I’ve been listening to Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, which is his most recent book where he revists the same route that he traveled in The Great Railway Bazaar. I’m only on chapter two, but the first chapter is a lot of him waxing philosophical in the brilliant way that only he can,about with it is like to revisit a place, and how it can only be sad and disappointing because inevitably it will have changed in some way that you’ll disagree with. As much as I’m loving this book, I’m also forced to remember that reading (or listening to) Paul Theroux always makes me yearn for great life experiences that I just haven’t had, and feel remiss for not having them. I also feel remiss knowing that I probably have had some great life experiences, but could never record them with the amazing words that he does.
I can draw all kind of parallels between him writing these books and me reading them. I was reading The Great Railway Bazaar when I first moved to Providence to start library school. Now I’ve started its sequel the same day that I got my official letter telling me that I passed comps and am an actual librarian. For me it’s been nearly two years since I experienced his first trip– not thirty-three, but it’s been significant time in which a lot of things have changed.
Paul Theroux is the only author who I’ve ever underlined. I’ve never been an underliner because I get so sucked into the story that I don’t want to interrupt myself hunting for a pen. With him, it’s like every line is so true and brilliantly crafted that I want to memorize it, and since I can’t, I underline it. That’s the frustration with listening to this on audiobook.
The bonus is, he’s riding around Asia on a train while I’m driving around South County in my car– it’s very appropriate. Thinking about what I’m doing in my every day as travel, or adventure is very healthy for me, and makes me appreciate rather than go through my commute with blinders on.
As much as Paul Theroux is making me want to zip through Turkey en route to India (I mean, I always want to do that, except I’d like to linger in Turkey a bit more), it’s also making me think a lot about my upcoming trip back to Fargo.
A lot of the things that he’s saying about returning to a place are really hitting home for me. When I went back to Oxford one year after living there to find that things hadn’t changed too much but just enough that I could feel how different it was– that was a bit strange to me. I’ve moved around a lot over the course of my life, but I haven’t revisited the places that I left very frequently.
I’m out-of-my-mind excited to see my friends, and finally run the Fargo 1/2 marathon, but I know the whole trip is going to have an extreme feeling of surreality. Lauerman’s is no more, so I won’t get to have my pickled eggs and schooner of Honey Weiss; there’s going to be someone else living in the apartment I occupied for 5 years; my old library is completely gone and a shiny new one is standing in its place; there’s probably going to be sandbags everywhere.
It’s not my town anymore, and that’s fine, because I left voluntarily, but it’s still weird. I figured out before I left that I’ve actually lived in Fargo/Moorhead longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I was born in Southern MN, Springfield while my parents were living in Wabasso. We stayed there a year, then moved to Hallock for two years, then moved to Warren for a year, then back to Hallock. That time we stayed in Hallock until I was 12, and we moved to Cavalier on my 13th birthday. I lived in Cavalier until I was 18– then off to Fargo for ages 18-28. I spent ten years in that town, a pretty much spent all of it planning various schemes to leave that didn’t quite pan out.
I was comfortable there, though, I was content. I left in my own time, and it was the right time for me.
I’m excited to re-navigate streets that are a perfect grid, and eat Mexican food that actually tastes like real Mexican food, but mostly I’m excited to just hang out and actually appreciate the city without having to work all the time, or feel resentful because I’m still there.