Where No One Has Gone Before

I spent Sunday going to places that no one has ever gone before, including a planet populated by cows who don’t breathe, a land where the king keeps all the money in a hole in a volcano, and a country full of orchards where candy falls from the sky. That is, I spent Sunday teaching the awesome student-writers at 826CHI about travel writing–by having them invent their own places and then write travel guides for them.

I’ve been volunteering at 826CHI forever–since they first opened their doors back in 2005. 826CHI is the Chicago chapter of a network of writing and tutoring centers called 826 National, started in San Francisco by Dave Eggers of McSweeney’s fame. I’ve had the good fortune to work with so many classes of talented, creative, excited student writers on topics from family histories to poetry to food writing and now travel writing.

This class is a fun–and admittedly silly–way for me to share my love of writing and travel with students. Some of them were well-traveled; one boy had been to Brazil and Pakistan, because those are the countries his parents are from. Others said they hadn’t been anywhere. I told them that they were equally well qualified to be travel writers, because they brought either a wealth of experiences to compare to or a fresh pair of eyes and a hungry curiosity. The fact that they were inventing fantasy lands made things a little easier, too.

Working with the kids on their writing made me think about some of my favorite aspects of traveling to a new place. Figuring out the language. Eating new foods. Trying to blend in so as not to be decapitated by immortal warriors. Oh wait… I think that one only happens in the aptly named Death Land, a world just invented by one of my students. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

[Seriously, guys: 826CHI is a fantastic organization doing important work for Chicago students. If you’ve got a couple of bucks and you don’t want to donate them to the lovely ladies of Go Go Go, 826CHI should be your next choice. You can donate to them here.]