Jamaica Kincaid explores themes of artificial beauty in her book, A Small Place. She recognizes the outward, physical beauty of her home island, Antigua, but puts the reader into the perspective of an ignorant tourist who fails to see the reality that natives Antiguans face. This reality includes poverty, racism, government corruption, and living in unsuitable conditions. Her own people have not been able to create their own culture due to British colonization and corruption of the government which forces Antiguans into a life of servitude towards tourists. There is not much opportunity to escape the island hope of a better life. But in pictures, outsiders see Antigua as a heavenly island with unrealistic waters and sand- picture perfect things that they don’t have in their own homes- so they flock to the island in order to escape their own boring, daily routines, without recognizing how the islands’ natives will never be able to leave. This relates to America in a way because this country is painted as the land of the free, meaning we are able to practice our own religions, have freedom of speech, have democracy, etc., but the reality of this country’s dark secrets and pasts is that like Antigua, it was built on the backs of slaves and forces many people to live under the federal poverty line.
When one thinks of America, it’s easy to think of the glitz and glamor of New York City and Los Angeles, the quaint, prairie houses of the South, and other American things such as state fairs and great nature. But America has underlying issues that deeply affect the society, even in today’s world, such as racism and bigotry found in our neighbors and even in our government. A lot of Americans live in fear of racists or homophobes or business tycoons who don’t care about anyone who isn’t the perfect American image. There are mass shootings in America, such as the most recent one in Vegas, states that are left in shambles after natural disasters and not much help being provided to them, proud racists and Neo-Nazis who parade campuses wearing KKK cloaks and painting the Nazi symbol all over them, people of the LGBTQA+ community being harassed and murdered by people who can’t accept them.
America is far from a perfect place. What outsiders see in Hollywood of this place for dreams and opportunity holds some truth to it in comparison to countries who have none at all, but Hollywood doesn’t uncover much of the horror that is within the States. Like Antigua, many real citizens are unrecognized in order to bring more attention to the wealthy and powerful. The country has been built by mass murder of its Native Americans, the severe torture of black slaves, the corruption of government officials and business owners, racism that has made whites superior, and total degradation of American citizens who are struggling to make an honest, suitable living for themselves and their families. But on the outside, we see movies of America being the best country in the world.
In both readings, the narrators are deep in contemplative thought about what it means to travel by oneself. Is being in solitude lonely? Rewarding? Both? In the New Yorker piece, the narrator discusses her experience with wanting to travel without the use of photography because she wants to capture the moments through memories rather than experiencing it second-hand through a camera lens. This separates her from other travelers, leaving her alone in her thoughts of why she doesn’t particularly like taking photos or recording videos during her travels. In the book excerpt, the narrator is literally traveling alone and is in search of some enlightenment after feeling bored with her every day life. But unexpectedly, the solitude that she sought left her feeling even worse than before because it gave her too much time to think about her thoughts, and she eventually ended up missing her busy life.
I found these texts scarily relatable to my own life. I am someone who constantly craves solitude and feels the need to “break away” from the daily routine of life- so much so that I usually end up feeling like an outsider. But with this comes the worry that no one understands why I am alone/no one cares. Traveling alone seems like a great idea until I start to overthink my thoughts and start itching for connection to other thoughts and voices besides the ones in my head.
I wonder where people like me and the narrators can find balance. There has to be a way to travel alone without feeling lonely or too overwhelmed with overthinking. In the book excerpt, the narrator finds a way to drive herself away from her lonely cabin fever by spilling her thoughts onto paper. Because then, it’ll transfer onto another medium besides her brain. And while I feel that this works temporarily, it doesn’t fix the problem that people become very different when they are alone. There is no one to save them from any haunting thoughts, and there is no one to watch them when they are traveling to some unknown place.
The author David Foster Wallace was mentioned in the second piece, and he happens to be one of my favorite writers. Having taken an entire class on him my first semester of college, I learned that solitude was one of the worst things for him to be in, yet he thrived in it. The reason being that he was able to produce and create his work while alone, but his thoughts were so overbearing that he felt like a slave to them. He didn’t have much distraction away from them. And I think how a person experiences solitude says a lot about their mental health. Wallace’s was not strong at all, and neither were the two narrators’.
These two pieces made me wonder about how I will be when I travel alone this weekend, which is extremely coincidental because I am leaving on a whim and for a family emergency. But the trip before I get to the destination will be spent in solitude, and knowing that the destination might be quite sad, I am afraid that I will get lost in harmful thoughts since they are so easy to slip into. But perhaps I will think of these pieces and know that I am not alone in this way of feeling.
As technology advances and humans become more creative in how to constantly reinvent the way they do things, travel writing flows through mediums such as journals to guidebooks to social media posts.
What started off as a way to jot down one’s experiences and explorations in a notebook is now translated through trendy pictures that we see as we scroll down our Instagram feeds. It has always been a way for us to record where we are and what we’re doing, and most of the time, we have wanted to share our travels with those around us, so in that sense, technology hasn’t changed much about why we travel write.
Technology has, however, lessened our intellectual status when it comes to travel writing because it requires less thinking, as does every other aspect of life that has progressed with technology. Travel writing is much more accessible now because it can be done with a click of a button or on our personal devices. It has become more personal throughout time because the things we record our travels on have become more ours i.e. a laptop, an iPhone, a journal, a camera.
As we learn more about technology and how to travel, it has become natural to document our experiences because we want to keep these things in memory forever, whether it be digital or handwritten. I mentioned in class that humans are conscious beings, so we intend to leave a lasting impression of our existence on this earth. And as technology progresses and the earth becomes more and more different than it is even today, it will become absolutely necessary to keep track of our experiences and travels.
We will find new mediums of recording them, whether it be recording lands for virtual reality sets to keep a memory of how the land looked like before it changed or maybe we will be able to venture out to other planets, so instead of exploring other countries and continents, we are exploring something otherworldly. Either way, technology is something that will always be developed, and humans will always learn to adapt with it, and so our travel writing will evolve as well.
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Traveling as a black American in a predominately white country must have been and must still be intimidating and disheartening. Paley’s mother’s experience of refusing to sit at the back of the bus for the sake of a white passenger is monumental, especially for the time period, and in my opinion of what traveling and taking a journey is, her action is a step forward in rebelling against white America. She is traveling both literally and metaphorically by being on a bus but also by keeping her place.
Paley’s own experience of seeing the racial divide on the bus is nostalgic to her mother’s and shows that traveling as a person of color can have similarities no matter the time period. Paley’s rebellion against the white man is embracing the boy instead of fearing the man and giving into his racial remarks. Her experience and her mother’s in a way represent traveling, but through time. The actual act of traveling on a bus is not as important here as the traveling of how the two shared similar experiences of bigotry based on their skin color.
But these experiences are eye-opening to both Paley and her mother and any other person of color who has faced discrimination and say a lot about what living as a person of color is like. Even something as simple as trying to get from point A to point B sets them up for harassment or distasteful comments. This makes one wonder what other simple situations a person of color could be in that would invite these types of situations.
I believe everyone has a right to travel, no matter the distance, freely and safely. Paley’s accounts of what traveling has been like for herself, her family, and people of color prove that even something so casual like traveling can still be problematic for some people.
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