I know that last post about travel writing being “dead” blew pretty hot. But the top of my head didn’t actually fly off until I read Jon Carroll’s little opinion piece on SFGate’s Travel page this morning.
While I was scraping bits of hair and blood and bone off my ceiling, I figured out why this kind of article and the travel writers who create them make me so insanely angry.
These guys travel the world in search of pain. Then they glorify other people’s suffering, misery, and poverty, exploiting it for their oh-so-serious prize-winning books and articles. Best of all, they sneer and snipe at all of us mindless plebeians who dare to travel for fun. And of course they look as far down their imperially arched noses at magazines like Escape (the one Jon Carroll was whinging about in his article) that publish articles that promote pleasure travel, making it look like lots of the world might be a nice place to visit. How dare they!?!
And after they’ve had their deep and meaningful looks into the filthy alleys and suppurating sores of the real world, they go home. To their nicer-than-average houses and apartments in good neighborhoods, their three squares a day, their pain-free lives. No matter how poignant their prose, no matter how much they feel as though they’re One With the Common Man of the World, they are tourists. They do not live where they “work.” In fact, most of them don’t seem to have the slightest notion of what it might be like to actually have to LIVE with pain and suffering, rather than “present an objective lens with which to view” it.
Mr. Carroll, I gotta tell you something about me: I don’t need to travel halfway around the world digging desperately to find some suffering. I can suffer at home for free. Every single day. I don’t live in squalor or poverty…just pain. Which puts me in better shape than millions of people around the world, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my home, my family, my skin color, my relative position in an often cruel and rock-hard world. And I’m not the only traveler like me out in the world, I’m afraid.
I travel to Escape suffering. Not to find it.
(Hee–see there how I made a funny using the name of the magazine Carroll hates so much! Go me!)
For me, the act of traveling exudes magic. When I travel, I feel surrounded by a perpetual aura of wonder and joy as I see new things and familiar things and soak in the amazing wonder of the world. Travel is the best painkiller I’ve ever found, and trust me when I tell you I’m a heavyweight in the painkiller league.
That’s not to say that I feel no pain when I travel. One of the reasons I’ll never travel without luggage, no matter how unfashionable it might be for a travel writer to overpack these days, is that the one bit of baggage I can never leave behind is my chronic pain. Where I go, it goes. And thither go the big pile of stuff that diminishes that pain.
But on the road, even when the pain hits hard, somehow my reaction to it changes. Even though I ended up sprawled in a graceless heap on the Atlanta airport bathroom floor, it was worth it to meet Nancy. To go snorkeling on the reefs of Cozumel. To ride one of those enormous cruise bricks.
Traveling is fun. FUN, DAMMIT!!!
Carroll, Theroux, Greene, et al–how dare you try to take that fun away from me? How dare you condescend to and sneer at writers who aim to help people like me find ways to escape to something better than real life, and in doing so improve the lot of that life?
How. Dare. You.
Travel is my favorite escape from the crippling chronic pain that the doctors have finally admitted will never go away. And you know what? It’s not your right to look down on me for that, even if you are a Big Deal in my chosen profession. I’ve got the right and in fact the duty to spread the joy of traveling as far and as wide as I possibly can.
If I ever have more money than J.K. Rowling, I’m going to do something that will probably cause the Old Boy’s Travel Writing Club to whimper and scream and curse my name. I’m going to set up a fund that helps people go on the best, most fun vacations possible. Disneyworld, Hawaii, a Comfort Inn, wherever. Wherever you want to escape, I’ll give you that chance. You name the place you’ll enjoy the most, and I’ll send you there.
I wonder how many of those noble savages Carroll and his buddies so love to gawk at and scribble about will take me up on the offer if I can ever extend it? My guess–probably roughly all of them.
Until I have all the money and can send all of you on your dream vacations…Beaches are beautiful in September. The next Free National Parks days are November 11-13. Disneyland tickets are free on your birthday.
Go find the fun!