“Your biggest risk isn't failing, it's getting too comfortable,” said Drew Houston, the guy who started Dropbox. “Every day, we're writing a few more words of a story. I wanted my story to be an adventure and that's made all the difference.”
The story of this blog has been a far more exciting adventure than I ever expected. In 2011, everybody advised startiing blogs as the best way to market books, and I was feverishly finishing up the first draft of Dancing in the Fountain at the time. “Hmmm,” I thought. “I’ve got to do something to reach out to readers. How hard could it be to start a blog? I can just dash off little stories about Seville and past travels — Rich’s miracle cure in Mexico, eating pig brains in the Republic of Georgia, that goofy Buddhist monk in Bhutan. Piece of cake.”
But as is so often the case, my blog took on a life of its own. I’ve published other books since Dancing, but I’ve posted an article on my blog almost every week for five and a half years. It is the steady heartbeat of my writing life. Even better, it’s an ongoing conversation with my readers, who provide feedback, insights, and encouragement — and yes, thankfully, give me a head’s up when there’s a typo or blooper. At first I just wanted to be entertaining and share useful travel tips, but gradually I found that people are drawn to more meaningful stories — such as last week’s piece about Betty Soskin, a real-life Rosie the Riveter, who at 95 is holding audiences spellbound with her vivid life history and deep, compassionate wisdom.
One of the most meaningful topics on the planet right now is, of course, the ongoing political upheaval in my home country. I have chosen to take an active part of that conversation because for me, ignoring it stopped being an option. I didn’t want to be like one of those clueless reporters in a disaster movie who stands with her back to the ocean describing weather patterns while Godzilla is speeding toward shore breathing fire, smashing fishing boats, and swatting planes out of the sky.
Social commentary started creeping into my blog during the run-up to the 2016 election and became central to it in February, when I was helping launch a Resistance group in Seville. At the time, I was knee-deep in writing another travel book. But as the blitzkrieg of shocking headlines rained down, I realized there was more important work to be done. I decided to set aside the travel book and commit to a year of working for the Resistance. At Harvard’s Resistance School, I learned that political movements are fueled by storytelling that unites and inspires us. “OK,” I thought. “I can do that!”
I knew that venturing into political topics could generate negative comments — and yes, there have been some unpleasant ones — and that it would cost me readers, although as it turned out, not as many as you'd expect. Overall I’m delighted that my readers don’t think exactly alike or agree with me all the time. As uncomfortable as criticism is when directed at me personally, I appreciate that differing viewpoints are a sign of healthy diversity and a robust community. In Spain, political differences are often aired in fiery disputes that end in laughter and sharing another round of beer. We need more of that kind of dialog these days.
Drew Houston doesn’t have to worry that any of us are at risk of getting too comfortable these days. As a die-hard optimist, I feel confident that cooler heads will eventually prevail, the chaos and discord in our nation will subside, and I can go back to writing about packing and Seville’s hottest dive bars. But every day adds a few new lines in our common story, and the ending is far from certain. The only thing I can tell you for sure is this: I’ll have plenty to write about for the foreseeable future.
This blog is a promotion-free zone!
As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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