Travel writing and my long bio

20150718 - RJH Long Bio

After a comment left on my breast cancer blog, I decided to investigate courses in travel writing. I have always enjoyed writing about my adventures, and so I figured why not? I haven’t taken a writing course since my undergrad days. I’ve taught writing, but felt that it would be a good refresher to actually take a writing course, and travel writing is something I enjoy.

I did a good search and discovered MatadorU – an online University hosted by National Geographic. What I found interesting was not just the content of the courses, but the way in which they have built their own LMS to support the courses. The University is based on a very connectivist model – where taking courses is just as much (if not more) about making connections with other students and faculty than it is about the content of the courses themselves. It is the first time I’ve seen an LMS that actually does something in a different way. It is not built upon 15-20 year old concepts of what online learning should be (e.g. social constructivist learning theories and discussion groups). So, I was interested in the course content but also in the educational technology and teaching methods that support the courses.

The first assignment was to write a long bio. Unlike the short bios that are typically published with academic journal articles, the goal of these bios was to actually share something about yourself. They were designed to help built connections between members of the network (both students and faculty). I find this an interesting contrast to the short bios that we publish even in online journals that try to help us connect with one another (e.g. Hybrid Pedagogy). I wonder, if they allowed for a longer version of bios, if that would actually help with connections?

What do you think? Does a long bio like this one help to foster a deeper connection? Or is it too long such that no one will actually read it?

My long travel writing bio …

Becky at the northernmost road in Newfoundland

I began my schooling in a small town (pop. 250) in Northern British Columbia that no longer exists – Kemano, BC. The town itself was built in the sixties to support a hydroelectric power plant, which was built a quarter mile inside a mountain. The town itself was situated in a narrow river valley, with towering coastal mountains on all sides, such that when there was an avalanche high up on one of the mountains the whole town would shake as if there were an earthquake. There were no roads into the town, rather, the only way in-and-out was a three-and-half hour boat ride. I look back now, and still think it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We lived in Kemano until I finished grade four, then we moved to the adjacent and much larger town – the City of Kitimat (pop 10,000). My first day of grade five I experienced utter culture shock. Not only did my grade have more students than the entire school in Kemano, but more importantly, I could not pronounce the names of half of my classmates. This was the first time I was really exposed to people who were different from me. Kemano was such a small company town, that it also had a mono-culture. Kitimat, on the other hand, was were a lot of people immigrated to in order to provide skilled labour for the Aluminum Smelter. It means that the town was multicultural. In grade five, I found myself being best friends with people who were not christian and did not look like me. Our life experiences were so very different.

It was in Kemano where I first developed my love of nature. Growing up in a small isolated town, we did not have summer camps to keep us entertained during the school break. Rather, we would grab our fishing poles and go trout fishing at the local creek, or we would climb the mountain next door and build shelters out of loose tree branches. In the winter, we would rush to finish our homework, head over to the tow-rope, and spend our evenings downhill skiing.

After high school I could not wait to get away from small town Northern British Columbia. My move from Kemano to Kitimat had shown me that there was more to the world than the bubble in which I lived. I started out with a move to a small city – Victoria British Columbia. During my undergrad years, I found myself living in various cities across Canada, working while completing a degree in Computer Science. This, in turn, lead me to a career in high tech during the booming 90s.

My years as a software quality analyst at Nortel allowed me to see the world at a time when business travel meant business class plane tickets. Although I saw a lot of Texas, I also had the chance to see the Eiffel Tower, the Beijing Wall, the Sydney Opera House, and spend Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. It was during this time that I met my first writing mentor. In my last year at Nortel I was a product manager. One of the areas of the product that I was tasked with improving was the documentation. Although I was very good at understanding how best to structure documentation, I was not a strong writer. I worked with the documentation manager, helping her with document structure, while she in-turn would edit my requirements documents. I learned how to write well by learning from her edits to my writing.

After years of working in the high tech field, my husband and I decided we needed a break. Knowing that a desk job was only serving to deteriorate my health, we decided it was now or never. We both quit our jobs and took 16-months to travel around the world without airplanes. Our goal was to bike across Canada while travelling around the world and experiencing other cultures. Our primary methods of travel were recumbent bicycle and container ship. We opted for slow bicycle travel, so that we could truly experience the countries we were travelling through. We discovered websites such as WarmShowers.org and Couchsurfing.com to help us connect with people in each of the countries we visited. This is also where I started blogging. We created a blog (http://goingeast.ca/blog) to help keep our parents informed of our where abouts. Blogging also provided a way for us to connect with other cycle tourists. We became known within the cycle touring community as “Going East”.

Within two years for returning home to Ottawa, Canada, we were back into the high tech grind. My husband went back to work and I went back to school. On a very cold and snowy January day, my husband texted me “Do you want to move to California?” My immediate reply was “It is closer to Hawaii.” Hawaii being my favourite place on earth. By May of that same year, we had sold our house and packed up. I moved into a small apartment in downtown Ottawa for a year (in order to complete my schooling), and my husband moved into a small apartment in Santa Clara California.

Living in the United States, although similar to Canada in many ways, proved to be a bit of a culture shock. There are subtle things that are different, and not so subtle things – such as healthcare. After a year of living apart, I joined my husband in California. Three weeks later, I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. In many ways, my life had prepared me for this new journey. This last year has shown me just how strong I can be. Treatment was difficult (five months of chemotherapy followed by three surgeries) – even more difficult than riding my loaded recumbent touring bicycle across Canada. At the end of treatment, I was weak. At the end of December 2014, I recall taking short walks around my complex with my mother-in-law. It was all I could handle to walk 500 feet. On July 11-12, 2015, only seven months after chemotherapy and major reconstruction surgery, I walked 32.5 miles in two days in support of the San Francisco Avon Walk to End Breast Cancer.

For me, travel writing is about sharing my lived experiences. It is not so much the places themselves that are most interesting, but rather my experiences of those places. I am a writer and an educator, and as such, cannot help but want to share my experiences through writing. Since my writing has very different audiences, I maintain three blogs: my travel writing blog (http://goingeast.ca/blog), my academic blog (http://rjh.goingeast.ca), and my breast cancer blog (http://bcbecky.com).

 

2 Comments on Travel writing and my long bio

  1. Took a look at the Matador U and it’s very student oriented–i LIKE It. The word “experience” comes up a few times in their intro and I’m thinking they mean depth of observation. That we see things through our own influences and that’s something a lot writing tries to avoid. Travel writing is both descriptive and personal I see a connection (that’s difficult to describe) in the experience of medical “travel” too.

    Back to the long bio, it supports the idea of seriousness in assembling a life that’s important to making a writer a person and not just a neutral reporter. So much of travel writing focuses on the surface snapshot.

    Look forward to reading your travel articles.
    Scott

  2. I like the long format and how it differs from the the shorter form of bio that isolates a person into “appropriate” moments. Travel writing often seems too condensed as if the places written about only existed when the author visited.

    Need to go for a walk now and will write more later today.

    Scott

Leave a Reply