Friday, March 20, 2009

Travel writing

I flew from Little Rock to Atlanta today (by way of Dallas -- can't go anywhere without going through Dallas). On the first flight I sat next to a young woman who had a travel diary out on her lap. She had filled up many pages with handwriting. I didn't glance over enough to pick up any of what she wrote -- just the graphics on the pages: passports, suitcases, airplane and boat imagery.

It reminded me of the dozens of travel journals I kept in my youth. Mom and Dad took us kids on some trip or another every summer, and for every trip I kept a notebook. Some were actually just notepads; I remember one multicolored scratchpad, meant for tear-off notes on a desk, that spiraled around in a stacked helix. Others were spiral memo pads, and eventually I started using diaries and blank books. The habit continued at least through my European trip in college.

I wrote about what we ate, where we stopped, what we saw, what I read, what games I played with my brothers. Some of the entries were so cryptic that when I read them later, they seemed surreal and hilarious. I used to keep all these notepads in my desk drawer.

When we moved to Conway, my mom gave me several boxes full of old stuff from my room. I don't know what all is in there; it's all packed away up in the attic, waiting for a rainy day. But I know that some of those travel journals are in there. I can almost see some of the pages, covered with lopsided exclamation marks.

I'm sure that I've forgotten more than I remember, but I remember some of those early efforts very well. In my memory they are bound up with the Fawcett Crest Peanuts paperbacks I got my parents to buy me at rest stops, the pencil sharpeners and paperweights that I took home as souvenirs, the fold-out beds in the motor home, the bunks at Camp Whitbow, the back of the station wagon where we played magnetic backgammon. Travel and writing, travel and thinking, travel and emotion, travel and memory -- they've always gone together for me. And in this season where I am traveling far too much for my taste, at least there is that compensation of having time to reflect.

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