There’s something about Mary!

What great fortune the world brought me so unexpectedly.  I slid into my seat, almost late, not knowing what class I wanted to take recently at a travel bloggers conference in Genoa, Italy.  Storytelling … “OK, I thought, how hard is it to tell a story?”  Well, little did I know … it was an art form and soon I would become entangled in someone’s story.   She wasn’t just anyone, but the well-known travel writer Mary Morris.  This was something I wanted to learn.

There’s Something About Mary!

She seemed unassuming at first, but then she started to … tell her story.  Wow!  I was mesmerized right from the beginning, she started out with a photo of a painting from Vermeer, a Dutch painter from the 1600’s.  It was a painting of a woman, with a world map on the wall, that was gazing out the window,  “in anticipation of the world outside,”  she said, “of travels to come or ones that never came. ” ” Anticipation to go somewhere.”

I thought of my own life and my anticipation of world travels, and my desires to be a wanderer.

There’s Something About Mary!

Mary weaved her story around Vermeer’s painting.  It reminded her of her own mother, going to a party called a Secret Wish Ball.  Her mother sewed and wore an amazingly beautiful dress that was a map of the world, which Mary said must have represented her own Mother’s suppressed desires to see the world, which she was unable to do.

What a great inspiration that map dress was for Mary to become the travel memoir writer that she is for her Mother who never did!

There’s Something About Mary!

She taught us about what a story was and what is was not.  The fact that it was all about the story.  She said a story is when something happens.  An arc occurs.  She used the quote,  “A cat sat on a mat. This is not a story.   A cat sat on a dog’s mat. Now that’s a story!”

The art of creating tension.

She went on and on about writing from your point of view and about writing about what matters to you.  That each of us has our own experiences and that we don’t need to be afraid to claim ourselves and our story.  She compared storytelling to a bottle of wine.

Saying that every bottle of wine tells you its history.  Wine connoisseurs call it terroir.  Terroir can tell you a wine’s geography, geology and climate.  Terroir is to wine as place and character are to a story.

Then she used one of the most inspirational quotes I have heard in a long time by Wendell Berry:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.” 

There’s Something About Mary!

This was exactly where I was on my journey of life.  How did she know?  Maybe each of us reaches this place sometime during our lifetime?

I love quotes and think about them when I am doing my own writing.  They come together in my mind along with photographs from my journeys.  I use these to wind my stories around.  They let me know that life is a journey, an arc and I am telling a story about the journey that I am on.

She went on to quote Hemingway and to speak of metaphors about life and its journeys.  And told of how our moments of transition can be some of the most important times of our lives.  She spoke of asking herself, “When is my life going to start?”  to answering herself with “it started already!”

Mary Morris

She shared with us her travel diaries(here, too) and how she keeps one for each of the travels that she goes on.  They were filled with quotes, drawings, paintings, trains stubs and tickets to here and there.  They were brilliantly amazing and I suggested that she publish these works of art.

Mary Morris

I loved them and felt as if they were the true gems of her life.  So beautifully decorated, so inspirational.

There’s Something About Mary!

She spoke of tigers and nomads that travel the world with the seasons and how she always wanted to go to Morocco.  She weaved and weaved the stories till I could no longer stand it anymore, I was hooked.  What an amazing storyteller she was.  I was mesmerized and didn’t want a single moment to end.  And then, suddenly, the class was over.  “No! The class was over?”  I didn’t want it to end.  She had me at hello.

One more thing… about those tigers, she said, “You don’t really look for tigers, you look for signs of tigers.”  I am still thinking about that one!

Mary Morris, There's something about Mary

Photo of Mary Morris with her husband and a tiger!

There’s Something About Mary!

As I write this story, I think to myself, “No, I don’t want to end this story here.  There is so much more to tell.  I learned so much from this experienced travel writer, wise beyond her years.  She told me the only thing standing in my way was … myself and that I may have it and I just don’t know it.”

Mary Morris

She ended the class with yet another quote from Italo Calvino, “Arriving at each new city, a traveler finds again a part of him that he did not know he had, the forgiveness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign unpossessed places.”

There’s Something About Mary!

Mary Morris is the author of fourteen books, including four travel memoirs and she is the author of her own blog, The Writer and the Wanderer.  Morris has published extensively in such magazines as AFAR, The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Islands, and Town & Country. Her classic travel memoir, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone was named one of the top travel memoirs in the 20th century by the travel book blog, Suite 101.

Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, Morris sees herself as a storyteller, weaving tales. A Japanese critic once, referring to her non-fiction, told Morris that she is not really a travel writer; rather she writes stories that take place during journeys!

You should pick up one of her reads, I know I will.

Recommended Reading, Mary Morris novels:

Gateway to the Moon

The Jazz Palace

Nothing to Declare

The River Queen




  1. Doreen Pendgracs November 30, 2012 at 6:32 am

    What an excellent post! I will be attending the TBEX conference in Toronto, Canada in June, 2013. You have now really raised my expectations, as I had no idea that TBEX had speakers of this quality!

    • admin November 30, 2012 at 9:53 am

      This wasn’t TBEX, although TBEX was amazing and has some strong points, this was TBE (Travel Bloggers Elevator in Genoa, Italy). This storytelling class by Mary Morris, by far, was the best of all the classes I attended at both TBEX Girona, Spain and TBE Genoa, Italy.

      • Doreen Pendgracs November 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm

        Aaahhh, Yes, I believe I read/heard of the special group they had invited for the pre-TBEX event. Do you know who’s organizing that and whether they’re having similar before/after TBEX in TO? I’m there for the week following TBEX as I have to stick around for the MagNet/PWAC conference for professional writers. Plus another travel writers conference right after that in Sasakatchewan. Going to be a busy month!

        • admin December 11, 2012 at 8:22 am

          The week after TBEX Toronto should have some great post trips I hear. It will be fun! I hope to meet you there.

  2. […] me who I am.  i would make drawings and paintings with watercolors, much like I learned from the famous storyteller Mary Morris.  Eventually, tigers would appear.   I have seen signs of these tigers my whole […]

  3. Julie Sheridan December 11, 2012 at 4:32 am

    This really struck a chord with me, Cindy. I saw a shaman in Edinburgh two years ago, and he said that a tiger, my power animal, would be with me as I made the move to leave Scotland for good and come to live in Barcelona. The day I landed here I saw tigers three times:)

    • admin December 11, 2012 at 8:33 am

      Hey Julie!!!
      Mary is an amazing storyteller. I loved her tiger stories. It is awesome that we see signs along the way that make us know we are on the right road or not. That’s the thing about traveling too, it lets us see things in our life that we wouldn’t ordinarily see. I think the reason I went to Genoa, was to actually meet Mary, instead of the photography job I going to in Nervi, Italy. Sometimes in life, we get added gems that we were not expecting. My whole trip planning was for this job and then, suddenly I realized TBE (Travel Bloggers Elevator) was there that same weekend and went at the last minute. It was perfect and amazing at the same time. I have introduced Mary to TBEX (travel bloggers exchange) and am hoping she will apply for Dublin’s conference in 2013. take care.

  4. Suzy February 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    The art of storytelling can sometimes be lost in travel writing/blogging. What a great opportunity to have!

    • admin February 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      Mary Morris is an amazing travel writer and storyteller. If you get a chance, don’t miss her speaking engagements.

  5. […] aspect of my journals that seems to interest people a lot when I give talks about my writerly life is that I create a table of contents – a kind of index in the front of […]

  6. Mike (Nomadic Texan) November 25, 2014 at 8:41 am

    A great post about a very inspiring lady. My take on her tiger quote is like the quote “It’s not the end that counts, it’s the journey”.

    I think she is saying that looking for “signs of the Tiger is a great deal more motivational than finally locating the animal. Just my two cents.

    So happy you have had so many travels this year and are living the dream!

    • Cacinda Maloney November 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

      She is a very inspiring woman and great insight Mike.

Comments are closed.