Thursday, May 29, 2014


Entering a story is very similar to entering a country by sea.

I imagine it first. Maybe read what other travelers have written about it. But nothing compares to seeing it for the first time with my own eyes. I may be traveling on a large ship, but this is how I imagine myself:

An ancient voyager after months at sea, not sure what country I'm approaching, friendly or dangerous, & what mythic monsters await me.

It's a voyage of discovery that begins before I set foot on land. But now I'm here, and I must navigate from the dock to the city street. Each port has its own unique character that reveals more than you can learn at a generic airport. Even when the landing area is modernized with new buildings and uniformed officials, glimpses of the ancient port emerge, along with smells and sounds, and instantly I'm thrust into another world.

In Alexandria, Egypt, an enormous new port authority complex stands abandoned. The instant you pass through, you are confronted with vendors hawking Cleopatra and King Tut wares, pungent spices, dazzling colors. Not far away, archaeologists dig for fragments from Cleopatra's palace in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Istanbul, with its skyline of the Hagia Sofia, may be the greatest paradox. Leave the long port authority buildings, again with much empty space and unused rooms. Turn right: you move toward the modern city with every convenience, franchise, etc, you could desire. Turn left: you move toward the old city, the Grand Socco-- the greatest covered market in the world-- and the Hagia Sofia, narrow winding streets, a city you can explore by traveling across rooftops or through underground caverns and cisterns.

Would you turn left or right?

My instinct is always to turn left and venture deeper into the unknown depths of the country. Once I've gotten lost in its labyrinth, dug my fingers into sacks of spices, tasted the local food, listened to the voices, and sat at a cafe just watching my people interact-- yeah, by now they've become my people, almost ready to walk across the page -- then I can explore the modern overlay.

This is where I am now. In port, on the deck of the ship. Waiting to disembark and feel land under my feet again. Pen and notebook in hand. The scents of the new world already drawing me in.

God, I love this moment.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I'm going on the road again!

Well, actually on the sea!

In late August I'll set sail on my third Semester at Sea voyage--a university on a ship. We leave from Southampton, England & return to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in December. This voyage will be an entire semester, & its theme is "Atlantic Exploration."

I'll teach 3 courses: 2 sections of Travel Writing, & 1 section of Creative Writing: Fiction. The courses are supplemented by field trips & experiences at the ports where we dock along the way, usually for 3-4 days.

Here's our itinerary, in order of ports:

Southampton, England (depart August 23rd)
St. Petersburg, Russia
Gdansk, Poland
Rostok, Germany
Antwerp, Belgium
Le Havre, France
Dublin, Ireland
Lisbon, Portugal
Cadiz, Spain
Casablanca, Morocco
Dakar, Senegal
Ghana: Takoradi & Tema
Brazil: Rio & Salvador
Bridgetown, Barbados
Havana, Cuba
Fort Lauderdale, Florida (arrive December 8th)

As you can imagine, I'm very excited about this voyage. We'll travel places I've never been & have longed to see-- like St. Petersburg, Salvador, & Havana! And life at sea is an amazing experience of its own, with its own rhythm.

Nothing quite matches teaching a class on the deck of a ship during sunset ... or trying to teach during a typhoon while books fly & waves hit the windows ... or watching the sunrise from the top deck.

I'm wearing the Captain's cap, but don't worry, I am not steering the ship. However, I'll keep a travel blog right here, posting news, observations, photos, updates all through the voyage.
I hope you'll follow my blog & travel with me so we can share the voyage.

And if you have any suggestions about places to go or things to see, please comment & let me know!

Meanwhile this spring/summer I'll continue posting observations about writing & life, updates on my novel, & guest posts from fellow creative artists.  And reflections on what the writer & artist can learn about craft & art from travel. So come with me!