15 Sep Research Trip
I never thought I’d be the sort of author who would (or could) say, “I’ve just come back from a research trip!”
I never thought I’d say, “My research trip was six weeks long. And it took me to Europe.”
But here I am. Saying those very words.
I just returned from a six week research trip to The Netherlands, Italy (well, that part was just for fun) and Paris! And … just saying … I feel very stilted to be only using one exclamation point after that sentence. It sort of deserves more, you know?
I landed in the Netherlands June 21 expecting to be jet-lag-lady for about a month.
But, gratefully, I turned into something like What’s Jet Lag? An 8 hour time change? I don’t notice a thing. One good night’s sleep and I was off and running. Or biking. Yes, definitely biking. Everybody in the Netherlands bikes. Crazy amazing place.
The purpose of my trip was three-fold.
- I wanted to learn and understand more about my father-in-law’s life
- Research WWII in the Netherlands
- Learn about the practice of euthanasia
It may sound like an odd assortment, but they all collide in my next book so I’m headed down those three trails.
The word research brings up vague notions of musty basement libraries, thickened bifocals, and utter stillness. I did a lot of research for my first book, but that felt closer to home. My own letters, my own photos, my own memories. And now, I needed to learn about a previous generation, in another country, speaking a foreign language. Good grief. Let’s bite off a little more to chew on, don’t you think?
I came to view my trip as a type of Immersion writing. Go and immerse yourself in another life, or place. (Robin’s Hemley’s, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing, is a brilliant look at this complex field of writing.)
- Commit yourself to one of New York City’s most notorious mental institutions, as Nelly Bly did in 1887, then write a best-seller: Ten Days in a Madhouse.
- Cross the border into the United States, pretend to be an immigrant, travel with migrant workers, as writer Ted Conover did, and write Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America’s Illegal Aliens.
- Treat your body like a research item for a year, eating healthy weird and wacky, trying every cure and remedy and exercise you can, then, as A. J. Jacobs did, write Drop Dead Healthy.
- Spend a year teaching writing classes in L.A.’s Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for violent teen offenders, many charged with murder, and, if you are Mark Salzman write, True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall.
Immersion writers infiltrate, reenact, investigate, travel, and go on quests.
I’m not saying I am an immersion writer. I didn’t take a year or ten to live in the Netherlands. I didn’t disappear off the face of the earth to become part of a WWII reenactment regiment. But my trip, none-the-less, was filled with travel, personal tours, and investigation. It felt like a quest, both filling and fueling my curiosity.
The whole trip wouldn’t have been possible without my stellar sister-in-law.
I stayed at her home. She was kind enough to put up with my poor Dutch. We went on road trips together, cooked, laughed, cried, and talked late into a whole lot of the evenings. I am grateful for her kindnesses, and even more for her friendship.
First Day Highlights?
A backyard picnic style supper.
The Long Climb up the Steep Steps to my attic room.. this is only one flight. I had two! Dutch staircases would never make it in America. They’d be deemed a work hazard. How do the old people survive ??
The view from my very own attic window.
Feet up, in the attic, ready for bed. I’ve arrived. I’m back in the Netherlands. Hello, old friend. It’s been five long years. I’m happy to see you again!
I will leave you there for now. I’m just falling asleep and dreaming of the NEXT SIX weeks and wondering what I will learn and see and do. and wondering if I’m crazy and not knowing but feeling light and happy and expectant for the morning sun to rise.