This past summer I took a class through The Porch, a local non-profit here in Nashville that hosts all kinds of creative writing classes. I’ve taken workshops through this organization including classes titled, “World Building” and “Mixed-level Non-Fiction”– all were fantastic, enriching experiences. This workshop, however was a bit different. It was a travel writing workshop AND I convinced three of my girl friends to take the class with me. Nerding out about writing and travel while hanging with my favorite people– sign me up!
Classes are hosted in the historic Houston Station building, a former factory space that is so close the the rail lines that when the train chugs along down the tracks, it feels like the locomotive is sailing through the heart of the building, rattling walls and ear drums alike. The rail line actually does cut through many of the local roads leading to this space, so it is essential to carve out a few extra minutes to make sure you have plenty of time and aren’t at the mercy of a unhurried, glacial-paced moving train. Writing classes in this space are often paused as if they speaker were being censored by the train’s volume. We wait for the train horn blaring to subside so we can hear what the instructor has to say.
I was expecting this class to be a fun way to be a fun outlet to reflect on trips I’ve taken in the past year to the French Riviera and Banff National Park. I also loved the idea of regularly getting together with three women I adore and admire for a full month. What I didn’t expect was that a class on travel writing could inform my current book on writing letters.
As most first classes go, this session included many formalities, introductions and explanations. And then we dug in! Our instructor spent her entire career as a high school english teacher here in Middle Tennessee. She retired after her kids were grown and then pursued a deep inner calling to MOVE to Morocco. She lived there and taught for several years, fueling her passion for exploring other cultures and giving her the courage she needed to become a travel writer. I am so excited to learn from this woman’s wisdom.
She lent each of us a few books about travel writing specifically through a lens of food. The sensory experience of travel is what makes quality travel writing so tangible. Vivid description allows the reader to feel transported to that specific time and place. I like to think of travel writing as time traveling in a sense. Our group discussed in great detail that describing food can be one of the best ways to capture smell, color, taste, texture and reveal an experience.
When I got home that first night, it was 11:30 p.m. Normally, my eye-lids would be sandbags by that time of night, but I was wired. Charged up with excitement, the energy of good friends, a full belly from dinner after class at Hemingway’s Hideaway, and a sumptuously good class of wine. I started flipping through one of the food literature books our teacher handed out that night. I came across this passage, and immediately jotted down several notes in my journal hoping sleep wouldn’t steal away the thought. I knew what I need to write about in my book the next morning:
“Writing [like food] has a way of expanding you too. Of offering a memory of yourself. You don’t always know what you’ll discover when you first put pen to paper, but the beginning calls you and you begin– one word at a time, one sentence at a time. You follow yourself to yourself to find out what you mean to say. Ah, that taste. I remember that taste now. It’s me.”- Paulette Licitra from Alimnetum, The Literature of FoodVolume Twelve.
The connection to Licitra’s statement and my book was easy to unearth. Writing is a sensory experience connected to our memories. It is the reason I have been focusing my studies on writing letters as a way to connect to self and community. In the way that catching a whiff of fresh bread wafting in the air can transport you back to your grandmother’s kitchen or the patisserie in Paris you adored; writing can also be a vehicle to take us back to our past. Both experiences allow us to connect to who we are. Who we are without labels, without obligations, without agenda. Writing and food can take us back to the very essence of who we are.
On this restful Sunday, an offering.
Pull that old cookbook off of the shelf and dust it off. See if you can recreate a childhood favorite.
Enjoy the process: the smell of rich spices, the technical nuances, the heat of the oven, the texture on your tastebuds. After you have immersed yourself in this experience, write to someone about it. Perhaps you chose your mom’s soup recipe and you share this cooking venture with your sister. It may allow you to bring her back in time to a snowy afternoon cooped up inside making Chicken Noodle soup as a family. Or perhaps you share this glimmer of a memory with a friend who wasn’t there. What a vulnerable way to let them in and show them a piece of who you are.
Please do share your takeaways if you do choose to try this out. Happy, delicious writing!