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To take a trip requires a ticket, but only a journey begins with friends. Such is one of many themes stowed away in author Julién Godman’s debut work “Andanzas, Vol. I, Friends” published by Bang Pang Editorial earlier this year. The staging across the book’s four short stories is Godman’s abundant travels, from Detroit to America’s Eastern Seaboard and as far as Armenia where he shares family heritage. Yet the main attraction of these travelogues is always friendship and how relationships enrich Godman’s understanding of politics, sexuality and other social studies. In a book reading last month at the Carrie Morris Arts Production in Detroit, Godman shared lessons from roads less traveled.
“When I travel, I often am met with differing social norms and differing views on life in general,” Godman said. “How one approaches life, how one perceives everyday things like work, family, friendship. I am a meditative, slow-moving traveler.”
Andanzas is the Spanish word for “wanderings,” and that is Godman’s preferred method of travel. No itinerary. No hotels.
Like a local, he said, he yearns to be among the people. Familiarities form, he explained, and suddenly far-flung places feel like home.
“I see the similarities in people, humanity,” Godman said. “I see the same type of fear of the unknown, the same type of innocence and the same type of altruistic care for things greater than the individual. These concepts are more of an influence on my approach to storytelling than they are directly talked about in the book.”
He added, “Purposely, I tie settings together to encapsulate how alike we all are and how universal I see friendship to be. The four short stories are first-person accounts of friendship and how we perceive friendship through adversity and everyday life.”
Appropriately, Mariana Ayón RV, Godman’s good friend and publisher, designed the book’s cover art to be relatively neutral.
“Partly so people don’t peg or make assumptions about what is inside,” Godman explained. “Judg[ing] a book by its cover is something we all do so we felt a graphic design was a stronger direction to go than a picture. The colors play off some of the emotions and narratives in the book.”
Godman studied at Wayne State University and Marygrove College before quitting school altogether after not being able to decide on a definitive direction.
“After switching majors from Mandarin and Eastern studies to linguistics and French, I realized at some point that I like too many things, like to explore too many things, and one field for the rest of my career was never going to be enough,” he said.
So Godman tackles them all frequently. He is the purveyor of the herbal tea brand, Tonic & Juice, available at select cafes in Detroit, and he regularly hosts pop-up dinners to share his love of Armenian cuisine.
“We ended up running out of food at this past one,” he shared. “People loved the food, and the space created. … I want people to let loose, have a good time and maybe even make new friends at my events.”
In his travels, breaking bread with strangers plays a pivotal role in breaking the ice, he added.
“Last year I got to teach a bunch of young adults how to talk about and write about food at an education center called TUMO in Armenia. We built our own food blog and focused on multilingual stories of Armenia’s harvest season through what food meant to us, to family, to tradition and, most important, perceptions of what food represented to us personally,” Godman said. “It was a total blast.”
When it comes to Godman’s knack for writing, he credits his mother, who was also an artist and a graduate of psychology and social work.
“I think a lot of the decisions I have made throughout my life have been heavily influenced by her,” he said. “My voice, I’ve come to realize, is in a constant state of flux, evolving.”
The same state of flux applies to Godman’s views of sexuality in Andanzas.
“To be totally honest, I’ve struggled with this. I’ve identified as bi, gay and even asexual. OkCupid has a bunch of other sexualities that I’ve explored, like sapiosexual or demisexual. I’ve deduced my own personal identity to be ‘maybe’ to all of these. It’s never really clear to me. I usually opt for queer,” he said. “I think a lot of this has to do with how culture and society, even within the LGBT community, peg things about me, assumes things, thinks I have to be one way or another. I really don’t identify with a lot of things in the LGBT community, which, much to my dismay, has been alienating. Lately, mainstream media has been talking a lot about sexual spectrum and that we all have some feelings, some attraction to all people. I am hopeful we continue down this path.”
In the story “Of swimming, and friend I do not own,” he explores his appreciation of male beauty and longs for affinity in friendship. In “Tolstoy, friend unconditional” he parallels how the appearance, distinction and sex of a friend changes throughout their journeys.
“My life is gray,” Godman said, yet the book’s purpose is not about clarity. It’s about hope and faith in “true friendship.”
“In the short story ‘Of swimming, and friend I do not own,’ I share a scene of me drowning, or attempting to not drown, in waters just off the coast of Maine. The people I meet and friendships found along my travels, I ask and have faith that one will be able to help me not drown, to teach me to swim better. It’s a metaphor for life, humanity and needing friendship, [and] companionship and faith in those friendships.”
Find out more about the book and how to purchase it at juliengodman.com/andanzas.