In April 1985, I was sent to Tokyo to work for Hewlett-Packard Japan. I left 18 months later, having seen a volcano and a sacred dance, danced around a tree with a Shinto priest, and ridden a bicycle alone through city streets at midnight. I’d learned a lot of Japanese, though I kept confusing densha with denwa and asking what time the phone for Kichijoji would arrive. I also gave English lessons for my colleagues (“No, not ‘super salad,’ it’s ‘soup OR salad’”). Best of all, I made friends, whom I began to miss before my plane left Narita. My book Too Late for the Festival (Academy Chicago, 1999) was my way of saying, “You’re subarashii [wonderful]. Domo arigato gozaimashita. Thank you very much.”
I was published for the first time in The House on Via Gombito: Writing by North American Women Abroad (1997) by the estimable New Rivers Press. My essay “Ramont Hall” begins on a rain-soaked day in June 1973, when, aged 25 and traveling around Britain for the first time, I met a dashing young red-haired Englishman in a café in London. Later, having accepted his invitation to “visit my family if you get as far north as Yorkshire,” I took “A Walk on Hadrian’s Wall” with his school-mistress mother, who told me educational things about the Romans while we both got drenched in (you guessed it) more rain. Sheep were also involved.
Encouraged by the success of The House on Via Gombito, New Rivers Press published a second anthology of women’s travel writing, An Inn Near Kyoto, in 1998. My five essays about Japan include “All Shook Up” (welcome to Tokyo, here’s an earthquake for you!) and “Burt’s Final Fling,” in which a farewell party is interrupted by the tail-swishing entrance of a giant Australian frilled lizard. Being published by New Rivers Press was a boon, and I remember their editor, the late C.W. Truesdale, with gratitude.
Seal Press is another of America’s brilliant small publishing houses. For their anthology Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad (2002), I wrote about studying for an M.A. in Victorian Literature in late-1970s Liverpool. Did I get my degree despite being a history major who’d never read Hardy, Eliot, or Meredith? Did I succeed in persuading an intellectual trio of English-rose graduate students to become my friends? And if so, was this because or in spite of the way I kept bounding up to them at odd moments and shouting, “Hey guys! Wanna go get some pizza?” Answers in “The Liverpool School of Dream and Pun.”
In 2003, nine writers in Healdsburg, California participated in a workshop that sent us all over the Sonoma County wine country town to observe and write about places of interest. While the other writers got great material at the Plaza, the animal shelter, the cemetery, and Ramos Shoe Repair, I spent the day with the Healdsburg police (an odd choice for an ex-hippie?), and came away thoroughly impressed by our local force. My essay for A Day in the Life of Healdsburg is called “On the Beat.”