Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Travel Writing

On our way to Kansas City this past weekend for Thanksgiving, Jon and I were listening to a podcast. This particular podcast featured a former war correspondent who recently published a book about his family's vacations. When asked how the two genres were different, he brought up a very interesting point.

He said that as a war correspondent, everyone was on his side. Readers were glad that he was in a war zone because that meant they didn't have to be. However, when it comes to travel writing, no one wants to hear about how amazing the trip was. Readers are jealous because they are not in an exotic locale or enjoying a fabulous vacation like the writer. Therefore, this author said that the key to travel writing is to expound on the things that go wrong.

I understood where he was coming from as both a reader and a writer. While I enjoy hearing about the awesome adventures that other people have, I confess that it makes me extremely envious (although NOT in the malicious, I-want-to-slash-your-tires kind of way). Yet, as a writer, that is precisely what I do in the majority of these posts. Hmmm.

So, I suppose I should apologize for any jealousy that this blog may induce. I don't mean it, really, I don't. Plenty of things go wrong on our various adventures (try being in a foreign country for four days without your luggage, or sleeping in the airport two nights out of three). In fact, when faced with ridiculous situations, we often remark that "at least it will make a good story."

But I'm not sure that I want to apologize, though. I will try to include more travel mishaps in future posts. When something unexpected happens, I'll write it down. When travel karma doesn't work out like it's supposed to, it will end up in this blog. However, it's also going to take some effort on your part. We hereby invite you on any future trips. The more the merrier. As you can probably tell, we're up for pretty much any adventures, so don't be jealous...join us!

Asheville: Portland of the East

11/11/11: Uber Veterans Day

In order to commemorate this once in a century occasion, we loaded up the car and drove to Asheville, North Carolina. We'd never been to North Carolina before, but the real reason we were headed east was to visit a friend currently living and studying in Blacksburg, Virginia. Asheville is not exactly half-way (at all), but it was a cool location that we all wanted to explore.

Since Jon had Veterans Day off (as he should), we left on Thursday night. We made it all the way to Knoxville, Tennesse--six hours away, plus a time change--before stopping for the night. Further confirmation that Tennessee is a long state.

I'm a fan of maximizing travel, trying to do as much and see as many people possible in one trip. So, the next morning, we met a high school friend of mine and his wife for breakfast. It was nice to catch up, and the big breakfast powered us up for the last leg of the journey into North Carolina. I'm glad we got to drive that part in the daytime because eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina is quite beautiful.

When we arrived in Asheville, we headed to our vacation rental. I was impressed by the organization of this house and immediately began taking mental notes for when we have our own brewery/B&B someday...when we retire and are independently wealthy, of course.

The view from our rental house
Shortly thereafter, our friend arrived in town and we began our tour de breweries. It was at this point that we began to suspect that Asheville is eerily similar to another beer town: Portland, Oregon. Both locations have incredible scenery and provide lots of outdoor recreation. The population leans toward the eccentric and the beer flows like water. We were hooked.

We made it to about four breweries the first afternoon/evening, appreciating the time to catch up in such a laid-back atmosphere. By laid-back, I mean that a couple of the breweries are actually located in warehouses. Our house had the feel of being out in the woods, yet we were still fairly close to town, so when we went back out for dinner, we actually walked downhill.

The next morning, we headed out to Mount Mitchell and even drove for a bit along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I confess that the winding, uphill roads were a bit much for me, although I guess one could argue that the copious amount of beer I drank the day before had just as much to contribute to my queasy stomach. Regardless, the scenery was beautiful, and we were rewarded with some incredible views of the Smokey Mountains when we reached the top.

View from Mount Mitchell
We continued to "fake" hike a little more by stopping at a couple more locations along the road back down and following the paths to additional scenic viewpoints. Jon and our friend did not let the rock barriers stop them.

Deep in thought
When we got back to Asheville, we had a goal to accomplish, so we hopped on our bikes and went in search of more breweries. It's not that I'm not a bike rider--I sometimes bike commute to work--but I was definitely the most inexperienced of the group. Plus, the memory of falling off my bike in the middle of the street in front of our building a month prior was still fresh in my mind (darn trolley tracks). However, the guys didn't leave me in the dust, even as I cursed them for leading me into traffic, which I hate. At any rate, we found more breweries, and at the end of the night, we got a free work-out by having to ride a steep hillclimb back to the house.

And just like that, the weekend was over. We had a long eight hours back to Memphis, but despite spending that much time in the car, we really enjoyed our trip. Asheville is a great town, and as always, it was wonderful catching up with old friends.

David Cook, In Concert

"Hey, Mr. Jaguar, I went to BSSHS with you!"
Attending a David Cook concert was a surreal experience. There I was, surrounded by a throng of screaming adolescent girls--and some "cougars"--listening to this guy I've known since the seventh grade (David was only a sixth-grader at the time). The last time I'd heard him sing live was in the Performing Arts Center at Blue Springs South...before that was his musical debut at Georgeff Baker Middle School.

I couldn't be more proud of David, as he genuinely is the nice guy he appeared to be when he won American Idol in 2008. Seeing him live in concert, however, was very different than watching him on TV.

I must confess that I entertained grandiose visions of reuniting with David after all these years and getting to hang out with him and the band backstage or something. He would, of course, remember exactly who I was, and we would reminisce about the good ol' days in Blue Springs. We might even hang out the next day while he was still in town, and perhaps he would even come and talk to my classes about the importance of writing.


I figured that I would be the only BSSHS alum in Memphis at the concert, so my odds of actually talking to him were decent in my eyes. In order for my plans to come to fruition, however, I would have to get his attention. I made a sign expressing our shared high school experience, and even added some Jaguar logos printed off the internet. I decided to keep it understated, so no glitter. Maybe I should have used glitter.

I had a moment of panic when the ticket-taker at the door had to ask someone if it was okay to have signs. What if that hour spent drawing and sniffing permanent marker was all for naught? But alas, I was allowed to take the sign in, and I held it patiently during the two acts that performed before David.

It wasn't the first time I'd been at a concert for a band/singer I didn't know well, but this time, I took more seriously my role as observer. It was really interesting to watch all the die-hard fans sing all the words to all the songs by Carolina Liar and Gavin DeGraw (who was technically the headliner). I sacrificed the hearing in my left ear as I spent that time inching forward toward the stage in order to ensure that I would be as close as possible for David's set.

Even though I had to wait until after 10:30 (on a school night, no less) for David and his band to take the stage, my strategy worked, as I was fairly close to the front. I'd moved over more toward the center so that I would be closer to the overhead lights so that maybe, just maybe, David would see my sign.

David takes the stage

I didn't want to be obnoxious, so I tried to time my sign-waving to in between songs. I was beyond excited when I saw the recognition flash across his face as he called out, "With me?" (as in, you went to high school with me?). I knew my time had come when he asked who was holding the sign--it was dark in there and he had stage lights in his face.

However, every time I opened my mouth to shout out my name, some "woo girls" screamed. David even tried to shush them, to no avail. Undaunted, I figured I would try again later. The show went on, and I really enjoyed the music. I was amused that random people were singing along, but glad that I had done my homework by listening to David's albums because I recognized most of the songs, too.

Witty banter between songs

David is still pretty much the same, slightly dorky, guy, as evidenced by the above clip. He and one of his bandmates continually flicked guitar picks at each other, and at one point, David played an entire song with one stuck to his forehead. I didn't know what to say when the woman in front of me gushed about David and how she wished the pick she almost fell on me to catch was the one from his face.


All too soon, however, the concert was over. David played his encore as part of the show, and I didn't get the chance to wave my sign again. The band was gone and the lights came up. How could I have been so close and not gotten to talk to him?

Not wanting to leave without trying to see David, I went up to the stage and asked some of the concert security guards if they knew how I might get to say hi. They recognized me as the girl with the sign who went to high school with David, so one of them encouraged me to wait outside by the tour bus.

So there I was, a groupie for David Cook.

I waited outside for probably too long (maybe 15 minutes) when another security guard said the bands were still inside. There was a long line to meet members of all three acts, but I'm not 100% sure how one got access to that line. I'm pretty confident that it involved the purchase of albums I already owned and t-shirts I felt weird wearing, so needless to say, I never did get in that line.

Completely bummed out, I tried to check out the tour bus on the opposite side of the building, but that was a dead-end, too. I went back inside for one last attempt. As I was feeling pretty sorry for myself--and silly for feeling that way--I ran into David's band. I asked them to pass along a message for me, but who knows if that actually happened. Still, better than nothing, I suppose.

After all of that anticipation, I drove home with ears still ringing and no enthusiastic reunion. I was--and still am a little bit--disappointed, but when I think about the fact that I saw David Cook following his dreams by playing the music he loves, I feel pretty proud of him. Like Jon said, "Local boy does good."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Bookprint

When I turned eleven, what I really wanted for my birthday was one of those ridiculous stuffed troll dolls, dressed as a pirate, or a cheerleader, or some other such nonsense.

What I received instead literally changed my life. An equally bookish friend gave me the complete Anne of Green Gables box set. I have always been a reader and at the time was grateful to have something new to read. However, I had no idea how much the books would consume me. I had heard of the story but knew nothing about it. I didn't even know there was a movie version (which, while excellent, is of course far inferior to the books).

So, after getting over my birthday disappointment--having purchased a troll with my birthday money--I plunged into the Anne saga. I don't know at what point I got hooked, but somewhere along the way, I became an Anne fan for life.

I'm not sure exactly what drew me to the spunky redhead. Our childhoods were vastly different. I grew up in a loving two-parent household, in twentieth century America, far from a nineteenth century orphanage in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I hate to admit that I didn't posses a "scope for imagination," at least not in the same way as Anne, for I was--and still am--a rule-follower, not having much of a penchant for "getting into scrapes." I was much more of a Jane or Diana, actually.

But, I suppose, like millions of readers, I recognized a kindred spirit. As I continued to read through the series, I felt as if I actually knew Anne. I became part of her world and she, mine. I recognize how cheesy that sounds, but it's true. And a real testament to Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery and her ability to paint such vivid characters. The only other author I can think of who does that just as well is Jane Austen. It should come as no surprise that I compared the two in a paper I wrote in high school.

It wasn't long before my life began to emulate Anne's. It really wasn't that much of a stretch, for we are/were interested in a lot of the same things, like literature and writing. What was unexpected, however, was how subconsciously my imitation came about.

The Anne books are some of the only books I've read multiple times. There are so many books in the world that I simply don't have the time to read the same thing over and over. But I keep returning to Anne. Each time I read, I connect in a different way, and I've found that as I move through each stage of life, there's an Anne book right there with me.

The first couple of reads through the series, I related most strongly to the young Anne and her schoolgirl stories. School was important to me, and like Anne, I constantly strove for the top. I even fabricated rivalries amongst unknowing classmates, well aware of my standing in the class in comparison to others, Anne vs. Gilbert-style. I also began participating in speech competitions, just as Anne repeatedly was asked to "recite" as an elocutionist.

Everything after that first book was projecting into the future. As I grew older, I found myself living out the story of Anne's college days while I, myself, was in college. Anne of the Island quickly became my favorite of the favorites. Like Anne, I had a wonderful relationship with my roommate(s), and once again, school was at the forefront. Her greatest strength is in English, which happened to be my major. Anne even dabbles in writing; I continue to dream of publication. I know I'm really making myself sound like a colossal nerd here, but it's something I've come to accept--and embrace--about myself.

My favorite part of that book, however, is the romantic tension between Anne and Gilbert. I, of course, couldn't relate to that aspect of the story at the time, but it certainly shaped how I perceived romance. In fact, I truly expected that I would initially hate my future soulmate before having a life-changing epiphany that I had loved him all along. Perhaps that is why it took me so long to realize that I did indeed love Jon without hating him first. Whoops.

After college, my Anne connection went out of order slightly as I regressed into the second book: Anne of Avonlea. I was at the cusp of my first teaching job and felt great solace as I recalled Anne's failures, jubilation in her successes in the classroom. No, I didn't teach in a one-room country schoolhouse, but teaching is teaching. Interestingly enough, a lot of Anne's teaching philosophies are quite progressive, evidence, I suppose, that the pendulum in education philosophy/theory/reform constantly swings back and forth.

My life continued to parallel Anne's in ways I could never have expected. While I never hated him, I did fall in love with my best friend. Like Anne and Gilbert, we were separated for quite a while.

Anne of the Island ends with Anne and Gilbert's relationship, and originally, the next book picked up with their wedding three years later. L.M. Montgomery wrote Anne of Windy Poplars several years after the publication of the series to account for the time lapse. In this late addition to the story, Anne moves to a new town to teach while Gilbert toils away in medical school. Each maintained an independent existence, yet their relationship blossomed through written correspondence.

Throughout Jon's and my time apart, we also relied on written communication, dating via e-mail, if you will. It may not have been ideal, but having to talk to one another without the luxury of going out to dinner or a movie or a ballgame like most couples really forced us to be honest with one another. I truly believe that we grew closer in those ten months, and it should come as no surprise that our reunion contained a marriage proposal.

Book five in the series, Anne's House of Dreams, relates Anne and Gilbert's newlywed days. This book had new meaning for me when I read it for the first time after being a newlywed myself. The couple finds themselves in a new locale as they create a new life for themselves, which is definitely something I can relate to, having moved halfway across the country days after getting married. I understood the joys of setting up a home, making "his" and "hers" into "ours". I knew what it was like to make new friends while missing those who were far away. We've been married for several years now, but I am still in this stage in my life.

The remaining three books in the series--Anne of Ingleside (another late addition), Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside--focus on Anne and Gilbert's family. We're not there yet, but perhaps someday when I re-read the Anne books again for the umpteenth time, I'll discover new connections.

*I had a profound revelation about my Anne-ness one day, which prompted this post. Providence intervened when a link to the following article showed up (from the Anne of Green Gables Facebook page, of course) in my Newsfeed shortly thereafter: http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2011/9/25/lifebookshelf/9498707&sec=lifebookshelf. This article led me to Scholastic's "You Are What You Read" page: http://youarewhatyouread.scholastic.com/adults/. What's YOUR Bookprint?