I’m on residency in Corris, Wales, a village of 700 people on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. It’s my second tour here. In the summer of 2016, I was lucky to get my very first residency in this gorgeous place.
But it wasn’t easy then. Several residents worried about me as an American. For a few days, they gave me a wide berth. I found them at the pub one night, and being gregarious, sat down and started chatting.
Near midnight, one of them said, “Let’s go back to the residency and continue this conversation.”
And for the next two hours, I was quizzed about how many guns I have (because every American has at least one.) I was asked how many times I’ve been shot at in my life. Was I afraid to walk down the street because of shootings?
And when we moved on from guns, I was queried in great detail about our abominable for-profit healthcare system.
We switched to the impending presidential election, where I made very wrong predictions about the outcome.
I’m still friends with both of those lovely women. They’d not met many Americans in their travels. Naturally, their opinions were formed by movies, the news, and tv shows depicting Americans giving ridiculous answers to questions on the street. Because of our interaction, they came away with a transformed view of Americans.
THIS IS WHY WE TRAVEL.
Before I came on this residency, several people in my life questioned why I wanted to spend time overseas. “It isn’t safe,” several said. “I don’t want to expose myself to people I don’t agree with,” said another. “I like America and my life. Why do I need to see anything else?” Was another common theme.
Look at the map in the picture. As I was leaving a bakery in the Welsh village of Dolgellau, I was chased into the street by someone who worked there. No, I didn’t leave without paying my bill.
He held a box of pushpins. “As you were leaving, it sounded like you weren’t from around here. Would you stick a pin in the map to show where you’re from?”
My friend Karen and I both took a pin. Mine was the first from Charleston, that big ole knob of red on the coast. Karen made room to stick hers in New Jersey, in awe of how many people from that part of America have been here.
But this picture says a lot about America. We travel to make ourselves uncomfortable on purpose, to push ourselves to see things from other points of view, to blur our imaginary lines, to stretch ourselves, to be more accepting of others, to shine lights on things we need to work on within ourselves, to fill our creative tanks.
Look at where the pins are, and where they AREN’T. I’m not surprised this map is pinned this way. Not one bit. And it makes me very, very sad. The world is a delicious playground full of unforgettable, poignant experiences. Why do so many people fear it?