#38Write—my [new-ish] global writing initiative—is a monthly series of online writing adventure workshops for place-passionate, culturally curious writers around the world. Each writing adventure focuses on one particular aspect of craft or the writing life, and during each 38-hour adventure, writers connect with me and #38Write writers around the world via a Twitter hashtag and a group Pinterest board. In the August workshop (Peregrination), we had 16 writers in 8 countries.
To peregrinate is “to travel, especially on foot,” and, yep, writers in the workshop did just that. For 38 hours, they walked and wrote, wrote and walked.
I gave them a couple of writing assignments. One was to tell a story of a walk that changed them in some significant way…that connected them culturally to a place.
Here’s what the fantastic #38Write writers/cultural spelunkers had to say:
Jennifer | S. Korea
The crowd moved through the bus doors like we were being squeezed through a birth canal, emerging in the bright morning sunlight at Gangnam Station, squinting at the glass and metal skyscrapers, the flash and color of billboards and cosmetics displays and clothing stores. A few intrepid partiers were coming out of the alley bars and clubs, leaving a trail of cigarette butts, empty soju bottles, and patches of vomit.
When I saw the body on the sidewalk I assumed it was one of those legless beggars who lay stomach-down on flat trolleys. And then I saw the policeman, and looked again, and saw the face. A young man, covered hastily with cardboard. He must have jumped from one of the nearby buildings.
The next day only a painted outline was left on the sidewalk. I walked around it, every day, as months passed and the lines began to fade. Later, near my apartment, a group of mourners came to crouch down and touch the asphalt where a policeman had written “head” and “motorcycle” and drawn a rough outline. And thus I began to read the stories in the surfaces of Seoul, those palimpsests of city life and death.
Kelly | Turkey
Hiding in the sparse shade of the village square waiting for the minibus that will take me to the seaside. Trying to fade into the stone walls with my decidedly not-Turkish looks. After twenty minutes two old men rush towards me, hands flapping. At first I’m not sure what they are saying but then I focus with my Turkish-language ears and realize they are asking, “Are you going to Kadirga Beach?” When I nod they tell me the minibus is down the hill and around the corner (why? It should be in the square, it’s always in the square!) I step-slide down in my flip-flops but of course I am too late. It’s gone. Uff.
But now I have a connection with the men who sit in the square all day drinking tea. We are in this together. I go back so I can ask for help and they can give it. Together we have a project and I have a way in. Now instead of being the foreigner who wanders the square I become “the American who lives in Istanbul who we helped get to the beach.” We have a connection, a place to start.
Anita | U.S.
I’m big. No, not fat but compared to the skinny, long-legged young women in Seoul I’m big. You see, I’m American. American women care what other women think of them. So, many outings found me shrinking with self-consciousness.
Slowly, after many expeditions of frumpy dread, I became aware that these slim, stilettoed women were paying absolutely no attention to me as they maneuvered through the throngs of sidewalk traffic. Confidence grew as I allowed my world-view to widen. I noticed that no one among the throngs of sidewalk traffic were noticing me, not the men in their three piece suits or the ‘ajumma’ with their like-hairdos, thickening middles and flat shoes.
Beginning to enjoy my walks, I ventured to the Thursday Farmers Market at BongBae Plaza on a quest to buy spinach. Realizing my limited Korean vocabulary of ‘hello’ and ‘I love you’ weren’t going to help me I used English; the ‘ajumma’ used Korean – it was a stand-off. A giggle bubbled up from each of us then a laugh and before I knew it we were hugging and guffawing. I bought a tomato that day and walked home not noticing the sidewalk traffic.
The first time I walked inside the red bricked Shanghai Sikh temple noticing the muddied, cracked floor tiles, I knew forgotten lives needed remembering. Shanghai city, prior to 1949 housed variegated foreign residents till Communist China closed its arched doors to the world. A city guide book had mentioned the Sikh temple. As indentured laborers the British Indian policemen were brought here to maintain the English order. Here, I was in Shanghai as a “trailing spouse,” feeling displaced, homesick and really quite out of order. I longed to walk in their footsteps and understand how they had acclimatized themselves to China for hundred years…
Narrow, concrete steps led to the temple archway with fanlight. Inside an ayi was sweeping the scepter patterned tiles. She let me in without a question. Confused, I stumbled in. My eyes traversed the dimly lit hallway, resting on the paper thin cardboard walls dividing pint sized rooms. Was a descendant hiding in there?
Dropping the broom, the ayi mumbled ‘Ni de Yindu?’ Finally realizing I did not speak Mandarin, she beckoned me to follow her. I hurried after her, afraid that if I didn’t, I would miss out on secrets. Secrets of unobserved history.
Hilary | U.S.
We left the safe haven of the raised wooden pathway (alligators don’t do steps). Jeff splashed in the water as a lure, simulating an animal in distress. Only it was not a simulation for long. Jess found a nest of fire ants and they found her ankles. With the bait set – twice – an alligator burst from the bayou and headed straight towards her, parading like prehistoric royalty. Towards easy prey. An afternoon snack.
It was my fault. I was supposed to protect her, yet I had brought her to America. To a perilous land of ants and alligators. Where life or death were so easily tested. In an instant, with calm certainty, I knew the creature could take my hand, my arm, my life, but it could not touch my daughter. One more clawed step and I was jumping.
Somehow, suddenly, it knew it too. She. It had to be a mamma. I swear she looked right at me and understood. She backed down, and returned to the water. Our walk was over. We returned to the car, carrying Jess with her dozens of bites, and our great relief.
Simon | Belgium
The automatic doors at the Stop ‘N Shop swung open and I walked into the United States. No one stopped me to ask for my passport but it would not have fazed me if they had. I had clearly just crossed the border. Inside was a world I could not have imagined, a landscape entirely shaped by the concept of choice. I tried to walk and go about my business, just as others were around me, but every 10 yards or so I would have to stop and stare. It was breathtaking. Over here was a Grand Canyon made deep by vertical walls of multi-coloured cardboard bricks, and over there a towering sky-scraper of stacked metal cans. Each new sight of excess confirmed that now I really had arrived, despite the pretensions of the immigration officials I’d met the day before. The true border guards, the many smiling shop assistants, seemed blithely unaware of it all, though at the check-out I did see some of them checking visa cards before allowing people to collect their bags and leave the building. Still reeling I paid instead with cash, walked back out through the automatic doors and began to consider my options.
Maria | U.K.
The first time I moved away from home to Bucharest in 1997 to do my university degree, I was living alone in a one-bedroom flat close to the North Railway Station, with a small TV set as my sole companion. Weekends felt lonely and endless without my family and friends. And so I got into the habit of taking long walks to ease my longing for familiarity and better acquaint myself with this somehow unfriendly city. I didn’t buy a map, but decided to do things the old fashioned way instead: start from a familiar spot and walk until finding myself back home. One October Sunday morning, when the sun was shining bonhomie over the still quiet Capital, I returned to the German Embassy, the place where I had applied for a Schengen visa two years previously. There, on Cpt. Av. Gheorghe Demetriade Street, the premises unfolded before my eyes almost as I had left them. This time the building was hushed, exonerated of the rowdy visa applicants queuing at the embassy gates during weekdays. From there I walked along large sidewalks, edged by imposing mansions dating back to monarchic times from the turn of the 19th century, the sole witness of a spectacular, decadent past of Parisian chicness. These grand aristocratic edifices belonged then to the Romanian haves educated in Paris, Vienna and Berlin. Now, at the end of the 1990s they were still homes to the rich, the Oxford educated business men and foreign ambassadors.
For two straight hours I walked through the thick rug of titian leaves, all the way to Charles de Gaulle Marketplace, watched eerie clouds invade the sky, and finally felt the silent sprinkle prickle my skin and fill the air with fresh scents. Outstretching in front of me was a vast two-lane cubic stoned boulevard shadowed by perfectly trimmed chestnut trees. I stopped in awe, feeling the excitement in the pit of my stomach: all the way to Aviators’ Marketplace there was not a soul in sight. Just a misty, hazy veil, the pastel colours of the fall and…me. Smiling, I pushed forward guided by the winged colossal statue at the foot of the boulevard. That moment I felt I was finding my place in that new world. The city was warming up to me. We were becoming friends.
Sometimes a walk begins with a dream. This walk began with navigational directions scratched on paper, a compass, and a dream to find rare corms; an adventurous walk that ended in love and corms.
1984. Not Orwell’s nor Bowie’s, but the player’s: the Dane, the Canadian, the Brit, and the American’s. The location? Ahh, the location. Not quite the badlands, but definitely a land rivaling. Bumping along in a cheap, cab – velveteen, smoke-saturated seats, evil eyes dangling from the rear view mirror, the intrepid four-nation search party witnessed their walk emerge through wind-twisted spines of pines.
An unusual walk; bent at the waist they faced scarred ground on the quest. The terrain, deeply gouged by dry crevices, etched testimony to harsh weather: a land unforgiving for agricultural gains. Anchored scraggy trees and scrappy brush, and loose rubble punctuated this bit of Gaia. Each step, executed better by a goat, evaluated judiciously by all so not to lose a foothold yet not to miss a jewel. The dream of a Dane, like that of his 15th century-Dutch bulb-loving predecessors, resulted in a mother lode for Danish commercial crocus propagation. For the American, the walk cemented love and marriage to the raw Turkish landscape now ingrained deep in my soul.
Michelle | France
The haze of birth, emergencies and the neonatal unit, created an unusual home in Lewisham Hospital for my little family. But as things settled, and Izzy was destined to remain sick in the hospital for some time; logistics took over. My husband was going to work and I was to start my new maternal duty shuttling between ‘Home 1’ (terraced 2 bed cottage) and ‘Home 2’ (NICU, Lewisham Hospital). A twice daily walk to and from the hospital. Half and hour at a brisk pace.
This walk should have been familiar; it was ‘My Manor’ after all. But the walk was new for me. I’d never connected these two ‘Homes’ before and now needed to. The walk became an effective umbilical cord—connecting me and my sickly daughter.
Every morning—after pumping the milk, calling in to check morning status, showering and packing a bag—I slammed the front door behind me and set off; a part of my empty stomach filling with the prospect of seeing my little lady again. Past the terraced houses of Hedgley and Taunton, through the urban oasis of Manor House Gardens, along the pretty well kept larger Victorian villas of Kellerton; my stride lengthy, my gaze drifting along window boxes, into front windows, painfully through those women with the buggies that fill the pavement. Always trying to float above our situation somehow; ‘pretend to be normal’.
Half way point. The station, and the station tunnel. A gritty connection to a starker urbanity; more people, more poverty, more bustle. Up the long strait that is Ennerdale Road, right into Hither Green proper—food and drink at the newsagents—and then down the pleasant hill, past lovely old but poorly buildings, into Lewisham Park Gardens. And then five minutes later, popping out onto Lewisham High Street, the noisy pelican crossing, the sharp redness of the double decker buses.
And there was ‘Home 2’. My Izzy, waiting for me on the 4th floor; past the reception, through the heavy cobalt blue flaps of the hospital entrance, along the echoing rabbit warren of Victorian corridors to the lift. A deep inhale and a wipe of the eye outside the door; ferociously rubbing the alcohol into the hands, buzzing, opening the click of the door. My heart is beating faster. I never know what I will find. But for those three and a half months it was reaching the end of the umbilical cord and finding my daughter that made those tears flow and flow and flow.
Sean | U.S.
David and I set out and took our first steps up Castro Street. The late morning air warmed gently, thanks to the efforts of a sun intent on summitting the eastern slope of an October sky. This was my first visit to San Francisco and my senses were in overdrive. It was Christmas morning, your birthday, the last day of school, and whatever else you regard as the best day of your life in a single instant. I was buzzing and most likely talking incessantly to David. The two of us, best friends since 8th grade, still sharing a common path. Oddly, in one of life’s more ironic moments, we had come out to each other during the same conversation only six months prior on the eve of his westward departure. David knew me better than anyone, including myself. He knew all too well the transformative effects of our Castro sojourn.
Each step forward I took on our continued march toward Market Street manifested itself as physical change. I was oddly aware of my breathing. Effortless, without consideration. Anxiety, denial, and shame evaporating from my psyche. It was in that perfect moment of lucidity, for the first time in my life, in every sense of the word, I felt utterly normal.
Michelle | U.S.
I was fifteen the night a car hit me as I ran across Fairmount Avenue. Cindy, Roxy, and I were walking to the Glidden Avenue School playground. We had stopped at Nick’s, a small corner store, to buy candy bars. We sidestepped slush puddles of dirty snow, the traffic coming and going.
It was normal traffic at Nick’s. Cars parking out front and on both sides of Merlin Avenue, either for cigarettes or to patronize Mallares’, a tavern to the left of Nick’s. Others went in and out of the Quality Markets parking lot, the supermarket across the highway.
I don’t remember hearing my friends scream, “Stop,” but witness said they did. They also said I froze in the middle of the far lane, hand outstretched in a classic stop gesture just before the car smashed into my right hip and hurled me over its hood for fifty-three feet. I landed face down in Quality’s entrance, missing a street pole with my head by inches.
I broke my right collarbone. My face has two faint scars, one under my nose, and one at my hairline from embedded black gravel. The hospital scrub-brushed it out like a filthy floor.
Later, my father said my hard head and the fluffy winter hat I wore saved my life. I’ve been trying to stop cars ever since.
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Interested in signing up for future #38Write workshops? Great! I run one every month. I’ll be announcing the September workshop in a few days. To learn more:
- send me an email
- subscribe to the Writerhead blog so that you’ll get the workshop announcement conveniently in your email inbox
- check back for the September workshop announcement (“Classes” page)