Read this: The Wind In The Reeds by Wendell Pierce

The Wind In The Reeds
by Wendell Pierce

“We make our stories. And our stories make us.” 

Spending the weekend at home looking after a sick little puppy meant I had plenty of time to read (yay), so I thought it’d be good to start the week with a new book to add to your reading lists… This book was a beautiful read, but I’m truly struggling to know how to define it…

Written by New Orleanian Wendell Pierce, an acclaimed actor who was part of arguably one of the best television dramas of all time (The Wire) and probably my favourite series of all time (Treme), this book explores:
– African American history in the south
– his family’s specific history
– the importance of religion and education in African American families
– his path to becoming not just an actor, but a true artist
– the people who influenced both his life and career
– his role in bringing his city back together after the horrors that came with Hurricane KatrinaIt’s not a strict autobiography, in that Pierce tells so many more stories than just his own, and gives such a touching insight into the lives and trials of his family and community.

He wrote a lot about his family, and the enormous debt of gratitude he owed to his parents. He spoke of how hard they worked in a time where they were so oppressed, when segregation was as horrible as you could imagine, and he write with such dignity that you can’t help but feel so much towards their struggles. Reading about how his father worked two jobs so that Pierce and his brothers could have the education their parents both firmly believed they were entitled to was heart breaking and inspiring at the same time; Pierce also write about his father’s most prized possession, a letter framed and hung on the wall declaring his final mortgage payment and that he was in fact the sole owner of his own home. Something that I’ve never thought twice about, the ability to apply for a mortgage to own my own home – that was a battle for his parents.

He writes about his time spent filming both The Wire and Treme, and if you haven’t seen them, I’d recommend making that a priority. Both are the creations of producer David Simon, and Pierce write about how they were created not just as stories or entertainment, but as true documentaries of life on the streets of Baltimore and post-Katrina New Orleans, respectively. Pierce’s work on both shows was incredible, and reading about his experiences at the times he was filming gave a lot more insight.

Those passages really struck me for another reason; I like to think of my blog as my time capsule, my running documentary of what my life is right now. Pierce writes about the fact that with something like Treme, future generations will be able to watch it with their grandparents and understand that that was really what they lived through, without all of the Hollywood dramatisation. That’s truly a precious gift to pass on.

While I’m not a religious person myself, my parents are, and I could relate to a lot of what he wrote on this topic as well. While not a strict Sunday church-goer, his faith and love for God came because he so loved and respected his mother and father, and they in turn loved God. His faith, in a way, was through and in his parents; that made sense to me. While the majority of his family were very religious, there were a few who shunned it completely. His mother said that men are fallible, but that’s no reason to turn your back on your faith. He and his brothers were encouraged to question the views that the church presented – perhaps if I’d had that encouragement rather than strict instructions to follow blindly and dumbly, I’d still have a little faith.

The importance of family also shone through very strongly – how having someone to lean on when times are tough is a necessity, and how you are never truly alone. And it wasn’t just his immediate family; it was extended family and the community. When one struggled, the others picked up the slack. He took that concept all the way back to a traditional New Orleanian tradition of second lines and Mardi Gras crews, group and clubs. Learning more about the traditions of New Orleans from someone who lived there was fantastic, too, and what held my interest the most.

So as you can see, it’s a bit of a mish mash, but at the end of the day, it’s about empowerment and overcoming. It’s a truly beautiful read; grab a copy here  : )

 

“Hope is a memory that desires. If we can remember who we were and what we had, and can act in concert to reenact the rituals that defined us, we might find in that the hope to go on, despite the indifference of others to our fate.”

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Read this: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

The Snow Leopard
by Peter Matthiessen

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Long heralded as the travel book, it had been on my list to read for months; the push I needed to prioritise it and push it to the top of that list was hearing the high praise it received from Don George and Tony Wheeler at their On The Road session at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival.

The book recounts the two month journey undertaken by Peter Matthiessen and his friend and naturalist George Schaller through the Himalayas to the Crystal Mountain in the Dolpo region of Nepal. The plan was to observe the habits of the bharal (blue sheep) of the Himalayan region, and to hopefully catch sight of the elusive snow leopard. What transpired was what can only be described as a deep spiritual journey.

After losing his wife to cancer, 46 year old Peter left his youngest son in the care of good friends and spent day after day trekking through the snow and mountains, in search of not only the animals, but it seems inner peace, as well.

A quick Google search will tell you more than enough about this book, so I’m not going to regurgitate it all here. What I will tell you is that I’m glad I finally did read it when I did; it was the right time in my life for a book like that. It’s not a story about looking for rare animals, not really. It was a reading meditation on life, death, peace, hurt, loss, suffering, adventure and real living.

There were so many beautifully written passages, it’s hard to pick favourites, but this one below about freedom and gratitude would certainly be up there for me.

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There’s not a heap to say about this timeless tome that hasn’t already been said by someone else far more eloquent and educated than I. What I will say is that if you open this book with the right mindset, open and calm and willing to learn, you’ll come out the otherside with a truly different perspective on life, which is a beautiful thing. Amazing book and concepts, get your copy here, or at your nearest bookstore!

At a cross-roads of life & travel writing inspiration from the MWF 2014

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So, I’ve already shared the AMAZING reading list I gathered from Tony Wheeler and Don George at the Reading On The Road session I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival last Friday night, which I can’t wait to start collecting and reading! I thought today I’d also share a couple of pieces of wisdom I took from that session, as well as the BOOK PASSAGE session I attended on the Saturday morning.

I really wanted to share this stuff because I felt.. a little bit transformed after them. Yeah, I know, sounds cliche and a bit lame and cheesy, blah blah blah, but these sessions came at the exact, exact moment that I needed them in my life. Has that ever happened to anyone else? Like the universe has somehow just given you not only what you wanted, but exactly what you needed at the exact time you needed it?

Like everyone else, I’ve had my ups and downs in life. I’ve always dealt with them as well as I knew how at the time. Long story short, I always knew what the life I wanted was, but I never actually thought I’d be able to get it. I didn’t think I had it in me to make my dreams real, I didn’t think I was special enough, because it does take a special kind of person to do that. For a long time, I thought that just surviving one day after the next was good enough. But eventually, with hard work and sheer stubbornness, it all got easier. I decided I wanted to thrive instead of just survive. And so I did. I’m not sure how it happened in all honesty, but it did.

Now I’m at another cross-roads. I’ve started turning my dreams into real life, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I want more now. I’m also at that point in life that other people seem to find it appropriate to weigh in on my life and the choices I’m making, not just questioning though, but judging. The fact that I don’t want to be a mother and have children, the fact that I just have a “boring, pointless” job instead of a big, fancy career, where I live, how I spend my time, even what I eat. A few years ago, I’d have been reduced to tears at every comment. Again, I have no idea where it’s come from, but I just don’t care anymore. My life is too damn short and too damn precious to waste worrying about what other people think. No one but me knows how far I’ve come or how hard I’ve had to fight to get to where I am today, so I’m done wasting time giving weight to the opinions of everyone else now. So where does that leave me? I know I want to travel, and I know I want to write; they’re the only two things that I’ve always been passionate about, the only two constants in my life. So that’s what I’m trying to direct my time and energy towards now.

Back to the point of this post, what I took from the sessions I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival; listening to those people speak inspired me and motivated me. If they could do it, why not me? What’s ever really stopping any of us from living the amazing? For people like me, afflicted with wanderlust, why shouldn’t we get out on the road and experience real life? Is there anything more incredible? According to these guys, no, no there isn’t!

 

Session 1: Reading On The Road:
Founder of Lonely Planet, Tony Wheeler joins legendary travel writer Don George to discuss the pleasures of reading travel books. Discover their favourite travel writers and books and how reading has shaped the journeys of two of the best-travelled men on the planet.
– “A great writer can take a not necessarily good story and turn it into a transporting experience” – Don George.
– The point of travel writing is for the writer to make sense of reality, their lives, and the journey, and to then share that with their readers to give them a sense of discovery.
– More wisdom from Don George – he mentioned that it is a deep human impulse to want to explore; even if we physically can’t for whatever reason, books can help us to escape and explore.
– When asked about what they read on the road, Tony said that he doesn’t usually have time to read, and Don said he’ll often read a novel set in the place that he is visiting, which is an idea that I really love. I did that in Vietnam, reading The Quiet American, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I think I would have reading it at home.

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Session 2: Book Passage (morning session):
Jump start your travel writing career with advice from leading voices Don George, Tony Wheeler, Steve Braunias, Emma Ayres, Tim Cope and more. Topics include finding your story on the road, longform travel books and inside a travel writers life – with plenty of time built in for questions.
– From Emma Ayres, the musician who wrote the book Cadence, about her time cycling from England to Hong Kong: she said at the start of her journey, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do, just what she didn’t want to do, which I think resonates with a LOT of us! She also shared something she was told when she started writing her book, that you should write the book you’d want to read.
– From Tim Cope, who wrote On The Trail of Genghis Khan, about his 10, 000km journey on horse back from Mongolia to Hungary: the beauty of travelling for him was that no one knows you on the road – you will meet people who have no preconceptions about you or who you are. He was told by his editor that “just because this stuff happened doesn’t mean it needs to be in the book,” which helped him to edit down his original draft; I think that’s really great advice for other aspiring writers, too. He also said that he read a lot before travelling to learn about the history of the places he was visiting, and had also been studying Russian for many years which helped him communicate on the road.
– From Steve Braunias, who wrote Civilization, his stories about 20 small and unknown towns in New Zealand: His book was written by just flying into small cities where “nothing had ever happened and nothing probably ever will happen,” with no research, to find out as much as he could from talking to the locals. One of his best tips was to speak to people, and to then ask them who else they thought you should talk to – I thought that was fantastic advice. He also suggested checking out a popular vista and asking a local what you were looking at, for a fresh perspective.
– From Robin Hemley, a prolific writer of books such as Do-over, Invented Eden and The Field Guide to Immersion Writing: he shared a quote he’d heard – “no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” He said it was important to not know it all first, that it is better to have no preconceived idea of your story before you start your travels, and to just let it come to you. He’s also a huge advocate for always carrying a notebook and pen, and in fact had a notebook and pen that he took notes with throughout the session, which really impressed me!
– From Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet empire and all-round lovely bloke: Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: “if you don’t make big mistakes, you haven’t been trying hard enough.” I loved that. He also said that the best thing to do as soon as you arrive in a new place is to drop your bags off at your accommodation, and start walking. No map, just walk and get lost!