always north.
THE PROCESS OF REVISION
Can you see the improvement in the second version of the scene, especially the added paragraphs of new content the group wanted to see in the scene?
When you return to the first post, you see “Stepping a Character” aids any writer in developing a scene that is lively with action, dialogue, and utilizes more of the senses. I didn’t use all the elements I anticipated, but it gave me ready-made content to work with as I drafted the scene.
Next, you see the value of a good critique group in this post and how it improves our writing (my writing especially). Never shy away from getting feedback from other writers and/or readers and for heaven’s sake don’t ignore it. Weigh to see if it fits what you want to accomplish in the writing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I make changes.
What is your experience working with a feedback from other writers or readers?
As writers we are always looking for ways to write faster, more focused, and more detailed. I recently attended a workshop where I learned the craft of stepping a character from Nancy Masters. This prepares me to write a scene for the novel I’m writing set in India, which gives me focus and details, and in turns helps me write faster. Let me share in this post my process of stepping a character, then drafting the scene.
Next week I will share the suggestions I receive from my writing group and revisions I make as a result of their recommendations.
THE PROCESS OF STEPPING A CHARACTER
Three things the reader see when approaching the scene, in this case the street: an open-air merchant, storefronts, animals
Three things the main character is wearing: hat, boots, and kerchief
Three things she is carrying: her brother Will’s compass, a pouch of rupees, and a hat
Three things she sees in route
People = pilgrim pulling on silver hookah, pauper with leather amulet pouch, priest teaching scripture, merchants (tobacco, sweetmeats, and horse traders)
Languages on store fronts = Hindustani, Hindi, Urdu
Styles of smoking = hookah, snuff gourds, snuff pouches
Three things she says or comments on: I’m obviously a foreigner; a variety of smoking instruments; and different languages
Three smells experienced the streets: manure, sweat, rotten food, aroma from bong
A secret Fiona (main character) holds: wishes she were with her brother Will: and a secret Pastor John (secondary character) holds: hopes Fiona will consider being his wife before she leaves India
Pastor John led the way out Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of Ramita’s garden flowers. John opened the gate for her to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. When they spent time alone, John reminded her with his chivalry that he was courting her.
Usually awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. An innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering above the shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but with a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”
“You have a keen eye.” He points to a small sweetmeats shop front and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages, not to mention all the distinct dialects spoken in India. Urdu is the language of Islam.”
Fiona tried the word on her tongue to see how it felt, “Ur-du. Right? That sounds silly.”
He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because that lettering is Hindi. I learned in language school before getting to the city, that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.
“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”
“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”
“Over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels in Urdu. Then about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels in Hindi. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of these, much like we have the “o-y” and the “o-i” sounds for joy and voice. The written script is different in the two tongues. But if you speak one, you understand the other when spoken.”
“Those things don’t make sense to me. They seem…”
“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”
“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”
They stepped prudently around a Brahmin cow lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them at the top of the ghat, man-built stone steps from the upper street level down to the river on their left. The wide passageway with a stairway led to the Ganges or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all rivers in India. Women washed clothes, locals and pilgrims bathed before prayer time, as always.
“I am so tall and so white; I feel such a foreigner, like a salad at a bake sale.”
“Pardesi, Hindi for foreigner. Actually, there is no such thing as an Indian race here.”
Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”
“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans; all the while making a variety of skin tones.
“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.
“I suppose the tropical sun deepens the skin tone, as well.”
Fiona relaxed as she learned more about the infinite mixtures of people. Then she encountered an aroma that she had not smelled before. She asked, “What is that different scent from the other usual ones? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”
He pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes and only an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man, eyes closed, sucked on a tube from the instrument.
John said, “That’s called a hookah or a smoking machine used for opium.”
Fiona still confounded said, “Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”
“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests and healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state. He seems to be meditating. In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a pain-killer, medicine uses it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”
“And this man here? Why do you think he is using it?”
“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God. I would say there is only one way to God. Through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.” He chuckled and then sobered.
Fiona fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it. The compass had been Will’s favorite gift ever from Uncle Louis. When he lay dying he left it with her to help her find her way in the world. He knew she might need it in India.
The compass reminded her how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It was not the same without him. His death left her vulnerable to the sailors aboard ship, alone to negotiate quarantine and the sale, as well as the changed arrangements in India. Not only had her circumstances change, so had Pastor John’s, due to his wife’s recent death. Instead of staying with the pastor’s family, she boarded with Ramita, which had turned a benefit. The compass provided the only certainty she had about anything right. North was always north – the compass said so.
YOUR TAKE ON THIS SCENE?
Though I did not use all the items I listed in the stepping the character process, you can see it gave me plenty of ideas to work into a scene. The scene in turn provides interesting details of time and place; as well as, cultural and historical information. It builds the rapport between the two characters through dialogue and actions they take toward each other. Practice this process to see if it is as helpful to you as it has been for me.
Let us know how it works for you. We can all learn from and with each other.
Let me introduce you to my guest blogger, Maricella “Marty” Garcia. She attended a Travel Journal Writing I conducted on campus last fall and won a copy of my memoir in a drawing of participants. I discovered her travel writing skills by reading the student newspaper, The Reveille, at Schreiner University, here in Kerrville, Texas. She will be the paper’s editor-in-chief this fall 2016.
This summer Marty worked as an intern with Western Art Academy, supervising high school students in a four-week painting and sculpting college credit course on Schreiner‘s campus. As a part of the Academy, she visited the L.D. Brinkman Collection of western fine art, located on the South side of Kerrville, TX.
I asked her to write about a local attraction to illustrate how we can search out and experience local tourist attractions or what I call, “hometown travel.” We don’t have to leave home to expand our world. Read how viewing western fine art, as a graphic design student, broadened Marty’s idea of “art.”
Touring the Brinkman Mansion
Driving up a shady incline, the pavers create visual suspense until the Brinkman Mansion in Kerrville, Texas, appears over the hill. The white facade contrasts with the Texas blue skies and the fountain trickles happiness over its edges, which reflects the hot summer sunlight–almost like a wink at me. The Brinkman Mansion, a private home and collection, open to the public only by appointment, is art all on its own.
Walking inside the grand foyer, beautiful wooden and marble floors, which were the industries of choice and fortune for Mr. Brinkman, were artfully laid by craftsmen under his direction. Western art filled almost every square inch of the hallways, living areas, sitting rooms, and offices. We were instructed not to touch the walls, for they were considered art as well. Even the board room hosted over a dozen paintings and several bronze sculptures of longhorns and cowboys.
Our guide told us about the progression of technique and style of one of the artists G. Harvey, referencing six priceless paintings on the long wall in front of the students. His movement from landscapes to town scenes capture the change of the country as industrial development created pockets of civilization throughout the West. I most admired his use of light and dark in the paintings.
I was taken aback, seeing more art in this house than in a museum. It was all so casually placed, with little to no attention to sunlight hitting the paintings directly. This made a few us wince.
Works by George Phippin, Harold Von Schmidt, Oreland Joe, and other artists from the 20th and 21st centuries show the appreciation Brinkman had for western Art.
On the second floor, we found oil paint studies of about 20 different horse breeds on the landing. Each bedroom had at least 3-6 paintings of assorted artists and content.
When we descended to the basement, we saw lots of real Native American artifacts, some preserved behind glass, others laid on tables as if they had just been used. I remember best the beaded vests with tribal paint and tattered fringe. No notes were posted to say how old these artifacts were.
Featured in the expansive collection of Mr. Brinkman, you will find everything in terms of content from the landscapes of Texas to the way of life of the Comanche, the Apache, and other Texas Native American tribes.
As a design student, to see the collection was eye-opening for me, especially since I haven’t really dug into western art. I have visited some key galleries in Fredericksburg, and met some great artists in person, but I recognized the true diversity of the genre in this visit.
Western art was not just horses and cowboys on the ridge of a hill; it was a view into a Native American teepee, ranch hands heading into town to auction livestock, and the pie cooling on the window sill.
Every artist had a unique style in their paintings and bronzes, and this was more obvious in the Brinkman house setting, where multiples from each artist were placed close together.
I was grateful for the opportunity to witness this collection first-hand, and to help the Academy students be aware of the importance of promoting art like this now and in the future.
Why no pictures of the collection?
I could not take images of the estate, because cameras were prohibited. You however can have an aerial look at the mansion. There is little about the Mansion or its contents online, and its future is wavering more each day.
If you have a chance to visit with an organization who might be invited, as we were, do not take a rain check! GO! There is something for everyone in the home.
Where else to see fine western art in the area?
A great place to view western art is the Museum of Western Art, located in Kerrville, Texas, and aptly named. Wonderful bronzes of all sizes and content, paintings in many mediums, and even leather saddle art are on display here for the public.
Staff participants at Schreiner University’s Lunch and Learn workshop entitled, “Travel Journal Writing” took note of how important it is to travel thoughtfully. Below are four comments from the post assessment, including the title to the blog post.
“I wish I had known that a trip is not just a trip.”
Early on in the workshop we consider different kinds of travel. Some of us travel as tourists or to visit friends and family. Some of us are more into learning trips, such as the Roads Scholars program. Others may be into ‘adventuring’ like camping, fishing, hiking while others enjoy extreme adventuring, such as skydiving or mountain biking. Then there are the more serious kinds of travel that might be for business purposes or on a pilgrimage for personal insight, or traveling with a mission group to help others. Any of these trips can be an outward journey into the world and/or an inward journey into ourselves.
“The workshop can start one’s imagination in motion for traveling to other places.”
The group members, using exercise prompts, wrote what they could expect about future travels. Prompts included things like, ‘What makes you shake, rattle and roll?’
What makes you shake (or tremble, good or bad)?
What rattles or upsets you?
What calms you down so you can roll with the punches?
“Loved the connection to prepare students traveling.”
Being on a college campus, I pointed out how valuable these kinds of questions can be for students who will study abroad, work through an internship abroad, or travel in any kind of experiential learning globally. If we as adults and seasoned professionals are unlikely to travel thoughtfully, why would we think students would do so without some prompting.
“I have more to learn about the ‘art’ of preflection about travel, as opposed to ‘worrying’.”
‘Preflection’ is the anticipation of what one wants from a travel experience, what one can expect from the place and its conditions, and how one might approach the experience with an open mind. This heightens our awareness and raises our expectations while traveling and when we arrive. Journal writing before we leave about what could be and what we want creates a radar within us to extract more from the experience, making it deeper and richer. Preflection may include what could go wrong, but it will be followed with how one will choose to react and make the most of the experience. This is the beauty of preflection.
Tools, Techniques, & Topics
In the beginning of the workshop we discuss the reasons or purposes for travel and the place and conditions of travel. These factors influence the supplies one will choose to use while traveling. For example, you may want notecards to stash in your purse or pocket. While others may prefer a beautifully covered notebook, lined or unlined, to motivate them to write. Yet other travelers may prefer a small, plastic covered notebook with pockets in which to tuck tickets or brochures. Those who travel in rough terrain or in rainy weather may need special pencils that write even in the rain.
Where you went, what you saw, and what you ate are not the only topics of traveling journal writing.
In addition, we discuss tools or supplies, journaling techniques that make for more interesting and challenging journal writing. And then we list topics that one might select to write about. Leaving ready with anticipated topics keeps one from saying, “I don’t know what to write about.”
What books on journal writing can your recommend? What have you learned from your own travel journal writing experience?
I recalled one of my current writing projects this morning. Our neighbor Niel (yes, that’s how he spells it) stopped by with his standard poodle Maggie on their walk while Lynn and I were having breakfast on the back porch.
As we discussed places we have lived before Lynn described to Niel that Madison, Wisconsin, the state’s capitol and home of the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1980s was known as “ten-square miles surrounded by reality.”
Niel followed with his experience in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Raleigh was referred to as the pat of butter on top of a bowl of grits.”
Old sayings or saws are colorful and useful in dialogue of specific periods of time and with specific trades or types of people.
Why am I collecting old sayings?
I set the historical romance that I am writing in the year 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake. My protagonist, Fiona Weston, travels on ship from San Francisco to India to sell her uncle’s remaining nine broodmares to the British/Indian military to breed with the their Manipuri horse for selective polo ponies in cavalry training.
I am collecting sayings that might have been used during that era and particularly by horsemen, and sailors, or old salts, as they called themselves. When using familiar adages or maxims, they bring dialogue to life, make people sound natural, and offer clues to the setting or era in which the story is written without having to state them explicitly.
How can you help?
I’m asking you to submit old saws (or sayings) that you think might be useful in delivering dynamic dialogue in the novel, true to the period and a seafaring crew.
My dad was a colorful and humorous storyteller. (I got the story writing from him, but the humorous part–not so much.) Here are example of my favorites I remember from him, because of the image they sear into the imagination.
Giving that speech, Mama was as nervous as a cow on skates.
Miss Blixen barely took a breath between sentences; her mouth ran like a babbling brook.
When Buddy was around a girl he could be as skittish as a cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs.
Here’s how you can help!
Please add one or two favorite old sayings of yours below in the comments section, especially one for sailors or seafaring crew members. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’m indebted to you.
I found a treasured hand-thrown, fired piece of pottery at the Phoenix Fired Artstudio in downtown Joplin, Missouri, my husband’s hometown, when traveling there year before last. I bought it as a souvenir, but it would have made a lovely gift, too. The fluted pottery dish serves as perfect four-person pie plate (it is five inches wide across the bottom); or as a fruit bowl full of cherries or berries.
I enjoy shopping where I can experience the art and artisans. I like this piece particularly because it is pretty, goes in my kitchen nicely, and is uniquely useful.
That fits this lovely and practical piece of pottery.
SHOPPING FOR GIFTS or FOR EXPERIENCES?
From the perspective of travel, I think of this as a perfect travel tip how to enjoy it in simple and uncomplicated ways. Explore, shop, view the art, visit the artist, and decide whether to make a purchase. That was the case at thePhoenix Fired Art studio.
Geoffrey Kunkler is both artist and studio manager. He enjoyed showing off his work, pointing out other artists’ work that he sells in the studio, and explaining the process of his style versus other potters.
His small pie plate appealed to me because it was a piece that would make a smaller pie for just four
people or two servings each for my husband, Lynn and me.
HOMETOWN or DESTINATION?
Joplin, Missouri, could be your hometown or your destination. It may be where you visit grandma or a favorite aunt. Or simply serves as a stop along the way to somewhere else.
MY TRAVEL TIPS
The Phoenix Fired Art staff bubble wrapped it for my trip home in the car. It traveled safely, packed easily because it was small and provided a special memento of my 2014 trip to a recovering Joplin after the 2011 tornado.
The pottery is a conversation piece, when I serve our company dessert from this tiny pie plate that allows no leftovers.
Last, but not least, the little plate/bowl reminds me of the experience in a working studio and Geoff the artist, who took the time to visit with me.
I have brought home small art postcards or 8×11 artist renderings of a place visited, such as Laguna Beach, California. In every house since we got married we have hung our prized batik prints that Lynn and I bought on our honeymoon by Diane Tunkel. In 2002 while in Durban, South Africa, I found contemporary pillow covers by Karin Gibson that we have hung with the batiks.
Have you found surprise shopping places that also provided an experience, whether in your hometown or while on a trip? Share those travel tips with me and my followers. We would like to learn about them.
This savvy traveler, Marcia, explores the reason she journals during her trips in the world. She expresses what research has shown with Study Abroad students: “I started to understand what I really care about, what I really crave to experience and what is worth doing when I visit a new place.” Enjoy this short insightful and relatable post by a young women on the road through.
I started writing because I wanted to keep track of my travels (places, names, contacts, useful information) for my own memory and also to easily share them with anyone who may be interested.
I discovered that in the process of writing I was able to relive and recall so many more details hidden in my memory and give them an endless life.
I took this opportunity to fill my descriptions with additional information, enriching the content with further elements such as photos, historical background, links to other works with similar content, etc..: working through the subject in this way has added so much more value to my very same life’s experiences.
Moreover, I realized that as I was doing these elaborations I started to better understand what I really care about, crave to experience and what is worth doing when I visit a new place.
Last week, my husband and I had dinner with some friend. We ate fish tacos, caught up on each other’s lives and laughed until we couldn’t breathe.
Our friends are a lot younger than us. They are millennials – that group of people who are analyzed, written about, and talked about. And I realize that I need to speak up about something.
This conversation on millennials being lazy and disrespectful, lacking in everything from common sense to brain cells has to stop. It’s gone on too long and it damages all of us.
I like millennials. They are my kids and friends of my kids. They are my nieces and nephews. They are my cousin’s children. They are my colleagues and students. They are my friends. (To be honest, we probably have more friends who are millennials than we do friends our own age – so there could be something very, very wrong…
As I have explored the concept of agency in human development here on my blog for several weeks and go further with an example from my own life. I know Mother provided the “curriculum” for me to grow assertive, self-reliant and unafraid—in other words, to develop a sense of agency, in orderto be the CEO of my own life. Travel trips, living in other cultures, and being on my own all generated agency that has served me well into adulthood.
Mom propelled me into the world, where she had rarely gone herself. She married two weeks out of high school and had me 21 months later. By age twenty-three she had two baby boys in addition to me. She and Dad situated our family in Piggott, Arkansas (northeast Arkansas) on a plot of land and in a house they built and moved into the month before I was born. At age thirty-seven she became the administrator of the nursing home that she and dad built with another couple and opened in 1966. She became the second largest employer in town.
Mother’s domain extended to the First Baptist Church one mile from our house. She taught Sunday school forever. She held every position possible in the women’s missionary union (WMU). She was leader to different children’s programs. She sang in the choir. She served on many committees and chaired most at some time over the years. And she always showed at potlucks with tasty treats.
Our family did not travel much, took very vacations. Mom and Dad were busy working, raising us kids, and active in the life of our church.
In first grade, my teacher placed a seashell to my ear and I traveled to the ocean to hear the surf for the first time. My third grade teacher read the adventures of the Box Car Children that I relived each night before dropping off to sleep. I toured the world in fourth grade geography, where I learned Switzerland was a country without its own language and Japan, a country with a language of pictograms I could not read.
But moreover, I built a curiosity about the world at church, through mission studies and missionaries who visited our church. Sometimes religion can narrow our views of the world, but in my case the church expanded my outlook on the world, and in turn developed my worldview.
Poignantly, my mother launched me into the world, discerning that travel is fundamental to exploring the world, though she had never done so herself. Mom, progressive and enabling by standards then and now, proved to be an instrument of me growing up strong, independent, and resilient. She trusted me, but more than that, she trusted the process of becoming an adult. And she entrusted me into the hands of Jesus Christ in her prayers.
Mother knew what Mark Twain expressed in the “Conclusion” of The Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of Men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Before I was twenty-one I took many imaginary trips, along with ones in real time. Travel became my herald, mentor, and shadow. I prized the strength and wisdom that travel offers. And now I relish life’s lessons, learned—those treasured, even those squandered.
I dedicated the book to my mother, Gaye Wiley, wise beyond her experience, who provided me the means to learn about how to make my own decisions; how to act and behave in ways that were caring, compassionate, and smart; as well as, providing a safety net until I had developed sufficient resilience to get up on my own and try again.
Madison Winstead, my Cousin Keith’s daughter, signed on with her local university to swim with their team as a high school junior last year. This year as a senior she asked her future college coach and then the NCAA the unthinkable—permission to suit up and swim with the team in competition this year.
Why did she ask? Why did they say “yes” for the first time in NCAA history?
THE ANSWER TO WHY
Madison’s mother, Shane, has a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Her mother wanted to see Madison swim just once in college competition. So Madison after talking to her dad, but months later secretly went to her future coach and proposed an unlikely scenario. The coach and Madison took the request to the NCAA and got the answer everyone wanted.
She suited up and swam as a high school student with the college team, before entering college, Saturday, April 22, 2016.
Madison decided her mother’s desire was worthy of pursuit. The family, which also includes her brother Clayton, has dealt openly and proactively with the outcome of this medical diagnosis. They are a remarkable family.
In researching the concept of agency, I found that there are three different angles on agency: business, philosophical, and sociological. As I have written before there is the business side of agency, in which one entity works on the behalf of another entity, like a health agency or advertising agency. This definition fits Madison, as well, because she became the agent of making her mother’s wish come true.
MADISON’S OWN STYLE OF AGENCY
On the other hand, Madison has learned to make decisions for her own life. She chose, using a careful and thoughtful selection process, the college-swim team she wanted. She knew the coming years would be difficult, some of which may be without her mother. She wanted a team that would support her during the anticipated loss.
Madison also had the courage and determination to ask the improbable question and enlist the appropriate assistance. She did this on her own without her dad’s knowledge at the time. She went prepared to her coach. She followed guidance of a mentor and helper, her coach. She did the follow-up work with the NCAA. She waited patiently and respectfully.
Agency as I use the word here is not a business term, but as Wikipedia says, “In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.” Wikipedia goes on to describe agency as “one’s independent capability or ability to act on one’s will.”
Madison has developed a sound sense of agency at a young age in making things happen for herself and her family. May she learn to master the sense of agency in other areas of her life that prove as useful as it has in this part of her life.
I want to follow-up on the idea of “agency”–of bringing things about in one’s life that are positive, productive and energizing. We can tackle this exercise by brainstorming other words or phrases that mean something similar. Brainstorming is more fun with others, but I will go it alone for the moment. (Feel free to join me when you get this.)
Making something happen that you desire
Creating what you want
Manifesting (heard this word today — love it!)
Building an attitude that serves you
Finding ways to overcome obstacles
Seeking productive solutions
Utilizing mentors, experts, and others who can help
As you can see, I generated plenty of ways to articulate “agency.” Of course, I am looking for the positive side of agency.
We may want a million dollars and decide to rob a bank. That IS manifesting what you want in life, but it comes with negative consequences. So let’s be clear.
I’m talking about when a person displays “agency” that person is seeking legitimate ends through legitimate means. Am I splitting hairs? I’m trying to be clear.
It is not me wanting to buy a Hummer, when I make $32,000 a year. It is not me desiring a pair of shoes that I will wear one to three times and pay $150 for them–especially if I’m making only $32,000. But agency could be me deciding to learn the piano at age 42 and making the required adjustments around family and work life to make it feasible to do.
Agency is a young woman wanting to study abroad as a junior in college and being willing to cover part of the cost by working; to apply for a scholarship, grant or loan; and ask mom and dad to help with part of the cost, if that is possible. It includes initiating and completing the application on time, even if she needs help. And if a young woman demonstrates agency she will do any other preparation necessary for the trip.
Does this short essay get us any closer to understanding the concept of agency? And why is it important for us to understand the concept?
I have a thing about “agency,” which I wrote about in my coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away. For many of our young women particularly, but also young men, I believe they have difficulty in acquiring a sense of “agency” for themselves in today’s world. “Agency” is not an often used term, but it seems to capture much of what I think is needed for young people to develop as they come of age. (My concern and interest is primarily young women, so I will address them.)
I want to explore this concept for several days in a row on my blog to see if I can bring more clarity about it for myself and for you, my reader. Hopefully we can discover its ingredients to growing up and maturing in our society. Here goes!
When I speak about the agency of a young girl, growing up, maturing and coming of age, what do I mean? Think with me in terms of a “travel agent.” What is the role of a travel agent?
An agent researches and selects a destination; sets up an itinerary of sites to see and things to do; arranges lodging, food, and transportation; develops a budget to generate the cost for you; creates reasons and benefits of why one should go to that location–all to minimize your work in getting ready to travel.
Much like a travel agent, a young woman learns through experience, how to make things happen for herself. Even failure becomes a powerful learning tool. Each young woman is capable of becoming her own “agent.”
She can determine a destination that appeals to her and check the things she wants to see and do there-decide if it is a worthwhile journey. If still it’s still an attractive destination, then she can determine if she can afford to go. If so, she can schedule transportation, make arrangements, and generate the cash to finance the trip.
Once she is there she makes the most of her research and what she learned from others who have been there before. She will learn what she likes and doesn’t like about the place and the trip. Failure and success will inform her next adventure in life.
Over time, this sense of “agency” becomes more refined and more productive for her. We often call this “growing up.”
A fellow blogger has provided a strict version (and by “strict” I mean helpful) of how to pack for a 6-week trip in one carry-on bag. It is terrific advice in addition to a previous post I offered some time ago, Tips for packing light for travel — tried and proven.
I know from experience I have to remind myself each time I travel how little it takes. And the less I take the more enjoyable my journey. So I’m sharing Brittany’s sage advice with you as a friendly reminder.
Each one of us in class had traveled to Isla Mujeres for an extended stay (one week to six months or more). Meg encouraged us to meditate during yoga practice that day on where we find home for ourselves.
Did we view the house and hometown from which we traveled our home?
Were we able to see our temporary home of the island as home for the duration of our stay?
Did we always interpret home as a place?
Or could we consent to the intangible concept of home as the truth that resides within us?
In her gentle way way of merging meditation into yoga practice (which by the way makes her the best yoga instructor I’ve ever had), Meg invited us to contemplate what our truth was and how it could be the home we carry with us, regardless of where we find ourselves in the world.
The question resonated with me, because of the title of my blog.
As would happen, unfortunately my thoughts ran wild with how I would use this experience in my blog, only to find I lost a sense of being present during yoga practice and failed to meditate on the question.
So now I reflect on the still lingering question, where is home for you? Here is my belated, stream-of-consciousness exploration.
I recall at age fifteen while traveling in Europe one night I told fellow travelers I was tired and ready to go home. All of them, older than me, tried to console and convince me that we could not go home yet with ten days to go. I laughed. I wasn’t homesick, wanting to go back to the States; I wanted to go back to the hotel and go to bed.
My truth is that I’m at home most everywhere I go. Oh yes, I can fear the unknown. I can be physically uncomfortable; therefore I’m not likely to choose a mountain bike tour or a high-ropes course.
I like my creature comforts. A soft but supportive bed, and drinkable water are must-haves for me; while delicious food is a plus.
One year in anticipation of staying in a empty college dorm room while attending a writing workshop, I brought a brightly colored quilt for my bed, a photo of husband and daughter, and a candle to enhance the lonely feel of the space. Beauty in the broadest sense is important to my well-being.
My conclusion or truth:
I usually find comfort and beauty wherever I go and make myself at home. I attempt to create beauty and comfort, if they don’t exist. That’s one of the reason I attend yoga classes while at home and away.
For me “Naked and Afraid,” a reality show, is not my idea of a fun adventure. A journey might include some discomfort; but certainly not hazardous and life-threatening elements. That’s why I seek out travel that is both comforting and comfortable, and is beautiful–for example the ocean, sand, surf, sun, and shade combination at Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
What is your truth about finding home? Is it a place in space or a place inside? How do you go about seeking, and finding or creating it?
Yes, I know that we can be over prepared for many things because of our fears of being unprepared. Here is one area for which you cannot be over prepared.
Carry a list of our medications (both prescription and over-the-counter kind).
Last year while in Mexico a friend fainted and lost consciousness for a moment. The Emergency Medical Service was called. When they arrived, they needed to know what medications she was taking. Her partner ran to get the ziplock bag of her meds, as she laid on the concrete floor coming around. The EMS workers then tried with the help of two tourists, who were nurses to determine what each pill was named and what it treated.
A list of meds would have been an easy solution to the problem.
I carry a list of my medications, vitamins and minerals,and over-the-counter meds. Next to each I indicate how often I take them on a regular basis and which ones I take PRN which means “taken as needed” by the medical profession.
I also state my blood type, allergies, and my medical insurance account number and how to reach them. In addition to these things, I offer a listing of the people who should be notified in case of an emergency with phone numbers.
I label it ICE (in case of emergency) and craft it so it is small enough to fit in my billfold. It takes up a half-page, folded in thirds, and stores in a small jewelry-sized ziplock bag. I have it with me at all times.
I use this when I go to a doctor’s office at home and the office asks for my medications. They copy it and place it in my file. I update it when it changes in any way, then record the date of the most recent changes.
Be prepared with a list of your medications before leaving on your next trip.
Have you had an emergency and learned what you needed that you did not have? Share your own experiences with me and other readers.
Recently, I decided on a lark to go with two girlfriends, Cathy and Jenn to Tuxtla and San Cristóbal, Mexico from Cancun. They already had their flights reserved, so I went in to make my arrangements. Buyer beware: then fly Volaris®.
Volaris®, the Mexican airline with the best fares (their claim, not mine), is a budget airline. It offers a low fee, then you add on services you desire. But as you can imagine some of those add-ons get buried.
I could see that Volaris®had automatically added “seat selection” ($10) and “flight insurance” ($8) to my bottom line. However, it was not until the next page that those options were offered. So I had to uncheck them.
The website developers at Volaris® made the “flight insurance” readily obvious. (I recommend flight insurance to anyone, unless you have adequate credit card insurance coverage, which I did) So I disabled the “add-on”.
The Volaris® developers hid the “seat selection” much deeper. I had to call Jenn to help me find that. Interestingly, the amount of $6 each way would have totalled $12, not $10 they charged me. That anomaly aside, I disabled the add-on for a reduction in my fare of $18.00.
Volaris® offered a 20% discount if flying internationally or within Mexico from February 4-March 31 and purchased by February 8. I met all the criteria, but Volaris®did not provide a “promo code” box, nor did the airline apply the 20% off to the fare. I purchased the ticket without the discount, because I didn’t know if there would be seats later, if I questioned the airline first. It was still a good deal, but not the $15-20 dollars I could have saved.
I have now written Volaris® asking for the 20% discount off my fare. In total, I have spent about an hour working for that flight reservation and discount refund. I am awaiting their reply; and am hopeful.
With all of that said, I still recommend Volaris® as a budget airline. I flew with them last year from Cancun to San Miguel de Allende without problems. If you know what to expect, if you are willing to be a savvy shopper, and if you take the time, you can fly inexpensively with one to two small bags without checking them.
Raul and Patricia’ hometown, Lima, Peru, houses 11 million people—an urban environment by anyone’s definition. They and their three children have lived in multiple locations and cultures in the United States, Puerto Rico and Peru. For the Raul and Patricia it is a return home. The entire family returns as fluent bi-lingual, global citizens.
A surprise when I arrive—Lima is a desert location, recording an average of 1 and 1/2 inch of rain a year. It is not apparent, until we drive out of the built-environment (city) and into the natural-environment (mountainous countryside), what the desert actually looks like. It appears as moonscape, barren of any vegetation, except where someone had planted a green living thing and watered it.
Our trip to visit them is a challenge for me, less so for Lynn. We have avoided urban areas as a deliberate choice to miss out on traffic, smog and big-city stress. We have each studied Spanish, but unfortunately have not mastered it. On the other hand, we have put ourselves in the world again and again to explore and meet others. We choose to do that again by visiting Raul and Patricia’s family, whom we met in Iowa years ago, now in Peru.
We celebrate our arrival with a Pisco Sour, Peru’s national cocktail. But Lynn cannot decide between it and a glass of wine. He has his own challenges.
A refresher on the Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell introduced the world to The Hero’s Journey. He discovered similarities of what happened in stories, fables, and fairy tales after years of study. He called these similar steps The Hero’s Journey. There are many ways to explain this layered epic journey; one way is to outline five stages, as Joseph Dispenza had done in The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey to Self-Discovery (2002):
the call to journey;
preparation for the journey;
the path and encounter;
and finally reflection in telling the tale to others at home.
HERO is meant, not as a male model; but an inclusive, universal archetype.
Archetype = a classic prototype
I have previously covered: Step 1: The Call and Step 2: The Preparation. Now, I introduce Step 3: The Path and Encounter through our trip to Lima, Peru.
Our path took us from the airport to their home, to the university where Raul works, to their Regatta Club, to a full-service grocery store and local open market, to their church, and to the sights of the city and their favorite haunts (restaurants, bistros, and bars).
Our purpose for this trip was not so much to play tourist, but to become a part of the family for ten days and experience their life as much as possible in ten days. They allowed us to share their life, specifically asking us to come when their youngest would celebrate her first communion. Wow, what an invitation to a significant part of their life!
Each of the three kids included us in their life in different ways. I’ll share our encounters with the two adult children Daniela, 25 and Ian, 20 at the time.
Daniela, the young professional working a day job, while creating her own business with a friend and earning a second bachelor’s degree in Business. She and her friend invite us to the garment market district, where they seek manufacturers of production for their beachwear line. They need fabric to make sample designs for a market fair. This includes a pattern designer, a seamstress, and the product finisher. They prefer to find all steps of manufacturing within one family, so they do not have to move their sample product from one manufacturer to the next.
With travel instruction from Daniela to look “local,” I tag along without purse, keys, money, except for a phone to take photos. Lynn and I need some soles (Peru’s currency) and ask Daniela if she can take us to a bank to get money exchanged. “Sure, we will do that on our way to the market district.”
We arrived in the market district and are looking for parking, when Daniela stops in the middle of a street. A man runs over to her car and she turns to us and says, “Where are your dollars?” Lynn pulls out a fifty dollar bill. She hands it to the man through her window. He exchanges the money, hands her the soles, then she gives them to Lynn. Both stunned, Lynn and I don’t even know how to ask, “What just happened?”
Daniela (far left) and her friend, Claudia negotiates with one of the manufacturers.
We learned from Daniela her take on the Peruvian economy. “The way we are going to grow the economy is not like most countries by building big companies; but we are a country of entrepreneurs, people starting small businesses online, out of their homes or cars. We are the future of Peru.”
On most days Daniela spends time with us before work over our mutual love of coffee and after work at a bistro or pub with a drink and/or supper. Once upon a time with our own daughter, we established “porch talks” when we discussed the mundane and the mandated parts of her life growing up. We found ourselves on the patio at their apartment discussing life, economics, politics, culture, work and college. Our “porch talks” became special time with each member of the family.
Ian, a typical college sophomore student, feels a bit insecure about college, his major, and even whether Peru is the place for him. You see, he is more an American than all the rest of the family, due to circumstances and perhaps his personality. Because Lynn and I have just recently retired from working with college students, we had several conversations about college course work, departmental requirements, peers and fitting in.
Ian is studying architecture at a local university and feels his creativity is stymied by academic professors (like many other students perhaps). He feels like an outsider in a new university with his peers, left out of cliques and circles. We discussed who he is and what he wants to do.
Lynn discusses the cultures Ian has lived in and why he thinks he is more American. Ian thinks out loud, “I’ve lived more of my life in the United States than in Peru. My first language is English, not Spanish. I’m part of this family, but everyone else feels more Peruvian than I do. And I feel excluded by classmates at college.”
Lynn asks, “Does you want to be included?”
“Then why let it bother you?”
Ian’s brow furrows. “I’ll have to think about that.” He is the kind to think hard and long about it. He is a soulful kind of person.
I visit with him about being a global citizen, like I did with my students previous.
“Because you have seen and experienced things that most Americans have not, this will make you an asset to employers and architectural design companies in the U.S.”
“Like what kind of things do you mean?” he asked.
“I have noticed several elements of design since arriving in Peru that I’ve never seen. And I’ve experienced things I never have before.”
“Like what?” Ian wants to know.
The toothbrush holder in the girls bathroom. (photo at bottom)
Daniela’s exchange of our $50 for 158 soles (their currency) from a man on the street from her car.
An appetizer of french fries with 2 sunny-side-up eggs and prosciutto
Another, mashed potatoes shaped into tiny square with tuna salad on top.
Experienced my first all “raw” meal at Punto Organico Restaurant.
Learned a new slogan, “PPP or the political power of products.”
Eaten a root vegetable, “olluco,” similar to a potato, carrot and turnip, but not.
Men with mobile washing equipment cleaning cars in parking lot at the Regatta Club
Toilets have paper by the sink, not in stalls; I must get it before going into a stall.
An hour and a half out of the city the air turns to dust—no vegetation.
In a restaurant seats have a “purse clasp” I looped my purse strap through for security (photo below)
Vertical gardens growing up the sides of apartment buildings 5+ stories high
Street signs for “telepizza” (pizza by phone) and “sofa cafe” (only sofas in cafe)
The buffet table setting with forks laid out with knives on their edge nested in the tines of forks. (photo below)
Ian’s head begins to nod, when he realizes he too sees the world in general, as well as specifically architecture, buildings and structures in different ways. All this because of opportunity to view different things in his world than many of his peers (and perhaps his professors, too).
College seems dull, not motivating at all. But he can see that his lack of fitting what the professor wants may be a lack on the part of the professor, not his.
Often the landscape and/or experiences of our travel offers metaphors to our inner lives. As an example, the desert territory I found in Lima. When my life feels dry and lifeless, I can remember the Peruvian ecosystem in coastal Lima and nearby mountains where citizens plant and water greenery to add life-giving lushness in the city or countryside. Meaning of metaphor: I can create my life and the things I want in it.
In another attempt to find metaphor from my travel for my own inner life, I can recall Daniela’s attempts to start a new business to add interest, motivation, and richness to her dull job. When I suggest to Ian that he use what he has experienced as a global citizen to create his own mark on the world, I can apply that advice to myself. Meaning of metaphor: I can use my unique travel experiences to understand characters in my novel to help me write them as well-rounded characters with inconsistencies and paradoxical behaviors.
As Dispenza states in The Way of the Traveler (page 83), “Travel transforms us … At the heart of that journey ‘out,’ we happen upon the deepest mysteries ‘within.” With the help of Daniela and Ian, I’m am being transformed.
QUESTION: What metaphors for your inner life have you encountered in your outward life of travel (whether to Timbuktu or to town meeting)?
This is the BIGGER picture of what writing is all about. Belinda Williams states my experience as a writer. Fortunately, I love to write all of these items. I experience these writing projects as challenge and reward both.
Writing is about a hell of a lot more than just writing.
When I started writing, I had a vague idea of what I was getting myself in for. With the release of my latest contemporary romance, The Pitch, later this month [May 2015], I’ve got a much clearer idea. It’s the third book I’ve released (with two more due for release late this year and next).
Books on my desk checked out from the public library to prepare for my travels to Peru, include the following:
Pizarro and the Conquest of the Incan Empire in World History, by Richard Worth, 2000.
I read this one cover to cover, but it was a short history book with 120 pages. I recognized the storyline from North American history – colonization, conquest, and capture. Same story, different names.
Between the Lines: The Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawaing of Ancient Nasca, Peru by Anthony F. Aveni, 2000.
I read parts of this one, studied the photos and captions that told the story without details. At least I will know about Nasca when I get there.
The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes, by Johan Reinhard (National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence), 2005.
I had not heard of the Ice Maiden before and found the story fascinating, especially through the eyes and hands of an archeologist and explorer. With only a limited time, I skimmed this for the gist of the discovery and recovery of the Ice Maiden. Fascinating. I’ll be pulling this from the library shelves when I get back. Again, I’ll know what folks are talking about when they reference the Ice Maiden.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, by Mark Adams, 2011.
I never got to this one, but because I will not see Machu Picchu, I decided I could read it in the future.
Genesis, first volume in Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, 1982 in Spain and the translation copyright is 1985 by Cedric Belgrage.
A non-traditional book, it is “both a meditation on the clashes between the Old World and the New, and in the author’s words, an attempt to ‘rescue the kidnapped memory of all America’.” (from the back cover) Each entry was less than half a page typically and observational in retrospect. I hunted to find entries on Peru, so gave up quickly, because of time.
Often my preparation for a trip is to 1) read about the place (see the list of books above I checked out to review), 2) become familiar with a map of the city or region, 3) digest some cultural literature, and 4) purchase gifts for hosts and people along the way. I took these steps in preparation for visiting friends in Lima, Peru.
A refresher on the Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell introduced the world to The Hero’s Journey. He discovered similarities of what happened in stories, fables, and fairy tales after years of study. He called these similar steps The Hero’s Journey. There are many ways to explain this layered epic journey; one way is to outline five stages:
the call to journey;
preparation for the journey;
the path and encounter;
and finally reflection in telling the tale to others at home.
HERO is meant, not as a male model, but an inclusive, universal archetype.
Archetype = a classic prototype
(Months ago I blogged about The Call (Step #1). My blog went down and I did not follow-up right away.)
Now below, I continue the series on the Hero’s Journey, Part #2 The Preparation.
First step, I bought the ONLY travel book in my local Hastings on Peru. I read all the parts that would apply to my trip and some others of interest to me, so I could discuss these things while there and wouldn’t seem uninformed about their country. Next step, I studied the map of Lima to have a sense of the city before arriving. I tore out pages that referred to the city and packed them.
Third step, I bought a classic Peruvian novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller from our local library’s weekly used book sale. This would be more of a challenge than I thought. I completed the book while in Lima, but found reading a summary prior to tackling the book would have helped. I easily confused the two main characters. Latino literature is full of mysterious, symbolic or fantastical imagery, which further mangled my understanding. But when I learned that Latino writers often had to write in “code” or were shot of truth telling, it made more sense. That lesson alone taught me about the restrictive governments or military powers that long held sway in south American countries.
And the final step, I emailed Patricia with ideas I had thought of for Mariana’s confirmation gift. I asked Patricia, Mariana’s mom, to give me guidance so I could please her. Patricia sent me a picture of a pencil case Mariana wanted (item number and color) and could not get in Lima. It arrived the day before we left. Whew!
I travel with these items and carefully packed clothes for everyday and professional presentation attire that can be combined and worn interchangeably. Our hosts advised us to bring warm clothes. We underestimated how warm, but would manage by borrowing jackets from Raul and Patricia.
In addition for our volunteer task, Lynn and I prepared a two-hour presentation on “Experiential Learning Beyond the Classroom.” We selected a few PowerPoint visuals to guide the facilitation with faculty at Raul’s university where he works, Científica Universidad del Sur. We divided up parts according to our experience and knowledge base. We were ready.
We packed lightly for an easy trip from San Antonio to Mexico City to Lima. Though traveling far, we stayed within the same time zone, except the US was on daylight-savings time, making the time difference only one hour.
Now, I have illustrated how I use the the Call and the Preparation steps of the Hero’s Journey to get ready for a trip.
For travelers: Can you relate to either of these passages that ready us for a journey to either see the relatives across town, or a journey around the world to explore another culture? Will you share an example of either or both steps in the Hero’s Journey and how important they were to your travel?
For writers: Can you use the Hero’s Journey to write a memoir of a time in your life? Can you find ways to weave the Hero’s Journey into your fiction stories? How can you make use of the Hero’s Journey to enrich your writing?
LEAVE YOUR ANSWERS BELOW. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Fellow writers are friends. They are generous with writing advice and tips for improving our work. See the Southwest Writers blog post by Bentley Clark. Thanks to her for the “10 Rules for Imitating Author Ken Bruen” blog post, derived from her favorite author.
I model my writing from time to time on a passage from another author that I feel expresses what I’m attempting to accomplish in my writing. “Imitating another author” has worked remarkably well for me.
In a novel that I’m writing, I try to “use little to no dialogue attributions.” This makes for cleaner writing and easier reading.
“Keep your descriptions to a minimum” provides a challenge, not a cop-out. It demands that we provide sufficient description to keep the reader interested, which is enough to visualize the setting or action, but without slowing down the reader.
Joseph Campbell introduced the world to The Hero’s Journey in a book entitled, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. After years of study he discovered similar storylines in stories, fables, and fairy tales. He called these similar steps, The Hero’s Journey. Though there are many ways to explain this layered epic journey, one simple way is to outline the five stages:
the call to journey;
preparation for the journey;
the path and encounter;
the return; and finally
reflection in telling the tale to others at home.
HERO is meant, not as a male model, but an inclusive, universal archetype.
Archetype = a classic prototype
As a traveler, an adult educator, writer and blogger, I believe I should not only write about the Hero’s Journey, but I should model what it is and how we can use this ideal in our own lives. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to share how I use these steps as I get ready to travel to Lima, Peru for a visit with friends. This week I’ll write about THE CALL.
I will not be touring Machu Picchu (one of the wonders of the world), which would make this an epic spiritual experience—a true Hero’s Journey. However, The Hero’s Journey, as an outline or model, helps us see and realize travel as a practical AND spiritual experience, regardless the weight of the travel or the experience.
Joseph Dispenza in his book, The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self-Discoverysays the call to journey is a request of our inner self. Often we are ready for a shift, change or perhaps even a transformation in our lives. When we answer the call, our intention sets something in motion—whether you call it God’s hand, the universe, or spirit.
My husband Lynn and I try to make a trip (just the two of us) each year, in addition to visiting family. In recent years we have traveled within the U.S. borders. In the past however, we have journeyed to such exotic places as Japan, South Africa and most recently in 2008 to Turkey. It has been a long time since we have been out of the country, except for our annual month-long stay on a Mexican island.
Lynn and I are both adventuresome, but in different ways. He is more physical in his need to step into the world and explore; while, I am more intellectual or interested in exploring ideas and relationships.
For the last year or so, Lynn has been talking about going to see our friends, Raul and Patricia in Lima, Peru, where they grew up and currently live and work. (They and their children are bilingual by living in English-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries since we last saw them.) Raul had been Lynn’s graduate student decades ago. We have had them in our home many times in the States and know their kids, Daniella and Ian. But have not met their youngest, Mariana, born since we last saw them.
Lynn and I asked them early this year when would be a good time for us to visit, April or September. They opted for September, so when Lynn went to purchase airline tickets, he asked Raul, “early or late September?” Because Mariana experiences her first communion in late September, Raul asked if we could come then. How special to get to celebrate this milestone in her life.
Dispenza writes in his book at length about The Call and our reaction to it. We choose to see friends, who happen to live in Lima, the City of Kings, so we can see the city as well. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have fears about going. Dispenza suggest we identify our fears (hesitations, reluctances), write them down. Next, decide which ones are irrational and which ones are realistic. For the fears that are left, write them on a piece of paper and place them in box, so you don’t take them with you.
Here are some of my fears. I’m afraid…
That I won’t have the stamina to keep up with our hosts and their younger family. (Realistic)
That I will be intimidated visiting our bilingual friends. (Irrational)
That we will impose too much on a family, which is still working. (Realistic)
That we will not get to explore and feel adventureous, because we are staying with locals. (Maybe, maybe not)
That I won’t be able to look and act as cosmopolitan as Raul and Patricia, who have grown up in the city. (Realistic, but irrelevant.)
Dispenza suggests that we take the realistic fears and see what we can do about them. Lynn and I have offered to take off on our own to tour the city while they are at work. This addresses fears #3 and #4. Fear #1 requires that I get plenty of rest while away, I don’t let myself get dehydrated, and I stay active, but not to the point of exhaustion. These things mean I must communicate with our friends how much is enough or too much.
In answering The Call to this place, Lynn and I also offered our services to Raul’s university to do a workshop or seminar with our extensive university backgrounds. This idea grew out of an experience years ago in which Lynn and I conducted a week-long in-service training for Mangosuthu Technikan in South Africa. We found we got to know locals in a more real and personal way. We got to learn what their higher education problems were as compared to ours in the U.S., which often were more similar than different. And three cultures in the training workshop, African tribal, Indian, and Afrikaans, shared their separate stories as they related them to the issues of higher education in South Africa, their challenges as faculty and as South Africans post-Apartheid.
Raul and we have come up with a plan to share our experience in experiential learning that augments the standard classroom learning. We hope this sharing will be a two-way street between us and the faculty, and will be useful to the university, students, and faculty in implementing new learning opportunities for students.
Lynn also asked Raul to attend an English-speaking Toast Master International club while there. He will offer an extemporaneous speech, if the two of them can manage a time to go together.
MEANING OF PLACE
Again, Dispenza offers guidance on how to think of The Call in allegorical ways. He suggests we list the different meanings the PLACE can be for us, both literally and metaphorically.
Lima, the City of Kings, associations:
Wealth, whether I’m talking about money and jewels, or conversation and friendship
Silver and gold, whether learning their history or shopping for jewelry
Incas, learning about a culture that vanished years ago and experiencing the current cityscape of Lima
Treasures of friendship long-ago, treasured time together now, what we have to share today
Opportunity to be part of a major family tradition, Mariana’s first communion, and the chance to meet with her extended family members who will attend also
Glittery society of a metropolitan city versus a small-town atmosphere, simply the lights of the city will be a sight for us
Spanish language, a romance language, the language of today, most likely not of the Inca’s
Latin America, different from Mexico and Costa Rica, central American countries with which I’m acquainted
Spiritual, the Peruvian history has an aura of spirituality, especially Macho Picchu; our contribution through volunteering can be a spiritual experience
With these associations in mind, here are some possible ways our travel can create meaning for me.
We get to explore and discover a Latin American culture that provides some adventure in our routine lives. By experiencing city life in a Latin American country, which I have not visited before, this may be a glittering example of riches of a culture I have not participated in before.
We have the opportunity to participate in the spiritual lives of our friends by attending Mariana’s first communion.
The primary reason for the trip is to become reacquainted and spend time with our friends. This visit will be special, because they will be sharing their hometown and their culture, unlike it has been in the past in our country, when we shared ours with them.
Our volunteer work at the university might open some doors of new friendships and international cooperation and/or research. It is possible this seminar might develop into future consulting that might bring us back.
As I consider what this place can mean to me, I realize that these ideas are pure conjecture on my part.
BUILDING A SHRINE
Dispenza suggests we build a small shrine to present what is going on in the outer world that represents what is going on inside of us. He considers a travel shrine, as a “tangible expression of the journey in all its many manifestations, including your excitement, your hesitations, your preparations, and your expectations.” (p. 46-47)
Right now I have a stack of books about Peru: its history, its landscape, its significant people and locations. I have the days marked off my calendar and reservation filed. I will have to think about shrine building some more. But the call to journey demands preparation next.
Travelers: Can you identify with any of these actions I took as a result of trying to follow the Hero’s Journey? Was building a shrine easier for you than me?
Writers: Do you see the value of viewing your protagonist as a sojourner? Can you craft the “call” of your main character in your next story? Does this add an element of intrigue, depth, or richness? How did you do it?
SHARE YOUR ANSWERS BELOW. I look forward to hearing from you!
You don’t have to leave home to experience the world around you, if you are alert and paying attention. Often we think of seeing new creature elsewhere when we travel and that the moon looks more romantic and idyllic from another location. But I have three encounters with nature–two at home and another one, what could be your hometown–that wowed me this summer in the good old United States.
I have had no luck in identifying a tiny reddish-brown toad that hatched just about 2 weeks ago here in south central Texas. In seven years of living here, I’ve never seen this one before. I walk the dog everyday, so I notice things like this.
By “tiny” I mean about half the size of my little fingernail when they first arrived. They appeared over night in the hundreds of thousands, I presume.
Two weeks later they are now about the length of the first joint of my little finger. They are everywhere–hopping out of the grass as I walk; lounging or leaping about in our rock garden; and sometimes smashed on the golf cart path.
Toads are helpful critters in that they eat fleas, mosquitoes, and other bugs as they grow larger. I’m fascinated by their size; their color, which matches the red rocks in the garden; and their numbers. I hope to learn more; but until then, I’ll enjoy their company.
Last Friday morning as Murphy (our Shih Tzu) and I started out for our walk about 6:45 a.m., the full blue moon sat on the horizon in front of me. It looked as if the tree tops were holding it up. It was platter size and golden yellow surrounded by peachy tones in the sky. I always have my cell phone with me–but not this day. I am sorry I have nothing except my description to offer you.
The day before I had heard on NPR about the July “blue moon.” Though not always blue in color, it refers to both full moons of a calendar month or the fourth moon in a season, which only happens about every 2.7 years. The last one was in 2012; the next one, likely in 2018. Read more about a blue moon to learn how it came to be called that by mistake on the NPR site above.
Though I was traveling out of state this year when I encountered a new critter, this could be your hometown. I was in Jackson, Tennessee visiting my Aunt Faye. When I got out of the car I heard this strange whirring noise unlike anything I’d heard before. Almost industrial, like a machine working hard to cut through tough material, but not quite.
When I asked about the sound, Aunt Faye explained it was a 17-year cycle cicada (not the same one I see and hear all the time whether I’m in my home state of Arkansas, in my current home in Texas or in France, which is renowned for the cicada).
We took photos of it in my mom’s hand.
I came home and looked it up, it is called the Magicicada Periodical Cicada. It is not the typically annual cicada that we hear at night in the summer, that is squarish at the head and wider, and that is greenish iridescent. This one is slender and a warm reddish-brown color. In fact the Magicicada Periodical Cicada, is heard in the spring and early summer and only in certain states. AND it whirs, instead of chirping; it fills the air with a sound that one feels as well as hears.
What about you?
Have you experienced a new critter or new nature sighting this summer in your backyard, hometown park, or friend’s farm or ranch close to home?
Wow, these are terrific insights on travel. We can learn more about our world, as well as learn more about ourselves. All travelers should tuck these in their journals before leaving. These lessons are on target for first-time and long-time travelers. Read them NOW.
Among the wonderful benefits of traveling is the opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself, while learning about other people and cultures around the world. And along the way, it’s important to look back and reflect upon what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. With my recent trip to The Bahamas marking my 20th country visited, I’m taking a moment to reflect! Here are the 20 Lessons I’ve Learned from Traveling to 20 Countries:
1. I am not the center of the universe. Most people are self-absorbed on some level, and I think the easiest cure to a case of vanity is traveling the world to see how much life exists beyond your own. It’s actually a really beautiful realization to learn about other people from different walks of life, to appreciate what life is like all around the world. So pack your bags and leave your self-glorified…
I have found a few things that I can recommend from years of traveling. Recently on a trip from Isla Mujeres, Mexico, to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, girlfriends and I carried backpacks for a three-day trip. That requires paring things down to only the essentials.
The first thing to consider is finding the lightest weight backpack that will hold your belongings adequately. I have one mesh backpack that carries a couple days’ of clothes, a small cosmetic bag, meds, a pair of shoes and my woven fabric purse. The draw-string holds things secure and the flap that buckles will hold my skinny feather pillow rolled (with which I travel everywhere) between the top of the backpack and the flap.
Another thing I have come to utilize in very recent years is the reversible skirt, dress, and/or jacket. I love the warmth of fleece, so I take a fleece jacket anytime I travel. I had several colors, but not one that goes with everything. I found a beige and gray reversible fleece jacket with wonderfully deep pockets on both sides with a zipper (always a plus when traveling). The trim was beige and had some stains that did not come out in the wash. So I took it to my seamstress and had her install black trim that looks good on both sides and will won’t show dirt and grim the way beige does.
I love, love, love white shirts. But they yellow with the use of sunscreen mixed with sweat around the neck and sleeves, so I have given up on white shirts for the most part. I take colored tops that don’t yellow so obviously. I still take one white blouse to wear as an over shirt or a stand-alone top that I wear at night after a shower with no sunscreen.
I learned new tricks from different friends in Mexico this year that can save me money and space in my bags. I left home without my translucent face powder. I doubted my friend, but baby powder works on wonders on my face and I already had it in my bags.
Another friend told me she wears only one pair of earrings when she travels. She brings an exact matching pair, so if she loses one earring, she has a replacement. Because I lose earrings when I travel, I decided this ingenious idea would be a new standard for my travel. When I returned home, I bought double pairs of earrings with my favorite clasp in both silver and gold tones. I’ll be traveling out of state to high school graduation parties in a couple of weeks and will take either the silver or gold, depending on what I take to wear.
My husband learned somewhere along the way to use mineral oil for shaving. He carries a tiny bottle. He needs three drops works for a facial shave. I require six drops for each leg I shave. It take ups little to no space and leaves your skin soft. It beats big shaving cream cans and can be carried through security.
Shoes are the bane of every woman traveling. I wear my athletic shoes with jeans on the plane, because they both take up space and add weight. I pack and get by with a pair of walking sandals or flats, and a pair of slip-on sandals or house shoes for in the room. I rarely dress up when I’m traveling, so this works for me. You might need another pair, but think hard before you add another pair.
And of course, the age-old-wisdom: take mix and match clothes that layer. Everything must go with everything else you take. I don’t know where I read this or who said it, but one woman wrote that she can travel with three days of clothes for a month. Scarves, belts, and jewelry make this more doable.
Finally, I decided years ago (finally) to have a complete second set of cosmetics and hair dryer and roller to pack. I can then pack my bags and have them in the car the night before we leave. This makes my husband so happy and content, and relieves the stress of last minute packing.
I have not achieved this level of parsimonious packing all the time, but I’m always working toward it. If I cannot carry my luggage myself, I repack until I can.
I count on writing most days. I count on thinking about writing every day. I count on learning more about the craft by reading about writing.
I count on the fact that I write for many reasons. I enjoy it. I have fun with it. I write to learn more about myself. I write to create worlds I will never experience. I write to learn about my characters. I write to entertain. I write to provide thought and feeling through my stories.
You can see there is little rhyme or reason to that list of aims for writing. Each is true, however.
Count for Writing
But why would I count for writing?
In the most recently read book on writing, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark, I discovered the answer in a tool I had never considered in my writing life. Chapter #20 entitled, “Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind,” tells us that the number of things we list sends a sly message to our readers.
1. Clark states that one characteristic is a powerful declaration. For example:
Fiona was embarrassed.
Jacob carried himself with self-assurance.
If we write either of those sentences with more description it takes away from the one thing with which we want the reader to know.
2. Clark says that two descriptions provide the reader comparison or contrast.
Fiona was embarrassed, because of her elegance.
Jacob carried himself with self-assurance and arrogance.
When we write to tell our readers more about our characters, two depictions often provide a paradox. We are one thing and another, both/and, at the same time. This offers a way to see our characters in deeper, richer, and more realistic ways.
Think of pairs that communicate more: ham and beans; sweet and sour; France and Finland; war and peace; moon and sun; Mutt and Jeff.
3) Clark illustrates that three components offers a sense of completeness and wholeness.
Fiona was embarrassed, because of her elegance; but never admitted it.
Jacob carried himself with self-assurance and arrogance; however, he got things done.
We know much more about these two characters with the third element added to the sentence. They are more fully human. We can see inconsistencies in their character. They become more rounded, realistic folks to the reader.
Three is a magical number that is used in many ways. In terms of a story, we have three acts or the beginning, middle, and end. In terms of the Christian faith, we hold the three-in-one holy (or wholly), the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Our U.S.A. national government is divided into three branches to create balance of power, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
4. Clark informs us that three is greater than four. Three gives a sense of completeness. A listing of four or more, however enters what Clark calls “escape velocity.” A plethora of details can give a moving, literary feel to the writing—if used with experience and skill.
Fiona was embarrassed, because of her elegance; but never admitted it, because she stood to lose face with the queen.
Jacob carried himself with self-assurance and arrogance; however, he got things done, because of his position.
When we as writers use four or more to list attributes, or inventory roles, compile elements, and elaborate on what went on before, we generate complexity in the story line or complicity among characters. However, if not used skillfully, we can also cause complications and confusion for readers. Use this one with care.
Clark summarizes his chapter this way:
Use one for power
Use two for comparison, contrast
Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness
Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, expand
Here is one example to illustrate how these come together in a paragraph.
“I’m a writer. Google my name and see for yourself. You will find throughout my career I’ve been a curriculum writer, a marketing specialist, a training and staff development specialist, an academic advisor, and college teacher. I’ve written different kinds of materials in different jobs, been edited by other people in each, and published my work formally and informally.”
Sentence #1: one for power
Sentence #2: two actions to conduct
Sentence #3: list of five career roles
Sentence #4: three elements of each role
The paragraph pattern is 1 -2 – 5 – 3. Note that the last sentence is a summarizing statement, worthy of completeness in a listing of three things that substantiates I am a writer, as stated in sentence number one.
Here is another example from the introduction of this post:
“I count on writing most days. I can count on thinking about writing every day. I count on learning more about the craft by reading about writing. (3)
I count on the fact that I write for many reasons. I enjoy it. I have fun with it. I write to learn more about myself. I write to create worlds I will never experience. I write to learn about my characters. I write to entertain. I write to provide thought and feeling through my stories. (4+, actually 8)
You can see there is little rhyme or reason to that list of aims. Each is true, however” (2)
Pattern to the introduction: 3 – 4 – 2 (I use “1” frequently in sentences throughout to give power to each.)
This new knowledge improves my writing.
Readers, how about you? Please offer an example of your own and show the pattern for it. This will give you practice and help others see it repeated.
We rallied the next morning (Wednesday, our third and last day there) over breakfast and agreed to set off to the gallery recommended by Muriel. We trekked the short distance, taking our time and stopping at intriguing little shops as we slowly made our way to the Fabrica la Aurora Gallery. An old manufacturing plant housed the galleries of contemporary furniture, glass, metal art, and mixed media art; along with the traditional arts of Mexico, like painting, weaving, and doll making.
Just as Muriel had suggested that we see all we could, we wandered around, got separated, ran into each other and headed off in different directions again. Tilly and I sauntered into one gallery together, rounded a corner and came face to face with a stampeding white stallion forging toward us.
We stopped stone-still, held our breaths, stared straight into the eyes of the charging stallion, and then looked at each other. Tilly exhaled, “Wow! If I took home a piece of art that would be it.”
I said, “Me, too. I can almost feel its breath on us.”
We stood our ground against that stallion. Each muscle, tendon, and ligament felt like it was bearing down on us. This beauty was located in one of the galleries, but I am unsure of the actual artist.*
Later as we left the gallery, Tilly and I sadly reminisced about our favorite piece of art that we could not take home with us. Cost and especially transportation would keep us from competing for the stallion. Neither of us could carry a life-size painting back to Cancun, the island, and then back to our respective homes in Canada or Texas.
When we all gather at the café in the back corner, as Muriel had explained, we visited with a man sitting next to us. He introduced himself as the dad of the woman who writes the content for the tourist information office about San Miguel.
Intrigued with Mexican nature, design, color, and graphics in general, I took more photos here than anywhere. See my collection of “Mexican Graphics,” taken from the galleries and other places around the city.
Muriel, Leslie and other women mentioned San Miguel shoes, as if they were a certain brand of shoe designed for walking the cobblestoned streets.
“What’s with these San Miguel shoes you mention? Is that just heavy soled shoes or is it a distinct shoe?”
“No, no, it is a real brand, a certain style that is designed to walk in this city.”
“No joke, where would we find them? We have to see them?”
“There is one shoe store that carries them close to your place. The shoes are really different; everyone who lives here wears them.”
“We will have to check them out.”
As we wandered the city without thinking about shoes, we came across a tiny sign that indicated a shoe store. We thought it worth asking. Oh yes, they carried San Miguel shoes. Last year’s design was on sale: this year’s new design, more expensive. They were different alright. I had to try them on. I almost bought them; but thought, Better not. Cash is low.
The first evening we arrived at the HotelQuinta Loreta, we carefully climbed the irregular and crumbling stone and mortar steps that had over time been patched. They were dangerous by day, more so at night; but repairs took place over the days we were there.
One to two workers each day took time to knock down the crumbling material and haul it away, select just the right stones for each next installment and rebuild with new stone and mortar, all the while keeping a path open to the reception office. When we would leave in the morning or return in the afternoon, they smiled, stopped their work, stepped aside, and motioned us to use the available portion. We were amazed by their fine craft, but more so, by how long it took them to get the steps completed. So as not to interrupt their work, we found another route.
Another gentleman sat across from the masonry men and worked on two ancient, Queen Ann upholstered chairs. He sanded, buffed, polished, and brought the wood back to life the week we were there. We shared few words with these artisans during our short stay, but felt a sense of knowing them by the end of our visit.
Around town we noticed posters, announcements, and advertisements of different sorts about events at the It seemed to be the happening place. The public library sat one block from our hotel, so we checked it out. Surprised, we found the open gate to the library with an uncovered courtyard, surrounded by rooms that housed their bookshelves.
In the open patio tables supplied places for people to read or more often, it appeared that people were tutoring or practicing their English or Spanish with each other. The place bustled with teens filling a computer room, and children with parents in the children’s reading room. A small book store featured local writers’ work. We never expected to find a closed thrift shop at the back of the library with stacks of used clothing piled chest-high.
We learned the next day was their weekly half-price day. We returned the following day to rummage their goods. One could not pass another person without touching them, body to body. We shopped until we tasted grit in our teeth and sneezed from the dust that had accumulated. Cathy, again, came away the winner with the most “stuff.” I bought three pairs of shorts, each for ten pesos or about eighty cents. In addition, the library held their weekly book sale. I, of course, found two I could not live without. They were far more expensive than the clothes.
These purchases drew down my stash of pesos. Tomorrow, I must find someplace to take my dollars or accept a credit card—both hard to do in Mexico. I avoided going to the bank by paying for the return transport for all of us with my credit card and had mi amigas paid me in pesos. I felt like the American TV ad where one friend insinuates to another that her date may always be willing to pay with his credit card, not because he is a gentleman, but because he gets the cash rewards.
We bought a bottle of wine to take to Bill and Howard’s. Leslie met us at the door; Harley and Muriel had not yet returned from their day-long cooking class. When they did, we hurriedly caught a taxi. The taxi climbed and climbed, shifted, revved the motor, and made a turn or two and climbed higher yet up the hill. The streets narrowed and we recognized parts of the city we had seen on the trolley tour.
The taxi pulled up to a plain white wall, a sage green gate and cacti on either side. Howard emerged from their gate to greet us.
His welcome filled up the street as he met us spilling out of two cabs. Howard’s attention turned immediately to showing us their place. The front garden area was grassy green and lush with tropical plants and a sculpture of naked men hanging off the wall—he pointed it out in case we were to miss it for all the foliage.
Leslie and Muriel had jewelry business with Bill at his shop, Pietras, attached to his house. Our disappointment that we would not see his studio and his work dissipated quickly when we entered his sanctuary. The four of us visually gobbled up as much as we could lay eyes on in a matter of minutes. From the simple to the sublime, the designs were one-of-a-kind; the price, reasonable for a statement piece one could own. Tilly honed in on a pair of lovely baroque fresh water pearl earrings for her daughter. When we were sufficiently overwhelmed, Howard scooted us out of the shop, outside again and into the house from the front door, so we could see it proper like. Tilly hung back and bought the pearl earrings from Bill.
Howard and Bill, permanent residents in San Miguel eighteen years, owned the house for about four years in a noticeably up-scale neighborhood with both Mexicans and expats. They conducted a major renovation in three months when they moved in—a story of its own. Bill and Howard entertained and hosted galas and fundraisers at their place. Art is prominent in every room, especially the entryway, throughout the lovely, more modern house, including the garage.
The entryway is full of Indian art and artifacts that Howard collected when he served as board president of the Wheelwright Museum of Santa Fe years ago. When we moved into the living room, he pointed to one wall of art that was representative of his hometown Kansas City artists from 1900 to 1950.
He proudly walked us through each bedroom and in his room was an award plaque, honoring his years of philanthropy. I paraphrase Howard’s motto, “invest where you live; give back to your community.” He recently received a surprise honorary doctorate. Learn more about his history of philanthropy—example, he and Bill started the first hospice in Mexico in San Miguel—and his mantra of life.
I love all things copper. My house in Texas is filled with copper items, especially the kitchen, so a unique application of copper in their kitchen renovation captivated me.
They painted one side of glass a shimmering copper color, placed two panes of glass together and inserted them back-to-back into distressed frames for each cabinet door. This stunning application ensured that the color would never fade or need to be repainted. Brilliant!
The bedrooms appeared that Ralph Lauren had dressed each uniquely with panache. Each bedroom told a guest more about the men who lived there—for Howard, horses and riding; for Bill, gems and design; for both, art and artists. Bathrooms displayed art work featuring the eloquence of the human nude.
Howard led the four of us female guests around the house like the pied piper, while the rest of the entourage relaxed on the patio with drinks in conversation. Howard joked that the key to the French Doors in his room worked only after midnight.
Jenn said, “So what’s the key?”
“It’s a knock, a secret knock. If you tap softly,” he rapped out the cadence on a door pane (knock,knock,knock,…knock), “then I will let you in.”
Cathy said, “Oh, I can do that.” She replicated the secret knock.
Jenn said, “Unless I get here before you do.”
Howard relished the jealous competition between Cathy and Jenn for his attention.
Finally, we arrived to the backyard, but the stories did not end at the exterior of the house. The extra acreage they didn’t know was theirs when they bought the property turned out to be where they built a home for Bill’s business partner, who is a jewelry designer, Luis.
Howard did not want us to overlook the garage for family lore.
Their five rescue dogs slept on two huge pallets made for the mutts that live like kings.
The wall of fame with photographs of the rich and famous overlooked the car in the garage and served as reminders of another time, when glamor reigned in Hollywood. His favorite, Ethyl Merman. Howard’s riding trophies and snapshots of those achievements must have outgrown the house, so they lined the garage walls. For me the most fascinating item that reigned in the garage stood in the front corner, guarding the dogs and memories—a larger than life, elaborated decorated papier-mâché knight.
This caballero was the last one standing of sixteen, made by a local artist and auctioned off in a fundraiser at their home last year. This one didn’t sell.
“Just as well,” Howard said, “I rather like the gentleman myself. I’m sure I will find many ways and places for him to have other lives.”
As we followed the pied piper throughout the property we came across topics of conversation that ranged from visiting and living abroad to which generations are more likely to give back to their communities to microcredit lending. And of course, the secret knock on Howard’s door at midnight that would serve as a key to his heart. Harley and Muriel; Chip and Leslie; Bill, Jim and Damon; and two other new-to-us women leisurely relaxed with a drink on the patio.
One of the women happened to be Tammy, who wrote the tourist information brochure on what to do and see in San Miguel.
“We met your dad this morning having coffee at the café at the Galleries.”
“Yes, he gets around. And he is so proud of me.”
We sat on the patio with the rest for a while. Cathy (who is married) leaned toward Bill, Howard’s partner for 44 years, and said “Can I marry Howard?”
“Well, I would consider it, but we’ve gotten along so well together for so long.” He thought about it for seconds and said, “It would be hard to give him up.”
“Oh, please, let me marry him.”
Jenn chimed in, “No, I want to marry him.”
Bill conceded. “I’ll think about it,” while Howard looked on smirking over his good fortune.
All in good fun, we teased, bemoaned the next day being our last, and thanked them all for inviting us into their lives, if only for a few moments.
We left Isla Mujeres four days ago without an itinerary, as adventurers.The four of us were a keenly knitted, resourceful band of explorers.Though my friend back home in Texas experienced the city as inaccessible, on the other hand, we did not. We searched out and snooped behind the gates of San Miguel, but gates were also opened to us. People invited us into their homes and the intimacy of their lives. We found the magic of the city in the people we met behind the gates of San Miguel.
* I would like to give credit to the artist of the white stallion. If you know the artist, please let me know.
The tourist information officer yesterday encouraged us to take a cab to the weekly market, so after breakfast we taxied to the remote location. We found acres and acres of open-air market. We spilt up, went our separate ways and agreed to meet back in about an hour.
I strolled, wandered and realized soon that their market was like a county fair in some ways back home. People brought their homemade goods, food vendors cooked on site, vegetable growers brought in the morning harvest. One vendor had built a ninety-degree wall of red strawberries on two sides of his table about eighteen inches high—perfection in every berry. When I later decided I wanted a photo of the red cornered-wall of berries, I could not find it. It pays to be impetuous at times.
No livestock, but I did run into a stately rooster strutting in a wire dog-kennel for sale.
The market was part bazaar or flea market. Some stalls held new and top labeled clothes, while others housed stacks of outgrown or unneeded clothes and personal items from fancy panties and bras to purses. There were the usual Mexican “knick-knacky” items (woven blankets, pottery, and leather goods) that I have outgrown the need for, since traveling to Mexico for twenty-five years now.
I saw two policemen at different times in full uniform with AK-47s slung across their chests, hands loosely sitting on the grip with a ski mask on and eyes roaming the crowd. Serious security. One of the uniformed men looked the opposite way and I pointed my tablet’s camera at him for a picture. Before I could focus, he turned back in my direction.
I said, “May I?” He shook his head slowly, waved a finger “no” from the hand siting on the rifle, and I quietly put my tablet back in my purse, feeling naughty for having tried.
Jenn and particularly Cathy had made out like bandits with the tenacity and patience to ply the stacks of used clothes for little to nothing. Dusty and dirty items, but steals nonetheless. Cathy had already bought so many items she had to purchase a larger bag to serve as her “personal item” on the plane back to Cancún to carry all her goods.
On this expedition in San Miguel de Allende we were about to strike gold behind a gate.
Serendipitously, the autumn before our trip in February a couple, Harley and Muriel Mimura, from Dallas visited my Kerrville, Texas, Quaker Meeting. After silent worship we were visiting with them and Harley revealed that they spend February each year in San Miguel. I told them that friends and I had a trip planned in the city during February.
Muriel leaned toward me and insisted, “You’ll have to come see us and have drinks at our place when you come.”
“We would love that.”
Excitedly, I informed my fellow travelers via email later that day, who seemed equally pleased to have a personal invitation in a city we did not know.
I stayed in touch with Muriel at Christmas and again in late January. She insisted again they wanted us to come for drinks at sunset and sent a map via email from our hotel to their place, only six blocks away.
On Tuesday, our second full day in the city, we purchased flowers from the Artisan Market next door to our hotel and I had brought a daily devotional book as gifts for the Harley and Muriel. We arrived at their massive wooden door, unadorned and unremarkable, rang the bell, and waited anxiously. I was the only one who had met Harley and Muriel and I barely recalled what they looked like, now six months later.
Muriel and Harley guided us to the living and dining room combination. The scent of lilies greeted us from three vases the height of most table lamps; Cava (a white sparkling wine) waited to tickle our taste buds. We met the couple they rented and shared the house with each February, Chip and Leslie. Harley opened the door with Muriel’s head peaking over his shoulder to welcome us in. We walked into the dark entrance, strode up several steps into light, flooding the central patio with a three-tiered fountain filled with fresh flowers. With no ceiling overhead we were exposed to the elements of nature. We stood stunned byprofuse fresh flowers, the openness in the middle of a house, and the elegant garden and patio. A bit in awe of our circumstances, like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, we stood gaping at the interior of a house in which the exterior from the street gave no foreshadowing of what was to come.
Muriel, the impeccable hostess said, “We like to start here with a drink in hand as Harley provides a tour of the house, which will simply spiral up the house, until you get to the roof top where we will have hor d’oevers as the sun sets. Take your time, we have other friends who will join us and they have company, so we will be meeting them as well.”
Harley said, “This house is not a typical rental, but a home designed for the owners themselves. We met them several years ago and they are gone this time each year, so we with Leslie and Chip worked a deal. It’s full of Mexican antiques and is not what you will find as a long-term rental here in San Miguel.”
The ceiling soared about fifteen feet, so we were gazing up and around as Harley talked, staring at the sets of art on the walls, pottery on the shelves, memorizing the fabric patterns on the furniture, running our fingers over the wood table that was bigger than most eat-in kitchens, trying to absorb as much as possible before we left the room. I felt rude, but we were busy—all ears, eyes, nose, and fingers busy.
Harley gave us a quick architectural history lesson, “This house was built in the old Colonial Mexican style with the open-air courtyard in the center and the house built around it. Some houses of this style have coverings that help the residents get from one part of the house to the other. But this is the original concept, open to the elements.”
“What do you do on rainy days?”
“Use an umbrella,” he said deadpan. Then he smiled. “We keep one in every room in the place.” He went on to explain. “Most houses like this come with a staff. That took some getting used to.”
“I could use get used to that.” We each agreed.
“The first time I dropped my drawers for a shower and came out to find them gone, I was startled. They were already in the laundry. I learned to take a robe to the shower.”
“So what kind of staff do you have?”
“Two, a maid and cook. We don’t do anything while here.” He laughed, “We are spoiled by the time we get home and have to do those things for ourselves again. It takes some adjustment.”
Harley, using his cane, to steady himself showed us the first floor with what appeared to me more characteristically a French country kitchen.
Blue, yellow and white tiles covered the floors and back splashes, yellow cabinetry brightened the work space. The room was oddly shaped, like a squared-off S if you can imagine that. Though larger than kitchens in Mexico, it was smaller than kitchens in French homes.
The flowers we brought were lying in the sink in a container of water to keep them fresh. No time to arrange them. We felt like we had brought a small bouquet of dandelions to a florist store owner, because of the profusion of flowers throughout the house. We reminded ourselves, it is the thought that counts.
The first of five bedrooms had its own private bath, as would each of the following, and the two on the first floor had a fireplace. Each was differently decorated, but ready for an “Elle Décor,” “Veranda” or “Architectural Digest” photo shoot.
The four of us gawked, “ooo-ed and aah-ed,” took photos of rich antiques in rare settings and small bathrooms designed for luxury. I tried to act sophisticated about the style, color, or fixtures that combined to put a boutique-style B&B out of any competition for best-dressed rooms.
By the time we got to the second floor to compare a third and fourth bedroom, we were asking questions about artwork, age of furniture, or who gets which rooms when they are there. And of course, we each picked our favorite. I almost flopped on a bed to claim the one I wanted; but I caught myself. The bathrooms were so tiny that two of us could not stand in one together. We certainly could not take a photo and capture the essence of the room.
The stairs to the third floor narrowed. As we came out of the last room, we had to take turns going out and around the door one-by-one, then snake our way single-file to the next floor, as the hand-carved stone steps narrowed.
We learned that the highest and last bedroom would be Harley and Muriel’s. How does Harley navigate his way up and down using a cane several times a day?
Harley offered an architectural design lesson that he as an engineer found captivating.
“Look at the shapes in the brick ceiling and how they come together in this formation.” Our eyes followed his pointing finger. “That’s known as bóveda, a construction term for any arched brickwork. Not sure how they do it, but I know structurally that any archway when completed is stronger because of the tension it holds. Bold design, isn’t it?”
From each corner of the room the brickwork domed and fit together as an undulating ceiling, as if carved instead of bricked. I’d never seen this construction before. It must have required skill and patience, because it was the only bóveda ceiling in the house.
On our way from the last bedroom door, Muriel, Leslie, and other guests were on their way to the rooftops with food and drink. We each offered to lighten the load of the others, who balanced trays, carried pitchers of sloshing liquids, while they navigated uneven steps.
Not only did the steps narrow, the rise in the steps became more shallow, and unevenness resulted from hand-hewn stone. Our reward for the climb was tasty appetizers. My two favorites were the cooked asparagus stalks swirled in bacon and the tiniest, tidiest deviled quail eggs I ever saw to go with our next glass of Cava.
Muriel cooed, “Oh, you ladies have brought the first sunset we have seen in days. Isn’t it lovely up here? Thank you for coming.”
We felt special and each of us couldn’t say fast enough some version of, “No, it is us, who should be thanking you.”
Their invited friends, Bill Harris and Howard Haynes, was a couple who actually had lived in San Miguel for eighteen years of the forty-one years they had been together. They loved their city, their life, the fresh mountain air, the artists and the arts, and especially the blended community of both Mexicans and North Americans.
Howard, a philanthropist, told us of ways he had gone about getting money from people who didn’t have a heart for others, as well as those who enjoyed giving to their community. He held a strong ethic for giving back to the place and people wherever he had lived.
His partner, Bill, a quieter man, but just as convivial, pursued his passion as a gemologist and artisan jeweler. Artist and businessman, he owned a studio in their home. Muriel explained that his studio was not a “drop-by” storefront; one must have an invitation to come to see his artistry. We were deflated that we couldn’t stop and shop the next day.
Howard and Bill brought guests visiting them from Kansas City. Bill and guest Jim roomed together in college decades ago. With Jim’s partner, Damon that made twelve of us who enjoyed each other’s company behind one of the gates of San Miguel, as new and old friendships merged.
The four of us separated and wove our way through the folks scattered on the patio. We teased and laughed, talked and philosophized. We couldn’t have found company more pleasant, more engaging.
Howard asked us before he and his guests left that evening how long we were staying; he wanted to invite us for cocktails at their house. With only one night left in our stay, he was bummed, because they had dinner plans the following night.
He stewed for a moment and said, “Oh heck, just come over about 5:30, we’ll have drinks, just drinks, no appetizers, because we have dinner plans at 7:00. Just come for the hour and a half, so you can see our place. We would love to have you. Muriel will work out the details about how to get there, won’t you, darling?”
“Of course. I’ll take care of it.” Muriel said.
“Of course. We’ll be there,” we agreed. Our second invitation into a home–behind closed gates.
After Bill and Howard and their two guests left, we returned to the living room. Muriel and Leslie set about with a map to highlight spots in town we must not miss. They suggested that we make a point to see.
“The Fabrica La Aurora Gallery is a short hike from your hotel. Not all the galleries will be open tomorrow morning. For those that are in, stop and visit with the artist, browse, and explore. There is a coffee shop in front, but a sandwich shop in the back I recommend. Go to the back corner, just keep going back and to your right and you will find it. They offer coffee, sandwiches, smoothies and the like.”
In conversation we learned that Harley had been born in an internment camp for the Japanese in Arizona. Later when those in the camps were “adopted” by families east of the Mississippi River, his family went to live with a Quaker family in Pennsylvania. He became an aerospace engineer – even worked with NASA for two years – and lived in several locations before retiring from his last job assignment in Dallas. He was widowed with two grown sons when he met Muriel.
Muriel had a story of her own. Married once for fourteen years, her husband died from cancer. Married a second time for less than a year, her spouse was killed in an accident. Now she says, “I make sure Harley gets to the doctor regularly. I feed him right, remind him to take his vitamins, encourage exercise, and give him probiotics—whatever it takes to live my life with him as long as possible.” With no children of her own, she considered herself blessed with stepchildren and scads of step-grandkids. She worked to keep up relationships over time and distance.
While I talked to Harley about Quaker topics we shared in common and his life, Muriel showed the other three women some cards of her art work. I missed getting to see them, so I found some of her art work on-line later. (Google her name, Muriel Mimura, to see her stunning artwork on-line; or go to her Facebook page, Muriel Elliott Mimura.)
On our way back to the hotel that night, the four of us each shared the nuggets of gold we had mined from our new friends. We left their place with stories to tell, memories to treasure, and another invitation to make any tourist envious.
I overslept, so I hustled to get ready: one, because the room held the damp cold of the high elevation and I wanted my clothes on (half of everything I brought), and two, because we had agreed to meet for breakfast when it opened at 8:00 a.m. The other three waited on me for breakfast.
Cathy politely tapped on my door to check that I was up. Embarrassed I assured her I would join them in only a few moments at the restaurant—to go on without me. When I arrived five minutes later, they had already chatted up a gentleman with an American accent that sat on the opposite side of the roaring fireplace. Aaaah, the radiating heat feels like a blanket around my shoulders!
Turned out the gentleman, Archie Dean had written The Insider’s Guide to San Miguel for nineteen years, updating it every year to sustain the trust of travelers in his advice until 2011. He then sold the book concept and title to a company which continued to publish it every year, but failed to update it, so Archie was proud of his production, but shy of admitting any association with the current title.
We knew he could offer some advice—this was his city. Archie disappointed us with a sly smile, “My best advice? Just walk, explore, look around, follow your nose. You will find whatever is here to find. Just walk the city.”
A woman entered the restaurant and sat alone. She joined our restaurant conversation with Archie, then introduced herself as Merwin, an American artist in San Miguel for a few weeks of painting. She too had been in and out of San Miguel for years. As an artist, she encouraged us to snoop in the galleries, look for working artists in their studios and chat them up. She agreed with Archie, “It’s a walking city. Just walk.”
Over breakfast we also learned the confetti that littered the streets last night was evidence of St. Valentine’s Day week-end festival, a special celebration for San Miguel residents. That’s why it had been so quiet last night on February 15.
The cozy hotel restaurant wooed us back each day with a blazing fire every morning, fabulous selections for breakfast, and good company, not to mention the convenience.
The service varied, however. Coffee came almost soon enough conleche (with milk) and replenished almost quickly enough before we grumbled that our cups were empty. The first day we read the Spanish version of their menu without knowing the next page offered the menu in English.
I ordered Poblano Eggs and expected a light green, mild poblano chili-flavored sauce. Surprisingly, it arrived with a red, rather sweet sauce—not particularly complimentary to the eggs, but I ate it. Puzzled, my friends said it looked more like mole sauce, an original Mexican sauce that comes in a variation of spices by region and even by family recipe, but typically made of chilies and a bit of unsweetened chocolate to tame the heat of the chilies.
The next day, I discovered the English version of the menu by flipping the page. This time it read Puebla Eggs with (you guessed it) mole sauce. Yes, the Spanish label for PoblanoEggs was lost in translation. I later learned that PueblaEggs refer to the region in which mole originated. Language lesson wrapped in menu items.
Depending on the waitress, some days we ordered by pointing at the menu. Other days we ordered in English. And two days, another person came to confirm our order in English. Cathy ordered banana nut pancakes that looked scrumptious the first day and I promised myself pancakes the next day. I selected French toast one day, made with their homemade multigrano bread, which is hard to get in Mexico, and chose the banana nut pancakes two other days. Decadent!
We launched our first day with a map from the hotel receptionist in order to locate the city tourist office for a city tour in English at 1:00 that afternoon.
As curious explorers, we stepped across worn thresholds of cathedrals, wandered through gates, moseyed around courtyards, checked out menus for future reference, ambled through small galleries of art both exquisite and primitive, discovered the public library—a compliment to the city for its use by young and old alike for all kinds of purposes, and even rummaged through thrift stores.
The city commerce and activities may be hidden behind gates but it was not forbidding to us.
We walked the streets of San Miguel that morning, attempting to get our bearings and learn our way around. Other white-skinned, English-speaking people filled the streets just like us, except they knew where they were going—most of them lived there.
We strolled the narrow lanes, tried to walk single-file on the sidewalks, because that was all the room there was. We could not hear each other talking when walking single file. Cars couldn’t pass, if we walked two abreast in the streets, in order to hear each other. The foot and vehicular traffic created a horizontal Cirque du Soleil ™ ballet, close to the ground instead of in mid-air.
Outside each entrance, whether door or gate, the sidewalk slanted one-step down to the street level for ease and convenience of the residents. Utility poles stood in the middle of sidewalks and grates covered ground-utility holes, creating an obstacle course on sidewalks. Passing another person meant stepping into the street and/or traffic.
Quickly, I realized the necessity to be aware of my surrounding. I thought of it as a 180° scan from side to side, even up and down. To not stump a toe, to stay upright and out of the way, and return to our hotel safely each time required alertness.
We found the tourist office to learn more about the city tram tour. The office was a hole in a wall. The other three were in front of me and had stepped inside the door, while I stood outside because of insufficient space. I heard an American voice say, “Well, okie dokie. We’ll talk tomorrow,” and hang up a phone. I didn’t expect that expression here.
Turns out that the American was a Texan that gave us a more detailed map of the city than the sketchy one we had gotten from the hotel receptionist and advised us on shuttles for our return trip to the León airport with a list of purveyors. For the trolley tour, he instructed us go to a specific intersection to find “the man with a white cap” that sold tickets for the trolley tour.
This seemed odd, but sure enough there he was. I gave the man a $20 USD bill for all of us and the women repaid me the sixty-five-pesos (less than $5.00 U.S. each) for the 1:00 p.m. English tour of the city—international finance!
Next we stopped to study a café menu. Tilly said, “There’s nothing there I want.”
I suggested, “Then we move on. We need to all be amenable on where we eat.”
Jenn and Cathy agreed. Tilly said, “Thanks, but I don’t want to be the one to say no.”
I suggested, “Each of us should have veto power, especially when it comes to meals.”
They liked that ground rule, so we meandered through two or three more menus before we all settled on one. We ate before our city tram tour and arrived early for a good seat and hopped on to learn there were no bad seats.
The guide spoke Spanish and English alternately. Listening required more attention from me, a lazy listener. I had to note when she shifted from Spanish into English, when to disconnect from her script in Spanish and when to reconnect. Later I learned the others fought with the same attention deficit that I did.
The trolley made two stops in which we actually got off the vehicle. One stop featured a specially designed square at which at one time in history had served as the village laundry with free spring water. The wash basins were built of concrete and stood empty now, crumbling, and unused. Because the spring runs freely, residents still received free water in their homes.
The second stop at the peak of the city (or so it seemed) arrived at an artisan market for some shopping—not original art, but Mexican souvenirs you can buy most anywhere. The four of us stayed outside where we had a view of the city and took photos.
The trolley took us places we would never have gotten to, because we wouldn’t have walked that far. My favorite was a lush and leafy park where the city had just completed a two-week plant sale, La Candelaria. The tour guide told us one could buy trees, flowers, vegetable starts, shrubs, cacti, anything that grew in the ground. We missed it by one day.
At the end of the trolley jaunt while at the top of the city, we rode by alleyways the width of bicycle handle bars and looked down terrifying slopes to lower parts of the city.
Afterward, we ambled in and out of more centuries-old cathedrals close to the center of town, noted stone steps and wooden thresholds that indicated the millions of city inhabitants that had treaded in and out for worship weekly or daily, and tourists to view the exquisite architecture.
In some churches signs requested that no photos be taken; in others no request was made, leaving us free to take photos. The sacred solemnity might have indicated that we only look and take no photos. We were each tempted to surreptitiously take a photo from time to time, even if asked not to, when we admired the view of a nave or a single item.
We started paying attention to the street signs on the side of the buildings at each intersection to learn our way around, to navigate the city. A jog in a street could throw us off, but the map just as easily got us back on track.
Cathy and Jenn always had an eye out for a boutique—whether clothes, jewelry or shoes. I like to shop, but not as much as these two, while Tilly didn’t care to shop. Easy-going, Tilly hung out on the sidewalk while we shopped. After the first day of exploring and our trolley tour, Tilly needed to rest an eye that was giving her problems and I, my weary feet. She and I returned to our rooms for siesta, while the other two explored the goods and wares of San Miguel. Our second night was an early supper and early to bed.
The weekly market, scheduled for the next day, as well as an invitation for drinks at sunset with a couple I had met in Texas, scheduled us for much of the following day.
Some travelers are pilgrims (serious spiritualists), tourists (tour bus advocates), adventurers and thrill seekers (adrenaline rush junkies), or explorers (on-foot surveyors). My friends and I saw ourselves as simple, moderate explorers, not even treasure seekers. Cathy, Tilly, Jenn, and I decided to visit San Miguel de Allende, a new location for all of us. The three of them had traveled together the previous year. I invited myself along for this year’s expedition. They heartily entreated me to join them.
A neighbor of mine in Texas traveled to San Miguel with a native Mexican, as informal tour guide and reported that she found it disappointing, because stores, galleries and restaurants were behind gates and doors. To her it seemed closed off, hard to get a feel for the place, inaccessible.
I shared my neighbor’s experience with the other three women. All seasoned travelers, we set our intention to get behind the gates of San Miguel.
San Miguel de Allende is not a modern city, but an ancient colonial Mexican village, and as a result, it is built behind doors, gates, fences, and facades that then open up into courtyards that are surrounded by commercial shops or residences. In recent decades the village has grown into a tourist town, which then became home to thousands of artists of all stripes from North America, both the U.S. and Canada. The expatriate artist community today finds bountiful inspiration at a higher elevation in mid-Mexico, though sitting in a valley surrounded by distant, outlined mountains and fertile agricultural fields. The colonial village is known for its churches, cathedrals, and green spaces. The Parroquia, a primary landmark is not a cathedral, but the local parish church. Follow the parroquia link to see it in the midst of the city and as a Neo-Gothic example of architecture. The pink exterior makes it easy to find.
During the summer of 2014, Jenn researched flights and found a reasonable fare on Volaris. We booked. I called a friend in my hometown that travels frequently to San Miguel to ask recommendations for lodging. We booked the Hotel Quinta Loreta on her endorsement. We each took to the Internet to see what to do and see in the city for our trip.
Our itinerary started from the fishing village Isla Mujeres, Mexico, where we all spend a month or more each year. We ferried across the channel from Isla Mujeres to Cancún. Best Day shuttle took us to the Cancúnaeropuerto, where we traveled by Volarias, a no frills Mexican airline to León, an hour and a half flight. No frills meant we carried backpacks for luggage and even had to buy water aboard the flight. We were an hour later than expected and had not made shuttle arrangements from León to San Miguel. Cathy approached a young man with a wife and baby, to ask if he spoke English and could he advise us. He spoke English and recommended we hail a taxi to the bus station and go from there by bus.
When we arrived at the bus station, we were weary and thirsty from our day’s travel—a low cost adventure for each of us. We could make out multiple bus lines—some we had heard of and others we had taken before. We understood the peso price ranges, but also realized that the wait time for even the cheapest one was costly in terms of wait time. We grumbled and debated.
Cathy walked outside, negotiated a cab ride, bargained with him, then he raised the price. I joined her and we ganged up on him to insist on the lower price. He conceded. We piled our backpacks in the trunk. Three of us scrunched in the back seat and let Tilly sit in front with the driver. Because she speaks Italian, she can make her way with Spanish better than the rest of us. She learned his nombre, Carlos, so we could at least be friendly enough to call him by name.
The car without adequate shocks bounced us through croplands and desert-like terrain with the mountains always in view. Sunlight followed us all the way to San Miguel and set as we arrived. The driver asked for an address and directions.
I had a name, Quinta Loreta Hotel, and an address, but oops, no directions. Because he was unfamiliar with the city, we suggested he drop us off in the center of town, circa de Artisan Mercado, next door to the hotel. He shook his head with disgust.
Carlos stopped at a gas station for directions. He then drove and drove, and looked this way and that way. Without a word spoken we knew he was as lost as we were.
It crossed my mind, could he be taking us on a wild-goose chase? Could he actually know his way and we become victims of a “give me all your money,” scam and dumped? Or worse?
Carlos asked another local taxi driver for directions. That seemed smart of him and reduced my fears. We rode until we were in an industrial looking part of town. Not yet panicked, it crossed my mind again, what if?
He asked another taxi driver. We turned around and headed in the other direction.
We were lost before we arrived.
By this time, we suspected he was fuming over the negotiated cost of the ride and the time he was killing not making another fare.
We arrived around 9:00 p.m. with cheers for him and gave him the agreed upon price and a substantial tip, hoping to appease him. We did not wait for his response to our tip.
The receptionist gave us keys to our rooms and vague direction to another restaurant, because the hotel’s restaurant was closed. Worn-out, hungry, and fatigued from dehydration, we trekked out to find it.
Soon we heard American English-speaking voices, a couple out to find an Italian restaurant to which they had been directed. Yes, we would love to follow them the six- to eight-minute walk they had been assured it would take. We walked and talked; we looked and searched. Our energy waned. Finally, the couple determined that our 20-minute journey must not be the right direction. We walked back to our starting point. By this time of night, the gates of the city were mostly closed. The streets felt deserted. Our weary feet hobbled over narrow cobblestoned lanes cluttered with Easter-egg colored confetti. We speculated on the reason the streets were full of trashed confetti. We slowed our pace and wondered if breakfast would be our next meal.
Down the way, a light above a heavy wooden door slung back, to welcome us. A peek inside had the feel of Cheers—where everyone knows your name. People, hunched over tables, talked and laughed, as if they did this every night of the week.
We stepped inside out of the damp mountain chill into the warmth and savory aromas of the establishment. José stood waiting to serve us with humor and a quick wit; margaritas and molten volcano bowls of chicken with cactus, pepper and onion arrived bubbling hot. We had arrived at Milagro and found sustenance behind a single gate in San Miguel on a cool February evening.
My return to the monkish room that evening revealed heat and A/C were not part of my accommodation. The stored blanket in the closet felt like the batting was lead. I thought, Ah, this should hold the heat in for the night.
I was chilled to the bone and took a quick hot shower that did not knock the chill from the room or my body, so I crawled into bed with my thermal Cuddle Duds shirt on. That should do it. After half an hour, I was up to find my TravelSmith blanket and wrapped it around my feet and legs beneath the covers, like leg warmers. I had to scooch down because the maid had made the bed with no extra length to cover my shoulders. I’ll have to fix that tomorrow. I curled into a fetal position, pulled the sheet over my nose, and finally fell asleep.