This year at Vela, I’ve written some of the most honest writing of my life. That’s no coincidence. When Sarah first approached me about Vela on a humid summer evening in the West Village, she put it to me this way: Vela will be a venue where six women writers can work free of constraints, industry expectations, and competition. “A safe space,” she said, those three, simple words a kind of revelation.
But I remember thinking, “Do I really need a safe space?” I didn’t understand then just how much the writer in me craved a place where she could wander the edges of her comfort zone, explore the landmarks of her past, uncover the parts of herself she had long veiled with bravado. Working with these five women has allowed me to take on stories I would never have dreamed of pitching a magazine–stories too quiet and complex, stories too deeply personal.
At times, travel writing can feel like a contest that’s impossible to win, a competition based on how many countries you’ve traveled, mountains you’ve climbed, strange places you’ve slept. Travel stories, as they go in Outside or National Geographic, tend to be big stories. Even in Wild, a novice hiker looking for redemption is taking on a monster trail. But in our work for Vela, we’ve found another, broader way to define travel, a definition that includes all the varying states of our lives: married with children; buried in graduate school; wandering the Yukon or Southeast Asia; desk-bound in New York City; struggling to find a home halfway across the world. We are all, in our own way, questioning the limits of our writing and our travels, and investigating stories that would most likely otherwise never see the light of day.
In one sense, many of us are still strangers—Sarah and Lauren are the only women in the group whom I’ve met in person—but in another, we have become an intimate clan. Every week, through our essays and wandering email conversations, we piece together the stories of each other’s lives, a scattered group with one common passion. At first, I didn’t understand where I got the nerve to write those pieces that left me feeling exposed. But the obvious answer is that I got it from Vela, that safe space, the incredible fact that none of us are wrestling with our stories alone.