I like everything about travel. I like airports and train stations and buying weird gas station snacks on road trips. I like tiny travel sizes of things: tiny shampoo and tiny bottles of ketchup and tiny tubes of toothpaste. IT’S ALL SO TINY. You know those tiny sewing kits that hotels provide? I can’t resist taking them home even though I have never ever needed a hotel room sewing kit. I have 17 of them. (When I get three more, I am going to host that sewing kit-themed party I saw on Pinterest.) Nothing about travel feels inconvenient because even the most mundane travel carries the promise of the bubble, that for a quick period of time you will float above whatever your normal life is, taking in a whole new view. It’s rejuvenation and experience and making memories and ironic souvenir Tshirts.
Travel is great. You know what isn’t great? Packing. I fucking haaaaaate packing. Packing is the sullen, tedious yin to my sunny travel yang.I don’t like anything about packing. I don’t like making decisions about what to take with me. I don’t like all the tiny things, the tiny toothbrush and tiny shampoo and tiny pillows, because no matter how tiny I make the tiny things I always run out of room in my stupid tiny suitcase. My track record is erratic on remembering to pack essential stuff like contact lenses or glasses or, on one memorable trip, my actual suitcase full of my actual stuff. Considering how much I hate packing just a fraction of my possessions for a limited period of time, the thought of moving fries my synapses. Pack ALL the stuff? Then take ALL the stuff to a different place and unpack it? I do not see the point. Let’s just stay here. It’s lucky for everyone concerned that it was not my job to be an American pioneer or Ernest Hemingway because believe me if it was my job there would not be a California or a The Sun Also Rises. We only have those things because people (not me) were willing to pack up and move.
There are two kinds of moving: Back To and Away From. Back To moves circle around to where you started, like moving back to your hometown. Away From moves launch you into the great unknown, taking you out of the familiar, like when Luke leaves Tatooine so he can go blow up the Death Star. Arguably, American history is one big Away From move story and while many of those stories have happy endings, the Donner Party’s is not one of them. The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of The Donner Party by Daniel James Brown, isn’t just Away From, it’s Far Away From. This book traces the Donner Party’s journey, step by tortuous step, from its beginning in Missouri in May 1846 to their arrival in the Sierra Nevada mountains…where they, um, stayed a while. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but winter in the Sierra Nevadas did not go well.
Daniel James Brown is wonderful at translating his meticulous research into relatable human experience, and in this book that is never more evident than when he is scaling the westward journeys against the preparation for the journey. The detailed description of the provisioning that the Donner Party undertook blew my mind. Food, oxen, a mobile kitchen, linens, clothing, EVERYTHING–outfitting a traveling party for the great migration west took weeks. This is yet another story that proves to me I would have been the worst pioneer to ever pioneer. I am actually whatever the opposite is of a pioneer. Pion-not? If it took me weeks to pack for anything I would cancel my plans.
Pioneers: Westward, ho!
Pioneers: Let’s make history!
Me: Or stay here and make popcorn. WHO’S WITH ME
Moves can cross countries, or moves can cross oceans. Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises by Lesley M. M. Blume tells the story of how Ernest Hemingway conceived, wrote, and marketed his debut novel, and how that experience created the public face of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway and his first wife Hadley moved to Paris after the first World War, because Europe after WW1 was an inexpensive place to bring American dollars. While in Paris, Hemingway cultivated the nurturing support of the city’s literary elite, establishing the relationships and the network that would help make his name as a writer and living the experiences that would ultimately become The Sun Also Rises.
Hemingway’s move is, at first glance, an Away From move. It’s hard to get much more Away From than putting an ocean in between your start and your destination. Going to Paris was a lot more fun than going to Gatlinburg or Fargo, but it amounted to the same thing, because upon arriving in Paris, Hemingway immediately fell in with a crowd of…Americans. His Parisian friendships and social circle consisted of Americans and UK expats-until he went to Spain. In Spain, his friendships and social circles consisted of Americans and UK expats he brought with him from Paris, plus matadors. Hemingway loved him some bullfighting.
Hemingway: I really do like bullfighting
Me: I get it
Hemingway: My Tumblr is @fuckyeahbullfighting
If I actually HAD to move somewhere, which I’m absolutely not doing because I hate packing, I’d model it on the Hemingway method, which is
1. Not have a lot of stuff
2. Take all that stuff to Paris
3. Eat some cheese, probably
4. Become famous
That is way less strenuous than the pioneer method, which is
1. Have a ton of stuff
2. Get even more stuff
3. Skip the iffy pioneer cheese
4. Drag all that stuff for hundred of miles, on foot, and there’s not even a hotel with room service when you get there because frontier
A hat tip to those intrepid souls who pull off pulling up stakes and start over in a new place. I’m happy to come visit you, as soon as I finish packing.
Me: so what’s in the wagon anyway
Pioneers: Tiny sewing kits
Me: I knew it
Daniel James Brown is the author of The Boys In The Boat, another great Away From moving story.