In five days, I’ll be hitting the road alone, for 30 days, to travel roughly 5,544 miles through 21 states.
I actually won’t be alone the entire time. I’ll be attending the national NOW conference, interviewing people for articles, and meeting up with a handful of friends in a few cities along the way. My sister Jennifer will join me for the last several days, first to head into the mountains of Blowing Rock, N.C., and then to find the wild ponies of Chincoteague, VA.
But mostly for the month, it will be just me and my Subaru, which is how I want it. Like author and journalist Caroline Knapp said, “I’ve always been drawn to solitude, felt a kind of luxurious relief in its self-generated pace and rhythms.” And I need that relief and rhythm. Still figuring out how to live, and be me, after my mother’s death, I need to step away from the everyday and hear my own thoughts again.
So on a shoestring budget and on assignment for a handful publications, I’ll be writing my way across the U.S. My plans include:
- Spending time on a Native American reservation in South Dakota where the average life expectancy for women is 55
- Getting an up-close look at what it means to be an abortion provider in anti-choice states like Georgia
- Collecting the stories of noteworthy women forgotten from history
- Finding unrecognized women making history today
There’s also a book in the works, and I’ll be making my own stories along the way.
It’s a feminist road trip. A tale of a middle-aged woman journalist packing her laptop, camera, a pile of paperbacks, and a camping stove to hit the open highway.
If there were a math equation that showed the why and what of this trip, it might look something like this:
Okay. Clearly I’m no mathematician. But I am creative, and a problem solver. I’ve also spent my career as a writer and college professor crafting, and teaching others how to craft, the essential things Tyrion Lannister talked about in his TED-like speech during the Game of Thrones finale, and which there is no doubt we need to hear more of from women, especially:
“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? No. It’s stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken? The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. … He’s our memory. The keeper of all our stories. The wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines, our triumphs, our defeats, our past. Who better to lead us into the future?”
While I’m not a member of #TeamBran, I am a fervent believer in the power of stories.
Countless studies have shown how we, as humans, are neurologically hardwired to connect with stories. Thoughtfully crafted and compellingly delivered, a well-told story can educate, motivate, create empathy, and encourage understanding. We can also use stories from the past to solve present-day problems and create a better future.
This, in part, is why I’ve always felt so privileged to be a journalist. It’s work that can literally change people’s minds and, with these new realizations, help make a difference for families, communities, a nation, and sometimes even the world.
So I’m setting out to find and tell stories that I hope will make at least a small difference in the lives of women, especially; to give a voice to women who might not otherwise be heard.
Starting in 2010 with the Off-Broadway play I wrote about caring for my mother with Parkinson’s disease, I’ve spent the last several years focused on using both my writing and activism to tell stories designed to empower women.
Today, sharing unheard stories seems more important than ever. And as I personally struggle to understand many of the hateful, divisive things happening in the U.S. today, there are some stories—bad as much as good—I feel the need to seek out and hear for myself. Because even when I don’t agree, I want to understand. And right now, there is much I don’t understand.
I expect some of the stories I’ll find will be disturbing. Others will be inspiring. And if I do my job right, I’ll retell them in a way that disturbs and inspires others, too. Maybe I’ll educate, entertain or in some other way affect you.
In addition to the assigned stories I need to write as I travel, I’ll be blogging here as often possible. I’ll also be posting blog links and photos to my Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds, using #WhereSheIs. Please follow me!
The #WhereSheIs hashtag is meant to suggest not just where I, or the other women I write about, are physically located, but where and how our stories are emotionally, politically, socially, historically, or in some other way relevant to life today. “#WhereSheIs” could be interpreted and used many ways, and I can’t wait to find them all.
The afternoon of July 15 is the start of this journey, and I hope you’ll virtually come along. To make sure my family always knows where I am, I’ve taped a U.S. map onto the refrigerator with each of my destinations and dates noted in red.
I stare at the map every time I go into the fridge. And sometimes, when I run my finger along the routes, I wonder whether I’m overreaching. I worry that my confidence in my abilities to achieve all of this—to think that I even deserve it—is actually hubris, or greed, and that what I’m really doing is setting myself up to fail miserably. My budget is beyond tight. The schedule is ambitious. And even though I’ve had some success as a writer, who says I’m good enough to do all of this? In an undertaking like this, this are also so many unknowns.
But I try to push the negatives away and, instead, channel researcher, author, and life coach Brene Brown, whose current motto is “Courage over comfort.” I’ve never read any of her books. But I’ve watched her Netflix special on shame and vulnerability, in which she explains how her life changed the day she found this 1910 quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
It’s an ideal easier to preach than practice. But when we don’t step into the arena, Brown says, we “squander our precious time,” “turn our backs on our gifts” and sacrifice the “unique contributions that only we can make.”
So I am stepping into the arena. Please wish me luck!