Mark Chesnut is well known in the travel media industry for his bylines in many trade and consumer publications and his blog on Latin American travel. LatinFlyer.com.
But recently Chesnut published a new paper that takes a completely different tack. It focuses on his lifelong relationship with his late mother, Eunice Chesnut.
in the “Preparing for Departure: Notes on a Single Mother, an Misfit Son, Inevitable Mortality, and the Enduring Allure of Frequent Flyer Miles” (Vine Leaves Press, 2022) Chesnut delves into childhood and adult memories, most of which relate to his mother. In a Q&A with Forbes, Chesnut opened up about his memoir and how his mother shaped his direction in life.
Forbes: While many members of the travel industry know you for your travel media career, it’s surprising to find that your memoir focuses on your relationship with your mother throughout childhood and adulthood. Why did you choose this direction?
Chesnut: That’s right – people who know me as a travel writer might be surprised that this book goes deeper than travel. It is truly a story about a mother and son and the emotional journeys families sometimes have to take together. When my mother fell ill and it became clear that she would not be around much longer, I felt compelled to write about our experiences. It was a kind of therapy for me, a kind of coping.
Documenting our life together – from my childhood to the last months of her life – provided a platform to explore many issues including parent-child relationships; how misfit children can find their identity and self-worth; how to follow your own passion in life; how family relationships develop after a child comes out as LGBTQ; and how adult children deal with illness and the loss of their parents. It was encouraging to hear how people can relate to different aspects of the book. After all, many of these themes are universal.
Travel is still a big part of the book, of course. It has always been my personal passion and the book shows the transformative power of travel and how it can mean different things to different people. I even explain how I became a travel writer, albeit in a more humorous way that aims to both entertain and inform. But overall, this book isn’t really travel essays or travelogues; it’s about the broader, deeper journeys we sometimes need to take, whether alone or with our families.
Why prompted you to write a memoir?
It really was an emotional and psychological necessity for me, even though I didn’t even plan to write a book. My mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and her health deteriorated. She moved from upstate New York to a nursing home near my apartment in New York City. It was a very stressful and emotional time for both of us. As a writer, I guess it came naturally that one of my main coping mechanisms was to write about what was happening. But I didn’t know at first that it would become a memoir or a whole book – it gradually happened.
I wrote down all the difficult challenges my mother and I faced and this helped me to deal with them. But then I started thinking and writing about the whole story of our life together – the funny, weird and challenging moments. Memories I didn’t want to lose. I started writing about childhood memories – crazy stuff like playing flight attendant on abandoned school buses when I was fourteen, coming out as a teenager, how my mother dealt with my marriage and many other topics.
After I started taking memoir writing classes and submitting some of my essays to literary journals, I realized that I had enough material for a book and that what I was writing about was resonating with other people. “Prepare for Departure” is really about more than just my mother and me. It’s about universal emotions like love for family, longing for acceptance, and pursuing your passions to build the life you truly want. It’s nice to share something so personal and help give a voice to other people’s experiences.
How did you decide which stories to tell about her in your book?
“Prepare for Departure” is essentially a collection of essays that jump back and forth in time; The so-called “present” is when my mom is in the nursing home in New York City and we deal with issues like illness, constant paperwork, and impending death—but we still find some fun and dark humor in it that helps us get through it . Humor brings such relief in difficult situations. What use are terrible times if at some point you can no longer laugh about them?
The book’s many flashbacks span from the time I was four years old to my marriage. In these chapters, my aim has been to write about specific experiences that were either significant in their impact on our family relationships and our own personal development, or that say something about society as a whole. In many cases, however, I’ve written about situations simply because I found them funny or odd enough to be worth telling. Being weird can be a lot more interesting than trying to be normal.
What would your mother have thought of your memoirs?
She loved speaking and writing publicly and sharing with people, so I think it would tickle her in a way if people read about some of our experiences together. She was really popular in the town where she lived for 60 years – Brockport, New York – and I think she would be really touched to know that these people are still thinking of her and wanting to read about her, and too these new people are introduced to her and get to see how interesting, funny and smart she was.
In a way, I think she would be a little embarrassed to reveal some of the more personal aspects of our lives. But I’ve tried to portray both of us realistically, as imperfect humans who have evolved over time.
You often traveled to and from Kentucky with your mother to see your family. How did these experiences shape you?
Travel was an integral part of our family structure. I grew up in the town of Brockport in western New York near Rochester, but all of my extended family lived in Kentucky, and my mom always made time and money available so that we could fly or drive to the bluegrass state at least three times a year , for the first 17 years of my life. These trips were so important to me. You have helped strengthen my sense of family and I appreciate that my mother understood the importance of that.
In addition, the trips also provided a much-needed escape from life in my own hometown, where I was an outsider. I couldn’t play sports. I went weird, at least according to some kids. And since I didn’t grow up with siblings of the same age, I had better relationships with adults than with children. I think feeling like an outsider is one of the reasons I became obsessed with travel. It represented so many things to me: the warmth and acceptance of a family, the relief of getting away from it all, the glamor of boarding a plane, and the excitement of speeding down a freeway. No wonder I became a travel writer!
Her memoirs contain chapters on advice topics related to travel and various social situations. Why did you decide to split the format of the book?
These little advice sections, which I call “Eunice’s Tips,” are meant to be helpful but entertaining tips on travel, etiquette and life that I’ve learned from my mother over the years. I made these standalone sections because they were written more in her voice than mine—especially when she was yelling at me for mispronouncing the French-sounding names of some Kentucky cities.
Where does the title of the book come from?
The title came to me pretty early in the writing process. I needed a clever phrase that served as an ambiguity. “Prepare for departure,” the flight attendants naturally say as they get the cabin ready for takeoff, so it evokes travel, excitement, escape, and the thrill of getting away from it all, which is a constant theme throughout the book. But “departure” also refers to death, which we all must prepare for at some point.
Since the prospect of my mother’s death was the initial impetus for writing this book, the editors and I felt the title worked well to reflect this aspect of the story – the inevitable mortality – as well as the travel-related themes of the book. “Prepare for Departure” explores the roots of wanderlust and also shows the emotional journeys that life sometimes sends us on.
Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat
Most of this is true, but that’s not the only local reality where things get pretty ugly, too. Unless this reality is recognized and seriously addressed, Da Lat will lose its charm and become a shadow of itself.
Here’s an unflattering picture of the other side.
When walking or running on a sidewalk around Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat in the early morning, at a certain point you can no longer stay on the sidewalk. One is forced to walk or run into the street as there can be up to ten street kitchens completely blocking sidewalk access. Going out on a street at night can be a bit dangerous as there are quite a number of drunk drivers on the road at night, some driving at speeds well in excess of 120km/h.
These street vendors sell food and drink in plastic bowls and cups. Plastic waste is scattered about a hundred meters in front of and behind their stands. Food and drink thrown away or spilled on sidewalks and streets is a common sight.
Because food safety isn’t monitored regularly, or because people might be very drunk, it’s also not uncommon to see vomit on sidewalks. Open stool and urination is a regular occurrence in the early hours of the morning.
There are many signs along the lake advising that making fires is forbidden, but the street vendors completely ignore them. Many tourists from warmer parts of Vietnam easily come to Da Lat in shorts and T-shirts, despite the colder weather. Street vendors want these visitors to stay warm so they stay longer and buy more food and drink. Sidewalks are often blackened with ash from these staying-warm fires.
When I was photographing these fires, a street vendor threatened to stab me with scissors several times. Some vendors started throwing rocks. A man tried to grab my walking stick and the cell phone I use to take pictures. I reported these incidents to the police but they took no action.
These charcoal fires release many deadly toxins such as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and benzene. When street vendors run out of charcoal, some start burning plastic waste. Burning plastic waste releases dioxins and other highly toxic substances. A piece of dioxin the size of a grain of rice is enough to poison a million people.
To keep their customers happy, some street vendors sell beer and other alcoholic beverages. Some install large speakers so their customers can sing and make lots of noise when they get totally drunk. Not infrequently, the karaoke singing continues until 4 a.m. and can be heard up to two miles away. Although the law prohibits singing karaoke after 10:30 p.m., this law is not enforced around Xuan Huong Lake. Once I heard karaoke singing in three different places around the lake, all blaring at the same time.
Almost everything I have described so far represents laws that are constantly being broken. But why don’t street vendors and their customers obey the law when it’s clearly stated on signs in the area?
The answer is simple.
Laws are not enforced. I have more than 12,000 pictures on my files of breaking the law in this city that gets dirty and ugly quite often, but I didn’t see a fine being issued when I called the police to intervene — not once.
A policeman explained it to me in a somewhat pompous way. If the police consistently enforce laws, it would infuriate many people, and with many angry people out and about, the country’s stability would be undermined and civil unrest could ensue.
The same officer went on to explain that if the police strictly enforce the law, things could get out of hand very quickly. People could become violent, and if the police hit back to defend themselves, controversy would ensue.
With a huge police force and militia, Vietnam has everything it needs to counter the violence and maintain political stability. So what’s the problem?
For many years, the police in Division 8 themselves have blatantly flouted the laws about dumping trash, throwing cigarette butts on the ground, and burning garbage. They even ran a fire pit on police property.
How can the police enforce laws when they themselves break them all the time?
On October 31, I informed a senior police officer in Da Lat that I have over 12,000 pictures of people breaking laws – laws related to setting fires on sidewalks, burning trash, dumping trash, dumping of waste and fishing in the filthy waters of Da Lat Xuan Huong Lake and its stinking lagoons, singing karaoke until 4 a.m., binge drinking, drunk driving, high speed motorcycle racing and so on.
I was surprised when he explained that I should not photograph people breaking the law unless their lawlessness directly impacted my safety and well-being.
Surely it is every citizen’s duty to record violations of the law and report them to law enforcement?
Even when someone threatened me with violence, he advised me not to take photos and to report the person to the police unless I had stab wounds or other injuries.
I was stunned.
I think the government needs to be much more serious about enforcing its most basic safety and environmental laws. If it doesn’t, it won’t be able to tackle far bigger things like the impact of global warming, carbon neutrality and sustainable development.
Photos by Paul A. Olivier of public waste in Da Lat:
*Paul A. Olivier is an American expat living and working in Da Lat.
How two Hyderabadi 3D artists are popularizing city’s flyovers, roads, buildings at global level
Hyderabad: For most of us, photography means clicking photos of a beautiful sunset, landscape or people. But Laxman Pithani and Nikhil Chakravarthy from Hyderabad are crazy about new buildings, roads, highways, flyovers and other infrastructure projects in the city.
“When you’re driving on a newly constructed freeway, with not many vehicles and hardly anyone to stop you or ask you anything, you have a kind of absolute freedom. We both enjoy it,” says Nikhil.
Laxman and Nikhil jointly run a Twitter and YouTube page, Traveling with Laxman, where they post videos and photos of newly constructed or inaugurated flyovers, roads and buildings. They have released drone footage of the Uppal SkyWalk project, the renovated Yadagirigutta Temple, Gandipet Park, the Biodiversity Flyover and more.
Laxman (left) and Nikhil (right) at the recently inaugurated Shilpa layout transition
Her most recent work was the transition of the Shilpa layout. When the city witnessed their first Formula E racing event, they were there to capture the track on which the race took place. On their Twitter Page Travel with Laxman, they have around 2,806 followers and on their youtube Page they have around 57,000 subscribers.
Transition of the Shilpa layout
It’s not about the end product. But Laxman and Nikhil began pursuing infrastructure projects in the city from the start. “If there are upcoming projects, we consult the person concerned and get detailed information about it. We shoot it from start to finish,” says Laxman.
In this way, it helps the audience to keep up to date with the progress of these projects.
When Laxman met Nikhil
Laxman is originally from Hyderabad but Nikhil is from Tenali in Andhra Pradesh. He moved to Hyderabad in 2002. Both met in 2007 in an animation institute `Arena; where they served as 3D training faculty. Here they taught the students how to use animation techniques in films and character forms. They later moved on to teach interior design at the same institute. In 2015 they both joined Custom Furnish, a company specializing in interior design, where they worked as 3D artists. In 2019, Nikhil left and Laxman continued for another year and a half before retiring in 2021.
Durgam Cheruvu Bridge
Ever since they met, they have discovered their shared passion for travel. Your definition of travel sounds very unique and interesting. “We both love to explore unknown roads. I can drive straight for 10 hours without thinking about the destination. We used to always discover new roads, overpasses, buildings, etc. on such trips, which fascinated us a lot. Each specific destination where nobody bothered us gave us a different kind of freedom,” explains Nikhil.
Until December 2021, Laxman and Nikhil were doing this as a part-time job. But in December 2021 both resigned and started doing so full-time.
Her work is now also being recognized by the Telangana government, which is asking for her help in getting photos of some of the infrastructure projects in the city.
Command and Control Center, Banjara Hills
Development in Hyderabad
Both Laxman and Nikhil say the pace of development in Hyderabad has been very fast compared to other cities. “I was born here, so I’m really excited to see the city developing at this pace,” says Laxman. Nikhil adds: “Something happens every week that it just can’t keep up with this speed. For example, the other day when the Shilpa layout flyover was inaugurated, on the same day Skyroot Aerospace’s private rocket was launched from Sriharikota.”
transfer of biodiversity
In addition to updating townspeople on the development, Travel with Laxman now allows many expatriate Hyderabadis to regain their lost connection with the city. “We have people calling from places like the United States and telling us they’re excited about how their city is doing,” says Laxman.
Renovated Yadadrigutta Temple
The duo are happy to be able to fill this gap faced by Hyderabadis living elsewhere.
Wedding of the week: Lovebirds elope on a Balinese beach following three months of top secret planning
Jamie Hart, 36, and Daniel Sutton, 44
Western Australian senior graphic designer Jamie and welder Daniel always knew their wedding should be small and intimate, but they also wanted an element of surprise.
The couple, who met online in March 2021, had planned a trip to Indonesia and made the spur of the moment decision to elope because why not? They were too excited to wait a year to tie the knot, so they turned their engagement party into a secret wedding celebration.
After legally signing the papers at The Old Tower House in Perth a week earlier, Jamie and Daniel said ‘yes, I do’ in Bali, with Daniel honorably taking Jamie’s maiden name, Hart.
When and where
The big day took place on October 22, 2022 on the white sandy beaches of the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa.
Jamie’s dress of choice, Morilee, was by New York bridal designer Madeline Gardner.
There was no need to travel to their honeymoon destination as the newlyweds were already there! They celebrated in Nusa Dua, Ubud, Seminyak and Canggu.
If you would like to be featured, send your wedding details and high resolution photos to [email protected]
Add details about when, where, dress information, honeymoon and anything that made your big day special!
- Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat
- How two Hyderabadi 3D artists are popularizing city’s flyovers, roads, buildings at global level
- Wedding of the week: Lovebirds elope on a Balinese beach following three months of top secret planning
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