For the longest time, especially when traveling, I kept a journal, filling in the pages of spiral-bound notebooks covered in blue-and-white or green-and-white cardboard. These proved a bounty when I began to write for a living. I could glean from them long-forgotten but useful (for writing purposes) details from trips I made 10, 20, and now I can say, with some bafflement, even more than 30 years ago. As time passed, I would occasionally pore over them in search of my former self—a naïve, romantic young man determined to set out abroad, script his own life, never submit to convention, and savor the now. A young man whose appetite for wonder would be difficult to sate. Could the world have once seemed so grand and surprising to me?
I’ve now reached middle age, and I’ve managed to live my dream, living abroad and traveling to dozens of countries, mostly funded by magazines for which I’ve written or in the course of researching my books. But my journals have lost their hold on me. I discovered this quite recently, when I mislaid the first one I ever kept as a voyageur. I shrugged. Why would I need it now? I don’t require any supporting texts to conjure memories from my travels. In my mind, I can re-create vivid vignettes from times spent all over the world. This mental magic lantern is my private treasure, the most valuable thing I possess. As an atheist who believes in no divinely ordained purpose to life, I see the point of existence as the accumulation (without causing harm to others) of experiences, of both the natural and the human world. No “bucket list” for me. I’ve lived it.
These wayfaring remembrances are nothing less than who I am; I would not be me without them. One of my earliest recollections from childhood is of a road trip. I see myself as a scared little boy, huddled in the back seat of his parents’ boxy 1960s Oldsmobile, en route to Ocean City, Maryland, looking out into the autumnal night sky. AM radio signals crackle in and out, bringing news of what then seemed to me impossibly faraway lands—Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas. I was often afraid of car travel, and distracted myself by imagining, in the dark, the exotic neighborhoods of Cleveland, the bizarre byways of Detroit, the alluringly alien precincts of Indianapolis. From then on, I’ve been drawn to the melancholy—to the moon silvering the stony, sweeping steppes of eastern Anatolia, to the nocturnal winds soughing through the palms on Curaçao’s westernmost cape, to the waves of the Indian Ocean breaking in the night over the white sands of Oman’s southern coast. Visiting these places has changed me.