by Mark English
I am in the process of reorienting my life. Over the years I have been caught up, as everybody is, in various projects, commitments, entanglements and responsibilities (or perceived responsibilities). Some of these commitments limited my opportunities for extensive travel, or at least the sort of travel I desired.
In recent years I wanted to ensure that I would be able to visit my ailing mother on a regular basis. She was in a nursing home in Melbourne. So I leased a place fairly close by, a small ninth-floor apartment in Melbourne’s old Chinatown district.
Unfortunately, due to draconian COVID-driven bans on visiting, I was not allowed to see my mother for months on end or liaise in the normal way with nursing staff during 2021. In previous years she had fared pretty well, fought off occasional acute illness and defied confident predictions by physicians of her imminent demise. But last year a pressure sore got out of hand and became infected and she went into serious decline and died in January.
My apartment lease expires in early August and my intention at the moment is not to renew it. I have not decided on where I will be based. The plan, for the moment, is just to travel. Initially to Singapore, and then further afield. This itinerant lifestyle could continue for quite some time if my health and finances allow.
The plan is not to be moving constantly but rather to stay for extended periods (months) at most destinations. I will probably continue to post material online. But how my lifestyle changes will affect the extent, nature or focus of this activity is uncertain.
Naturally there would now be some scope for doing anecdotal travel-related pieces, impressions of various places and so on. But to what end? Before the restrictions of the last couple of years, most people I know traveled widely and on a regular basis. I didn’t. I am the least-frequent flyer I know.
In fact, I am a kind of travel Rip Van Winkle. This is not really an angle which I want to emphasize or play on in my writing, however, with references to four-engined turboprops and Boeing 707s and descriptions of how places have changed. When I last visited Athens, for example, the Third Hellenic Republic was in its initial stages and the time of the generals was still fresh in everybody’s memory. This is not, as I say, a line I want to take. It could rapidly become tedious. The old fogey is always lurking (I admit it), but he needs to be kept at bay.
On places, one has impressions, one makes judgments. But is there any need to talk publicly about them? Opinions and impressions are a dime a dozen; and reportage makes sense if you are being paid for it or if you are pushing some narrative or other which you deem to be important, but not otherwise as far as I can see.
My blogging and essay-writing has always been an extension of my thinking. My conscious goals have been the clarification and testing of my ideas, and sometimes (in relation to certain pet themes and commitments) persuasion.
In research contexts, in science and traditional forms of scholarship, the details matter. They come alive as they fit themselves into a larger whole. Something similar could be said in respect of literary narratives.
But discursive forms are different. My natural tendency has always been towards conciseness rather than the elaboration of detail. Always I am looking for conclusions, or at least provisional conclusions. Or, if not conclusions, then the bird’s eye view, the broader context. That’s probably why I was so vulnerable in my early years to religious explanations and philosophical systems. It also helps to explain my interest in geopolitics.
There is always the possibility of getting involved in real scholarly work again or in serious writing – possibly on political themes or international relations, possibly on more theoretical topics. It all depends on various factors (whom I meet, where I am based, how my interests develop, geopolitical developments, etc.).
Cultures and the values associated with them have been – and no doubt will remain – recurrent preoccupations. And exposing myself to different cultures (to the extent that urban cultures have not converged into a boring sameness) will at the very least constitute a kind of experiment in compatibility.
Cultural and national identity is something I have been thinking about recently. Generally speaking, I am wary of nationalism. But I do value cultural diversity, and I recognize that the persistence and integrity of specific cultures is often intimately bound up with or dependent upon political structures, including national structures.
I have written in the past about Jewish immigration and assimilation in Europe and especially in the British Isles. My interest was sparked by family stories and speculations about my own family history as well as by some literary sources. Many people have contacted me (mainly from the United States and the United Kingdom) detailing their own discoveries of previously unknown Jewish forebears. This is not an area I intend to devote a lot of time or energy to researching or writing about, but I would certainly be interested in finding out more.
There are still things to do here (sorting papers, legal matters, getting a new passport, etc.). I hope that it will all go smoothly and that my transition to a new way of life occurs without my having to face any further personal stresses or challenges.
Looking to the broader context, it goes without saying that social, political and economic stresses will continue and probably become more intense. To what extent I will be trying to chronicle or wanting to comment on these things in the future I do not know.
Nor have I decided what communication platforms to rely on during my travels. I may even decide, given the state of the world and the direction in which things are moving, that I want to follow the example of many of my literary and intellectual heroes and hunker down somewhere far from the madding crowd.
While I am in traveling mode, however, I would be very open to meeting – for a coffee, say – anyone who may have come across my blog posts or essays over the years, as well as those internet friends with whom I have maintained more direct contact.