Thomas Kohnstamm Talks Travel Writer Burn-Out and Writing-Addiction
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
In this episode of Otherppl with Brad Listi, Brad talks to Thomas Kohnstamm whose debut novel, Lake City—now available from Counterpoint Press—is the official January pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club. Kohnstamm is also the author of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? (Crown). He was born in Seattle and lives there with his wife and two children.
From the episode
On wanderlust, and the dangers of travel writer burn-out
Brad Listi: Whatever you’re running away from or would like to escape, a change of location is not going to fix it. If you’re pissed off and unhappy in Seattle and you fly to Brazil, you’re just going to be pissed off and unhappy.
Thomas Kohnstamm: I agree one hundred percent, and I really burned out at the end of being a travel writer. First I’d been on the road too long, and I had this recurring vision of opening a mirrored cabinet in a bathroom and my toothbrush being in there, and rather than just digging a wet toothbrush out of a bag, and just sick of life on the road, I wanted some sort of stability. The other thing was I felt like I was having all this novelty and superficial experience but I was having a lot of the same conversations. I was craving depth. Novelty is fun for a little bit, but it’s not going to change your life in the long run. You have to work on yourself and be happy and build deeper relationships. That’s the most fulfilling thing.
BL: My wife and I have had conversations on this. When it comes to international travel, really the best way to do it—at least from my perspective—is to live somewhere for at least a month. You know, you have a home base, you can do train trips and short flights on weekends bumping to nearby places… I’d like to rent a residence and be integrated in some neighborhood, not a hotel, and stay long enough to get bored.
TK: I agree. Not to be bored, but to experience sort of quotidian stuff, you know, going to the store to buy groceries and recognize the same people in the street a few times. You have a taste of what day-to-day life is like.
On being addicted to writing
TK: One thing that made this possible is that I’m an insomniac. Maybe that’s not the best way to put it. I can’t go to bed at a reasonable hour. If it were up to me, I’d go to bed at two in the morning and wake up at ten every day, but that’s not my reality. We have to get up at 6:45 in the morning for my son to be at school. My wife goes to bed around 9 pm and my kids earlier, and I’m wide-awake then. So I get a second-wind where I can write from 10 pm to one or two in the morning and maybe be more clear-headed than I am at 8 or 9. I feel like garbage the next morning and you pay for it, but basically by giving up sleep and socializing …
I have a number of old friends who are like, Let’s go get a beer and go out, and I’m like sorry, I can’t. For special occasions, I will, but you give up a lot. You give up on fitness… and you can’t totally give up on fitness or socializing or sleep, all those things, but I would exercise more if I weren’t writing. I would socialize more. When it’s short of my relationships with my children and my wife, those personal relationships when the writing is going well, that’s the most fulfilling thing to me, that transcendental moment when everything makes sense. I get little bits of that sometimes, like when I’m skiing and being in the mountains, but it’s in an obviously more cerebral when you’re writing. I’m just addicted to it. Most of the other writers I know too, nobody is doing it as a hobby because they think it is fun. You have to.