I am writing you from western North Carolina. I left Somerville a month ago, drove fourteen hours south, and skipped past Boston’s dreary March into a bright, blooming spring (save the thunderstorm outside my window as I write). I’ve been alone for most of this time, usually working in my room or going on walks through the surrounding neighborhoods. This is a lush place, full of plants with names like the Allegheny Live-Forever, the Eastern Shooting Star, and, my personal favorite, the Wild Bleeding Heart, which promises, once flowering, to become a constellation of drooping, red-pink bulbs.
If you’ve read my emails for the past few years, you’ll recognize my enduring obsession with naming plants. I’m not very good at it, but the idea that one day I could walk through a forest and know exactly what is around me is so enthralling that, despite my relative inability to do so, I keep trying.
I read or heard somewhere that naming elements of the nature surrounding you is an act of love. It is to recognize the uniqueness of a place, to appreciate the plants and birds that create a certain ecosystem. Without those plants and birds, the ecosystem would be entirely changed. So when I’m out on my walks — anywhere, in any city — I try to learn what’s around me. I’ve loved every place I’ve lived in, maybe as a result? In the oft-quoted words of Mary Oliver, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of naming and identifying, and not just in the world around us. It is also powerful to acknowledge and identify what is happening within us, to us. It is powerful to articulate how we are feeling, and to examine why we might be feeling that way.
This is something I’ve long struggled with, and something I’m hoping to change. I, like so many of us, have wounds I’ve left untended for years. So I came here, alone, to give them my full attention. To observe, meditate, and, gradually, change the narrative I’ve made about myself and how the world responds to me.
This is vague, I know. Sorry! I have no problem talking about my life and mental health in a more intimate setting. If you were just a few friends on an email, I’d happily write precisely — and I probably will, to a few friends. But this is the Internet, a sometimes unforgiving place, and I am still very scared to write personally, publicly (even though it may not seem so, since I have published several personal things this year). There are many writers who, beautifully, blend memoir with reportage/research — Esmé Wang, Annie Ernaux, Leslie Jamison, Jordan Kisner, to name four I’ve been reading recently. I welcome any other suggestions, because my hope is to do that work someday, too.
When I first tried to write this in early March, it was going to be an essay on departures, and all the times I say goodbye to a place and to people. Clearly, that did not happen. Instead, you can read an essay I wrote for The Virginia Quarterly Review about winemaking and uprooting.
Three other exciting things are happening in my life that I’d love to share and get recommendations/advice/anything on. First, pending any contract problems I don’t know about, I am writing a little book about wine (and pain, power, pleasure, and memory) for Bloomsbury. Book writers, tell me — how do you do it?
Second, I’m moving to Las Vegas in August for an MFA in non-fiction. Slightly horrified to be in one place for so long (three years, excluding summers!) because I keep telling myself all the moving makes me and my writing interesting. (In the three and a half years I’ve written emails to friends, and now more publicly, I’ve moved… thirteen times??? I can’t count anymore. Maybe I’ve just been traveling this whole time.) But my logical brain knows I will be just fine in one place. I am so exhausted from this year (nearing 21,000 miles on my car since late May) and welcome staying somewhere for a while.
Finally, my essay about Haley and Max and communal grief will be anthologized in the Best American Travel Writing 2021. I told a friend I’d never considered myself a travel writer before and she was like, duh. So there you have it. I am an official Travel Writer. In all seriousness, it was wonderful when I realized Haley would be in a book of travel writing. People who quote her writing often quote this passage, from her personal blog, and for good reason.
I sat across from my Harvard interviewer at a Starbucks during a winter morning of my senior year and told him that if I could do anything with my life, money not being an object, I would be a nomad. I would not cure anything, discover anything, win anything. I would travel and write.
That’s it from me! Talk to you when I’m back in California. If you’re in the bay area this summer let me know and maybe we can hang out sort of normally. (If I can sway you, I will be doing lots of ‘research’ ie drinking wine!)
I hope you’re doing ok, wherever you are, and as always I’d love to hear from you.