L. M. Poplin
Slow and Steady
I grew up in a family that was too poor to travel the world. Instead, we invited the world into our home and hosted exchange students who taught me that kindness was universal even if the words we used to describe kindness were not. I became fascinated by different languages and how unfamiliar sounds evolved into ideas once I understood their meaning. People tell me French is a beautiful language, but once my mind took over for my ears, I could no longer separate the sounds of syllables from their significance.
Language became my passport to the world. Literally. I couldn’t afford to travel on my own, but I could participate in my university’s study abroad program. The French Department subsidized my summer in Paris, and I returned to the USA with an insatiable desire to leave it.
I still don’t have enough money to travel the world. Not really. But I promised my broken-hearted eighteen-year-old self, crying gently, silently, while waiting in the passport line at SFO that I would do whatever it took to travel abroad at least once a year, every year, for the rest of my life. And I have kept that promise, once as a nanny, once as an interpreter, six times as a teacher, once as a volunteer, and now, thanks to AirBNB and Norwegian Air, as myself.
So far I’ve been to Canada, Mexico, Martinique, St. Lucia, France, Belgium, Norway, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, England, and Germany. Next on my list are Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Turkey, Poland, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Sweden. And Denmark. And Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Senegal, and Nigeria. Nepal too. And India.
I can keep going. And I will. One destination at a time. I cannot afford to go any faster, and even then, I’m only able to afford my yearly adventure because I don’t own a car, I live in a house the size of a shoebox, and I work two jobs while my kid is at school so I don’t have to pay for daycare.
Knowing that I’ll soon be leaving the country keeps me sane living in this country. But the more I travel, the more I fall in love with the world, the more I want to see, and the more I want to revisit. Norway bewitched me with rivers and fjords and stories of women with hollow backs and tails like cows. I want to go back, especially now that I’ve discovered Norway is literally in my blood thanks to a great-grandfather I didn’t know existed. But I can’t revisit Norway AND Japan AND my first and forever love, France, AND explore someplace new. Maybe someday I’ll be able to travel the world indefinitely, but I’m not there yet.
Funnily enough, I have the same problem with my writing. For the first time ever, I have the luxury of writing a sequel. A book that I won’t have to query. One where I can revisit beloved characters and locations as equally bewitching as Norway. But like my vacation time, my writing time is limited. After all, someone must pay my travel expenses. So how can I write a mystery AND a personal essay AND a collection of children’s stories AND still write my sequel? Until my finances dictate otherwise, I’m a one country/one book kind of girl. Monogamous by necessity, not by choice. But because I’m an optimistic monogamist, I’m hoping there’s some hidden benefit to exploring the world slowly, deliberately, or letting ideas incubate for a long, long time. Quality over quantity.
And consistency! Perhaps consistency is the real reward of my slow but steady pace, because twenty-five years later, I’m still traveling. I’ve broken my travel promise only once, the year I had my son, and even then, I made sure to traverse the entire United States, twice, to compensate for not leaving it.
The same goes for my writing. In the two decades since I set out to become a writer, I haven’t stopped. I don’t plan on ever stopping. I’m neither egg man, nor walrus. Instead, I am the tortoise, goo goo g’joob, that plods slowly forward one step at a time and somehow, to everyone’s surprise and especially her own, manages not only to finish the race, but outrun the faster, sleeker, wealthier, more powerful rabbit in the process.
I hope I live for a very long time.