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So You Went to Lisbon... A Reflection and a Thank You

[Written by Joey Burke.]

Dear Deri,

Having returned from Lisbon, I can now send a proper and sincere Obrigada for your tips and advice.  Your suggestions were accurate and sensitive to my concerns about traveling with children in foreign territory. In hindsight, you could have taken a simpler path and followed the Hemingway Challenge of a six-word essay.

Get your passport and just go!

Or maybe:

Just go now.
Thank me later.

I had similar advice from several other MFA students who studied in Lisbon. They use words like amazing, incredible, and fantastic. All sorts of superlatives often follow such statements, but what I notice when students talk about Lisbon is a certain expression that conveys both peace and enthusiasm. There's a post-Lisbon aura that radiates from the speaker, both visceral and emotive. Now that I have been to Lisbon, I understand.

After two weeks of classical conditioning in Portugal, hearing the word Lisbon may send the traveler into a different plane of consciousness. The body feels a pleasure, as though you're still sitting at an outdoor cafe with good food and drink, a great view, and smart conversation. Muscle memory means your leg muscles are tight from climbing the hill to said magical café. Sweat pools in places you forgot could sweat, because it had been so long since the last time your body, soul, and brain had a work out simultaneously. As real as any olfactory hallucination, you smell the espresso from a cup with a saucer and you breathe deep the cinnamon cloud from the custard pastry and you feel lifted.

Perhaps in this dreamy ether, I've lost sight of the fact that we are encouraged to take the Lisbon route on the way to becoming better writers in the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Lisbon offered me immersion in words and language and languages, since nearly everyone there was multilingual. (As a side note, everyone we encountered was generous in their assistance and dedicated to making this a meaningful experience.) Because of my time in Lisbon, I am more acutely aware that my writing is a work in progress, and that I, too, am a work in progress. I don't know if Lisbon has made me a better writer, but it has made me a richer person, and that feels like movement the right direction--toward health and happiness and connection to my fellow travelers.

I think my children describe the epxerience best as they recount their time in Lisbon to friends and relatives. Listening to them is like a study in what stands out and what holds up. What they have to say is rarely what I expect and so much better than I imagined. Through a double helping of nature and nurture, my children are obligated to go directly to a conversation about food and dining, but then they launch into a commentary on public art, architecture, and homelessness. I am just as surprised by what they leave out as what they include. Just like looking at my work, post-workshop, I am surprised sometimes by the lines that are highlighted and underlined. I am puzzled by the things people point to and say “tell me more about this.” Maybe the gift of Lisbon is the opportunity to become a better writer by becoming a better listener.  

So Deri, thank you my friend, for your encouragement. I am so glad I listened to your advice.

-Your Joey

Published on August 01, 2016

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