Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Roadtrip U.S.A or Who Needs Escapism When You've Escaped?

After yesterday's post about my long weekend in Weber, I realised I never said a lot about my trip to the States last month, and certainly didn't share any holiday snaps. The reason for this, on reflection, is that those two weeks didn't have a lot to do with reading or writing, which this blog seems focussed on.

San Francisco

I had no preconceived story ideas set in the States before I left (unlike my Weber trip). And nothing occurred over there that made me think to myself: "This'll pop up in a story one day" (which does happen, honest).

Pacific Highway south of Monterey

This is not to say the trip was not a blast - it was - and that memories of Yosemite and Las Vegas will not weasel their way into my writing - I'm sure they will. But when I sit down to right each day this bleak winter, I'll be writing about "small coastal communities" in the lower North Island, taxi drivers in Brisbane, and books my father read when he was a 'fresher' at university. Granted, these ideas and places predate my trip to the States, but I've been known to drop everything and write the first draft of a new story the week it presents itself. The fact is, if you told me to write a story inspired by my U.S. trip, I wouldn't know where to start.

Yosemite National Park

It's not unusual that two weeks travelling would yield zero story ideas. I probably only had three fully-formed story ideas while travelling through Central and South America (eight countries, five months) -- one of which has transmuted into the Brisbane taxi driver story (though it was based on something in Bolivia).

Black Bear, Sequoia National Park

I have no empirical evidence to back this up (though if I'm going to represent NZ at the Writer Geek Olympiad in 2012, I'd better get on it), but I suspect I have more ideas (big and small) during the passage of a boring-ass week spent volleying between home and the office, than I do on holiday. While some people (M. being one) might dream over lunch about their next trip and start planning, I'll sip my cup o' soup and think about what a good name for a taxi driver would be. I find reading Stuff about as fertile ground for fiction as you can get, though my aim is not to get all Charlotte Grimshaw, roman à clef-y (with a David Blain character and a John Key character and a John Campbell character). Rather, my heart will leap (um) at the confluence of two suicide stories in two days (this and this), I'll note it down and come back to it one day if it still gives me the story vibe.

Sandstorm, Death Valley

But travel? I just don't have my story antennae up as I do back home. Who needs escapism when you've escaped?

If I do use my travel experiences in writing, it is to provide a setting for story ideas that sprouted from the mundane. My story 'Facing Galapagos' in A Man Melting began with the idea of an office worker receiving emails from someone claiming to be Charles Darwin. The fact the story moves to Ecuador was not dictated by my travels, or any great desire to write about maracuya or the Malecon 2000, but by David Leon, the character I placed in front of that computer screen.

New York New York, Las Vegas

Another story, 'Give Me Bread and Call Me Stupid', sounds quite exotic when described from my spot on a hill in Wellington: a Spanish civil servant and his girlfriend move to Edinburgh for a year to resuscitate the English they learnt in high school. But it all began with my frustrations with Scottish recruitment firms while on a working holiday visa. Sometimes the setting can be shifted, as I hope my Bolivian Taxi Driver story can co-opt my knowledge of Brisbane. Other times the setting becomes part of the story, as Edinburgh became for ‘Give Me Bread’.

Hoover Dam

Very early on in my blogging life I wrote a treatise on how travel slows the passage of time by cramming a week with more memories than a week spent "at home". I throw around terms like "earnest" and "take myself too seriously" often on this blog, and this old essay epitomises such criticism. But still think I was on to something. I'd like to add the fact that looking back into the archives of my old blog, I seem to have squeezed a heck of a lot into 2008, and thanks to the internet, I'm free to "remember" these things for years to come. The problem, of course, is that all the daft things I say, all the undetected typos, and all the rambling, self-important waffle are there for us all to "remember" too.

The Grand Canyon

At least Memory, that sweet mistress, has the grace to smudge away the negatives over time.

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