Postcards & Pearls: The Joy of the Journey
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Gina Greenlee, Costa del Sol, Spain, 2000
Ten years ago when I began the journey of writing Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on Road I was at the beginning of my development as a book author. It took eight years – from inspiration to publication – to bring Postcards and Pearls into the world. Like the travel anecdotes in the book itself, my sojourn from neophyte to prolific author has been filled with twists, turns, peaks, dips, challenges, epiphanies and rewards. Revisit with me highlights from that journey through an (excerpted) online interview with Amy Robertson from Women On Writing (WOW):
WOW: Gina, I loved reading all those inspiring postcards from women. What inspired you to do this book?
Gina: In 2000, I took a solo trip around the world and wrote about it for a newspaper’s website in a weekly column called Journey with Gina. During those six months, women from across the United States emailed me, not to ask about my geographic journey, but my existential one. Specifically, they wanted to know, “How do you find the courage to travel on your own? How do you keep from getting lonely? Don’t you feel self-conscious eating out alone?” After the first 30 emails like these I thought, “There’s a book here.” The moment I had that epiphany, I knew that Postcards and Pearls was not, at its core, a travel book. Rather, I would use solo travel — the context from which the epiphany sprang — as a metaphor for how women could cultivate, nurture, and delight in being in a relationship with themselves.
WOW: I think that being in a good relationship with yourself is so important for anyone. So, then, how did you find the women who wrote the passages? Can you describe the process for gathering all this information?
Gina: When I first conceived of Postcards and Pearls, the plan was to use stories only from my travels. However, over the years, as I began to talk to women about the book’s core theme, it became clear that if I only used my stories then my message would not be as universal as intended. I wanted the broadest spectrum of women readers possible to see themselves in these experiences and feel that the lessons born from them had relevance to their lives.
So, I put out a call for stories to various networks I belonged to, including writers groups, in the form of a six-question, open-ended survey. The answers to the questions organically told each woman’s travel story. I included stories that met these criteria:
Each had to contain a believable, relatable lesson.
The lesson had to be one that could apply off the road because the “pearls” are not solely travel lessons but also life lessons.
The story had to show how the traveler stretched beyond her comfort zone.
Also, I wanted to include as much variety as possible — in geography, the life experiences of the women, and the type of solo journeys taken.
Finally, I wanted the book to be entertaining, so I also chose stories that were just plain fun.
WOW: Well, I definitely think you selected a great variety of stories. Were there any challenges in collecting your material? How did you overcome it?
Gina: No, not in gathering the material. Because I had documented my six-month trip around the world in an online newspaper column, those travel details were nicely preserved. Also, stories from my other trips were easy to gather because I’ve always kept travel journals. My best experience with getting stories quickly and easily from other women was with an email blast on listserves.
One challenge I did have, though: I dreaded writing the pearls. I knew they had to be strong because they anchor each story. I also knew they had to be short and pithy. I recalled my days of high school English class and thought, Oh my God, this is going to be like writing 118 haikus. As it turned out, writing the pearls was far easier and more enjoyable than I had imagined. That’s because I allowed them to come through me from a place unconcerned with logic or intellect. I would read each postcard silently, close my eyes and ask, “What is this story really about?” Almost immediately, a word or phrase would reveal itself — the essence of what each traveler learned and brought back home. Then I’d wordplay that essence, shape and refine it until I hit upon the lyrical quality I was seeking.
WOW: How did you compile and organize all the letters after you received them? Was there any specific plan involved behind the organization?
Gina: The book’s structure was another challenge. I was always clear that I wanted Postcards and Pearls to have a daybook format, where each entry was self-contained and stood on its own. I envisioned women reading only one or two postcards at a time, and not in any particular order but skipping around as the spirit moved them. So each entry had to have its own beginning, middle, and end. At the same time, I also knew that if women chose to read the book from page one through the end, the entire book had to work as a singular narrative, and the stories as a collective had to have a narrative arc. I struggled with that. Should I organize the singular narrative thematically? Geographically? Based on the details of my personal history, some of which comes through in my stories? How do I tell 118 mini stories within a larger story and still have all the pieces fit together and flow for the reader?
Because my stories come from travels over a 20-year period, my editor made a great suggestion for me to organize the book into thirds: travels before my world tour, during the tour, and post-tour. It made sense chronologically and that became the foundation for my thought process and the book’s organization. Within that core structure, I wove in the stories from the other women as well as grouped stories thematically.
WOW: It all makes sense now! I completely see that looking back at it. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Gina: After reading Postcards and Pearls I want women to believe they can do something they’ve always dreamed about, that they have what it takes to live their best lives, however they define that.
WOW: I think that message in the book is very clear and that readers will see that after reading it. Let’s backtrack a bit. In one of your postcards you said before you took your trip around the world you made a pact with yourself. Can you explain “The Pact” more? How did this plan really take off in your life?
Gina: The “London Life Expansion Pact” was my written commitment to myself to live more authentically, and my most direct, conscious effort to apply in earnest the laws of attraction.
Until I made that pact with myself in 1998, (I was in London when the epiphany came) I had always come home from vacation depressed. I would have this great time in some fabulous locale only to return to a job that sucked me dry doing work I didn’t believe in, even though it paid well. At almost 40 years old, I felt I’d had enough of that. I asked myself, “If I could create these wonderful vacations for myself, why couldn’t I use the same resources — imagination, commitment, planning, intuition, and money — to create the life I really wanted?” It was a real shift in perspective for me. My challenge was that I didn’t exactly know how to do it. But I believed that by putting the commitment out into the world boldly, in writing, and then keeping that commitment foremost in my mind by literally reading it aloud every day, twice a day to myself, that I would attract the people, information, and other resources that would lead me to a more authentic life.
The next year, a newspaper hired me as its director of strategic planning (after 13 years in a health care career) and that inside track led to freelance writing gigs with the paper while drawing a full-time salary. That was the same year I decided to travel around the world. Because I already had a writing relationship with the paper, it seemed natural to pitch the Journey with Gina column to them, which I did. And so, one short year after creating my Pact, I had significantly changed my life as I had dreamed.
WOW: That is so amazing. I really applaud you for being able to accomplish your dream. That’s something I admire and hope to have in my life. On a related note, how did you get the courage to quit your job and start freelancing? Describe your experiences with this huge life transition.
Gina: I find courage to be a skill that, to be useful like any other, must be practiced. I constantly look for opportunities to expand my comfort zone, to put myself in situations that push me to access resources I didn’t know I had. If I’m consistently doing that in smaller ways, then I’m better prepared to take on bigger risks when those opportunities present themselves.
I have wanted to be a professional writer since age five, the year I learned to read. I was almost forty years old before I acted on that dream. That was because it took that long for me to be more uncomfortable with living an inauthentic life than taking a crack at my dream. As scary as it was to go for the dream (Am I a good enough writer? Can I make money at it? Can I regroup if it doesn’t work?), not going for it and approaching middle age was even scarier. I didn’t want to look back on my life and regret not having tried.
I believed that after my world trip, had I arranged to return to my full-time job or sought other traditional employment, that choice would cause me to relax into a comfortable, familiar way of life. I believed I had to remove the security blanket of a full-time job and salary to be sufficiently uncomfortable to leap into freelance writing. I had already quit my job and had replaced it with a paid, six-month writing gig. I had momentum and I chose to run with it.
WOW: That was so bold of you! I’m so happy for you that you had that realization and took that leap. My last question is what was your favorite postcard from this book and why?
Gina: It is the postcard titled, “Right Now” (page 62 in the print version) about an experience I had in Nepal one New Year’s Eve. I love this postcard for many reasons. The experience was truly hilarious and the feedback I’ve received is that it reads precisely that way. I never get tired of reliving the punchline moment, which cracks me up every time. Also, that encounter epitomizes a solo travel dynamic of starting the evening out on your own, but winding up having an unexpected adventure because of the very fact you are solo; friendly strangers gravitate toward you because your energy is directed out into the world versus focused on the people you would be traveling with were you not solo.
WOW: Thanks so much, Gina! I have loved learning more about you and your inspiring book, Postcards and Pearls.