With my travel writing lately, I have been experimenting with different types of voice. My blogger voice has been very…well, what you see here. At times funny, and usually just conversational in tone, like I’m just shooting the bull with friends. Recently I started reading the Years Best in Travel Writing anthology for 2018 just to see what kind of work is out there and what is being considered the best.
I can say this much. What is being considered noteworthy enough to get into anthologies isn’t the same kind of stuff you are seeing in blogs or in listicles on Buzzfeed about “Top Five Places to Get Drunk in Mexico”. These are well-crafted essays that often exceed the standard attention span of about 600 words that list type articles and how-to articles get in other places. Some of the stories I read were very literary, from a veteran returning to the streets where he and his buddies fought a firefight in Kabul nearly twenty years before to explorations of American iconography in the Midwest.
Lots of these stories explore race, cultural differences, and probe the depths of what is going on in the human experience, rather than ways to upgrade your room at an all-inclusive resort/spa at Turks and Caicos. So recently, I sold an article that was inspired by these more literary expositions. It was challenging to write this way, even though there were times I felt like I was back in college writing MFA quality essays.
The benefit of writing in this MFA style is that I can make the story more cinematic. It’s a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. Rather than just musing about how dirty a bathroom might have been at a National Park. However, those types of articles also have their place and purpose.
I think what struck me the most was how pretentious a lot of these travel essays sounded. Either the acrobatics of choppy sentences with evocative language or the smarmy condescension of the educated elite, looking down their noses at Americana. The fucking egos involved with a lot of these authors. One guy even insinuated that he met someone in a hotel elevator for a one night stand in a small hotel in South Dakota.
I wonder if that was a callout to everyone who teased him in high-school for not having a girlfriend. Nobody cares that you slept with some drunk woman you met in an elevator, and nobody cares if you think gas station burritos and refridgerator magnets are quaint.
There’s cutting to the core and there is self-agrandizing masturbatory writing. As any good dad will tell you, I’m not mad…just disappointed. About halfway through the book when it all read like a college composition class, I checked out. The thing about good writing is you need to check on your ego. It’s a lot like when you paint a room and about a week after you are done, the light might hit that floor just right and all you see are the dollops of paint that made it past your throw cloth.
I can see why people don’t read as much as they used to. What is considered “The BEST!” is usually pretentious or just sounds like it should be good. You can call it foie gras all day long, but at the end of the day, it’s just goose liver.
Today I am really tired. I guess I just don’t have a lot of patience for this kind of stuff.
It’s a fine line to walk.