Julialicia Case’s “Your New Neighborhood” in Witness
In this vivid little essay Julialicia Case slides between the garbage, dog piss, and roadkill carnage of the place where she lives, where she walks her dog, and the virtual landscape to which she escapes. Quite simply, World of Warcraft always has sidewalks, or the equivalent. But Case sidles up to bigger questions:
The children grind the curbs with their skateboards, and occasionally you see the teenagers sneaking out of the cul-de-sac. They call to stray cats, and ride along the ditches on their bicycles. Perhaps, at night, you all play World of Warcraft together. Perhaps you do not recognize each other’s avatars. You stare into the screen that is like a window, slip into a world where you can travel empty, beautiful roads, and where the monsters have a number to tell you how dangerous they are.
Tara Isabella Burton’s “Dangers of Traveling While Female” on Salon
What can I say about this piece? Tara Isabella Burton explores the gender difference in travel, the subtle and internalized ways sexual violence affects the way one approaches travel, and pretty much nails it with this line: “If being a woman traveler has taught me anything, it is that the freedom to have an adventure, to have the adventures one chooses, is illusory.” The debate over whether it’s safe for a woman to travel alone rears its head every few months, and it’s gratifying to see the subject matter handled with a little more nuance and insight.
I would only add that of course, as Western women from first-world nations, it’s important remember that the freedom to travel is itself a privilege. Even if the realities of sexual violence prevent us from traveling as gung-ho as our male cohorts, there are a lot of other privileges that allow us to engage with the open road at all. —Lauren
Amanda Lindhout with Sarah Corbett Interview: 12 Minutes of Freedom in 460 Days of Captivity in The New York Times
As a writer, there is the hunger to do work that is truly meaningful, that is acknowledged, wanted, and well paid. Rarely does this come to be, and so, like writer Amanda Lindhout, I have often considered simply going to a conflict zone. Conflict zones have made many writers and photographers, have turned them from unknown wanderers into high-profile journalists. However, conflict zones, the black holes that they are, have swallowed others whole.
In 2008, Lindhout traveled to Somalia with an ex-boyfriend who was a photographer to report on the civil war. She was a struggling writer, a sometimes waitress, and war-torn Somalia offered immediate humanitarian stories needing to be told. On her first day in Mogadishu, she and her companion, Nigel Brennan, were kidnapped.
This is how one life ends and another one begins. In the eyes of my family and friends, in the eyes of the cheerful young waiter who served me coffee and an omelet that morning at our mostly empty hotel in Mogadishu, and from the point of view of anyone who would next try to piece together the story, I vanished. And so did Nigel, who was a photographer from Australia and an ex-boyfriend of mine — who decided at the last minute to come with me on the trip and who may well spend the rest of his life regretting that he did.
A million dollar ransom and 460 days later, Lindhout and Brennan were freed. This New York Times article is adapted from the book she wrote about the experience with writer Sara Corbett titled A House in the Sky. I have a lot of questions about the project: I wonder why she has a co-author, someone who was not part of the experience; I wonder if the intensity of her lived experience made her writing more marketable; I wonder what is gained and lost as journalists are pulled towards black holes and sometimes sucked in.
Interview: Edwidge Danticat in The Coffin Factory
“Sometimes the fishermen pull as much trash out of the sea as they do tiny fish. It rains for ten minutes and you suddenly have a flood,” explained Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, whose new novel Claire of the Sea Light explores how changes affecting fishing villages are indicative of global climate change, how the ratio of fish to trash tells us something about ourselves and our environment. This is the line that got me, the one that seemed so indicative of the problems we face today. I remember, at 25, standing on the deck of a boat in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, and looking out at a slick of plastic bags miles long, a floating monster I could not comprehend. Danticat is taking on that monster:
I really wanted to deal with these environmental elements, in this very little town that we are seeing a year before the earthquake, this little society on the verge of destruction. And if I wanted to write about this micro-society by the sea, talking about the environment was inevitable because it is so much a part of that reality. If you are in any of these little seaside towns, even the ones that draw tourists, you can’t help but see the effects of these environmental problems.