No one's done much traveling lately for obvious reasons.
As someone who loves to get up and go, I've had to do all my recent wandering in print. And one of the wildest and most engaging reading trips I've found is Laurie Gough's 2006 memoir/travelogue Kiss the Sunset Pig. Gough recalls her travels in other times and other climes and reflects on what motivates her wanderlust.
I laughed out loud, I gasped with worry and concern, I shared Gough's wonder at "the full force of the universe, the randomness, the chance of it all." Her book chased away the COVID blues and whet my appetite for a time when I – and so many other restless souls – can safely hit the highway again.
Wanting to find out more about Gough's travels, I tracked her down for a Q&A session. Turns out she's in Canada...for the moment.
You can buy Kiss The Sunset Pig here.
How would you describe Kiss The Sunset Pig?
Laurie Gough: The book starts out as a road trip that I take from my hometown in Ontario to California. I'm leaving my old life behind and heading toward my place in the sun. As I drive my beater car on back roads across the U.S., I meet quirky characters along the way. I reflect on my life as a wanderer – someone always searching for the perfect place to live – but also someone who used to travel with more enthusiasm and freedom.
As I make my way across the country, I recall past adventures around the world: coming face-to-face with a ghostly crone on a Greek island; roaming the jungles of Sumatra; paddling the Yukon River; teaching native kids in Canada's subarctic; getting lost in Seoul, found in Thailand, and going out of my head in Jamaica.
As I drive west, I'm also heading towards a half-remembered cave on the coast of California where I spent six days thirteen years earlier. Without fully realizing it, I'm heading back to that girl in the cave, the girl who ran up and down the shore and stayed awake to watch the stars swirl through the sky, the girl who knew finding a permanent home was never her true nature and who knew exploring the world was her permanent home.
Author, Laurie Gough
What's at the heart of this book?
I think it's about peeling back the layers of cynicism that life builds around us as we grow older. And discovering that our former selves may still be inside us if only we bother to look.
One of my favorite segments in the book is when you're traveling in Negril, Jamaica. A woman named Miss Monica gives you some ganja cake. When you eat it you have the realization, "There's no such thing as linear time – everything is the perpetual present." Does that great notion still resonate today?
Ha! Speaking of my previous answer – that our old selves are always there inside us – I've discovered this to be true every time I've been on some kind of "pot brownie" trip. That time in Jamaica when I was 23 was my first experience with anything like that. During that particular "trip" which lasted about eight hours, I kept flipping back in time through all my previous selves. I went right down through my childhood, even vividly seeing the design of my mother's cat eyeglasses and the curly-cues of my baby spoon – things I must have stared at before I was two.
But more interesting to me is how viscerally I can connect to my twelve-year-old self, remember how that kid felt, what she wore, how much she laughed. I think we all can do this, whether we're on hallucinogens or not. Our old selves never truly desert us. For me, it's like opening up a door and walking through into my past. And then I get to write about it.
In hindsight, can you explain how you were destined to be a wanderer?
My Dad was a geographer and a lover of maps and any road leading to someplace new. Every summer we'd pack up our trailer and station wagon and head off somewhere. We'd go to the Maritimes, the Rockies, the Canadian Prairies, New England, the Great Lakes, Wisconsin, Quebec, the Appalachians.
Each summer was different. We even went to Europe the summer I was 13, rented a caravan, and camped. My older sister hated those camping trips, but I didn't. Those camping trips cultivated my love of the open road.
How did you get into travel writing?
Through my 20s and early 30s, I traveled and always kept travel journals. I wanted to remember the strange circumstances and all the eccentric people I was forever encountering.
I never realized my travels would turn into books. But upon returning to Canada after living on this tiny island in Fiji, I woke up one night with a panicky feeling that my travels were evaporating. I got up immediately and started writing a story about Fiji.
I spent the rest of the night writing that story and just kept going after that. Soon I realized I was writing a book. Then I wrote another travel memoir. More recently I wrote something entirely different. Also a memoir, it has nothing to do with travel - although it is about a scary journey!
Tell me your two favorite memoirs.
I'm addicted to memoir. I've read so many. Two of my favorites are Educated by Tara Westover, and Becoming by Michelle Obama.
What books are you currently reading?
So many books! Every day this winter I've been doing this thing where I hike, or more like trudge, through the deep snow, which gets pretty tiring. By the time I reach the top of a big hill I find a sunny spot and flop down into the soft powder. I pull out my thermos of iced coffee and a book. It's my favorite part of the day.
Here are some I've read lately and highly recommend:
Lives of Girls and Woman by Alice Munro (I binge-read all her books)
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Akin by Emma Donoghue
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska
What's next? What are you working on now?
Just before the pandemic hit, a friend and I were about to launch a storytelling night in the style of The Moth. We'll try it again once we're all vaccinated, but the story I was going to tell got me thinking of a time of my life that I've never written about.
When I was 26 I was living by myself in the woods in northern Ontario. I was surrounded by eccentrics living in their own remote cabins. So much happened that year. I'm now writing a set of essays about that time "between travels."
"Between travels" aptly describes the perpetual present of the pandemic. So pick up a copy of Gough's Kiss The Sunset Pig today and satisfy all your yearnings for the wide-open road.
Laurie Gough is a journalist and award-winning author of three memoirs: Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman's Travel Odyssey; Kiss the Sunset Pig: An American Road Trip with Exotic Detours; and Stolen Child: A Mother's Journey to Rescue Her Son from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Over twenty of her stories have been anthologized in literary travel books and her books have been translated into several languages. She has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail and has written for The Guardian, The L.A. Times, Maclean's, The Walrus, USA Today, Salon.com, The National Post, Canadian Geographic, among others. (www.lauriegough.com)
Honor Molloy is the author of Smarty Girl - Dublin Savage and the award-winning plays Crackskull Row and Round Room.