Stretch Run, just before what looks to be the final turn

July and August were notable for me as travel months, in what I'm calling the "Stretch Run" of my adventures in this particular trade. Along the way, I felt exhausted and honored by the pursuit of eight States worth of stories. As I quickly write this, I'm in the airport embarking upon my first visit to Denmark and a return roadtrip to southern Sweden. So much to process, there is (or certainly will be) an extended time to do so later. Nonetheless, I feel the cherished gift of time to say a few quick words before hitting that road again.

As has often been my refrain, I'm looking for origin stories. Going back to Sweden will help with that. New places excite me, and that's surely the role that Denmark's been cast to play on this trip. I hope to bring back a multitude of images to offer up as evidence of those two countries...and whatever unfolds along the continuum of influences and interests.

Please check back in a few weeks for the fresh stuff.


Pre-Spring Break mashup - D.C., Scandinavia, Walter Kirn, and sucker fishing

I'm heading to Washington D.C. tomorrow. Mostly for fun with family, but with enough compelling work mixed in to (hopefully) make it time well spent. Included will be a tour of the U.S. Capitol on Tax Day - the luck of our draw thanks to our U.S. Representative's office. Doubly serendipitous will be our touring while the cherry blossoms are (supposedly) at their peak. I embrace looking like a tourist, especially when traveling with an eager 9-year-old. Check back for some pics from the tourist-y side of that trip, if you're so inclined.

In the interest of filling in the margins on my prior trip, the following few details caught my eye in Finland and Sweden. That trip was such a success that I've already booked a return to that general global neighborhood this fall (Denmark along with parts of southeastern Sweden constitutes that itinerary). To my profound surprise, I located precious parts of ancestry's backstory in Sweden. And so much more. It will take me much more time to unpack all of what I saw there. Until then, here's an unannotated peek at Helsinki, rural Sweden and Amsterdam (click through to see the full dozen pics).


Much closer to home, I want to give a proper shout out to Walter Kirn and my neighborhood bookstore (Ravenna Third Place Books) for an excellent author event a few days ago. Kirn's latest book, Blood Will Out, unfolds as a hybrid of many genres. True Crime, Memoir, Narrative Nonfiction. I will admit to a prior blind spot for his work - Up In The Air stands as the most recognizable, thanks to the film adaptation. Not anymore, though. I'm hooked like a river carp by the tale he tells here.

River carp...hmmm...we called them "suckers" back in Sconnie. Come to think of it, this is the time of year when the rallying cry of "the suckers are running" meant the next few weeks could be spent breaking curfews while doing all sorts of carousing out in the muck. We'd gather some spears, an armload of gunney sacks, a case or a few of cheap-as-sin beer, some fearless friends, and head to the creek (or "crick" as it should be pronounced).

The partly submerged lead being...I recommend Kirn's book. It's already in my bag for D.C. Here's hoping that even if you don't get a Spring Break, you also find time for some high quality escape via a well-packaged story. Rock on.

A snowy Swedish morning

Snow in Helsinki, snow in Stockholm. Rather than feel diminished in my ability to travel freely, I see this greeting as a blessing. In Helsinki, the only downside was the humbling tumble I took out for my 3rd morning run in a row. Apparently, salt is for herring - not for roads & walkways - in Finland. Here in Stockholm, I let an early walk through the medieval charm of Old Town with the flurries and fresh few inches of the white stuff falling suffice. That and a massive hotel breakfast has me prepped to get out driving Sweden's highways and byways.

I'd welcome the chance to sit down with everyone and recount some of my Finnish interactions. Another time, perhaps. I'll offer a few random examples, though. Like how I've decided to become an at least temporary "fish-itarian" following the plate piled to heaping with "authentic Finnish meatballs" at the Sea Horse restaurant (ravitola, in Finnish). Overwhelming, to say the least. Haunting, more likely. I'm still approximately 30% meatball and I think I've hit my lifetime quota. And I'd love to paint a fuller picture of the hilarious, stone-cold awesome college student/taxi driver in suit and tie who drove me to airport yesterday. If I get a absentee vote for the future President of Finland, I've found my candidate. Plus his "pro tips" sent by email last night for my return trip to Helsinki were spot on, given where I'd already been trolling on both sides of the proverbial tracks. Anyone who says the Finns are reserved to a fault hasn't been making the effort needed to find the (at least anecdotal) truth.

I'll get that return to Finland later in the week - a few final days and interviews before heading back to the States. My more immediate plan is to drive today from Stockholm to Gothenburg (Goteborg in Swedish, with a few extra marks added to their trademarked vowels, and pronounced "You-tee-bor-ee-ah" with the last two syllables largely swallowed). In a perfect world, I'd get to drink from the cultural firehose here, there and everywhere. I have to call my shots, though. 

The buried lead must be mentioned. I'm both looking for parts of the larger story intertwined with my current book project, and digging at my ancestral roots where they might be partially unearthed. Fortunate doesn't begin to describe my current state of affairs. Inspired hits closer to the mark. 

Before I can get there, however, there's the small matter of testing the sort of snow tires come equipped on Swedish rental cars. Wish me luck, as I do the same for you.

On the road to Helsinki

I've really enjoyed all that's gone into prepping for my most next research trip beginning today. Finland. Sweden. A long-enough layover on the way home through Amsterdam to maybe see a few sights. All together, less than two weeks on the road. But I hope to pursue a bundle of angles - some new, and others as old as my ancestral roots in the 19th Century - across a stretch of places I've never visited...yet always dreamed of experiencing first-hand. Will I have time to post some fresh pics and thoughts on this often neglected (but not yet forgotten) blog? I certainly plan to. You may want to check me out on Twitter for the more regular and immediate offerings. Nonetheless, I aim to be a good world citizen, and duly give some back story along the way to new insights and experiences. My next post(s) will come from Helsinki, if not in transit along the way.

To begin by acknowledging what's coming along with me, I'm fully hooked by Phil Klay's collection of stories Redeployment. I've also devoured the first half of Peter Stark's nonfiction page-turner Astoria - focused upon John Jacob Astor and his crazy venture to reach the Pacific Northwest in the early 19th Century. Bundled with Lorrie Moore's new collection of stories (Bark), I certainly have more engaging material than I'll have time on the road for reading. Better to be prepared than scavenging for something other than packages of rye crisps with ad copy in English, in my humble opinion.

May your own travels be safe. Even if they only employ the mind and spirit. Either way, always bring along an extra sweater as the ides of March approach.

Resetting the pins

For those blog-curious folks wondering where I've been, I'd love to claim it's been lots of this occupying my time...

Wolski's taught me effectively nothing about bowling. Lessons were learned there, though...long ago.

Wolski's taught me effectively nothing about bowling. Lessons were learned there, though...long ago.

Closer to the truth - I've been prepping for my next research trip. In less than two weeks, I leave for Finland and Sweden. I do want to reset the pins here, though. Plenty to comment upon, I assure you. Good stuff. All will be revealed, in due time.

But for now, Seattle's hosting AWP. Sounds borderline infectious. Actually, it's just a big ol' conference  - possibly distracting, possibly bolstering - for writers, teachers, boozehounds, and those drawn to such rabble. I'm on a panel - drawn from my volunteer work with 826 Seattle (and 826 Valencia, when we formerly lived in San Francisco). I plan to chat it up with the pooling intelligentsia for a few days. Discussions I suspect will include the newly released collection of essays MFA vs. NYC (edited by Chad Harbach) and the unmasked GSElevator's soon-to-be laughable book deal. Or, at least, those are the subjects I look forward to bringing up. I also look forward to picking and choosing and offering a few observations. Mostly over on Twitter. It's all one big connected data burrito, though, for those who care to look for the beans and cheese.

I suppose I should bring the setup 'round home...and get back to the game now that I've reset the pins. Holler if you're around Seattle - currently or in the future. Even if we don't know each other, I'll take that as my cue to come over and say "hey."