My whole life I’ve been attracted to the far away. I can recall being a very small child and somehow instinctively knowing that the world was a big place and that things were very different across the oceans. That intrigued me and kept my mind busy on aeonic and humid summer days in Virginia, where there were endless fields of boredom to fill with notions of adventure. Growing up, I never knew what to say when people would ask what I wanted to be when I was older. I’d usually answer with something vague and abstract like, an “artist” of some sort, a “writer“, or a “traveler“, or even a “wandering monk” (I’d read Kipling’s Kim and thought that was a genuine option). There was also a period where I wanted to be a protestant pastor, but that was mostly only because I was under the misguided impression that they only had to work on Sundays and enjoyed the rest of the week off. However, when I think back on those days, and that question in particular, I guess I have to admit that I didn’t really want to be anything when I grew up; I just wanted to go.
Those who travel often sometimes refer to their need to get out and explore the world as a kind of illness, an obsession, even a possession, and while that may be their honest assessment of their instincts, that doesn’t quite define my personal experience. I like seeing the world not because I garner pleasure from the exotic, nor because I want to escape the quotidian mechanizations of life, but mostly because somehow every place that I end up in becomes an integral part of my journey toward self actualization and realization of what my own life might mean. Without getting too esoteric about the whole thing, I think of myself as a kind of secular mystic and being surrounded by new environs, unintelligible languages, new iconographies and symbolisms, ancient architecture, contemporary material culture, and sounds without definable origin, etc., all suss me out of the shell of domesticity and routine and into what’s really going on.
I think that many of us tend to reduce the world into our particularized experience of it. But, the world, even in the 21st century, is vast and there are still countless things to discover. Of course the whole doctrine of discovery, at least in its historic context, is total fallacy and is flooded with racial and cultural power imbalances and exploitations, but the kind of discovery I reference here is a personal one — a discovery of self. I doubt that’s what the conquistadores experienced as they raped and pillaged the New World; could be wrong though. Did those brazenly greedy men, emboldened by prospects of uncountable wealth, and maybe even a bit of adventure, ever pause to consider how those journeys changed them? We’ll never know.
Wanderlust has always been a part of my life. Without any effort at all, I find myself daydreaming for sometimes hours on end about writing comfortingly geometric postcards by the water in Porto, or watching children play in fountains during an especially stagnant and oppressive Roman summer, or the smell of easterly rain coming in from the ocean in Colombo, or the pins-and-needles tension in my feet while standing in line for the cinema in “everything’s uphill” Hong Kong, or sleeping atop an adobe house with a smooth, flat roof and a broad and bright night sky in Santa Fe. In my mind’s eye, within an instant, I can visualize the wisps of a rowdy flame transforming a funeral pyre into eternity in Kathmandu; smell the delicately floral fragrances emanating from the spaces between the rapid back-and-forths of the lacy winged fans a flock of Spanish ladies are using on themselves (and the world) after a matinée zarzuela, can hear the unfriendly and sharp clicking that informs the blind that it is safe to cross Berlin’s Karl-Marx-Allee as I too cross the monumentalism of good ideas turned bad by good people, can feel the chill in the air and the wish to pull the blanket over my shoulders, up round my neck, and into the moment in Addis Ababa as night approaches, and there in the background, the never-ending honking car horns so frequent that they become only one incessant and intolerable carillon beaconing the human’s need for silent moments to hurry home — clanging now ubiquitous in almost any city the whole world over. Might that shrill slash into the great jazz ensemble of nature be the soundtrack of our post-Model T lives?
Now, I am a grown up and I’m still going, still discovering, still dreaming and waking up and dreaming. Now, theoretically, I could go wherever I want, but I’m not one for planning dreams. I like to organically end up in places, turning corners here and there to make sure I avoid the ways I’ve already taken. Sometimes, I get lost. Usually, I find my way, and so much more than that. Sure it might take me longer to get where I’m going, but that’s okay. Wherever I go, there I am.