Posted by: scintillatingspeck | April 17, 2014



We’re on a mission from God.
The Blues Brothers

In my most recent post, I mentioned that I wrote to writer and cultural anthropologist Ruth Behar.  I told her that I would like to come get a book from her, Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman.  I wasn’t sure if she would write back.

She wrote back.

Dear Jen Hartley,

Thank you for your lovely message. I am very moved that my essay in Aeon spoke personally to you and that you’ve found other works of mine to be inspiring. This means so much to me.

Your upcoming journey sounds amazing. You would be most welcome to stop by and get the book, “Tales of a Female Nomad,” if Ann Arbor is on your route. But I would also be pleased to mail it to you now, so you can have it sooner. Just let me know where to send it and I promise not to delay. It would feel good to pass it on to you.

All my good wishes,

Ruth Behar

I read her email just before going to bed and my head responded with a highway pile-up of thoughts that demanded some kind of emergency intervention.  I couldn’t sleep.  I extricated them messily with a pen and paper, these thoughts that demanded to be remembered, written about.  They are swollen seeds rolling at great speed across the landscape, seeking places to sink their shallow roots and flower into words.

I responded.

Dear Ruth,

I’m so glad to hear from you.  Thank you for offering to mail me the book.  I did some thinking about it, and it feels important to me to make the physical journey to Ann Arbor.  It is on my route; my itinerary would bring me there around August —.  (This is towards the tail end of the journey; my daughter Lily and I will set off on June 6th from western Massachusetts, then head south to go around the country clockwise.)

I’m reading “Traveling Heavy” and getting so much out of it.  I keep thinking about your words about travelers and immigrants.  My whole life has been shaped by traveling and immigration; my father, an American Jew, met my mother, an Italian Catholic, in Bologna, Italy in the 1960s.  They were both students at the University of Bologna.  My mother converted to Judaism and they married in Bologna.  Then they moved to the U.S.  Although my sister and I were born in this country, my mother’s immigration was a primary way my identity was formed.  We spent considerable amounts of time in my childhood traveling back and forth to Italy and staying with family there.  There is more to the story and I’m planning to find a way to incorporate it into my book.

I was tossing and turning in bed last night, thinking about travel and immigration, and I realized that I’m not just a traveler (wanting to travel) nor simply an immigrant (pushed into motion by a necessity for survival or a mad love or whatever force drives it), but also a pilgrim.  This trip I’m about to take is my pilgrimage.  It’s a sort of religious act to me, although I’m not conventionally “religious.”  This is why it feels important to me to receive the book from your hands rather than through the mail.  My hope is to receive it, and read it, and then offer it, in person, to the next woman traveler/immigrant/pilgrim/nomad who appears, who is driven to write her own story.

In gratitude,


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