This week I’m spending time with Stuart on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. He rented a vacation nest a hop from the beach, and you can hear the waves from the deck and the hot tub and the living room couch. (Yes, I said hot tub.) I’ve been spending weightless hours there once or twice a day, letting the jets pummel me. And, once a day we go to a small cheese shop for chocolate-covered figs, pickled tomatoes, peppery olive oil, smoked cheddar, and chitchat with the extremely friendly owner, who has the patience to indulge us. Kiva barks at all the repair folks who are fixing up the houses around us at the end of the season, and frolics near the surf without actually being brave enough to go in. She grows bored easily and lies in the sun, just like at home. I sit in the sun and get sun-drunk and sleepy, just like anywhere I go.

I feel pretty spoiled, truth be told, like a sparrow in luxury’s lap who keeps looking over its shoulder, wide-eyed. It’s certainly like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The copious reading is the same as at home, the loom of my thesis, the life survival anxiety which I tamp with less gentleness than I care to admit, but my mind is also occupied with being present in a new place. Whenever I go somewhere new, I think about the people who live there. In this case, I think of the islanders who live here year-round, who grow up with the ocean as a backdrop to their lives. What would it be like to always hear this roar, always be clued into the storms brewing at sea? To spend summers treading the influx of tourists who leave their footprints everywhere and the beaches wrecked? To see “closed, surfing” on a store front sign and understand all the joy there? To grow up amongst affluence, scraping mussel shells with your teeth, skimming waves and running into the wind? Do you go to New York City on weekends? Do you summer in Philadelphia, away from the people who flood your home? Does lobster become commonplace rather than extravagance? Do you learn about the deep Atlantic in school, how it gives so much, what you can do to give back?

I’m especially appreciative of the novelty of these thoughts in my mind, a mind which is frankly tired and overwhelmed with the tasks of human interaction and navigation and living. I hope I can remember this privilege, even when I return to the real world. Love to you all.

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This is my second time in Vermont. I traveled here for the first time five years ago to look at a grad school, (my grad school quest has been forever long and winding), and I stayed in a story-book New England town in southern Vermont called Brattleboro, which rests right up against the Connecticut River and, on the other side of that, New Hampshire. For that trip, I took Amtrak from South Station in Boston, a new experience for me, and one which I loved. To this day, I dearly wish Amtrak were cheaper.

I started this present Vermont journey in Brattleboro as well, and had a few moments of surprise as we wandered the small downtown. I remember five years ago, how I took a taxi to the grad school open house, spending a night among welcoming strangers, who chatted and ate junk food like it was summer camp. The next day, I took a bus back down the hill to the hotel I’d booked, then walked from that hotel to a coffee shop to the co-op and back. I ate that co-op dinner on the floor of my hotel room, my back against the bed and my feet stretched out, and I thought, as I would of many other cities I’ve visited, that I just might move there. The next morning, I bought coffee and walked to the Amtrak station, boarding my train to Springfield, and then back to Boston.

This may seem like a mundane story in the life of a wanderer, and yet, I remembered it with surprising clarity on my return this week. It was the last time that I traveled alone, making all the arrangements myself, managing my own independence. It was an exhilarating challenge to walk the streets of an unknown town all by myself, even a sleepy one like Brattleboro, even when I had to stop to ask for directions when my GPS got me completely lost. I made friends with the guy at the Amtrak station, who knew to look for me on my way back. That roasted portobello sandwich from the co-op looms in my memory not because it was delicious (though it was), but because it represented my freedom and the power I had over my life and my whims. I could do as I liked, independently, and I succeeded and survived.

Upon returning, I wondered how I’d done it. I felt a pang of nostalgia, of wishing for that person who made that trip happen, who took small risks and reaped a huge sense of accomplishment. I wondered if I could still find her after Seattle, after the closing of NILA, after moving back to Minneapolis and not immediately finding the joy I’d hoped for.

This time in Vermont, I visited another school, this one in Montpelier. Within the first half hour of the open house, I was tearing up and almost had to leave the room. I hadn’t been around writing students, prospective or otherwise, since my last residency at NILA. It was like coming home, and maybe you realize someone has been there rearranging furniture and leaving you a love letter, and even though it might look and smell a little different, it’s still home nonetheless. I felt sad and happy. I felt like this might be the perfect place to take new risks.

There’s something about Vermont that just feels good. It’s similar to how I feel in Seattle, breathing clean, soft air, feeling the sun pour liquid light over my head, walking up and down hills briskly enough to feel just a bit breathless. Like in Seattle, my legs feel strong and capable here. I am drawn to the feeling of state pride, of pride in the land and the food it provides and the mountains and the crisp air, a state of co-ops and a culture of community.

Risk and revelation is what I want. Community and connection, hope and healing, my heart and mind full of infinite possibility. That’s what travel does for me. That what this trip, in many ways, has done.

Destination Doughnuts

Honestly, I didn’t go to Portland for doughnuts. However, in my quest for finding good doughnuts in Seattle, (still searching), I kept running across recommendations for Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland. I had hoped that Voodoo might be comparable to my beloved Glamdoll. The spirit seemed similarly irreverent. After all, their slogan is, “The magic is in the hole.”

So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, and you know exactly what you’re sinking into in this post, (intendre intended), let’s get to it. Weekend before last, Pat and I decided to spend a night in Portland and walk around some parts of the city I’ve yet to see. Which, frankly, is most parts. I trained with Kiva in Portland, which meant trolling a nine-block swath of downtown over and over again; I remember there was a Chipotle and a Starbucks and a very bored Black Lab. I figured there had to be more to it than that.

Certainly, there was. I got to pop into Sock Dreams, and there were socks, as you might expect. We walked around Alberta, with every restaurant imaginable and hard cider samples in the parking lot of a tiny little co-op that made me nostalgic for North Country, the first co-op I shopped at in Minneapolis. North Country, sadly, closed in 2007.

But really people, doughnuts. On Saturday morning, after I slept until 10:00 and then dawdled and dithered way too long after that, we tried to go to Voodoo Doughnuts. They’re normally open 24 hours a day. This day, they were closed for seven of those hours, from 11:00 to 6:00, to attend a funeral of one of their people; I’m not sure if it was an employee or who, but they were closed, which meant no doughnuts. Which I can’t complain much about, honestly. Certainly, paying respects is way more important than me eating doughnuts, and I was glad that they gave their employees time to do that.

What this meant is that at 5:45, we drove back into downtown to get doughnuts for the road back to Seattle, and there was a giant line, stretching way outside the building itself. Really? For doughnuts?

We dutifully queued up, grateful to have gotten there before 6. I, especially, had just assumed we’d waltz in for our doughnuts and be gone by 6:05, but I gravely underestimated the Voodoo power.

Waiting in line gave me ample time to chew over what I was going to order, which was good, because Voodoo has A LOT of doughnuts. There’s the Diablo’s Rex, a “chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting, red sprinkles, vanilla pentagram, and chocolate chips in the middle.” There’s the maple blazer blunt, a “raised yeast doughnut rolled into a blunt dusted with cinnamon sugar. The tip is dipped in maple frosting and red sprinkle embers, prices vary due to blaster mania!” There’s the Tex-ass Challenge, “giant doughnut equals six of our doughnuts in size. If you can eat this doughnut in 80 seconds or less, you get your money back!” Whew.

Everyone in the doughnut line, in front and behind me, was talking doughnuts. Behind, a doughnut enthusiast was texting furiously to a doughnut—hungry houseguest. Should she get the Memphis Mafia? The Portland Cream? Pumpkin if they have it? (They didn’t, much to my consternation.)

The doughnut crazed in front of us seemed to be young college-age kids. They talked about how Voodoo Doughnuts will cater your wedding. Before I could stop myself, I laughed.

One of them turned around. “You want to get married at Voodoo Doughnuts?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, “I’m pretty nontraditional. I could get into that.”

As long as the line was, it moved pretty quickly, and we were in the door much sooner than I’d anticipated. I finally had to decide on my order: Gay Bar, (yeast doughnut full of cream and rainbow); Old Dirty Bastard, (yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreos, and peanut butter); Butterfingering, (chocolate cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and Butterfinger crumbles); Mexican hot chocolate, (chocolate cake doughnut with cinnamon sugar and cayenne); and Ain’t that a Peach Fritter, (peach fritter with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles). Whew, again.

We ordered it all, and I tried not to giggle like a twelve-year-old during the “old dirty bastard” and “butterfingering” parts.

“Is it always this crowded?” I asked the fabulous doughnut cashier as he rang us up.

“It’s pretty much always like this on weekends,” he said, handing over the giant doughnut box.

So, the final conclusion of this story? Maybe people really do go to Portland just for the doughnuts. I shouldn’t underestimate the Voodoo power.