Friday, April 11, 2014

What Happened Last Night: The Transcript

Let me send a big hug (and a small harmless grope) to the many authors and readers who came out last night to hear my presentation: Travel Writing That Matters. We kind of rocked the house, didn't we? Those of you who snatched up all the copies of my books within minutes not only showed your support for fine literature but enabled me to get home last night without having to offer sexual favors to a passing trucker. My gratitude goes beyond words. 

After the presentation, a comely lass named Anne (who is of Irish/German extraction like myself but appears to have combined this recipe much more deliciously) asked if I could post a transcript of my remarks. So, can I get a post up rapidly for Anne? Damn straight! Brace yourself lassie, cuz I don't know how big this post of mine may get. Here's what I said last night, along with references to the excerpts I read for those playing along at home:

Hello. Welcome everyone. My books are usually considered travel lit, but tonight is a literary doubleheader on memoir. That’s no mistake. Travel is about the outward journey across time and space but also the inward journey: the migration of the soul. Travel can provide fluffy vacuous text to fill space in a photo spread, or it can promote global awareness and even enlightenment.

Let’s entitle this little presentation Travel Writing That Matters. I’m gonna read a few excerpts from my books, along with some commentary. Then I’ll respond to questions. Some of this will be meaningful, some will be ridiculous, and some will be totally inappropriate. Your job is to categorize.

Here is an episode in Belize from Sacred Ground & Holy Water. (pp. 65-68 “Civilization abruptly ended…Toughen up or go home!”) Travel writing matters because it enlightens us that the world doesn’t play by our rules. Forget about Washington. Forget about The Hague. I’ve found only two international laws that function around the globe.

Rule #1: acting dumb and friendly is better than aloof and know it all. Bottom line: if you travel the planet with a stick up your bottom, people will twist it, so you’ll get screwed. Be flexible and act local as much as you can. I drove a fancy truck into Belize and it was a big mistake.

Consider leaving the jeweled watch and purse at home. Or just wear a T-shirt that says “I have a little extra cash; feel free to grab something.” I carry no valuables except my diamond stud. It was a gift from a French flight attendant who took me higher than I’d ever flown before. Plus it makes me feel like a pirate, and every man has the right to feel like a pirate.

General Stonewall Jackson, whose death may have changed the outcome of the American civil war, got his nickname for sitting on his horse like a stone wall with bullets whizzing around him. Terrified soldiers huddling in the trench asked about his behavior. He responded, “God will decide when I die. I can only decide if I’ll die with honor, and that’s a decision I’ve already made.”

Rule #2: don’t rely on self-defense to save your life; rely on self-defense to help you die with honor. You really start living when you lose your fear of dying. Plus those who sense you’re a lunatic ready to go out in a blaze of glory often leave you alone. I know I’m insane, but do you want my travel secrets or not?

I live on an isolated Mexican ranch. I have cactus rows, stone walls, dogs and weapons to discourage narcos, ex-girlfriends and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still, God will decide when I die. So, I can get on with the living and traveling.

Here is an episode on the Haida Gwaii Islands also from Sacred Ground & Holy Water. (pp. 154-156 “Today I meet Neil Carey…and still operate heavy machinery.”) Travel writing matters because it enlightens us that art is the ageless pursuit of beauty. One discovers in trekking the globe that not all cultures embrace American obsession with youthfulness.

Johnny Depp’s Don Juan Demarco said the best lover is he who finds the beauty in all women. I personally believe the mind is the most attractive part of a great woman—but damn sure not the only part. In nature’s plan, the hummingbird responds to the colorful ad of the most fertile flower. Likewise, the most bumbling bear finds the vivid berry then deposits the seeds in the forest along with fertilizer packets. 

So, we should not totally despise the herds of men who chase firm jutting breasts around the urban jungle like packs of zombies. Yet, the man who gets close enough to the fertile curvaceous flower to talk to her is supposed to be smart enough to note the quality of the soul not just the petals. 

Ladies, beware the combination of high heels, push-up bras, cheap liquor and cantina lighting. This is baiting our hooks for the stupider fish. The gene pool obviously can’t depend on men to keep it classy. (It’s a jest people. May I remind you jokes are still legal in Mexico. If you’re holding out for the funny ones, they may not be coming, so you're gonna have to lower your standards.)

Time generously replaces the fertile prettiness of youth with uber-sexy wisdom and character in those who truly seek it. Travel and experience makes us people of substance. We need not keep up with the Kardashians when we have moved far beyond them. Let the bimbos try to keep up with us. I wouldn’t trade my eye wrinkles from sunny romps on the beach and late night wine bottle philosophy for the silly pretty boy I used to be. Looking beautiful is nice. Being beautiful is better. Let us journey well.

Here is an episode in Oaxaca from Fresh Wind & Strange Fire. (pp. 101-103 “El Jefe is lord of the Zetas…dumbass lives to tell the tale.”) Travel writing matters because it enlightens us that the human condition not medication is the problem.

Wherever you go in this world, people fear and revere substances. Alcohol, tobacco, sugar, marijuana, betel leaf, coca leaf, peyote, coffee, beef and pork—all of these are considered to be heavenly or demonic, depending on where you are.

In my religious upbringing, human failings were often blamed on the bottle. W.C. Fields said, “A woman drove me to drink, and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her.” My childhood church had the decency not to blame a woman for wasting away in margaritaville, but not the decency to accept personal responsibility.

Shouldn’t true spirituality offer a quality of life one needn’t constantly escape from—and maybe a little self-discipline, which is supposed to be a fruit of the Spirit? Why not all things in moderation? Because most men lead lives of quiet desperation, not moderation. To be human is to be trapped between the monkeys and the gods: too philosophical to live in the moment, too weak to secure immortality.

Humans settle for escape, but we need transcendence—desperately. Traveling the world reveals that most people either believe in God, believe they are God, or spend a lot of money on therapy. I’ve proven my lack of divinity to everyone’s satisfaction over and over again. I can’t afford any therapists, except for my long-time compadres Jack Daniels and Carlo Rossi. So, I’m a philosophical theist.

Man Versus Wild survivalist Bear Grylls says a man never stands taller than when he´s on his knees. I believe it with all my heart. I heartily recommend Jack, Carlos, and The Almighty to fellow travelers on the road of life. Whether you address Shiva, Allah, Jehovah, or (as I prefer) Steve, do yourself a favor and lift your eyes far above yourself.

Here is an episode in Chiapas also from Fresh Wind & Strange Fire. (pp. 111-113 “I stay with a twenty-something friend…I've met more superheroes wearing aprons than capes.”) Travel writing matters because it enlightens us that superheroes exist everywhere. The important people in this world get little attention, because they lack the time (and the sick need) to clamber for it.

Politicos George Bush and Barack Obama made grandiose promises of global security and universal healthcare. Regardless of whom one supports, what we can verify they’ve accomplished for sure is spending the U.S. into the deepest debt of any nation in history. Meanwhile, millions of people have minded their own business, feeding and parenting millions of lovely children. 

For most of history, these were the only two occupations, because they’re the only activities truly essential to the survival of the species. Now, those of us with paper diplomas and indecipherable job titles look down our noses at those who toil to prepare food and nurture children that future generations might not be as physically unfit and psychologically unstable as many of us are.

This is why my latest book is dedicated to the corn goddesses of the Americas, not the prestigious published authors of the Americas. This is why Evelyn (one of my university students) was chosen to be corn goddess at last year’s Guelaguetza Festival. Yes, she’s a hottie. Yes, she knows indigenous poetry. But as Mayan scripture tells us, life comes down to corn. Reading Shakespeare is great, but making tortillas is divine.

For the masses with no food in the pantry, the question is still “To be or not to be?” Depressed Danish royals may ponder offing themselves, but dirty smiling street kids hustle to survive and hunger to thrive in their little hamlet. They need to eat, they want to eat, and they deserve to eat.

That’s why I travel. That’s why travel writing matters. Because the real world is full of real people with real struggles, and travel makes you fully aware and fully alive and fully grateful. God bless the Americas. (Singing in a Louie Armstrong voice) "and I think to myself: what a wonderful world!" Thank you for coming.


  1. Ha ha, thanks Lyn. Very kind of you to post your notes. Your work is delightful and your eye (and ear) for details astounding. We're definitely buying the books. Any chance they're available en español? Stay in touch, and if you need an editor, here's the link: In case you should happen to feel like SINGING while you drink, I'll let you know I'm the host of a fun karaoke show two nights a week (two different locations) in San Miguel. Info here:

  2. I'm there, Anne. However, be warned, I often pass thru the buzzed-enough-to-think-he-can-dance phase before the buzzed-enough-to-think-he-can-sing phase.

  3. Excellent remarks, Lyn! Sounds like it was a blast!

    Rule #1 is of course always called for...

    And it strikes me that of ex girlfriends, narcos, and Jehovah's Witnesses, it's the Witnesses by far that are the most obnoxious.