I came back from Copenhagen in early September. I’d spent a week in the city, staying near the Lergravsparken metro station in a tiny studio flat which had enough room for potted plants and comfortable chairs and not much else beyond the purely functional.
I’ve spent the last month thinking about travel writing, and about what I wanted this post to be. A day-by-day diary? A Copenhagen-on-a-budget guide? An essay, erasing any post-thesis tears and 12-hour exhaustion sleeps and mental illness spirals from a romanticised summary of the beautiful things I saw in the city?
I still don’t know. My notes for this post are all questions, no answers, no suggestions, no advice.
Some of these questions are anxieties: I feel like if I’m still learning how to be in my daily life – in grey Southern cities and towns – who am I, what am I, in a new and beautiful place? Are these experiences wasted on me? What have I done to merit my being there? What do I do with all the things I see and learn when I go to these places? What makes me qualified to talk about them in any capacity? How much of a drawback is my lack of travel experience when writing about new places? What could I possibly say that someone else – a local, a proper travel writer – couldn’t say better? What could I bring to the conversation that’s original? And how could I form this view in a handful of days spent touristing? How do I do the city justice?
Some questions are practical concerns: What does it mean to be a travel writer? I’ve been looking for answers in every new issue of Suitcase magazine, the Virago Book of Women Travellers, even Lonely Planet’s how-to book How To Be A Travel Writer, but I’m still not sure. I took hundreds of photographs – digital, 110 and 35mm, polaroids – and pages and pages of notes, drawings, collected ephemera, like I do on any trip. Returning home with piles of words, prints, sketches, Instax snaps, can make me feel at a loss. What do I do with my compulsion to make pictures? Am I supposed to be doing something specific with it, channelling it efficiently so that it has some material purpose? Why am I so unable to disentangle the idea that unless the things I make have work-adjacent merit, they are creatively useless? I often feel overwhelmed by the desire to make things, and like I’m drowning in writing and sketches and photographs, and I don’t know what to do with the things I write and make.
Stuck in a recursive loop, my mind convinces itself that the answer is to visit somewhere new, learn more, write more, take more pictures. This solution is of substantial appeal, aligning neatly with the contents of my office daydream wanderlust, my ongoing desire for things new and different and beautiful. This solution sadly does not align with the financial realities of my life as an apprentice.
I need to find a way to make this work, here, at home. I feel like this whatever it is I’m writing about – music, history, art – or whatever it is that I’m making, photographing, painting. It’s a luxury to be able to worry about the physical practicalities of trying to fit a hundred different creative interests into a small rented bedroom, or how to pursue these interests alongside a full working week, I know. My understanding of this compounds the guilt.
I don’t have any answers. This isn’t a story about my journey towards a realisation. I’m still figuring it out. Until I do, I’ll just give you all I have to offer.
Lobster Redscale 110 film: