Photo by MAZZALIARMADI.IT
For our final Issue Nine teaser, Luke Meinzen describes his Mongolian adventures and the travel writers that inspired his personal journey.
If a teaser leaves you wanting more, you can find the full text of Meinzen’s musings and more on our website in the coming weeks. For instant gratification, why not pre-order a copy of the latest issue?
I was carried off to Mongolia as much by a book as by a Boeing jet or good intentions: Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. Chatwin was a director at Sotheby’s in London, a failed archaeologist, and a writer, before he left suddenly for South America. In 1977, he emerged with In Patagonia, a travel book that romanticised nomadism in spare prose that turned Chatwin into a literary superstar of the 1980s. I found the book 15 years after Chatwin’s death, and convinced myself that I had the soul of a nomad.
I grew up in the USA. My father worked for a farm equipment manufacturer during an agricultural recession in the 1980s and my mother had portable skills as a teacher. We moved seven times across four states before I left for university. My brothers and I were raised to move, to feel like strangers in country towns and in small cities in the Mississippi River basin. For Midwestern German Lutherans, however, the church is the basic unit of social organisation, the primary topic of conversation, and a place to share a lot of food, and this filled whatever needs otherwise unmet by our lack of a stable community. My mother directed the choir, and my brothers and I sang in it. My father taught Sunday school, we attended. We all played on church softball teams and took meals to grieving families.
In my late teens, I gave up God and moved away from home. The effect was to be born again, though not into a community of believers but as a free agent without a people or a purpose. Enter the travel book, especially Chatwin’s, where displacement is unremarkable. Human beings wander by nature and make meaning by moving along the surface of the earth, lonely and melancholy. For a newborn atheist and a prime candidate for prodigal son, wandering made for a seductive self-creation myth to replace the old.
On my mother’s side were immigrants who had uprooted and settled on American prairies. My own father had made more than 30 homes in his own life. Before him, two generations had been born into missionary families in the lowlands of southern India. They saw themselves as worshippers.
But to me, far from home and under the influence of peripatetic writers, it was clear I came from a line of wanderers. In Patagonia became a talisman, and with the zeal of the converted I went to Mongolia to find a new set of things to believe in, even if they were my own stories about adventures with nomads.
Luke Meinzen has written essays for Gourmet, Salon.com and the Best American Poetry blog. He lives in Melbourne and works on a program that promotes volunteering and long-term exchange in Asia, the Pacific and Africa.