This is a Literary Cities post by Jo Day.


Photo source: Jo Day

I was going to start this with a blatant lie, one that so many writers say -  that I wrote every day last year when I backpacked around Europe. Maybe it's not a lie for everyone, but for my own peaceof mind, I'll pretend it is. Or the people who say it are talking about shopping lists. But really, who has that much spare time when they're travelling? And, loner that I am (comes with the territory, right?), I didn't travel around Europe to spend any spare moment I had ignoring people.

That said, of course, it's my vocation, not just a – well, I was going to say job, but that implies payment or continuing publication, both of which are hard/boring when you move around so much.

What I mean is, I get the desire to write. You know how it is, I don't need to go into that. But when I make the time it's so much more intense, a strong orgasm after a drought, sitting in the corner of the bar with a hopefully much less expressive look on my face.

Writing made the moments alone so much better. I started  drafting this post on the train journey from Cordoba to Barcelona. Outside, rain threatened and the landscape looked boring to me because it consisted of browns and dark greens, like Australia, I thought at the time, before I got back and realised that nothing looks like Australia. On that trip a month ago when I started this piece there'd been some malfunction in the tracks, high-speed turned into walking-speed, but it was okay because I had a notepad and beer. It was even better writing on long bus rides when reading caused motion sickness, and the fact that a lot of international book stores only had romance or best-sellers, which caused other kinds of sickness, mostly the kind that rises to the back of your throat when you read anyone sighing or roaring something, when they actually just said it.

Lucky that most of the cities did have good book stores. I can't use a Kindle, okay? I just can't. I'm sorry. Berlin, of course (sorry about all us Aussies, Berlin), and Oslo and Athens had some rocking book stores, and yet no matter how literary the city and how easy my access to books was it didn't affect me like I thought it would. I can say the most literary city I visited was Berlin. But Berlin was not where I did the majority of writing, because there was also just too much else to do.

How unoriginal, right? Talking about how great Berlin is? Well too bad. It is great, I am okay with that unoriginality. But worse is the fear that I'll start talking about literary cities in that way. You know it: I'll  put on that voice how Berlin was just so arty, you know, what a great city for creating. Ignoring my part in the gentrification, ignoring the fact that I never could, really, understand what it meant to live there, either as a German or a serious ex-pat, that maybe what the city needs is just not another twenty-something writer with limited publications busting in and demanding that I be served beer in English because oh everyone speaks English here anyway, right?

But actually, so much greater is my fear that I'll ever utter the phrase that is grossly common with travellers: 'Oh, Germany? Yeah, I did Germany last year,' like the country was some past-lover they'd just spotted across a crowded pub. It's just an expression, sure, but it's one that reveals that you think, as a tourist, you could ever fully understand a country, its past, what it is to live there, what it is to work there and not have enough money and deal with the sheer number of tourists and go to a cafe and realise you can't order in your native tongue because the person doesn't speak the language, and has no desire to.

Again I digress. 

Maybe I haven't written enough. Maybe I should've kept a travel journal, one of my enemies.

To the point:
I write because of a mixture of want and need: at home the want because it was a hobby, need because I felt strange if I didn't, too in the world, with no distractions or ways of making sense of it.

Travelling changed those categories. The first few days in new countries, new cities in countries, were spent in a daze, reeling around and looking at everything and getting drunk from the scenery, the differences, the joy of not being able to understand anything, in some countries not even the alphabet and therefore the street signs and therefore where the shit is my hostel.

But eleven months is a long time – not as long as others, yeah, I understand, but if I have to keep comparing we'll never get to the point, or a point, or at the very least to the end. Around the eight month mark I found that the big things were starting to get less interesting. I found myself looking at the Notre Dame Cathedral thinking, yeah, it's pretty big, I guess. And nobody wants to be that guy.

Those are the times when I had to extract myself, go to the nearest bar or cafe and forget about the I-should-be-seeing-everything guilt and write. It didn't matter what, if it was related or not, and it often wasn't. It was just a matter of taking my attention away from where I was, a time to focus so that when I did look up after however long it was with wonder again, the kind you get when you're involved in a story of seeing the world, but properly this time.


Jo Day is studying honours and is writing short stories while finding a publisher for her novel.

samvanz's picture


Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.