Interviews March 2006

Terra Incognita

Essayist Rebecca Solnit, the author of A Field Guide to Getting Lost, discusses the art of falling off the map

I've written about these questions a lot. And I'm interested in the way you're always in multiple places at one time. I went to Ireland, where all these Americans go with the fantasy that they are Irish because their grandparents were. But I love those moments where you're hanging out in Ireland with somebody from Germany eating Chinese food with country music playing, thinking about California. Our experiences always hybridize. You're in the Mojave, but the motel has a painting of Midwestern grain furrows. That kind of layering.

I think a lot of the pleasure people gain from traveling isn't so much about where they are but how they behave. You must know, living in Washington, DC, that your city is a destination for other people, but the real pleasure is often simply that they slow down, they walk, they look around them. All of this enriches the texture of their everyday lives. But these are things you can actually do at home. I went down to the City College of San Francisco this week and saw, for the first time, the Diego Rivera murals I've been meaning to look at for twenty years.

So the paying attention and discovery that are rewards of getting lost can be done anywhere and everywhere. Somebody you've known all your life can reveal surprising things if you ask the right kinds of questions.

Jennie Rothenberg is associate editor of The Atlantic Online.
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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

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