We believe in the implicit commonality of writerly experiences and outlook on life, regardless of one's origins in the world. In our efforts to create a small multiplicity of discrete writing places across the globe - one which, hopefully, might some day come to be viewed as a single literary space, unified by the sameness of its components' basic underlying principle - we are guided by the notion, this article of faith we have, that writers hailing even from the most disparate cultures, political societies and linguistic families, still oftentimes find more of a common ground between each other that they might with their co-citizens, nominal compatriots and fellow native speakers. This, at any rate, has been our very own, personal experience. We may be wrong about this, but we don't think so. We may be wrong about many things, but not this one... perhaps. Simply put, writers tend to like and need the company of other writers, just as winemakers - that of other winemakers, and law enforcement agents, say - well, fellow cops'. There's a reason, a semblance of a master plan, for everyone's being what one is in life, if one wants to get all metaphysical about this.
We believe, too, that writers, the ones that take their craft seriously, from time to time should make an effort to change the basic context of their writing lives, and the more drastically so the better -- and immerse themselves, circumstances permitting, in the cityscapes or rustic vistas of such heightened degree of unfamiliarity and literary intensity, that no routine narrative paradigm, no old trope of one's down-pat, fall-back writing mode could any longer do adequate justice to them -- or rather, one's own recharged, dislocated literary self. That's why we go to other places, the ones where we can't but be strangers to ourselves - because it's more interesting (though admittedly, not always) to go than it is to stay - to discover ourselves within the new literary text of a thoroughly foreign locale; in a parallel world, as it were, where the time of one's real-life present seems to stand still: Kenya, Lithuania... Russia. The ever-evanescent places, the ones where we are not, and where no one ever is missing us. We go where we can get lost, you know, in an appropriately findable context, in the bracing company of like-spirited literary people. We go to challenge ourselves, to get lost, yes, again, and be found, and re-discover some of the sum total of ourselves in the process. If this all sounds like so much hot air, that's because it is, no doubt, for some people. But it also happens to be the essential life-making truth, as far as we are concerned. That's just the way it goes.
St. Petersburg - the ever-elusive, ultimate literary metaphor of a paradigmatic paradise city; the echoing place of blinding midnight light. What's there to say about it? Everything and nothing. It never ceases to... even after all these... oh, whatever. It never does. You get the point...
And Lithuania... Lithuania! The lilac-hued Vilnius's hill-bound cathedrals' spires conjoin, become one with the vertical threads of barely discernible rain in the billowing autumnal dusk. This is overwritten, granted, but not by much... Lithuania. One doesn't necessarily know why one is quite so powerfully drawn to it. It might be better not to over-analyze one's attractions. It's very beautiful, sure, and placid, too, and all that, the rollicking green hills and the impenetrable forests and bogs and amber-bearing shallow Baltic waves lapping the golden... etc.; and some of the most famous Soviet-era movie actors, males by preponderance, yes, the strong laconic men with well-sculpted jaws and the rest of their immovable facial features, happened to be among the most famous in the former Soviet Union, but... Is it the history? The grand history of the 15th-century Lithuania stretching, proverbially, from the White to the Black sea? And the tragic and convoluted history of Jews in that erstwhile fulcrum of European Jewry? It must be, of course, but that would not be the whole thing, either - not even a small parcel of one... No. Nothing doing. Let's just move on. Kenya!
Kenya - the red earth of Nairobi's endless winding roads, the electric roar of sultry city nights, the boundless (weak adjective) emptiness of Rift Valley's pre-human, pre-dinosaur, pre-Raphaelite expanses, the veritable taser gun of the Lamu sun and... and the barbaric collective pre-dawn yawp of Lamu Town's 24000 (according to the official 2006 census) donkeys, the... The, the - the nothing. Writers should know when not to describe something which is... well, ipso facto indescribable! That's right! If you want to do a favor to a place you love, refrain from describing it, viator, if at all possible... at all costs. Describe yourself in that place, rather, if you absolutely must - describe yourself in the landscape, not the landscape in you, like... Ok.
A quick little anecdote on the subject, to illustrate whatever point is being made here: the great Russian stage and film actress, Faina Ranevskaya, back in the fifties, make it sixties (a time period characterized by a somewhat more liberal atmosphere in the USSR), was touring France with the rest of the theatre troupe she belonged to. (And again, it was a really big deal, a huge one, too, in the old Soviet Union - suddenly finding oneself abroad. People just didn't travel beyond the vast Soviet boundaries, just weren't allowed to, back then - weren't even allowed to wonder as to why they weren't allowed to travel abroad, ever -- especially not to the capitalist countries. Maybe one-hundredth, one-thousandth of one percent of the Soviet populace, if that many, ever... etc. If that many, yes. And once there, in a capitalist country, or even a socialist one, one could never be left alone, abandoned entirely to one's own devices: one always, wherever one went, had to be accompanied by the rest of one's group -- which last inevitably included at least one supervisor, or minder, from the KGB... Yeah. Just thought this needed to be mentioned - parenthetically -- for greater atmospheric verisimilitude's like sakes.) So... Where were we?.. Faina Ranevskaya, the great Russian comic, tragicomic stage and film actress. Standing in front of Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum, in Paris. You know. And a young actor from her theatre, a cocky and ambitious young thing, sidled up to her, stepped aside, squinted at Leonardo's masterpiece, cocked his head to one shoulder, and then stated, desiring to impress her: "I don't know about you, Faina Grigoryevna, but I'll be honest with you: for some reason, she" - and he motioned with his chin - "somehow, I don't know, she just doesn't really impress me all that much." To which Ranevskaya replied, glancing at him sideways ironically: "Young man, over the time she's been around, she's managed to impress to the point of distraction so many great and powerful men that she's long since acquired the right to decide as to who she might care to impress, and who - well, not so much."
Or perhaps, as one seems to recall on second thought, this exchange took place in reference to Venus de Milo, in which case it would have to have been the British Museum, obviously, in London, which kind of makes somewhat more sense, too, since there tended to be a bit more in the way of overall cultural exchange's volume between the Soviet Union and the UK, in post-WWII era... than between the Soviet Union and France, right... although one doesn't really have any empirical evidence to back that statement up.
Time to wrap this up, you're right. In the months and years to follow, we intend to keep building on the literary ties established by SLS over the past decade, etc., in North America, Russia, Africa... and elsewhere. We only go to places that mean something non-linear and vital to us, signify something - ineffable, yes, indeed, but also tangible, to put it a bit fancily, to the literary parts of our beings. Some such places currently on our minds, with an eye towards the year 2011 and beyond: Israel, Georgia, Estonia. Suggest some others. Talk to us. The rest remains to be seen. It always does.