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 lip—to 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.