Monday, February 11, 2008

by LuAnn Womach

I grew up in Nebraska with parents who were teachers. Every summer, we would travel to a different state for - what I called - an educational vacation. Sure, there was time to swim in the ocean or take in a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game (for some reason, our destination mirrored the Cards road schedule), but the primary goal was to sightsee and learn. Even though I loved school, I'm fairly certain I didn't appreciate these learning opportunities at the time.

My parents were also "big" on visiting Nebraska landmarks. Day trips to Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney or a smaller off-the-beaten-path hamlet were an added bonus of fun each summer. The out-of-the-way museums and art galleries interested me, and I paid close attention at these. Why? They were full of local color and I could imagine the stories behind these sites. The people intrigued me, even though in many aspects, they were just like me: a native Nebraskan who enjoyed life here.

When I first started my writing career, someone asked me about the all the glamourous travel I'd be able to participate in as a writer. That thought had never really crossed my mind. I really didn't think of myself as a travel writer venturing to exotic locales for whirlwhind PR trips. Sure, I enjoy jetsetting (ok, honestly, I just like riding in an airplane), but I'm a small city/country gal at heart. For a recent story, I interviewed a turkey farmer and shot pics inside the brooding house. Yup, that's quite the glamourous life!

This is why writing about my own backyard - the State of Nebraska - is such an easy topic. I understand the issues - environmental, agricultural, political, social, athletic - and they are important to me. I've traveled extensively within the state's boundaries. I understand the work ethic and the expectations.

By looking deeper at the issues that are important in the small world surrounding me, my writing possesses a deeper sense of place. And it shows!

When I taught journalism at a local high school, my students and I discussed how every person has a story, and as journalists, it is our responsibility to find the unique spin of those stories and share them by creating a universal theme readers can identify with. By wandering through the backyard and observing everyday life, these stories present themselves.

Sure, it would be great if I could travel to the Bahamas for a week and write about the cruise ship, the ports, and the food, but would I be completely satisfied? Sometimes, as writers, we fall into the trap of thinking that our vantage point isn't worldly simply because of where we reside.

But the lessons I learn and write about from my region stick with me the most because I have a vested interest in the people and the place.

Regional travel = richer life.


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