Travel is often remembered as a series of moments; isolated incidents amidst the featureless blur of free time. There’s the “sights” and the “parties” and the “beaches.” Throw in some ruins, temples, pagodas, villagers, and “oh the food!” The people were great, and I have the email addresses of lifelong friends! After these critical elements have been acknowledged, it’s on to the mundane: Flights, buses, tuk tuks, hospitals (nothing serious, just a potentially lethal infection), guesthouses–too many to count; cities and towns, layovers and delays. That about wraps it up. That’s the plotline.
It’s simply reality that “travel” has become a cliche. In the privileged world of credit and inflation and financial sorcery, we (the lucky few) have more possibilities than we know what to do with. In the malaise that descends (replacing a necessity based life)–in an effort to find some sort of meaning within the ease of postmodern existence–booking an E-ticket across the world seems like a proper response. It will be like what Mark Twain was all about, only better because he never had wifi at his guesthouses. People (some, maybe even most, but not all) travel because the game of Western society is boring and predictable. Nobody, in their deepest self, actually wants a secure path to a 401K. At the moment they (am I going polytheistic?) yank the plug on our brief Earthbound stay, we all want to feel like we took some risks, made some leaps, did something unique. Plane tickets are a great way to distract ourselves from the fact that originality actually takes work and presence, and often even struggle.
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
As it now stands, “travel” is undergoing a process of sterilization under the guise of globalization. There is no longer any need or requirement of leaving one’s comfort zone, even in the remotest of locations. Many times on this trip, I have witnessed (and participated in) the unconscious clutching after smart phone or computer or tablet or e-reader or music device as a distraction from the slightest bit of discomfort. Any lag in the conversation is a perfect opportunity to refresh the email, any ideological disagreement is justification to retreat into the the air conditioned mausoleum of an internet cafe. For us, the travelers, life goes on mostly uninterrupted, untroubled by the afterthought of inhabiting a new continent. Facebook and the slew of other media anesthetics keep us “in the loop” with everyone “back home.” Aka, our minds take refuge in the solidity of a familiar, socially reinforced reality, protecting us from the very real threat of change that travel can engender. Thanks to the growing availability of a continuous and potent wifi drip, we can literally traverse the world from the comfort of our own mental living room.
So I guess that brings me back to the plotline, in a weird sort of way. I was going to write about my own plotline, the actual events that have transpired on this trip, but the wave of cynicism that just flooded through my fingers kind of renders that intention hypocritical and empty. Yeah, let’s see…I have taken exactly five flights and been hospitalized once. The food in Asia is delicious and cheap, I have ridden scooters through the pulsing, radiating green of jungle landscapes on multiple occasions, and I currently have a sunburn because the shade, at least on equatorial beaches, still carries potent skin sizzling rays. Oh, and I’ve met some awesome people and a few assholes and I have seen my share of temples. It’s been cool, and at times even wonderful.
But that’s not why I came. I honestly don’t think it’s why anybody comes, yet we all get stuck on these “traveler circuits” talking about how we’re going to “do” Myanmar or “hit” Tonsai, as if our “adventures” all converge upon the same wilting, faded bucket list.
I’m interested in travel because it is, very rarely, an unprecedented opportunity to relinquish control. Yes, this often makes for some great plotline, but more importantly it proves, if only to our own self, how malleable and adaptable we really are. In the sparse moments of relative clarity, travel allows us to see that there is no other time to start living, that no bubble lasts forever, and that no habits are so entrenched as to disconnect us from the ever-present invitation of novelty.
Sometimes it’s a mere detail-the unashamed smile of a beggar gladly accepting dinner money or the gentle sway of a dock beneath a full moon–that brings it all together. In those moments live perfection and abandon. It’s only in retrospect that the mind understands and tries to recreate, not grasping the fact that it can never create the sublime but is relegated to mere analysis.
When I go home, people are going to inevitably ask me, in that monotone sort of way, “How was the trip?(!)” I’ll find refuge in the plotline, bullet points even, the linear list of this happened and then, which led to, and finally. They will nod and stare, and we’ll move forward. I know better than to ask what has transpired in the months I’ve been away. Most people don’t even know themselves. Deep within I will ache to relay the layers upon layers of paradigmatic transformation I have undergone, the successive internal revolutions, the mini death-rebirth cycles which allowed me to navigate my journey without going insane or giving up. But I won’t. I’ll smile and nod with the same body that I’ve always had and they’ve always known while inhabiting a Universe never before seen. If I stay too long, I’ll fall back into the roles and I’ll forget about completion. For a while.
If I reunite with the plotline, it’s ok. It’s only temporary. Soon enough I will move, shake, rustle my way somewhere fresh and the process can begin anew. The moments are good, or bad, or neutral, but in the perpetual act of moving, the subtle contentedness of simplicity slides into place, illuminating even the darkest night.