Within the travel media industry, Mark Chesnut is known for his bylines in many trade and consumer publications and his blog on Latin American travel, LatinFlyer.com.
Recently, however, Chesnut published a new memoir that takes an entirely different path. It focuses on his lifelong relationship with his late mother, Eunice Chesnut.
In “Prepare for Departure: Notes on a Bangle Mother, a Young Son, Mortality Inevitable & The Enduring Allure of Frequent Flyer Miles” (Vine Leaves Press, 2022), Chesnut delves into memories of childhood and adulthood, most of which relate with him. mom In a Q&A with Forbes, Chesnut shared more about his memories and how his mother shaped his direction in life.
Forbes: While many members of the travel industry know you for your career in travel media, it’s surprising to discover that your memoir focuses on your relationship with your mother as a child and as an adult. Why did you choose to go in this direction?
Chesnut: It’s true—people who know me as a travel writer might be surprised to find that this book goes deeper than travel. It’s really a story about a mother and a son and the emotional journeys that families sometimes have to take together. When my mother became ill and it looked like she wouldn’t be around much longer, I felt compelled to write about our experiences. It was a kind of therapy for me, a way of coping.
Documenting our life together – from when I was a child, to the last months of her life – provided a platform to explore many issues, including parent-child relationships; how maladjusted children can find their identity and self-esteem; how to follow your passion in life; how family relationships evolve after a child comes out as LGBTQ; and how grown children cope with the illness and loss of their parents. It has been 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 rather humorous way that is designed to entertain as much as to inform. But overall, this book isn’t really travel essays or travel writing; it’s about the widest and deepest journeys we ever have to take, either by ourselves or with our families.
What prompted you to write a memoir?
It was really an emotional and psychological necessity for me, although I didn’t even set out to write a book. My mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and her health was declining. 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. Since I’m a writer, I suppose it was only natural that one of my main coping mechanisms was to write about what was happening. But at first I didn’t know it would become a memoir, or a full book – it happened gradually.
I wrote down all the difficult challenges my mother and I were facing and it helped me cope. But then I started thinking about the full story of our life together and writing about that too – the funny, weird and challenging moments. Memories I didn’t want to lose. I started writing about childhood memories—crazy things like playing stewardess on abandoned school buses when I was fourteen, coming out as a teenager, how my mother handled my marriage, and many other issues.
After I started taking memoir writing classes and submitting some of my essays to literary magazines, 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 me and my mom. It’s about universal emotions like loving family, wanting acceptance, and following one’s passions to build the life you really want. It’s great to share something so personal and help give voice to other people’s experiences as well.
How did you decide what stories about her to share 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 a nursing home in New York City and we’re dealing with issues like illness, ongoing paperwork, and impending death—yet we still find a fun, dark humor in to, which helps us to pass. Humor provides such relief in difficult situations. What’s the point of having a terrible time if you can’t laugh about it at some point?
The book’s many flashbacks span the time from when I was four years old to when I got married. For these chapters, my goal was to write about specific experiences that were either significant in terms of their effect on our family relationship and personal development, or that say something about society as a whole. However, in many cases, I simply wrote about situations because I thought they were so funny or weird that they were stories worth telling. Being weird can be a lot more interesting than trying to be normal.
What would your mother have thought of your memories?
She loved public speaking, writing and sharing with people, so in a way I think she would be tickled to have people read about some of our experiences together. She was truly loved in the town where she lived for 60 years – Brockport, New York – and I think she would be very touched to know that those people still think of her and want to read about her, and also for new people to are introduced to her and can see how interesting, funny and smart she was.
In a way, I think she would be a little embarrassed about some of the more personal aspects of our lives being revealed. But I’ve tried to portray both of us realistically, as imperfect people who have evolved over time.
You often traveled to and from Kentucky with your mother to see family. How did these experiences shape you?
Travel was an integral part of our family fabric. I grew up in the western New York town of Brockport, near Rochester, but my entire extended family lived in Kentucky, and my mother always budgeted time and money so that we could fly or travel to the Bluegrass State at least three times a year. , for the first 17 years of my life. Those trips were very important to me. They helped strengthen my sense of family, and I appreciate that my mother understood the importance of that.
Beyond that, the trips also represented a much-needed escape from life in my hometown, where I was a child misfit. I couldn’t play sports. Funny walk, at least according to some kids. And since I didn’t grow up with siblings close to my own age, I bonded better with adults than with children. I think feeling inadequate is one reason I became obsessed with travel. It represented many things to me: the warmth and acceptance of family, the ease of getting away from everyday life, the glamor of boarding an airplane, and the thrill of charging down an interstate highway. No wonder I became a travel writer!
Your memoir includes chapters on advice topics related to travel and various social situations. Why did you choose to share the book format?
These little advice sections, which I call Eunice’s Tips, are designed to be helpful but fun tips about travel, etiquette, and life that I’ve learned from my mom over the years. I created them as separate sections because they are written more in her voice than mine – especially when she was yelling at me for mispronouncing the French-sounding names of some towns in Kentucky.
Where does the title of the book come from?
The title came to me very early in the writing process. I needed a clever phrase to serve as a double phrase. “Get ready for take off” is what the flight attendants say as they prepare the cabin for take off, of course, so it evokes the journey, the excitement, the escape and the temptation to get away from it all, which is a constant theme in the book. . But “going away” also refers to death, which is also something we all have to 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 found that the title worked well to reflect that aspect of the story—inevitable mortality—as well as the book’s travel-related themes. “Prepare for Departure” explores the roots of wanderlust, sure, and also shows the emotional journeys that life sometimes sends us.