Saturday, 9 November 2013

Journey



I just took the subway, crossed under the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn, visiting some friends before heading out of New York, for the West Coast, probably San Francisco. I saw myself on the subway train, I saw a face with a beard, a big bag leaning against me. That's the image, the body and costume that the other passengers would've seen, even though I wasn't actually there... I was at the top of the Cormet de Roselend, where the road turns round the last bend and opens to the lake, 2000 metres up. It's so peaceful up there, everything's so quiet.

Today's Saturday, tomorrow is Sunday November 10th, and I'll walk over the George Washington Bridge, crossing the Hudson River that first brought me to New York this autumn. Right now I feel nervous about that fact, but I know then that I won't... I'll just be walking. Good things are happening. My publisher's confirmed a June 2nd date for the release of my first book, Cycles. I recently got good news on the first draft of my second manuscript, which looks at the London I returned to as a cycle courier, having just ridden around the world in 2009. I like the story, it's as dear to me as that of riding around the world. Good things are happening, though I feel I've been nomadic for a long time, and sometimes I find the feeling tiring. It's a strange situation, to find yourself in the position where hitchhiking from East to West coasts of the USA  seems like the most sensible thing you can do in terms of your career development. John Steinbeck's been giving me counsel, Louis-Ferdinand Céline always does. He's as good as my mentor.

I've started working on a manuscript of this journey across the US, beginning with the last week, of loitering around New York. Whatever comes out, it'll be political, by which I suppose I'd like to think I actually mean Human. I continue to drift away from ideas of journalism, there's such a gulf between journalism and writing, and the latter has a mandate to inspire that doesn't exist in the pages (digital or otherwise) of most media.

Oddly, I found myself campaigning for Bill de Blasio in New York last week, he's just been elected as the city's first Democrat mayor for twenty years. People whose judgment I trust were prepared to campaign for him, and so I threw my lot in alongside them. For me, de Blasio's victory falls into the same category of Hollande's in France, or Ed over David Miliband... they're all candidates prepared to err closer to the idea that the system doesn't work,  none are the candidates that free-market orthodoxy would've chosen, were our political destiny as mapped-out as it sometimes seems. They're all flawed, in the same way as all politicians and people are, but they're a better kind of flawed than the alternative.

People still associate me with adventure, they've certainly been doing so in response to this plan to travel to the West Coast. I don't really like having that word anywhere near my name, still less 'adventurER.' As far as I'm concerned, what I'm doing here is pretty much an exercise in geography. All the adventurers I know personally are less prone to wandering than I am. They work for less money than they could earn, so that they can have meaningful jobs. By 'meaningful' I mean jobs that help people other than themselves. They quit safe jobs in order to start something new and socially valuable. They're not afraid to ask a difficult question of their boss, where they think it's a moral requirement that they do so. They're not afraid to alienate an entire, conforming dinner table in order to say something that's truthful rather than just noise. Nor is it a question of profession, because I know people in charities who I believe are happy to be only cogs... trundling, loyally... and I know bankers who I trust to question the institution they're working in. To me, these people are adventurers, and if they can take interest in something that I write, or be even a tiny bit inspired by some of the ideas or stories I put out... that's good enough for me. Mountains don't mind you walking over them, rivers flow anyway, and roads are designed to be travelled as easily as possible. There's no challenge bigger than changing the course of a human head or heart... don't let any adventurer archetype tell you otherwise.

Soon I'll start to ramble, so I'll leave it there, and close off with Céline. I'm not feeling quite so world-weary as this sounds, but I saw it the other day, for the first time in a while, the opening words to Journey to the end of the Night. It rang pretty true, as his words so often do.

"Travel is useful, it exercises the imagination.
All the rest is disappointment and fatigue.
Our journey is entirely imaginary.
That is its strength

It goes from life to death. People, animals, cities, things, all are imagined. 
It's a novel, just a fictitious narrative,
Littre says so, and he's never wrong.

And besides, in the first place, anyone can do as much,
You just have to close your eyes.
It's on the other side of life."


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