on inspiration & boundless curiosity
March 7, 2014
“I want to know how people did what they did. And I want to know how that compares with how I did what I did. That’s my whole life. It’s not really a life. It’s a life of inquiry. It’s a life of getting off your ass, knocking on a door, walking a few steps or a great distance to pursue a story. That’s all it is: a life of boundless curiosity in which you indulge yourself and never miss an opportunity to talk to someone at length.” –Gay Talese
I am walking up the walls in inspiration. Everywhere I turn lately, there is something incredible and jaw dropping going on in the world that I want to discuss and write about. Things that I want to be on the front page of the newspaper I wish I delivered to doorsteps on my bike each morning. Things I would tweet about if I used Twitter. Things I would write to you in a letter if I still regularly wrote letters.
I’ve never been able to keep my mouth shut. I remember what the rush of sharing gossip felt like as a young teenager; the glean in someone’s eyes when I shared a secret that was not my own was a kind of guilty pleasure. While I think we’ve all experienced that feeling at some point, my curious, eager-to-please personality meant I crossed those lines more often than others. It’s not something I’m proud of. But I see traces of that young girl who loved being in the know and understanding the web of people and things around her in the writer and aspiring journalist I am today. Maybe being nosy and being inquisitive are two sides of the same coin. And now, as a young adult, asking questions is where my writing starts and adventures begin.
I sit down to write because I have ideas in my head that won’t go away. I share my words because I hope they might influence others in a positive, valuable way and maybe make a piece of this world more interesting or complicated or at least worth paying attention to. And sometimes I come across things that I want to share with everyone I know. So today, I’m opening my big mouth to tell you about things that I hope will have you, too, walking up the walls in inspiration. Today, it is my pleasure to gossip about a handful of things that truly matter.
• Maggie Pahos’s essay, Love Your Space and All It Holds. It’s such a privilege to know the woman behind these words as well as I do. I’ll sit there in the quiet and wonder: if the place I came from is gone, is part of me gone, too?, Maggie asks in this deeply moving essay. If you click on only one link from this blog post, make sure it’s this piece.
• Elif Shafak’s TED talk, The Politics of Fiction. This talk is poetry infused with political commentary and begins with, “I’m a storyteller. That’s what I do in life.” Shafak talks about a woman who uses coffee grounds to see the future; local versus universal stories; and what being a “representative foreigner” entails. She says (and I wholeheartedly agree) that stories transcend borders, fiction is flowing water, and we all like not knowing what will happen ten pages later. There are so many great TED talks out there, but this one’s a real gem.
• A tiny house that was conceived halfway around the world and is now a lovely home. For those of you who haven’t heard about tiny houses yet, you will soon! I’m going to write a feature on the tiny house built by my friends, Annelise and Jake—and the tiny house movement in general—here on the blog soon. Stay tuned.
• The Horizon, a vehicle currently in development by Outrider USA. Committed to innovation and sustainability, Outrider builds ultra-light adventure vehicles that are fast, safe, and—I can say this because I’ve had the pleasure of riding one—more fun that you can imagine. The Horizon is geared toward people with a wide range of physical abilities, including paraplegic and quadriplegic individuals, eager for the excitement and freedom of riding a bike on almost any terrain. A vehicle that makes adventures possible for those who aren’t ready for their adventure days to be limited or over? Heck yes.
• Writing the Lake Shore Limited, an essay by Jessica Gross that was inspired by a free, cross-country train trip. Train time is found time, Gross writes. Writing requires a dip into the subconscious. The lockbox, at times kept tightly latched in our daily lives, is pried open, and things leak onto the page that we only half knew were there.
The writing is beautiful, and the story behind the free trip is pretty lovely, too. During an interview with Pen America, novelist Alexander Chee said he wished Amtrak had residencies for writers. Fellow writers immediately took to Twitter (a place I’m quickly learning offers one of the most sure ways to get the attention of a famous someone or something—for better or for worse) and in fantastic spirit, Amtrak reached out to one of the writers who tweeted, Jessica Gross, asking if she wanted to go on a “test ride.” The residency program is now in development and Amtrak’s social media director says writers can apply for the program simply by tweeting at the company’s account.
I think I just found my reason to begin using Twitter.
All of these things were created or carried out from a place of passion, commitment, and desire to contribute something good and important to the world. When I look at this group of inspiring things, I see the past and the future; I see weight and speed. I see boundless curiosity. I see light in the spaces between the words and the railway tracks. And I see the innovation and opportunity that is in every crack of wood and meaning.
That Paris Review train essay really got me going. I know my fellow train-dwellers out there were moved as well—is there anything better than getting paid to travel by train, explore and adventure, write about it all, and then get published and inspire others to go on their own adventures?
No, there is not. Unless you throw in a handsome stranger and triplet Goldendoodles and a glass of Brunello di Montalcino, there is not.
It’s been a while since I’ve traveled by train, but I have been on a fair share of planes lately. 2014 has been busy and exciting (for me, excitement usually means travel, and I’ve had a lot of that lately): a weekend in Charlottesville with my mom and sister; a relaxing stay in northern New York with my sister and grandparents; a weekend in Boston visiting my good friend Rachel from Elon; a weekend snowboarding and sledding with Fulbright friends in Pennsylvania; and a week in Seattle at the annual AWP conference (a huge event for writers, authors, publishers, and presses) with Maggie—and 13,000 other writers.
I have tons to share about AWP, so that’s coming soon. But one reason the conference was so rewarding was because I was able to attend knowing that I’m staring graduate school in the fall—because I found out in mid-February that I have been accepted to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism! And that I’m being granted a McCormick Scholarship! Medill is known as one of the top journalism schools in the country, and the scholarship is named for Robert R. McCormick, former owner of the Chicago Tribune. Six Medill applicants receive the full-tuition scholarship each year. Both the acceptance and the scholarship are great honors, and I was pretty much speechless when I got the call.
Visits to Northwestern and an admission decision from the other graduate journalism program I applied to are coming up, so I’m not in decision-making mode yet. But I’m so excited. And I’ve been overwhelmed by the congratulations and support from my friends and family and mentors. To hear the people I admire and respect most in the world telling me how proud and excited they are for me is the best feeling in the world. They say it takes a group to raise a writer, and while I think it takes a group to raise pretty much anyone, I am over-the-moon grateful for all those who have raised (in all senses of the word) and influenced me.
I’m also thrilled to share that I’ve accepted a position to lead a National Geographic Student Expedition this summer! I’ll be spending two weeks in Ireland, co-leading a creative writing field workshop for high-school students (mostly from the U.S). The National Geographic expert joining the trip is Chris Rainier, a contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler magazine. I’m so excited for this opportunity—travel and writing are pretty much my two favorite things, so to be able to help cultivate those things for students is an honor. And I can’t wait. I really can’t wait.
I began this post with things that have inspired me over the past month. I want to end by thanking those who have inspired the opportunities I am so fortunate to have had and be having. I would not be who or where I am today without the support and encouragement from “my people.” So thank you, family and friends, for inspiring me, for pushing me, for helping me lead what Gay Talese calls “a life of inquiry and boundless curiosity.” Thank you from the bottom of my heart.