Poets Terri Muuss and Matt Pasca are each writer, performer, teacher, writing workshop leader, reading series curator, and more—also, they are husband and wife, and parents. They will be leading workshops at the Cagibi Fall 2018 Hudson Valley Writing Retreat. More about their latest books follows this interview.
Cagibi: Hilaire Belloc, the early twentieth century Anglo-French writer and historian, wrote, “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
Terri Muuss: I don’t think it’s as much a matter of “fulfillment” as it is a search for a deeper sense of self—a measure of evolution.
Matt Pasca: I agree. For us as a family and as individuals, travel represents an opportunity to push beyond comfortable ways of perceiving and experiencing the world around and inside of us.
Muuss: If “fulfillment” is, in fact, an inherent aspect of travel, it certainly isn’t borne of ease or lack of conflict. That is why post-travel, there lingers a deep sense of what has been learned—one could call that fulfillment I suppose. But while you are in it, if travel is done right, the experience is about growth and growth is rarely comfortable, easy or immediately fulfilling.
Pasca: This is especially true living, as we do, in the United States of America, a country so powerful, self-centered and self-congratulatory that looking outward to the way the other 7 billion people on this planet live is a rarefied commodity, but one we value greatly as a couple and which we are determined to impart to our children.
Cagibi: Name some of your favorite distractions when you travel somewhere.
Muuss: For me, it’s conversations with people I never thought I would meet, pausing to eat street food on our way to somewhere else, getting momentarily lost down a series of foreign alleyways, and just generally pushing the envelope in terms of what I thought possible. Certainly some comforts are important in travel, but most of the best “distractions” aren’t planned or inherently comfortable.
Pasca: As a meticulous and passionate trip planner, the best “distractions” for me are all the things I didn’t and couldn’t have planned for—the sassy, flamboyant pillowcase salesman in Marrakech, the kindred spirit we were blessed to have as a guide at Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala, how much we were moved by the silence in the Sahara Desert. An itinerary is a skeleton—what “distracts” you is the muscle, blood and tissue of travel, the part that pulls you from what you have unconsciously clung to like a summer vine.
Muuss: I think the best distractions are the ones that dislodge you from ego and self and drop you into extended moments of hyper presence—a now that can only happen when you step out of the carefully constructed world of your daily grind.
Cagibi: A cagibi, loosely interpreted, is a space such as a cubbyhole, or a space where you store things. Or the workspace in which authors write. For ourselves we’ve translated it as “any shelter, no matter how tiny, that allows for big imaginings to take shape.” Pick what kind of cagibi would be best suited for your creative process: a) a super organized cubbyhole b) a super messy tool shed c) any restricted space d) a space as vast as the universe.
Pasca: Oddly enough, the cagibi that best suits me is in a car, on a train, a bus or an airplane, thousands of feet above the earth. Travel time isn’t wasted time for me. The trip to a distant destination presents an opportunity for me to physically and metaphorically pull away from my grounding and roots, so that I can recalibrate, reimagine and reorganize my spirit, take its temperature and rhythm to see what restoration is required. Above the planet, or scanning scenery blurring past a train window, priorities fall into place and tasks shrink in importance and difficulty. On the trip home, this feeling is only enriched by all I have added to the hard drive of my knowledge and perception.
Muuss: As in sync as Matt and I are about most everything, as writers we approach process very differently. I think and marinate on ideas and concepts and possible pieces for long stretches of time. My best space (cagiibi) is in my head, while walking or running. There, ideas flesh themselves out, edit and filter themselves through what I call a moving meditation, only to be written down later when they are more concrete. Matt discovers what he’s thinking through his fingers, either with a pen or a keyboard; I only write down what I’ve already been ruminating on for months.
Cagibi: How does traveling to a new place influence your writing? In what ways do you incorporate travel experiences into your writing?
Muuss: For one thing, you discover a whole new lexicon when you enter a new place—words for flora and fauna, food, for please and thank you, the sounds of a complex and unfamiliar tongue. Secondly, differences in culture and language provide richer options for metaphor and a deeper understanding of others’ perspectives that is integral to good writing. I will also say that I don’t think I’m always conscious of how travel changes my work, but I know that it does. Experiences I have away from home seep in over time and inexorably affect what I produce creatively.
Pasca: Yes, my relationship to writing about travel is far more direct and immediate. As a writer, I am always hungry for new stimuli to translate to the page. All five senses become filtered through a lens of whatever place I am in and are fundamentally unique, though the similarities that shine through become equally fascinating to me. If art is a compassion gym, a way of strengthening our muscles—as both artists and audience members—to see through another’s eyes, then travel is like a compassion marathon of sorts. For me, travel isn’t just a platform for instant self-exploration; it IS the exploration.
Cagibi: Do you use your work as an excuse to travel?
Pasca: In our family, we actually use travel as a reward for finished work. Once our respective school calendars are released (we work in different districts), we immediately check where our vacations fall and begin thinking of possible destinations. Though Terri and I love our jobs, and our kids both genuinely like school, there is always a countdown on our kitchen door to the next travel experience. For us, despite busy itineraries and lost sleep and days spent walking 7 miles around a city or national park, travel refills our spiritual, emotional and intellectual tanks. We come back to our respective jobs as social worker, teacher and student with a new set of eyes and softened disposition.
Muuss: I do think that leaving your ordinary world makes you a better writer, too. The best writing doesn’t happen in places where your ordinary routine takes place so, in that way, travel makes your writing richer. But no, I don’t need an excuse to travel. That’s like the Arts in Education argument that has always bothered me, where people say, Can you make some art fit inside this curriculum? when art for art’s sake is enough and shouldn’t need to fit into a Social Studies or English curriculum, though it certainly makes those curriculums richer. Travel for travel’s sake is equally essential and needs no excuse.
Cagibi: Do you use travel as an excuse to not work?
Muuss: Probably. When I am home I am barraged with a series of have-to’s, so getting out of my neighborhood and house forces me to refocus on myself. I’m someone who struggles to say no to projects and propositions, so getting away forces me to stop working and take time for myself.
Pasca: In some sense. Whatever days on our calendar are not blocked off for travel inevitably fill with a number of appointments, projects, or side hustles. So yes, though travel is in itself a ton of work—I spend months planning a trip—the actual days we are gone free us from daily responsibilities.
Cagibi: Did you ever have to hide in order to write? Where, and how long did you stay in there?
Muuss: I hide from the kids. I’ve learned to cobble stolen moments on breaks at work or when Matt’s away, but certainly giving yourself unfettered time away from your life is invaluable.
Pasca: Yes! Especially during the summer, when the kids are with us 24/7. I find myself stealing away frequently, just to have 15-20 minutes to write, revise, and think. It isn’t as much time as I’d like, but it still changes my day.
About Terri Muuss’s Over Exposed: A Poetic Memoir
Terri Muuss’s latest book is Over Exposed: A Poetic Memoir, published in 2013. From the forward by poet Veronica Golos:
In the pages that follow, Muuss brings us close to what we might describe as the secret war, the intimate war, which resides in closed rooms, in seemingly ordinary homes. Yet these poems are written, reader, with such delicacy, such concern for image, for pause, and purpose—for, in fact, beauty.
Yes, these poems and prose pieces turn on the beauty of poetry, of what art can accomplish. I bid you open the book. It is a miracle.
For more of her poetry, see Cagibi Issue 1: Four Poems by Terri Muuss
About Matt Pasca’s Raven Wire
Matt Pasca’s latest book is Raven Wire, published in 2016 by Shanti Arts Publishing. From the publisher:
In his second collection, Raven Wire, Matt Pasca sets loose the ravens of thought and memory over a landscape of postmodern privilege, violence, and alienation. Only then does he answer the poet’s charge to articulate, through attention and compassion, the redemptive power of beauty, complexity, and connection. With every line, Pasca seeks to restore purpose to our waking into another day.
For more of his poetry, see Cagibi Issue 1: Four Poems by Matt Pasca