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Category: Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage: NYC

by ajanefountas

When you read this (that is, if you read this the day it’s posted or soon thereafter), I will be on a pilgrimage. I will be in NYC on a research trip. I will be researching domestic servants in the early 20th century; County Mayo, Ireland; and the New York Foundling Hospital, to name a few.

I like this word: foundling. According to the dictionary on my Mac, a foundling is “an infant that has been abandoned by its parents and is discovered and cared for by others.” I wonder where this word and my research will lead me.

During my pilgrimage, I will stand in front of a building on Madison Avenue and wonder if the Irish servant who lived with the Black family when the 1930 census was taken was my grandmother. Perhaps I will be standing in front of that very building, wondering that very thing when you read this.

During my pilgrimage, I will leaf through books at the New York Public Library and sort through boxes at the New York Historical Society. I will take a ferry to Ellis Island. I’ve never been to Ellis Island, but I have ancestors who landed there by ship: the Samaria, the Olympia, the Athinai. Each of my ancestors were on a pilgrimage, too, I imagine.

When I return from my pilgrimage, I will try to turn facts into a fiction inspired by the historical documents I lay my hands on.

Pilgrimage: A Writer’s Beginnings

by ajanefountas

When I was twenty-seven, I went to live with my Yiayia for four months in a village on the Peloponnese. Along with my suitcase of clothes, I also arrived with a small suitcase filled with books, among them The Granta Book of the Short Story and a blank journal covered in a map of Greece.

I had visited my grandmother four years earlier for about six weeks, and having not spoken much Greek at the time I wrote long letters to friends back in Pittsburgh describing the village and its ways and people. When I returned home after that visit, two of my friends, both writers—one a journalist and the other a musician—encouraged me to try my hand at the craft.

Four years later, I returned to the village to do just that (and also to live the simple life). Having taken umpteen English lit classes in college, I had read mainly novels and plays, but I knew that I was not ready to attempt either of those two forms so I figured I’d start with the short story because it was short. Thus, the packing of The Granta Book of the Short Story.

I had no idea how to go about writing a short story, thankfully, but I knew from my readings that I needed characters if nothing else so I began to study and take notes on some of the villagers that intrigued me. I arrived in the village on June 1, and on July 18, I recorded my first attempts at characterization in my journal:

She is twenty years old and stays inside mostly. Tall with long legs and long hair and a large nose but all is in proportion and she is pretty. She keeps a pack of cigarettes under the sofa cushion and empties the ashtray into a vase when her father arrives unexpectedly and then she sits with a nervous smile. Her mother is dead. When her father is at home she answers the phone with παρακαλω so that her secret boyfriend hangs up presently. She walks around the house in short shorts, does the cooking and cleaning, and her radio is a companion. Her mouth is often in a pout.

I didn’t write a complete short story while I was in the village, but I continued to play around with characterization and wrote some lines and scenes, and by the time I returned to Pittsburgh I had the bones of two stories. The character above not only became the protagonist of my very first short story, written for an introductory creative writing class, but she also came back to visit me decades later while I was writing my very first novel, which I recently completed.

I’m glad I made a pilgrimage to the the village so many moons ago to try to write short stories. Tell us about your beginnings, whichever art you practice, in the comments section.

(Misfit) Pilgrimage: The Practice

by tjbeitelman

I exist elsewhere. Several elsewheres, in fact. In one of these elsewheres, I have a blog, and on that blog, one of the things I do is document my (so-called) “Misfit Pilgrimages.”

In fact, I’m now in the process of, well, processing a recent pilgrimage to New York.

A while back, in that other elsewhere, I used a lot of words to define the essential nature of the (so-called) “Misfit Pilgrimage.”

But now, here, in this elsewhere, I’ll admit there’s one word I’m nervous about using: “misfit.” That’s a moniker I own, for a variety of reasons. (“I exist elsewhere. Several elsewheres, in fact.”) That said: you certainly don’t have to own it. I mean, you can if you want to, but you don’t have to.

It’s the pilgrimage part that’s important.

So here’s what I wrote about this kind of pilgrimage in that aforementioned elsewhere:

Pilgrims seek. That’s a New Age word (seek, that is) and so maybe it’s out of fashion. But it’s what I do and I don’t have a choice. Seeking is — for better and for worse — a day-to-day, here-and-now thing for me. But it also takes the form of grandiose journeys I set out for myself on a periodic basis. Yes, these are often always personal in nature, and almost always there’s a certain measure of nostalgia involved. The goal is — I’m not ashamed to say — reaching some new insight about who I am and how I need/want to conduct myself in the world. Simple. But also very, very difficult.

Difficult because I’m not very good at it. I’m not making fast progress. It comes in fits and starts, if at all. Two steps forward, one step backward (at best). I would surely make some sort of (different? better? faster?) progress if I just sat still. But that’s not what I think I need (and know I want) to do. So I go. And deal with the consequences. Whether I want to or not. As a hedge to that spiritual bet, I try to make art as I go. In the quite likely event that enlightenment never comes.

Surprisingly (or not), most of that still stands for me — the motivation, the explanation, the self-assessment — with one important exception:

I’ve realized that, for me, the “make art as I go” part isn’t a hedge to the spiritual bet: it is the spiritual bet.

On these trips, I notice, I document, and in the process, I generate of lot of words, sounds, images. (Mostly that’s because I really love words, sounds, images, and because changing my coordinates really helps me generate them.) Sometimes those words, sounds, and/or images coalesce toward an extended creative project. Sometimes not. Always — always — the process yields unexpected personal, creative, and spiritual insights (along with a startling number of jaw-dropping serendipitous encounters) that stick with me long after I’ve returned “home.”

What does that mean for you?

Good question. I don’t know. Maybe this:

  • If you want to go, go. Anywhere. You’ll know where. It’ll be obvious.
  • It can be somewhere far away. Or not.
  • It can be somewhere new or somewhere familiar.
  • You can go alone. Or not.
  • Your motivations, explanations, self-assessments are yours.
  • Your motivations, explanations, self-assessments may change. Midstream.
  • Intention is overrated. That’s never more true than it is on a pilgrimage.
  • If you want to make art as you go, make art as you go. If not, don’t.
  • Notice. Be open.
  • Try to document. Somehow. (When in doubt: a 30 Things can work wonders.)