Genius loci

[Genius Loci] February 2023

1 February 2023

Dear mediums who commune with the spirits of place,

As I sit at my desk and revisit my notebooks and photos from the Hill of the Skull, the memories of that strange place rush back to me. They bewitch me into a kind of impassioned trance, a rapture. Florida’s lower altitude ensures a lower resting heart rate, and yet my heart fluters as my notes and photographs transport me back to that dusty mound in the foothills of the Andes.

As you know, I’ve been working on a project about my experiences on the Hill of the Skull in Quillacollo, Bolivia, but the feedback I received from Reader 2 has been so instructive, clarifying, and wholesome that I can finally sense, if not see, where the essay is taking me.

Back in November, I was in a dark place with the work. The essay had some 15,000 words, yet it felt directionless. And I wasn’t happy with the images I had selected and their sequencing. Self-doubt crept in, as did overwhelm, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull something off that was coherent, interesting, and tight. I’m still not sure that I can pull it off, but I’m feeling more confident about it today than I was last autumn, even if Reader 2’s implicit directive was to “keep working.”

All writers should have a reader like Reader 2; someone who “gets it,” someone who takes her work seriously, someone who somehow lifts you up even when pointing out you’re wrong. Readers like Reader 2 are not mere editors. They’re collaborators; they have a hand in shaping a piece of writing. They’re prosecutors cross-examining your words. They’re members of a secret, literary cabal they don’t know exists… or do they?

This is a long way to say that, despite being back on campus and feeling strangulated by the demands on my time, I am also feeling reinvigorated and confident to launch the crowdfunding campaign of the book this coming May.

If you find yourself struggling with your creative practice, come join me in my Discord server. It is a place I wish I had long ago — a place for motivation, support, and feedback.

Not much else to report other than I’ve been reading through the Edward Stanford Travel Book of the Year shortlist. There can only be one winner, unfortunately, and the judging panel meets in early March to make the difficult decision.

Now, onto what you came for:

My work

If you are interested in backing my book The Hill of the Skull, sign up to my Kickstarter pre-launch page or the book’s self-destructing email list. There is no obligation to buy, and I will only email you about the book’s launch. After the campaign, I will delete that email list.

In January, I interviewed Pico Iyer about his new book The Half Known Life on the Travel Writing World podcast. I also interviewed J.F. Penn about her own Kickstarted book Pilgrimage.

Did you know that I started a new newsletter? This one is called Drifting, and is more about walking, place, discovery, and literature/photography. It is a bit experimental, and cloud-headed, and it goes out on the 15th of each month. Subscribe here.


We lost Jonathan Raban on 17 January 2023. Read more about his work and life in The New York Times, in The Guardian, in The Spectator, and on the Seattle radio station KUOW. In 1990, Raban moved to Seattle, where he passed away. What are your favorite Raban books?

The shortlist for the Richard Jefferies Award for the best nature book published in 2022 has been announced. I may need to increase my book-buying budget for 2023.

The Footpath to Yourself: Robert Macfarlane on landscape as a lens on inner life.

Why Black writers are erased from environmental literature.


I stumbled upon this little book called Les Jardins de Riesthal by Anne Immelé. She was on a podcast discussing her work. Like many artists, she pins her work in theory, but it may interest the art nerds out there.

Those working photographic narrative projects might find the book Creating Visual Narratives Through Photography (Routledge 2022) by Mike Davis interesting and useful.

Look at some of these beautiful travel photographs on the Travel Photographer of the Year website.

Scenes of reaction across the country to the release of the Tyre Nichols video by Memphis police. Tyre’s murder brings to mind KRS-One’s 1993 song, “Sound of da Police” (YouTube & NSFW).

Audio & miscellanea

Stop what you’re doing and listen to the Wade Davis interview on the Tim Ferriss Show podcast.

Sophy Roberts has started a new podcast called Gone to Timbuktu which I highly recommend that you check out. Season 1 has just begun.

Have you seen this obsessively detailed map of American literature’s most epic road trips?

Back matter

That’s it for this month.

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