Me:Hey, Jillian, that was some hasty retreat from your UK semester abroad. You might call it your own personal Brexit! What was it like?
Jillian:You have no idea. I was a week away from my spring break when it all went down. The whole exit was a mess. It started with the recall of our European programs, sans the UK. (England was no longer a part of the EU, so we were temporarily removed from the mass hysteria and confusion of evacuation emails). That quickly changed, though. Within an hour we got another email, this time from a travel agent. We had less than forty-eight hours to pack up our flat, drink our last pint at our favorite pub, and go: a five hour bus ride, a four hour wait at London Heathrow, and an eight hour plane ride to New York, New York, the apocalyptic metropolis.
Me: Wow. You said it. Apocalyptic metropolis is right. And we, on the other end, waiting for you. Where were you planning to go during your spring break?
Jillian: Oh, practically the whole European tour. Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna, Florence, London, Paris, Amsterdam. I didn’t miss too much coursework, but a whole lot of travel.
Me: You must have been so disappointed. Did you get your money back, by the way?
Jillian: Some. Sure, I’ll miss the money, but I was more disappointed about missing out on all that experience, you know? All the things I could have, would have, should have done.
Me: Like what? Tell me. Could have seen? Would have heard? Should have eaten? What was it you most wanted out of your travels?
Jillian: I think my biggest upset is not seeing Bran Castle, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Or hearing someone singing Edelweiss in Austria. Or eating a good French cheese board.
Me: Well, part of me gets it, but another part of me wants to comfort you by saying, “Ehh. No big deal. It’s just another castle. Or, watch Sound of Music. Or, remember, Trader Joe’s has plenty of cheese, too.”
Jillian: I know, I know. And part of me wants to believe that. But I wanted to stop looking at pictures, and stop thinking or imagining what these places looked like. I wanted that opportunity to see, to admire, to just be present.
Me: I’ll tell you a secret. I’m a reluctant traveler and an enthusiastic homebody. I am always weighing the fuss and discomfort of going somewhere against the comforts of home. Do I really want to see the Mona Lisa in the (painted) flesh, so to speak? My answer is frequently no. I’d rather take a journey within.
Jillian: You sound very spiritual, there, but I like it. Can you elaborate a bit about this so-called journey within?
Me: Well, it does sound like I’m talking about exploring my soul, a little. Getting to Know Me. Getting to Know All About Me. And it is, sort of. But that’s only a part of it. The other part is just what you said you wanted to stop doing: thinking and imagining how things look, and sound like, and are. (The curse of a fiction writer?)
Jillian: I suppose I didn’t even think about that. Fiction writing and all. Do you feel like you’re traveling when you’re knee-deep in a manuscript? When you write are you actually somewhere else?
Me: Yes, fiction writing alters time and space for me. Which makes me think, at a time like this, when we’re tethered to our armchairs, my kind of travel is probably the only way to go. Have you ever had that feeling that you were in another place, in your imagination?
Jillian: Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I have. When I write fiction, I usually feel like I occupy my narrator’s headspace. And time does get a bit muddled for me, (or maybe that’s because my computer still displays UK time).
Me: Ha. When I was your age, that used to scare me a little. I think I felt if I went too deeply in I wouldn’t find my way out. It took a while before I stopped worrying about that. Or, maybe I never did, I just didn’t mind the possibility.
Jillian: I guess that’s both the gift and the curse of being a fiction writer.
Me: Very artsy. But also true. But getting back to travel, I always felt that while I was seeing and being in a place I couldn’t write about it. I had to wait until I was somewhere else, and I could see it in my mind’s eye. Then I could write it.
Jillian: So, for you, the inner travel trumps the outer travel in the end?
Me: Well, it isn’t necessarily better, now that you ask, because I wouldn’t have anything if I hadn’t gone on the initial trip. But what I make of what I have seen, heard, and eaten is always more interesting after I’ve thought it over, and brought it into me. So, I guess you could say I prefer the trip inward. But you’re right. That can’t be all.
Jillian: In other words, what you’re saying is, the cheese in France may be better than Trader Joe’s but the full cheese experience only comes after you’ve returned home?
Me :I guess that’s what I’m coming around to. The English poet Wordsworth called it “recollection in tranquility.” He was talking about poetry, but it rings true for fiction, for me.
Jillian: I guess now is a good opportunity for my own recollection in tranquility, then. Maybe I’ll find inspiration looking back at this wonderful experience in the UK that ended far too soon.
Me: And I hope you get a chance to visit Budapest, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Florence, Paris, Vienna and recollect those in tranquility someday soon.
Jillian: Me too, my lovely grandmother, me too.