For writer and educator Sam Sarkisian, getting back to nature to be alone with his thoughts allows his mind to wander into the realm of plot twists and turns, compelling characters, and provocative prose. Sarkisian, 27, a writing lecturer at Boston University, just released his first novel, “The Institute” (LaunchTeam Press), and said he does not think it could be more timely, given the current political climate. “It takes place in 2035, at a time when Americans are living in a world of disinformation and are struggling to discern fact from fiction,” he said. “An Institute is created [by Congress] that is responsible for aggregating all information from the media and from the political sphere and streamlining the most accurate information direct to the public.” It turns out, however, that some insiders in the newly formed nonpartisan group have surreptitious agendas of their own. “My book has been called dystopian, but I think it’s more ‘Black Mirror’-like,” said the Clinton, Conn., native, referring to the science-fiction TV series. “It’s not a total upheaval of reality in any way in a new society. It’s just tweaking how information is obtained in America — something about which people are already confused.” We caught up with Sarkisian, who lives in Somerville with his 2-year-old rescue dog, a German Shepherd mix named Mango, to talk about all things travel.
Favorite vacation destination?
I’m drawn to peaceful and rustic places: serene mountaintop views over placid lakes and chilly mornings warmed with instant coffee in camp chairs. And while I do have an affinity for the West Coast, I’m a New England boy at heart. Take me up that winding highway, 93 North, to the White Mountains, to the Presidential Peaks and to the jagged, icy ski slopes. Nature and silence recharge me. I guess my restorative outlet is to unplug — pun intended — to jump in the car with my dog for a two-hour ride . . . just us and the forest. Also, I’ve always loved hiking and skiing, but got into rock climbing a few years ago. The adrenaline rush while grappling granite rock faces is stunning. I can’t recommend it enough – but go with someone experienced, please. Rattlesnake Mountain, or as climbers know it, “Rumney,” is one of the best sport-climbing destinations in the Northeast.
Favorite food or drink while vacationing?
Checking out local breweries that serve up savory bar bites. I brew beer occasionally and it’s hard to do right — I’ve certainly had misses. If I can sit outside with a Hefeweizen — or three — paired with some beef-tallow fries, I’m in bliss.
Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?
I’ve been all over North America, both to Mexico and Canada — honestly it was tough for me to choose the White Mountains over some of the national parks in Quebec Province — but never fully abroad. New Zealand is on my bucket list, even though the most I’ve seen of the views comes from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The kiwis have got rugged terrain and beach bluffs and warm sun, all accessible in the same day’s drive.
One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?
A journal. It’s important for me to reflect while traveling. New experiences and places are an inexhaustible backdrop for self-discovery and growth. It’s hard to find time to reflect nowadays. Our political climate is polarized, and everyone barks at each other: Rarely do we listen, even to ourselves. In part, we miss opportunities to reflect, since we’re so inundated with social media and news and information overload. Screens and opinions and poorly researched Facebook arguments and breaking news and your aunt who doesn’t believe science — no matter the evidence — all distract us from self-discovery. I think about how overwhelming info overload is so often that I wrote an entire novel about it! It’s important to step back. To relax. Journaling helps me do just that. It’s one thing to be misinformed from an outside source, but you should never be misinformed about yourself.
Aisle or window?
Window all the way if flying. You can see the unknown or support your head for some snoozing. I do prefer to take road trips though, since the agenda is more flexible. If that’s the case, put me behind the wheel instead of in the passenger seat.
Favorite childhood travel memory?
It might contradict the whole “mountain-man” persona I’ve been crafting so far, but I’m a sucker for Walt Disney World. I’ve been at least eight times, five of those as a kid. My mom is obsessed with Disney, and very particular about scheduling, since “If you don’t know where to go and when, you’ll miss out on all the fun.” She used to carry around “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World” and pull out a 12-hour itinerary on every trip. I remember my first time going to see Mickey — when I was 4 years old — and my first time on Space Mountain. While it isn’t a crazy roller coaster by any means, you still need to be 48 inches tall — uncommon for a 4-year-old kid — to ride it. When my family and I got up to the cast member checking heights, I was quite literally “a hair” too short. My sister was tall enough, but she was too scared to ride. Not me though; no way I was about to let my dad and mom ride that coaster without me. My grandma consoled me and said she’d wait and we could get some ice cream, but I was persistent. I put on my best sad face and pleaded that “on my tippy toes” I was tall enough. The guy relented and let me ride. My mom must have asked me “Are you holding on, Sammy?” 20 times throughout the two-minute ride. She nearly had a heart attack. Now I try every roller coaster I come across.
Guilty pleasure when traveling?
Cheeseburgers from mom-and-pop restaurants. I try to eat healthy regularly, but a greasy slab drizzled with cheese by a local chef is heaven.
Best travel tip?
Be prepared and plan, but don’t let your itinerary blunders ruin the fun. Part of why we travel is to restore ourselves, so we can come back refreshed. It’s OK to sit and smile, to lean in a comfy chair without an agenda. Oh, and naps.