CURRENY is Traveling. I’m Staying Home.

This spring, we went back to Isla Mujeres for our second time as a family and my third time overall. I left a copy of Currency at PocNa, the hostel where I stayed when I visited the island as a backpacker round about 1995. In the book, I pasted the same note that I have in the other copies I’ve sent out into the world:

As the author of this novel, it’s one of my great hopes for Currency that people will discover it while on the road. To that end, I’ve given some copies to traveler-types and asked them to leave the books, when they’re through, where other travelers can find them. If you’ve left or found Currency, I would love it if you’d leave a comment at https://zoezolbrod.com/the-traveling-book/. Happy travels!

I think there are about ten or twelve books that are floating around the globe right now, with most of them, fittingly, in Southeast Asia.  I’ve received only one note from a stranger who has picked up a copy completely by chance, but the story that woman told, in the comments here, was worth way more than a box full of books; it put me on a bus from Cambodia to Bangkok and then on route to Nepal. O World! I miss you! And Piv and Robin, I miss you too. When the two of them come alive for other people, it helps ease the sting—or maybe it just makes it more exquisite, which is perhaps the better goal. If anyone reading this is about to go on a trip and wants a copy of Currency to read and leave behind for someone else, let me know, and I’ll send you a copy

I felt sort of like a spy in PocNa, wandering around looking for the lending library I knew they’d have, wondering at the way things change and they don’t, checking out the tanned faces bent over glowing netbooks in the shade of the main courtyard.  (So many netbooks.) I inferred that a lot of hostelers were using the cushion of Isla and PocNa to recover from more strenuous travels, maybe staying on longer than they’d planned at a place with good wi-fi and a little night life. In 1995, still pretty fresh from the pristine beaches of Ko Chang, each of which could only be reached by boat, none of which featured accommodation other than thatched huts, Isla Mujeres felt urban to me, and almost unbearably commercial. I had never seen yachts and pleasure craft docked near a pier, and I had never had to pass by so many hulking hotels to get to a guesthouse.

But there were recognizable sorts at the hostel, and I quickly made the recognizable alliances, and with them I ended up smoking pot and traversing the more local side of the island for late-night conch and cheap snorkeling. Having found the bookshelf for freebies and slipped Currency among the offered titles—with the endless stream of wi-fi and the portable screens, how many fewer books do travelers read?—I headed back to the street, and I took great pleasure in standing in the entryway remembering the humiliation of having to be rescued from a communication problem at check-out by a know-it-all who’d annoyed me on these jaunts and who spoke Spanish. Mmmmmm nostalgia. I’m hooked on it. The then-and-now simultaneity is sometimes so physical it gives me vertigo, and I put my hand on the cement wall to steady myself. Meanwhile, Mark was waiting in the golf cart outside, dealing with the squabbling kids so I could have my moment. It was on the same island two years ago that he helped me come up for the name of this blog, The Next Youth Hostel. Get it? The journey, the journey. Still on it, in our way.

I haven’t been updating this blog much because my world keeps turning. Currency‘s been out over a year, so I’m not promoting it. I never intended the blog as a place to give personal updates, but to the extent that I did, now I use Facebook more than ever. And when I feel the call to write an essay, I write for The Nervous Breakdown because I love the community there, not to mention the eyeballs. I’ve posted essays about the my mom being on Facebook, the gang rape of the eleven-year-old girl, my reaction to the proposed opening of a breastaurant in my bucolic town, and my challenges with time.

I am quite time-challenged. I’m working on a new project—a memoirish type exploration that I’m vexed by and drawn toward—and every day I feel its hungry rumble for hours I don’t have. A fair number of those I need just to sit chin in hand and stare off into the past. What can I say? Pondering formative experiences is so attractive to me. This time the setting is closer to home. There’s a lot about sex and childhood and gender issues, those perennial favorites.

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Yoga-Inspired I: Still Traveling

I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for over twenty years. When I’m in the zone of a good class, sensory memories of other places I’ve done yoga flow through me: Sheffield, England, where I took my first classes; the beaches of Thailand; the Ayurvedic retreat outside of Katmandu where I submitted to a rigorous treatment; a rooftop in Pokhara; a loft in old-school Wicker Park; a massage room in Andersonville; the airy, urban studio at Yoga Circle; the sun rooms and living rooms and classrooms where I’ve practiced prenatal yoga; the sunny balcony of my mom’s house in New Mexico; the Chicago Cultural Center, where I rediscovered yoga in a life-saving class after an absence; the open-air, rooftop studio on Isla Mujeres enclosed by billowing white sheets. The Isla instructor was German, a traveler, who told stories of Bali, of being stuck in the Sonoran desert while guiding a busload of German tourists. The sheets flapped as we practiced, allowing glimpses of the crystalline Gulf of Mexico, the white tops of buildings, sea gulls mid-flight. I love the way the memories have no age, are not worn. They flutter and billow, like those sheets, tangling into each other, releasing. In the window of the room where I currently attend class, there’s often a slice of blue sky, even in the winter. Sparrows flutter. On good days, my heart fills as I practice. Yoga. Hey, it’s no secret. It’s freaking great.

I am especially in love with my Sunday morning Anusara yoga class. Two weeks ago, while I was standing in uttanasana, my teacher, Steve Pizzanello, put his hand on my back and incanted “you’re still traveling, you’re still traveling, you’re still traveling.” He was talking to the class about something specific—maybe that even as we were planted our heads were meant to still be traveling toward the front of the room, our thighs were meant to still be traveling toward the back—but I experienced him as speaking directly to me. Just beneath my skin, there’s often anxiety swirling, a tossing wind caused by conflicting pulls, toward family and stability, toward solitude and movement. Dollar bills are whisking around, and I’m trying to grasp at them, or damning myself for not. But at my core, there’s a calm certainty: I’m still traveling. Of course. Every day, here in Evanston, raising my children with my husband, walking to and from my job, I’m still traveling. It’s one thing. My teacher’s words and my body’s response to them gave me a sail to harness the wind, to move this knowledge beyond my core. It was a powerful moment for me.

The moment passed—just like youth, like vacations and seasons—but it also remains.

If you’re interested in some great writing from a yogi, mother, and writer, I recommend the blog Mothers of Invention.