All Posts By: athene

Geneva Country

My parents lived in a trailer park in Utah Valley when I was born. I have since spent most my life in Spanish Fork, Springville, Provo, and Orem—cities Mormons built in the space between the Wasatch Mountains and Utah Lake. Some people say, “that’s sad, don’t you want to experience the world.” They phrase it without the inflection in their voice to imply a question, too, as if travel is somehow necessary for a person to become  a well-rounded individual. “I’ve traveled,” I tell them, trying to avoid the bitter word “enough”—that takes my angry tongue to the top of my mouth and then down to my clenched bottom lipto let them know that, yes, I’ve traveled enough. There are other ways to know the world than through travel.

When Roberto Bolaño discovered he was going to die young, at the age of fifty, he found himself wondering if he’d done enough fucking, reading, and traveling to justify his short life. He feared that, maybe, every book he’d read and every act of carnal knowledge he’d engaged in was mere repetition, that “fucking and reading are boring in the end, and that travel is the only way out.” Is it through travel, Bolaño asked, that we find the antidote for what troubles us in this doomed world?

Bolaño’s father was an aspiring boxer turned truck driver, his mother a teacher. He knew traveling was something primarily reserved for the rich except for those stowaways lucky enough to find room above the bunk in dad’s cab. He asserted instead that fucking, reading, and traveling are all directed toward the same end: discovering the new, the novel, and the never-before-experienced. Ideally writers like himself were supposed to take their readers on journeys to the edge of the abyss and back so that they could say, “wow, that’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt, done, seen, heard, etc.”

I recently moved with my partner to the northwestern most corner of Provo, UT, into some new apartments overlooking a road called “Geneva.” All that’s left of the steel company from which the road got its name is a fenced-off cement slab. Heading East, we walk the neighborhoods built for the steelworkers during and after World War II. Heading West, we hike the remaining farmland between the road and the lake. From all sides, the impulse to gentrify summons suburbia with an intensity that obliterates the old farms with prefabricated homes and leased cars. We came to occupy these borderlands—or what my partner and I have come to call “Geneva Country”—without knowing that we’d be witnesses to its evolution away from blue collar ways of life and toward white collar ephemera. We match their impulse to gentrify with our own desire to map the borderlands and preserve the past.  

As I already mentioned, there are other ways to know the world besides travel. Today, world travel is little more than how the bourgeoisie collect experiences they can dismiss with their cool and refined lack of enthusiasm. “Yeah, I saw the Eiffel Tower; it wasn’t that impressive.” I’ve walked the Provo River from where it originates in the Wasatch Mountains all the way down to its end at Utah Lake. I’ve studied the indigenous people who once congregated at the mouth of the river for seasonal trout runs. I’ve watched the sunset over Utah Lake with my lover naked in our bed plotting how we’re going to explore the borderlands with the same passion that we just explored one another’s bodies. My love for and understanding of the world needs no delayed flights, expensive hotels, or scheduled sightseeing. I lose my ego in books as easily as I do inebriated lovemaking. Reading and fucking are enough to sate my thirst for the new, the novel, and the never-before-experienced.

But it’s also true that, sometimes, I still dream of escape. I’ve got this funny feeling that I just can’t shake. The devil in the wires, eating up my brain. There’s a flood that’s coming up to my bed. Chaos wins, and I can’t get over it. The culture in Utah Valley can be as toxic as the lake’s poisonous algae blooms. Maybe I stay because my body has become so used to the poison that I need it to reach neurobiological stasis? I don’t know. As I put my headphones on to run the trail that weaves its way from one side of Provo River to the other, I lose my ego in the music. I am reminded that the abyss never retreats—no matter where you are—and I don’t mind traveling to its edge to return and report. This is more than my home. It is the ecosystem that has nourished me and made me who I am. Beauty, violence. War is within us. We’ll be silenced. Tomorrow we’re gonna be stardust. Until then, I think I’ll stick around to see what else happens.  

“OK, Google, What’s Culture?”

As I drove north over the Point, I shouted at my phone like an angry boss frustrated with an obstinate worker. “OK, Google,” I demanded, “what’s culture?” It heard me over Larkin Poe’s southern blues rock, turned off the music, bleeped its familiar bloop, and answered me in a pleasant female voice that (I could tell, somehow) took no offense over my tone. “Culture is the arts and other…

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Ambiguous Identities

About three years ago, I went through a divorce that was more like a violent shootout than a pragmatic goodbye. The relationship my wife and I had nurtured over eight years collapsed in a matter of weeks. We went from best friends to worst enemies in the same amount of time we had spent vacationing together in Seattle one summer, drinking wine in bed, watching boats cross the Puget…

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When a Prophet Dies

I find it useful to emphasize what’s said over who’s saying it. We live in a society so committed to an individualist ethic that we forget how much our environment influences our behavior. We want people to be responsible for their actions. We don’t want their actions to be the product of their environments. This not only makes it easier to assign blame—and to regulate conduct—it also makes complex…

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Wisdom, Work, and Warfare

Plato founded his first academy as a sanctuary in honor of Athena the goddess of wisdom. At the time, “sanctuary” implied sacred space where both mentors and apprentices could establish the spiritual grounding necessary for the mundane practice of their disciplines. Today we might describe “sanctuary” as a “small safe space in a troubling world, an oasis in a vast desert, or an island in a stormy sea.” But…

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Preludes and Nocturnes

I took my eyes off the road to glance at my phone and skip a song when traffic skidded to a halt. I swerved left, caught the bumper of the truck in front of me, and pulled to the shoulder. The loud crunch of detuned guitars and painful wails started blaring from my speakers. Hey you, hey you, devil’s little sister, listening to your twisted transistor. The other driver…

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Lucenti Humanifesto

We were raised to believe witchcraft was not only real but also part of a deliberate effort by the devil to lead us astray. Our parents claimed that Jay’s Journal — which told of one Utah teenager’s descent into “satanic paganism” — was an actual autobiography. Most of us were encouraged to read it as a manual for how to avoid the devil’s snare. Some of us saw through…

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