The epigraph of (the wonderfully-named) William Least Heat-Moon’s forthcoming collection of travel essays comes from an overheard conversation involving a New York City waitress called Dolores, in 2001, who said:
I live downtown and I work uptown. Six days a week, back and forth, fifty-nine blocks, fifty-five of them underground on the subway. The Lex Line number four-five. That’s my godforsaken life right now. But one of these days I’m going to get out of here and go to, I don’t know, just call it elsewhere. Like, you know, somewhere, anywhere, because I want to see what goes on out there in all those wheres.
What some people may read and regard as a desire to run away, to escape, I regard otherwise as a desire to become more fully a person of the world. Easier said than done, of course. And, of course, travelling isn’t the only way to do it; if it were, not many people would be able to, or perhaps even want to, become a person of the world.
Travelling, I’ve learned, is a funny thing. If you are not forced, by one reason or another, to do so, travelling is in many respects a privilege. Even if you tend to travel the way my co-Urchins and I have done so, and that is with little money, we have at least afforded the choice to travel, of which we wholeheartedly take advantage.
Look. I know nothing yet of how to become a person of the world but I am eager to learn. (And perhaps that is the start.) What I do know already is that travelling can either be one way to learn or one way to delude yourself into believing you already know everything. And worse: to attempt to teach lessons based on such delusions.
I can speak for my co-Urchins when I say that we have no desire to commit such offenses, but I can only speak for myself when I say that I’ve been guilty of them anyway, even though I sincerely never meant to be. You see, I’ve now, finally, read enough travel writing to know that it can either be profoundly enlightening or embarrassingly self-indulgent. I no longer want to write travel essays that are simply about me. I say ‘no longer’ because I’ve done it, and you’ve most likely read them.
But this is the thing about constantly writing. You are constantly learning what kind of writer you are and what kind of writer you want to be. Great travel writers aren’t just writing about themselves; they are configuring, trying to fit themselves and their journey, like puzzle pieces, somewhere in a history. They are comtemplating their place within history/ies, however significant or miniscule, whether their footsteps echo or falter, all while attempting to discover who came before them and why. Why were they there then, and why are we here now?
The first essay in William Least Heat-Moon’s aforementioned collection Here, There, Elsewhere* is freshly written, more so of an introduction or even an explanation for the book you have in your hands and have decided to devote your time and read. Heat-Moon’s humility is apparent, expressing his weariness in releasing a collection of old essays with the notion that people would care to read them. But he does so anyway, treating the project as yet another one of his journeys, this one being a path toward rediscovery, which paradoxically enough can bring about realms of new discovery altogether.
I initially assembled the contents in chronological order which did little more than suggest ways my writing may have changed (I’d like to say developed), but who would care besides me? Instead, I’ve arranged them intuitively, and that means you too can intuit an order to suit your experience. I believe there are continuing themes here, and finding them replicates the fundamental quest for connections forever necessary to make any sense of any whatever.
When travelling and writing inexplicably walk the same route, the results (which are never really end-results, but results that result enough to keep you journeying on) can know no bounds. Heat-Moon is just one example of a travel writer whose curiosity and enthusiasm to tell and share stories trumps the delusion to which many travel writers fall victim: that you are worthy enough to lead by example.
Every journey begins with a here and lights out for a there; but to a traveler bent more on the there—on destination—a here often receives little exposition beyond a name; yet within every there and elsewhere and somewhere and anywhere hides a here. […] Hithers hold the light to thithers and reveal them for what they are and are not.
What is wisdom but perceiving how heres connect to theres, hithers to thithers, I to thee? Elsewheres are heres waiting to be uncovered and seen anew, and separations are veils hiding the wholeness of subject and object, now and then, truth and misperception, your belief and mine.
And so, I think you’ll be pleased to hear, just as I am pleased to announce, that the Urchin Movement has hired a new travel essayist, and it’s me.