“Destinations of Love From The Lost Traveler’s Tour Guide,” the latest installment in this marvelous series of stories, struck me as perhaps one of the most poignant in both tone and settings. Has it been a challenge to write each of these pieces in its own voice, reflecting the locations and intent of the destinations?
The writing process has been really interesting, because the pieces have arrived very differently than my more traditional stories in Children of the New World or Universal Love. The stories in those collections tended to follow traditional plot and narrative structures. Ultimately, I’d build the stories by asking myself craft questions about plot/conflict/character. With the tour guide stories, I began to engage with storytelling in a completely different way. I’d go through an emotional experience (of love, solitude, joy) and I’d simultaneously catch a glimpse of a city, or a hotel, or a museum that was the metaphorical destination of that emotion. Then, as though I was a traveler in a new world, I’d explore the landscape while I wrote about it. I’d literally look around inside the new destination as much as possible, writing pretty much non-stop, as I catalogued the dream details of the particular destination.
In this way, I was simultaneously exploring the worldbuilding of the story but also exploring the depths of my own emotions through imaginative play. Questions of character/plot/narrative arc became the by-products of the writing process and oftentimes proved to be superfluous to this new form. For example, there are very few characters and almost no use of dialogue in these stories. Similarly, I wasn’t wondering about the best perspective to use (which is a question I often ask myself at the start of a more traditional story). In fact, it was only later that I realized the voice of the guidebook writers was actually a form of fourth-person address (a collective we addressing a collective you). This is a very experimental point of view that I’d always been intrigued by but didn’t know how to use. Suddenly, I was using that perspective without even realizing it, and the point of view felt completely organic and natural. This new process of creating is incredibly joyful to me as a writer, because I’m writing from within the fantastical locations and making notes like an explorer.
Tell us something of what inspired this particular section of the guide.
The Museum of Heartbreak, for example, chronicles various break-ups I’ve faced, full of pain and sorrow. Just like the museum, my own life contains letters written to an ex which were never answered, or memories of found text messages revealing I’d been cheated on, or the moments when I’d gotten my courage up to ask someone out only to receive a rejection. And among these exhibits, more galleries filled with various broken dreams and romantic futures that never materialized. Now, all of those experiences were incredibly gutting, no doubt—but I also realized they were universal. So the dark humor in that piece comes from a realization of just how many people have gone through these very same experiences. At certain points in everyone’s lives, the world itself has become the Museum of Heartbreak.
On the other hand, The Hotel Aulaun is that beautiful place where we find ourselves fully in love or consumed by passion. This can be the joys of erotic embrace, or the euphoric days of falling in love, or, for the few lucky travelers, the joy of lifelong companionship. This story came from the joys of love in my present life, and my belief that lifelong love and passion is possible if we remember to stay checked in to the sacred hotel of our hearts.
Love is universal, a many splendored thing; all you need, is love is love is love. I was intrigued by the way you portrayed both the positive and negative aspects of love and flirted with both the romantic and platonic. Were there facets of love that you wanted to include in the story but didn’t?
The sacred work of lifelong love. I hint at it in The Hotel Aulaun and The City of Rouxman—but I don’t fully explore what it means to engage in the healing practice of eternal love. I think lifelong love requires us to become deeper, more compassionate and spiritual individuals. It means being able to remain conscious and present with our partner for all the changes, the growth, and the dark and light moments that we, as humans, go through. It also means learning to have deep compassion for our own shadow sides. This is because we have to face our own negative patterns that appear in the mirror of a romantic partnership. When we are reactionary or triggered, we often make the crucial mistake of blaming a partner for our own triggers. The way this manifests can be disagreements, petty annoyances, or deep miscommunications. The work in such moments of conflict seems to be to examine the original source of where our pain is coming from. Almost always the triggers we face in a relationship trace back to childhood, past relationships, or simply the unloved inner self.
So the work with a romantic partner is to hold space for one another so that deep healing and intimacy can flourish. This requires dropping our own reactionary triggering in order to create a space wherein the inner relationship with our wounded selves and the outer relationship with the beloved can be healed, nurtured, and celebrated. I call this building a temple of love in our hearts. And when that temple has been built, then each partner, on a somatic and emotional level, feels safe to grow, to heal, and to flourish. Perhaps this destination—of the temple of love—is yet another destination waiting to being written.
Much like Toxicity and Joy, Love is an abstract. When writing these pieces, how do you open yourself to the possibilities of embracing abstractions in a way that makes them concrete?
A key practice is to allow synesthesia and free-association to take the reins. For example, in “Toxic Destinations,” I wrote about the city of Phôtl—which is a place of great misery and toxicity. To be able to describe that location, I began to think about the crummy bars I’d frequented in college: the sticky floors, someone vomiting into a dirty urinal, cheap strobe lights, bad music, women with too much makeup and slurred words, greasy dudes smoking cigarettes . . . good . . . now what else is associated with the dregs of the all-too-common “partying” scene in America . . . I see loud frat brothers, aging alcoholics in crumpled suits, the hollow-eyed and middle-aged dashing into bathrooms to snort cocaine with rabid hunger . . . good . . . and who fed those toxic people their poisons . . . horrendous parents, backstabbing friends, loan officers making shark-toothed mortgages, politicians transformed into enormous slugs . . . As you can see, the random associations begin to become dreamy and surreal. Much of this free-writing is ultimately unusable—but the process lets me produce a wealth of emotional-laden details which are anchored in the concrete.
For “Destinations of Love,” the technique was very much the same. What does love feel like to me? The first thing I see is candlelight . . . the way its softness flickers against sheets and cheekbones, an early summer wind moving across the body . . . and now a band begins to strike up the music, while out there on the lake, beneath the moon . . . and in this way each image conjures the next. Association leads to association. The key for me is to try to get intoxicated with language, to be swept into the images, to be lost in the dream of the destination (which is ultimately my own emotion) and return with the concrete objects of words so to tether the emotions to the tangible world of the page.
What does love mean to you?
I think love is the fundamental vibration of the universe—a mixture of exuberant joy and erotic creation (birds and bees, the earth ripe with spring, the stars in one’s eyes upon seeing one’s lover). Its sensation is a boundary-dissolving limitlessness that allows us to transcend the limited perception of self in order to experience an interconnected merging with other. And to experience love fully means being willing to unwrap the barbed wire of self-protection from our hearts. In fact, love’s super power is that it melts the barbed wire immediately and frees us from our fears.
Romantic love is, of course, only one of the many forms love takes. There’s love for parents and children, for our friends, for the larger community. I see love as a series of expanding circles. At the center of that circle is our ability to love ourselves. This is no small task, and it unfortunately goes unattended and left for last. The process of self-love requires an ability to literally look in the mirror and be able to tell ourselves that we love ourselves with infinite compassion. Meanwhile, at the furthest rings of the expanding circles of love, is our ability to love this world: humanity, nature, the planet and all its beings. This is the transcendental plane of love—which includes the ability to have compassion for those who have hurt us, and to extend love rather than hatred to the world. In this way, love means caring for others and rejoicing in our shared humanity and the mystery of life.
Writing can be as exhausting as it is invigorating. What do you do to recharge the writing batteries so you can face the page once more? What does self-care look like for Alexander Weinstein?
Love with my partner and our children. Family get-togethers. Music—both going to concerts and playing it at home (I like to play guitar, piano, singing bowls/drums). Yoga. Nature walks. Gardening. Travel. Taking the time to prepare a really good meal with friends. Swimming and playing in bodies of water whenever possible. Lots of baths. Massage (if I’m lucky!) Dance. Letting myself sleep in and take naps. And, believe it or not, writing. I find that first drafts can actually recharge the batteries. As for revision . . . I’m still learning how to make that a self-nurturing experience!
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