Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Up In The Air

There are two main ways that travel affects my writing that I'm aware of. One is that amazing sense of suspension you get when you're actually in the travel mode -- especially if it's on an airplane. Maybe a ship going across the ocean would be the same -- I've never done that. But I know that when I'm flying I'm not anywhere except up in the air, and it's an incredibly wonderful feeling of freedom and possibility. It's a time when imagination can be whole, like in a lucid dream, and stories can spin or plans unfold that would never have been so accessible on the ground.

Then there's the actual experience of the place you travel to. Places always figure big in my imagination and in my writing. When I was very young I was drawn to novels that gave me the taste and smell and sights and sounds of places so powerfully that I felt I was there. Historical novels and mysteries set in foreign countries (or New York City, which seemed like an exotic locale to me back then) were big on my nightstand. Now that I'm grown up, I find myself drawn to those same kinds of descriptions in my own writing, but now I draw from personal experience as well as imagination.

When I remember places I've been, the first thing that comes to mind is the feel of the air. (I know, it's all about air again - can't seem to help it.) Somehow that awareness triggers everything else I feel about a place: the imprint left on me by its architecture, landscape, social culture etc. In Honolulu the air held the kind of heat that made my skin stand up and take notice, happy but looking for that ocean breeze. In the English countryside there's an incredible gentleness, almost a waftiness, to the air, that caresses when it's warm and chills when it's not. In Manhattan the fresh air (yes, it can be wonderfully fresh, as long as there isn't a garbage strike!) embeds itself in the amazing energy that comes from the pulse of the city to fill your heart with excitement.

Next week I get to go to Buenos Aires. I've never been south of the Equator before, although I have been to Venezuela (where the air felt settled, somehow). I am so excited to get this new experience, and plan to take lots of pictures and lots of notes about all those sensory details that make a place unique. High on my packing priority list: comfortable shoes. A person has to walk a lot and feel the air to know how things are.


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