Meet the Contributors: Bonnie Stewart

Bonnie Stewart is an educator, writer, and social media researcher with a penchant for jellybeans. on her blog, crib chronicles, and in her academic work, Bonnie writes about not looking away. Mother to oscar and Posey, and to the memory of Finn, Bonnie has lived on all three coasts of Canada and in Asia and Europe. She has, however, achieved the Nirvana of her people and come home to the red mud of Prince Edward Island without having to work in the Anne of Green Gables industry. Her roots in the tightly networked habitat of PEI inform her doctoral studies in social media communities, connections, and branded identity. Her work won the 2011 Island Literary Award for Creative Non-fiction and has appeared in CBConline and Her life’s goal is to be on Celebrity Jeopardy.

When did you first know you were a traveler?

I “knew” I was a traveler long before I traveled, though of course I didn’t end up being quite the kind of traveler I thought I’d be. Before I’d been anywhere, I thought of travel as exotic immersion; I spent a great deal of my adolescence fascinated by the idea of Elsewhere, of Anywhere but Here. Yet when I finally gathered the resources to unhinge myself from the provincial mundanity of the known, I was surprised - and somewhat dismayed - to find that everywhere has its provincialism. The secret, wherever you are, is to stop looking at the world through its lens. I think I became a traveler in the best sense of the word when I began to look at the world - all of it, even the familiar bits - with curiosity and empathy and the expectation of stories.

What’s one place that has moved you or changed you in a significant way?

It's all too easy to live your life as if the life your know is the only life possible, because it's what you see, day in and day out. Travel shifts that perspective.

The Canadian Arctic. It was the first place in which I ever felt truly other, and in which I came face to face with the legacies of colonialism and cultural history that permeate travel. I stayed a long time, and it taught me a lot about humility and relativism and my own privilege, and the folly of ever believing you fully understand what it is to be in another’s skin. The expanse of space there, the vulnerability of realizing that if you were to walk out into it you could go a thousand miles before ever meeting another human, is breathtaking. The North taught me that we are all different, and all inter-reliant, at the same time.

In what ways does writing inform your relationship with travel? Do you keep a journal? Conduct interviews? Write on location?

Over the last few years, especially since I began blogging, my journal-writing has dwindled. I still have a big, black-bound artist’s sketchbook: the writing inside is still all-caps print, the aesthetic signature I developed for myself back in the days when I still considered my handwriting a part of my identity. But the current sketchbook - number thirteen or so in a long lineage - only sees the light of day these days when I travel. Especially alone. I love to travel alone, to play flaneur in an unfamiliar city. But writing is what keeps traveling alone from being lonely, for me. My journal is my companion when I’m stuck in an airport, or want to take up a table by myself in a pub without looking like I’ve been stood up. Writing is conversational: it allows me to dig in and reflect on what I’ve been seeing and how that changes what I’ve seen before.

What’s on your list of future destinations?

There are still a few city names that ring mythic to me. Kathmandu, and Jerusalem, and - though closer to home, still bound in so much symbolism - New orleans. I’d also like to spend some time in Sicily: the architectural and historical amalgam of Greek and Roman and Byzantine and Moorish and Norman influences makes me drool.

In your opinion, what is the greatest reward of traveling?

Perspective. It’s all too easy to live your life as if the life your know is the only life possible, because it’s what you see, day in and day out. Travel shifts that perspective. Sometimes, it serves to remind you how grateful you are for your daily grind. Sometimes, it busts open your comfortable assumptions and changes the way you see other people and their practices, forever. Sometimes, it teaches you to change your own practices, because - reflected in the eyes of others you encounter - they don’t appear quite so innocuous as you thought. Travel’s greatest reward, for me, is that I come home different, altered, a little more able to see.

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This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek. To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.” –Terry Tempest Williams