Tour de Word

The big idea…

I began publishing my poems and other writings online in 2005, and by the fall of 2009, my readership had almost quadrupled. I was bowled over by this fact but was delighted to be sharing my work with this new community. However, one thing puzzled me: the relationship I had with my readers felt too one-sided. I didn’t know most of them – they had found me through other online channels or friends of friends – but it felt strange that I didn’t really know them. There was something too divisive about the computer, too impersonal, and despite having the ease of accessibility in reaching my readers, I was beginning to miss the real-time contact that can only be had face-to-face. I wondered: How could I connect more directly with them? How could we know each other beyond the boundaries of the Internet?

The prelude and the plan

In March 2010, I underwent an MRI of my thoracic spine, after experiencing more than a year of mysterious medical symptoms that were affecting my mobility and balance. The radiologist discovered a mass lodged underneath my 6th and 7th vertebrae and sitting right on top of my spinal cord. A week later, a neurosurgeon removed a 3-inch benign nerve tumor from my back, and when I woke out of the anesthesia, I knew immediately that I was okay. But with this newfound health came a firm directive: Go. Do. Be. I understood that there was no time to waste. The time for living was now. Whatever I dreamed about doing, I realized I’d better get cracking.

Preparing for the road

A month after my surgery, I launched the Tour de Word project on Kickstarter. My plan was to do a circumnavigation of the country and to meet as many of my readers as I could. In addition, I would offer no-cost writing workshops where they lived. The workshops would be open to new and experienced writers, young and old alike. My hope was also to gather writings from these workshops to collect into an anthology after I returned.

After my announcement about the launch of Tour de Word, I began fielding requests for visits and workshops. My first invitation came all the way across country – from a woman in Nutley, New Jersey – and soon the trip began to populate with stops. I had a large map of the U.S. tacked up on my living room wall, and within weeks of the project launch, there were pins all over it. I connected the pins and thus my itinerary was born. My route would take me through 30 states and more than 12,000 miles in total. I met my Kickstarter funding goal in the middle of August 2010 and left San Francisco on September 7 in my little Silver Toyota Echo, with my bike strapped to the roof and Magnetic Poetry tiles arranged in poetic verses all over the car.

Detours and discoveries

Tour de Word was a textured, layered experience that was both intensely private and profoundly public. I drove out of San Francisco not quite recognizing the big plunge I was taking. I knew it wasn’t just the 8-week drive around the country – though that was in itself a big deal – but the sense of departure from everything that I knew. I was leaving the familiar, the routine, the habitual, the tried and true, and opting for an adventure of which I had only a loose sense of understanding. A structure was in place – the workshops I’d scheduled almost every other day – but it was the places in between that I couldn’t anticipate or predict. Almost the moment I got on the road, I came in contact with the vastness and mystery of what lay before me. It was startling and terrifying and exhilarating to confront my own perceived limitations, and I soon realized that leaving home meant having innate trust of myself, a willingness to navigate the uncertainties of what lay ahead, and an ability to hold the outcomes of my choices loosely.

I had hours and hours to myself in the car on my long drives and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude. I wended my way through the small highways and back roads of the country, stopping myriad times to take photos, and let myself sink into the freedom of being on the road on my own. And yet, as I arrived in each designated stop and met my hosts and led my workshops, I stepped out of this quietude and reserve and discovered new aspects coming forward – leadership, confidence, compassion, and an easy comfort with facilitating creative engagement with strangers – that continued to develop as I continued the project. I uncovered, in fact, a facility and skillfulness with the flexibility this experience required, and as the journey kept unfolding, I found myself looking forward to each fresh unknown.

As the Echo gathered miles and the weeks away from home piled up, and with each new stop and workshop, I became acclimated to meeting the challenge of change, and I welcomed each encounter with my reader-hosts. I saw, too, that the person who was making her way across country was a fuller, deeper, more aware woman. Lifting myself out of the habits of home - where I had begun to feel dull and disconnected - had opened me up to a richer engagement with my surroundings, both internal and external. Each day brought me in contact with new strengths and new vulnerabilities, and the exhilaration of adventure became my constant companion.

In the fall of 2011, just under a year after I’d left San Francisco, I published “Lost Highways and Living Rooms: Writings from Tour de Word.”  It featured more than 60 contributors ages 8-80.

This project led the way to the Type Rider project, which I launched in May 2012.