Genius loci

[Genius Loci] March 2023

1 March 2023

Dear mediums who commune with the spirits of place,

Each morning, before the sun comes up, I lace up my shoes and go for a long run. This morning was no different: I put in an earbud, clipped a can of pepper spray to my shorts in case Cujo was on the loose again, and I set off into the humid, fog-filled morning.

Like walking, running is usually a creative time for me. I often stop running to thumb notes on my phone or, between gulps of air, I dictate as I run.

But today, after about a mile, I caught my mind wandering onto everything I had lined up this week: meetings, classes, appointments, chores, etc., etc., etc.

My morning run, which usually refreshes me and calms me down, was stressing me out.

My run took me by the Jack Kerouac House, a historical home where the author briefly lived and worked in the 1950s. There is not a lot to see apart from the tin-roofed bungalow and a historical marker out front, which states the following:

Writer Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) lived and wrote in this 1920s tin-roofed house between 1957 and 1958. It was here that Kerouac received instant fame for publication of his bestelling book, On the Road, which brought him acclaim and controversy as the voice of The Beat Generation. The Beasts followed a philosophy of self-reliance and self-expression. The unedited spontaneity of Kerouac’s prose shocked traditional writers, yet it brought attention to a legion of emerging poets, musicians, and artists who lived outside the conventions of post-World War II America. Photographs show Kerouac in the house’s back bedroom, with piles of pocket notebooks in which he scrawled thoughts and dreams while traveling. In April 1958, following completion of his follow-up novel, The Dharma Bums, and a play, the Beat Generation, Kerouac moved to Northport, New York. He died in 1969 at the age of 47. In 1996, author Bob Kealing discovered the house’s significance while researching an article to mark Kerouac’s 75th birthday. In 1998, The Kerouac Project established a retreat here for aspiring writers in tribute to him. In 2013, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I stopped in front of the house and imagined Kerouac sitting on the front patio with a notebook in hand. Did he get distracted, pulled away from his work?

He had demons of a different nature.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve fallen into a constant state of distraction from the work I find to be the most important, like The Hill of the Skull.

I thought 2023 would have slowed down by now.

The goal was to have an autonomic system of work in place, a system whereby fundamental tasks would click along in the background almost silently, freeing up my brain to focus on higher-order work.

That was the goal, at least.

Though, for now, I need to work harder at getting out of my own way.

Are you — like me — also feeling dispirited, fatigued, encumbered, distracted?

Now, onto what you came for:

My work

Last month was quiet. I published an announcement on the Travel Writing World Podcast about The Hill of the Skull. 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.


As this email goes out, the judging panel for the 2023 Stanfords Travel Book of the Year award will soon meet to select a winner. Which book on the shortlist are you rooting for? The shortlist:

One of the books I am looking forward to the most in 2023 is Kapka Kassabova’s new book Elixir, which is now available in the UK. Preorder in the USA, due May 16.

Michael Kerr reports for Deskbound Traveler that Javier Zamora won the Christopher Isherwood Prize for his book Solito. The book was Kerr’s favorite book of 2022. The award honors “exceptional autobiographical work that might encompass fiction, travel writing, memoir or diary” and is part of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.


The Sony World Photography Awards 2023 finalists and shortlists have been announced. Browse the gallery.

Audio & miscellanea

Pico Iyer and Cal Flyn in conversation about their books The Half Known Life and Islands of Abandonment for the Royal Society of Literature.

Sophy Roberts interviewed Colin Thubron and Taran Khan in her new podcast “Gone to Timbuktu.”

Back matter

That’s it for this month.

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