Expatriates and Homebodies


A coati in the gardens outside Tikal.
Nasua narica

So I went to Guatemala the other week.

I don’t get to travel that often. Travel costs a lot, and my life strategy has been to spend just barely enough of my time working to keep myself alive, so as to have as much free time for writing as possible and not much else. I have heard this strategy questioned more than once exactly on the basis that it doesn’t permit me to travel. “How can you have anything to write about,” goes the conventional wisdom, “when you haven’t done anything?” My college advisor asked me that, among others. It sort of pissed me off. I’d like to give more credit than that to the imagination: sure, you can’t write compelling fiction in a vacuum, and yes, uncountable great writers spent their lives wandering the earth. But it’s a matter of how you look at the world, not what you’re looking at. Thoreau never left New England. Emily Dickinson barely left her house. There are new and unique things to see, even in things you’ve looked at a hundred thousand times.

That said, every time I do manage to abroad, I come back with ideas spilling out my ears–like what happened when I went to Yucatan. The conventional wisdom isn’t wrong, it’s just narrow. And it presupposes a certain level of financial independence, doesn’t it? Travel is hard–not just emotionally and physically (as I have well learned), but financially. So is writing. Just ask Nabokov, Lord Dunsany, or Anthony Bourdain: it’s a lot easier to bum around the world telling awesome stories when you don’t have to worry where your next meal is coming from. But nothing beats experience.

Upon returning from Guatemala, I have gained the following:

  • Exactly 25 angry red mosquito bites, mostly on my ankles, hips, and the backs of my knees, that will not f’ing go away.
  • Stomach parasites.
  • A persistent, atmospheric lightheadedness that, for a few moments before waking, makes me believe I never left. Or else that I’m entering the preliminary stages of a mushroom trip. Whether this has something to do with the aforementioned parasites, maybe in the style of those freaky bugs that alter the personality of rodents to make them more inclined to commit suicide by cat, I know not.
  • Enlightenment.

Was all of the former worth the latter? Yes.

So for a little while, this blog is going to turn into a travelogue.


A colossal ceiba tree that grows at the gate to Tikal.
Ceiba pentandra

More next week.

No Parking

Is what this sign used to say, before I messed with it, when I found it in the woods full of bullet holes and being eaten by this tree:

Not sure what I’m going to do with it now. Already got a perfectly good, conveniently scalable mossy skull for graphic purposes. Probably not going to change it, if ever I get around to designing ye blog theme v.3.

So. Anybody got a noble cause for which they might require a picture of some words, any words at all, on a bullet-riddled street sign getting eaten by a tree?

To Eat and Drink of Trees

The newest entry in my occasional blog series on homebrewing is live on the Small Beer Press site.

In this one, I go on a pine-needle eating spree, brew some beer with spruce tips in place of hops, and then proceed to party like an 1830s New England housewife.

And by the way, just in case anyone is actually syndicating these, the location of the Literary Beer RSS feed has changed to the following:

http://www.smallbeerpress.com/?tag=literary-beer&feed=rss2