Hi, all! Renee Bess and I switched blog days so we could have a chat about one of my favorite things – travel! Over the last couple of years, I’ve been living on and off in Spain, exposing myself to massive amounts of pork, jaw-dropping nature, and the lisping version of Spanish. The first part of our talk was back on September 12th and here is the second and final installment.
Renee asked me some questions and I did my best to answer them. Check out our charla here:
🛵Please describe a memorable experience (positive or negative) you’ve had in a foreign country. Oh my god, that has to be Armenia! Your question is so right on time, Renee. I’ve been trying to write about my trip to Armenia for ages now but just didn’t know how to frame it. I visited the country with my best friend a little less than two years ago and had some honestly unpleasant and even scary experiences there.
While in Armenia, I was always aware of my skin color. People constantly tried to touch me or take photos of me, often without permission. In one small town, I was followed around the small center by not one but two men in cars. One of these men played a popular American rap song exalting black female sexuality (on repeat) as he drove slowly behind then alongside me.
It was terrifying. When the bff and I mentioned the incident to our Armenian guide, she said that the men meant no harm, that they were just flirting or expressing their curiosity about a new stranger in their midst and, in fact, something similar happened to her in the past (!). All I had to say was “WTentireF???”
✈️Do your foreign residencies impact your writing? Absolutely. I’m forever imagining what certain of my characters would get up to if they were in my shoes. This only gets more intense when I’m traveling. One of my trouble-making characters, Nuria Diaz, for example would’ve probably seduced everyone she met if she’d been traveling in Spain with or instead of me. She’s wild and I loved allowing her to ramble around in my mind while I explored the streets of Madrid and the beaches of Cadiz.
A few books have come squalling into existence as a result of my trips abroad, and most of them are brushed with the colors of the countries where I wrote them.
🏝Do you set your stories in those places? Yes! One of my favorites, the title story in To Italy with Love, practically smells of the limoncello and fresh pasta from my trip to the Amalfi Coast.
⛵️Do the characters belong to those places? Sometimes they do, but mostly, like me, they’re wanderers just passing through. In terms of belonging though, they firmly claim whatever space they occupy.
🚘James Baldwin expressed very eloquently why he chose to become an ex-patriot. Why do you think so many artists, musicians, and writers of color have chosen to leave the U.S. and live abroad? I think they want to live in a place where the color of their skin and/or who they love don’t define or limit their experiences. There’s also a greater sense of freedom, a more easily enjoyed relaxation that comes from living outside one’s home country. It doesn’t hurt that, for artists who usually don’t have a ton of money, funds will often stretch further outside of America.
🚕Has living abroad for periods of time changed/altered your perspective of the U.S.? For sure. It depends on the day but I both love America more and am more critical of its policies. The clearer and more removed perspective feels good to have.
🛬Has living abroad changed your perspective of yourself, an American black gay/queer writer? A little. Traveling on my own, I’ve realized I’m not as brave as I once thought. It’s lowering, but nothing I can’t handle.
What about you? Have you ever thought about living abroad?