Pico Iyer is my literary hero.
Perhaps “hero” isn’t the proper word, but he is one of the writers of our time that I look up to, and have done for several years.
I was introduced to his work in – I think it was English 100? When I was in high school taking college classes via the Running Start Program. I had a teacher whose face I can picture clearly, though name escapes me, who had us read through many of his essays. The one that got me was one about LAX – in his book, The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and The Search for Home. He wrote about his observations of travelers, about L.A.’s fame for size and business.
I’ve never known what kind of writer to classify him as, but travel writer has always been the default I have seen his work fall under. If I had my way, I would be a travel writer.
During the class, and after falling in love with his work, his fluidity of language, we were presented with an opportunity for extra credit. Mr. Iyer would be speaking at our college, and if we attended the lecture, we would get the extra credit.
I was thrilled.
I arrived early, and it was packed. I ended up having to sit at the back and on the floor. I had never been in this area of the college before. As you walked in, the floor sloped down with seating until it reached the stage, which stayed level with the door, and on either side against the walls provided a platform for the speaker to enter and exit from. I was plunked at the end of one of these platforms, on the cold shiny floor.
I listened to him speak, hanging on every word, though I couldn’t recall what he spoke about. When he finished, I decided to stay put until all the chaos of the leaving dance had settled. While I was shoving my notebook back into my disheveled mess of a back pack, some one stood in front of me, blocking me from graciously exiting. The person remained there, where Mr. Iyer met him, shook his hand, and they began to converse.
There he was. Pico Iyer stood close enough to me that I could tug on his pant leg if I needed. Of course I didn’t. I didn’t “nerd out” either. I sat quietly, shiny-eyed, and contemplated if I should poke at his ankle. It was a very long internal debate, but reason told me not to, and I eventually succumbed to that.
Recently, Pico Iyer wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about the Fukushima disaster, entitled Three Years After the Japan Tsunami: The Winds of Changelessness. His home and family reside near, and he had learned of the earthquake upon landing in LA. The piece is beautifully written, and chilling.
His views and lectures on displacement, or rather, experiencing the home you carry with you, stem partly from when his home burnt down when he was young, and he was left only with a toothbrush acquired from a convenience store. Further more, he goes deeper, and talks of those that live in countries that they were not born into, about how the world is getting smaller, that more than double the combined populations of Canada and Australia are part of the “traveling tribe” – those living in countries not their own.
His manner of communication, both spoken and written inspires and astounds me. I encourage everyone to read at least a chapter of any of his books – The Man Within My Head, The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, or Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places in the World (to name a few), and/or listen to him speak, and as a writer, you will be touched. As a traveler, you will be inspired. As a human being, you will be contemplative.