Vacation Inspiration!
It was our first day in Lisbon. We had been awake all night on a crowded airplane. We were exhausted. And sweaty.

We dropped our bags at the hotel and went for a walk.

We were walking…somewhere. On our way to…something.

(According to the photos on my phone, it was sometime after I drank a glass of vinho verde but before the amazing guide on our food tour convinced me to eat a sardine.)

That's when I snapped a photo that, to me, sums up the entire reason why I do what I do.
(Photo of a sign in a window in Lisbon that says "Show Me Don't Tell Me" taken by me...of course!)
Narrative storytelling really is the ultimate "show me don't tell me" medium. I don't ask people to tell me WHAT they believe.

I ask them to tell me WHO shaped and molded their experiences. WHEN they came to believe one truth over another truth. WHERE they were when everything changed. WHY they feel the way they feel. HOW they came to see the world the way they do.

It's powerful. It's profound.

And so, on the first day of vacation, while walking from who-knows-where to who-knows-what, I decided to keep my vacation-inspired eyes open for other storytelling truths.
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Work With What You've Got

There's a castle at the top of the Alfama in Lisbon. It's old. Really old. Like, first established by the Romans in 200 b.c. old.

So, it's fair to say that there's not much of the actual castle left standing. But what this place has – in spades – is peacocks.

So. Many. Peacocks.

I thought it would be lovely to capture a photo of one of these peacocks, feathers outstretched, in front of some of these castle ruins. The photo was so crisp and clear in my mind's eye.

But the peacocks – they just wouldn't cooperate. I'd spot one with his feathers on full display. But the second I lifted my phone to take a picture, he'd get shy.

I'd wait, and I'd wait, and I'd wait.


So I'd move on…just in time to watch as another peacock put away his feathers.

But here's the thing…when I finally lucked upon a peacock who was in a flamboyant mood, the photos I took didn't come close to the pictures in my mind's eye.

In fact, a bunch of the pictures I took while waiting for a peacock to cooperate were actually better.
See? So cool…

All of this is to say that sometimes we approach a story and we think we know exactly what we want to capture to make the story sing.

Maybe it's a certain interaction between our main characters?

Maybe it's a certain sound…and the reaction it inspires?

Maybe it's a phrase that you've heard your interview subject say before…and you'd really like them to say it again?

So, yeah, put yourself in position to capture the thing you really want to capture. But keep your eyes (and ears) open.

Because if you're too focused on capturing the thing you think you want, you might just miss the thing that's better.
Cast Off Preconceived Notions

We were walking around Porto when our tour guide pointed out the McDonald's on Liberdade Square. She told us we needed to go in. She told us it was really beautiful inside.

I did not believe her.

But hey, I'm always up for an adventure. So the next time we walked by, I insisted that we go in.

And wow....
So, this particular McDonald's used to be a cafe. Built in the 1930s.

It's an art deco wonderland. Really, really amazing.

If I had been unwilling to see beyond what I thought a McDonald's could be, I wouldn't have gone inside. I would have missed out.

As journalists and storytellers, we have to keep ourselves open to the real story. Not the one we thought we understood, before we did the work.

The real story.

So, yeah, when you're in Porto, take a peek inside the McDonalds. Take a photo.

Take two.

But don't feel like you have to eat anything. There are far better places in Portugal to eat!
Find the Potential

We were standing along a dirt path in a winery in the Douro Valley when one of the women in my group asked, "Are those the grapes?"

Now, this might seem like a strange question. We were in a winery! But the truth was, it was May and I didn't see a darn thing on those vines that looked anything like actual grapes.

The winery worker looked down and said, "Yep. Those are baby grapes."

Baby grapes.
So cute! So happy! So very full of potential.

The truth is, when you're putting a story together, there are going to be a lot of moments when you're looking at a big pile of crap that doesn't even vaguely resemble the story you're trying to tell.

And that's okay.

Because somewhere in that jumble of leaves and vines, there's a little baby story.

If you nurture it right, protect it from frost, prune away the excess, harvest it, stomp out the juice and turn the juice into wine…

You're gonna have something mighty delicious at the end.
Embrace Your Perspective

I was sooooo excited to visit the Pena Palace in Sintra. You've probably seen photos of it before. It's painted bright yellow and red, and it looks like something out of a primary colors fairy tale.

However, on the day we went to Sintra, the Pena Palace looked something like this.
Yeah, not exactly what I had imagined.

The entire place was completely shrouded in a dense fog. Even standing right up next to the buildings, we couldn't really see the shapes of them.

It was, quite literally, the worst fog I'd ever seen.

But there's something that happens when you can't see the thing you came all this way to see. You start seeing other things.

Sure, we quite make out the jumble of yellow and red towers. Instead, we became fascinated by the little details that were clear to us: the mismatched tile on the inside of the ramparts. The texture of a wall. The shape of that arch.

Often, when we're working on a story, we can't quite get to the perspective that we really want. Maybe that person isn't talking? Maybe they're not even alive?

But instead, if we train our eyes and ears on the story that's available to us, we can sometimes find details that others have missed.

And that's when the magic happens.
Break the Rules

So, there's an abandoned hotel on São Miguel.

It's not exactly a secret. Just google "abandoned hotel Sao Miguel" and you'll find dozens of blogs of people who've visited.

It's pretty imposing from the outside. High concrete walls plastered every few feet with huge yellow Do Not Enter signs.

(I do not actually know what the signs said. They were in Portuguese. But they were intimidating and very, very stern.)

But as we walked around, we could hear people inside.

Dozens and dozens of people.

And then we found the front door.

Well, not actually a door. More like a big opening where a door used to be.

The place was wide open. Like, wide, wide open.

And so…we went inside!

And look, I am a rule follower. Ignoring all those big, yellow signs was difficult for me. Even though there were literally probably a hundred other people doing the same thing at the same time.

But it was so, so worth it.
(Seriously, if you decide to go to the Azores to wander around an abandoned hotel, don't blame me if you get hurt. There are lots of ways you could hurt yourself in here!)

All of this is to say, I approach the "rules" of storytelling a lot like how I approached those big, yellow signs at the hotel.

The rules are there for a reason. They keep you safe. But sometimes, you need to just ignore the rules and follow the story.

Carefully. Always aware of the dangers ahead.

But bravely. Confidently.

Because when you take risks, that's when you can find the true beauty in your story.
Use Shortcuts

Look, I don't know what I was expecting, but the hills in Lisbon are INTENSE.

(Fun fact: there seems to be a lot of debate about whether Lisbon or Porto has the worst hills. In my opinion, the hills in Lisbon are more painful, because they are steeper. Porto's hills are a touch less steep, but much, much longer. Either way, walking around these two cities can be a LOT.)

But in Lisbon, at least, there are lots of ways to make things easier. You can grab a lift on a funicular (So slow! So packed with tourists!) Or use the escalators in the train station.

Or you can find any number of free, public elevators around town that will take you from the bottom of the hill to someplace 3-4 stories up.

There is no shame in this. Even using the shortcuts, you will still burn plenty of calories to "earn" your dessert. I promise.
The same is true of your storytelling. I used to think that there was a benefit to manually logging my own tape. That I would somehow become better embedded in my story if I had forced myself to transcribe my interviews.


By word.

By word.

But that's just silly! There are much easier and faster ways of becoming familiar with your tape. There are much better things to spend your time on.

So go ahead, use temi or trint or otter or whatever transcription service you prefer.
Signpost, Signpost, Signpost
(I have no idea what this sign was pointing to. But I knew that if I got too lost, I'd be able to follow it to...something.)
One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to get lost.

No, really.

I'll never forget setting off to see the Coliseum on my first visit to Rome. I got distracted by some random ruins on the side of the road, got turned around by a giant government building that looks like a wedding cake and ended up wandering the Jewish ghetto for two hours.

By the time I made my way out, it was too late to see the Coliseum. But I'd had a grand adventure.

I love getting lost on vacation.

But I do not want to feel lost when listening to a story.

Sure, I want to feel a sense of mystery. Like I don't know EXACTLY where I'm headed or how I'm gonna get there.

But I want to have an idea. A sense. A clue as to why all this matters. Of where this is going to take me in the end.

And so…signpost. And when in doubt, signpost some more.

(Don't know what a signpost is? Check out 14 Reasons to (Maybe) Use a Signpost. And remember, you can bookmark this page for quick access to all the newsletter archives!)
Thanks for sticking with me for this week's travelogue/newsletter. I know this one was a little out of the ordinary, but let's face it, the first few days back from vacation are TOUGH. Gotta brighten them up as best you can.

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