Everything we do begins with a story. Without story, we would perish. We don’t get off that couch and head to the kitchen unless we have first told ourselves a little story: “There’s food in that kitchen, it will taste good, erase the feeling of hunger, and thanks to it I will survive.” We may not say those words out loud, and if we do, someone should call a doctor. But at the most primal level, that story is told and its lesson heeded.
As an American writer living in Berlin, I strain to understand and express some of the differences between my two homes. So many exceptions to any rule, no broad-brushstroke of a short essay is going to begin to capture anything but the most basic generalization. Still, let me try. Here’s a story plucked from memory.
What exactly is a travelogue? Or, asked differently, what is it not? A travelogue is not an advertisement that tries to sell specific destinations to its readers. A travelogue is not a guidebook with a list of the top 10 best restaurants or massage places. Rather, a travelogue is a creative narrative of someone’s experiences while traveling.
Travelogues focus on and celebrate the differences in traditions and customs around the world; very often, they’re conversational in tone and filled with funny details (see, for instance, Bill Bryson’s Stories from a Small Island). Good travelogues contain vivid descriptions and sensory details; unexpected, maybe even transformative experiences; and accounts of interactions with local people. Travelogues can also combine fictional and factual elements, as one of the greatest travel writers, Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989), beautifully demonstrated (e.g. the stories dealing with his trip to Australia, The Songlines). Fictional or non-fictional, funny or not – above all, a travelogue must tell a story.
The following two travelogues, written by creative writing students in the fall semester 2022/23, each tell a story. One takes place in the Ecuadorean rainforest, the other in Venice.
New Year’s Eve is practically upon us once again. Do you always feel guilty for being lazy and not ‘having fun’ on all the ‘important’ occasions? If so, then instead of cursing yourself or the universe for your loneliness, you can choose to be at peace. Instead of scrolling through the Instagram feeds of your friends, you can scroll through your own life history. Here is a recipe that will make the night one to remember, even if you’re all alone:
Vignettes are wonderful! Sometimes described as a slice of life, vignettes can be so short that they take away the fear of ending up with a white page. Unlike a short story, there’s no defined beginning, middle, or end with a cast of characters, multiple conflicts, and the ultimate resolution phase. Instead, the vignette’s impressionistic scenes focus on one moment or give a particular insight into one character, idea, or setting.
The Mexican American author Sandra Cisneros is the unchallenged queen of vignette writing, and her collection of 44 vignettes, (1984) is a must read.
Memories are stories we tell ourselves.
“When I was younger, I remember how…” We cherry-pick. We have to. Otherwise, we’d remember what we wore and ate for lunch a day before our 6th birthday, and the week before that. TMI.