ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Ashland Creatives: Erin Zelinka writes of travels of the heart

Erin Zelinka's world travels are the basis of her memoir "On Love and Travel" and an upcoming sequel.
January 31, 2024

Her memoir tells of a romance lived in part on social media, and of her decision to go off-grid in order to heal

Zelinka lives in Ashland but the University of Oregon alumna is dedicated to traveling. Debora Gordon photo

By Debora Gordon for Ashland.news

Erin Zelinka, author of the book “On Love and Travel,” grew up in Hugo, about an hour north of Ashland. She attended the University of Oregon in Eugene with a double major in journalism and Spanish and began traveling right after college.

She went first to South America, where she fell in love with Cusco, Peru, while teaching English as a second language at a boy’s home there, with students from 6 to 21 years of age.

Zelinka, who now lives in Ashland, describes her memoir as a book about “taking time away from social media, including all texting and emails.” In the book she describes a situation of “trying to get over a heartbreak and unrequited love situation, and the person kept reaching out to me.” 

Going off-grid to heal

The story is true, but names were changed to protect people’s privacy. Zelinka details how one love interest would continually reach out to her, as she describes it, “through every medium imaginable,” leading to her decision to “go completely off-grid to be able to heal, from that unreciprocated relationship.”

Zelinka’s book relates texting conversations in the style of text bubbles to make it relatable for people who may have been in that position of texting back and forth with someone whom they might have feelings for, and maybe not getting the responses they want.

She describes “that anxiety that comes with that, where you’re communicating just through electronic media. I wanted them to feel along with me, that suspense and nervousness. I call it the evil ellipsis, because if all of your emotions are hanging on this response from a person, and you see that little ellipsis, and the message never comes, you just start to spiral and spin out in your own head. We do this thing where we speculate and get in our own heads too much. We can’t see people’s expressions as you would in person.”

Texted dialogue in Zelinka’s book is written in text bubbles as it would have appeared on her cellphone. Debora Gordon photo

The off-grid period led to what she feels is a healthier relationship with social media. 

“I was off it for about seven months,” she said, “and then I decided to go back on it because I realized the real issue was not the media but my attachment to it and my need for external affirmation and validation. Those were the real issues that I was trying to heal from, trying to get validation from this person whom I had fallen in love with, validation from others, whether that meant lots of likes or feedback. So what I really did, I detached from that need and I continue to have a much healthier relationship with media.”

After traveling to Puerto Rico for 18 months, and then settling in Seattle, Zelinka recently moved back to Ashland.

“I wanted to come back here because it’s still my favorite place,” she said.

Motherhood and multiple jobs

Zelinka lives with her 5-year-old daughter as she continues writing. She supplements her income working as a server in a local restaurant a couple of days per week and doing some freelance marketing in SEO web content. But she keeps the main focus on writing. 

Outpost Travel has published her writing in its online edition, including an essay titled “Scrubbed the Wrong Way: My Moroccan Massage That Wasn’t” and an excerpt from the forthcoming sequel to “Love and Travel,” which follows Zelinka on a journey to Europe, Asia, Turkey, Morocco and Australia. 

Along with travel, Zelinka’s says she’s interested in a broader spectrum of relationships, including friendships, and fellow travelers. 

Having a daughter has not limited her travel plans. “If travel is a priority for you, you can find a way to make it work,” she said. “I know that it is definitely a privilege to travel. My daughter just started kindergarten, so right now I would probably focus our travels on the summertime, when she’s out of school.”

In a recent book talk at Bloomsbury Books, she discussed her writing process.

First comes the work, then the judgment

“One of the things I shared is the fact it took me about nine years to complete this process,” she said. “And about two years of that were comprised of active writing, and seven years of that were getting up the courage to release such a personal story into the world. The biggest thing I learned was that I think that we as creatives always fear the potential judgments that will come when we put our heart and soul out into the world. We fear the bad reviews when you’re putting out a very personal story, perhaps even attacks on our own characters, when people don’t approve of our life choices. And that was the reason it was so hard for me to get up the courage to put it out.

“But what I found, something amazing happened when I released this. All I received was support and love, words of kindness. People saying I relate to your journey, I relate to your story, whether it had to do with their own people-pleasing tendencies or body image issues or also having suffered through unrequited love. I had people writing me daily. and still do, saying, ‘Wow, thank you. I have felt this same way.’”

Learning from this, Zelinka encourages other writers.

“Put your art out there, whether it’s writing or visual arts or music,” she said. “If you can have the bravery to be authentically you, your people will then find you and support you. And it’s a great way to find who your people are.”

Zelinka described an exercise she has used to deal with her concerns. She created a document with three columns.

“In Column 1, it was, ‘Okay, people who will like me more when I put this out,’ Column 2, people who will like me less or disown me; and (in Column 3) people where I just don’t know how they’re going to receive this.

“And the beauty of that exercise is that I realized that the people who I felt would support me and love me more, these are all the people I admired most in the world, who I felt were vulnerable and brave and kind and nonjudgmental. And then in the ‘disown me’ column, well, I’ve never really been that close with those people anyway. So if they decide to walk away from me then it’s not a huge loss, honestly, because they never loved me for who I am.”

“In the ‘don’t know’ column, that’s the scariest one. You like these people and you want them in your life. But what this does when you release your authentic art, then you find out if they are aligned with your values and who you are — or are they not? And then you kind of get your answer on the people in the ‘don’t know’ column, whether or not they’re somebody who is going to be supportive in your life.”

Write for yourself first

Zelinka continued: “I will share some advice that someone gave to me, which is: Write your first draft for you instead of thinking of what you think someone else wants or what the market wants. Write the book you really feel needs to be written. You’ll then be able to enjoy the process more and you will be able to create something more unique and authentic. 

“When it comes to my own personal story, I definitely just sit down and write directly from my heart, with my own voice. I had a process where I go to a cafe, and I would make sure that I wrote 1,000 words, no matter what. Every day.” 

Then Zelinka added: “When you finish, you’re not really finished. I ‘finished,’ quote unquote, for the first time at the end of 2014 and then I worked on it and edited it and sent it to a developmental editor. My uncle, (Clay Coppedge) who is a successful author himself, convinced me to break it up into two books.” 

Zelinka has an upcoming book talk Saturday, Feb. 3, at Oregon Books & Games in Grants Pass. She welcomes feedback on Instagram: @onloveandtravel

Debora Gordon is a writer, artist, educator and non-violence activist who recently moved to Ashland from Oakland, California. Email her at debora.ashlandnews@gmail.com.

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