Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

Solo Around the World

Part of map from Polly's siteAt last month’s Baltimore Book Festival, Gregg Wilhelm asked me to do a stint providing fiction pitch critiques at the CityLit Stage on Saturday afternoon. Well, for the inventor of bludos, anything. And I’m really glad I did, because it turned out to be one of those prime serendipity moments that I’ll remember forever.

The critiquers — a poet, an agent, the managing editor of a local magazine, and myself — sat around chatting as we waited for passersby clutching their manuscripts to poke their heads in the tent with that Daniel-in-the-lion’s-den look that we all know so well. A poet was first, and off went our poet to review his work. Then came Polly Bart, a Baltimore-based green builder, rider of horses and motorcycles, and all-around Renaissance woman. She started out by talking to the nonfiction critiquer (the magazine editor), but quickly the agent and then I got called in too.

She was pitching an idea for a book on green building techniques, which is hot right now, and we all put our heads together trying to suss out an angle that might help her book stand out. But it’s a crowded market, and we were struggling until she paused and said, “well, you know, I do have this other idea…”

And for the next fifteen minutes Polly just burned with a story of how she was preparing to embark on an eighty-day trip around the world — Japan, Thailand, Bhutan, India, Kenya, India, France, and Scotland — to learn about local sustainable building techniques and their intimate connection with the rights of women in those cultures. She talked about how she would be staying in a Buddhist monastery in Kyoto, riding a motorcycle in the mountains near Chiang Mai, and working on a kibbutz in the Arava Valley. The more she talked, the more we boggled.

When she was done, she asked, almost sheepishly, what we thought. She had held an agent, a magazine editor, a poet (who joined us halfway through), and a freelance writer absolutely spellbound for the whole time; then we all started speaking at once — about book deals, magazine interviews, and people she absolutely had to talk to at the Festival. As she tried to write everything down, Polly probably thought we were all crazy. We were — about her.

Well, Polly’s on her way and blogging about her journey. She’s traveling solo, but she’s not traveling alone. She didn’t have time to score a book deal before she left, or get a full-page spread in the Sun, but in her own quiet, deeply personal way she’s making her own splash.

Polly is one of the many people writing for, and sharing with, friends in what I call the “smallweb,” the thriving sub-subculture that exists like a quiet country road running parallel to the noisy freeway of the “bigweb,” where people race by in their insatiable jostling for attention and stats. The smallweb is made up of chance encounters, found moments, and surprises that lie at the end of roads less traveled. It has room for discovery and serendipity. It happens offline as much as on.

The rest of the world may not be following her trip — yet — but that’s OK by her. She knows who we are. And thanks to the smallweb, I can say that I know who she is too. Thanks to Polly, several corners of the world are about to become personal.

Categorised as: Life the Universe and Everything

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  1. A lovely article on an amazing topic–I’m not sure if I’m more amazed by Polly and her trip, or the way you wove it into your own smallweb story. Both are wonderful!

  2. sottovoce says:

    Hi, Quinn —

    Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! You’d enjoy Polly — I can see you heading off on your bikes on some cool adventure together. The smallweb is where it’s at! I’m having more fun than I’ve had in a long time, and my creative output is up too. Ah, the power of serendipity.

    Oh, before I forget — pen recommendation: the Zebra F-701. It’s a ballpoint with the heft of a Pelikan and the weight of a Rotring 600. A friend recently gave me a spare, and I’m really warming up to it. If you use BPs, I think you’d like this one.