“I always plan trips to the nth degree,” a reader wrote me last week. “But we've decided that for our Greek Island trip next year, we're just going to follow your lead (plan ahead, but don't book anything in advance) — we're just going to hop on the ferry and go. This is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I'm equally excited and nervous about it.
“I've also loved reading about your approach to connecting with people while travelling, and it has really coloured my approach on this current trip. I'm a bit of an introvert, but I've been making more of an effort to reach out to people we meet along the way, and I've been amazed by how open and eager people are to connect with travellers circling in their orbit. … Thanks for inspiring me.”
I’m constantly astonished and deeply gratified by the number of people who write to tell me that my words somehow open up new possibilities for their travels and their lives. It always makes me stop and send up a prayer of gratitude for all the writers whose ideas were so startling that they made me lift my eyes from the page, stare blankly into the distance, and say, “Oh, my God. I could do that!”
I still have the first book that jolted me awake to big new possibilities: Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. My mother gave me a copy for Christmas when I was ten, and having passed through the hands of my younger sisters as well, the book is now tattered, faded, and dog-eared, making it all the more precious. There’s no other quite like it.
Those who haven’t read Little Women may think of it as a charming children’s story, and it is. But for many of us, reading it was a coming-of-age experience. The romantic plotline doesn’t turn out at all the way you imagine. Someone you really care about dies. Girls are expected to work and contribute financially to the family. This was radical stuff when the book came out in the 1860s — and still packed a punch a century later when I first read it. But for me, the real "aha!" moment came when the character Jo March gets her book published; that's when it struck me that if a Victorian teenage girl could become a professional writer, maybe I could, too.
The author of Little Women grew up in a poor family, where food, clothing, and shelter were in short supply. Her father “was stupendously impractical, uncompromising in his principles, and too far ahead of his time to hold an ordinary job,” wrote biographer Harriet Reisen. “His career as an educator — and he was a brilliant one — was ruined because he admitted a young black girl to his school twenty-five years before the abolition of slavery . . . To rescue her family from poverty, Louisa worked from a young age at every job short of prostitution that was available to women, even appearing as an actress, and considering marriage to a man of means.”
Louisa never married, and rumors have circulated for years that she and Jo, her tomboyish alter ego in the book, were gay. Mainstream biographers claim the evidence isn’t conclusive; the LGBT press says, “Well, duh!”
Living among such literary icons as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Louisa expressed the hope that someday she would write a great book — not realizing, of course, that she already had. No writer can foresee how a book, an article, or even a single sentence, is going to resonate with readers. Last year, in a post about nomads Veronica and David James, I wrote, “When we set out in search of adventure what we really discover is ourselves.” They have been tweeting that line to their followers every single day since.
Delighted as I am by this unexpected tribute, I feel a line by the poet David Whyte says it better: “Inside of everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.” Never be afraid to share your voice with the world. There’s no telling who might need to hear it.
What books or movies gave you an "aha!" moment?
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
12/3/2016 01:50:17 am
Got to share this with the many people who think they do not have a story to tell or a voice in which to tell it. Thanks, Karen!
12/3/2016 04:59:05 pm
Great, Nancy. Share away!
12/3/2016 07:47:30 pm
Love this-I never quite got over Little Women....it made a big impression on me too, which has just been rekindled thanks to this. :)
12/4/2016 07:11:12 pm
Little Women is a book that really stays with you. I'm thinking of re-reading it again this Christmas; it will be like a visit with old friends.
12/4/2016 01:06:07 am
Amen, amen. When I created Living on the Earth, I thought I was making a xeroxed pamphlet for my friends at the commune where we lived at that time (1969). I was 19 and 20 then. I certainly did not think I was making something that would get published as a book, let alone become a bestseller, let alone a book sold all over the world for nearly 50 years, and whose illustrations would be reproduced in countless books and magazines, let alone on fashion apparel. It was just a community service in a village where all of us were engaged in community services of all sorts.
12/4/2016 07:14:14 pm
Another wonderful example of the power of words to do good in the world, Alicia. Your book has touched countless people over the decades, and knowing that must give you deep satisfaction. As for Alice in Wonderland ... I must see which one of my sisters wound up with the family copy. It would be fun to revisit that great read one of these days.
12/9/2016 12:20:19 am
Wow, that book cover gave me a real frisson - that's the same edition I grew up with.
12/9/2016 03:56:03 pm
What are the odds, Susanna? It's a great edition. I've had it next to my desk for a while, thumbing through the pages. Love the sweet, old-style illustrations. Kindle books are convenient, but nothing could beat this old hardbound.
1/2/2017 09:22:29 am
I love the line about adventure and discovering ourselves. It's so true. I can't think of a single book that inspired me to write, as I read so many. My closest "soulmate" seems to be Bill Bryson - travel stories with humor. But honestly, I have been more inspired by BAD books, by way of being outraged that if THAT person can publish a book with such BAD writing, then I should be able to as well:)
Leave a Reply.
Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
#1 Amazon Bestseller in Tourist Destinations, Travel Tips, Gastronomy Essays, and Senior Travel
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.
TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
Don't miss out!
SIGN UP HERE
to be notified when I publish new posts.