Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

October 21, 2003. Travel plans.

I wonder what Iíll do on my travels. Sometimes I donít much care, I just want to be alone and read and ride my bike and see some new places. Other times I feel that this journey must have a purpose. I must consciously work on understanding the US. I went to a talk last week in New York by someone who spoke about listening to the narratives people present about their cities, and framing the city by using that narrative. It seemed a very useful concept, and I felt it would be interesting to understand the places I visit in that way.

In a way I feel Iím juggling whether I simply let go on this trip, or try to use this trip to build on what I already do, how I already live. The dichotomy surfaces in going through my books to decide what to keep and what to give away. With the books in the dining room Ė fiction, religion, childrenís, art, psychology, memoirs Ė I didnít have too much trouble. I wanted books I grew up with, I got rid of a lot of fiction that came later in my life, and I weeded out perhaps half of the rest.

But with the books in the guest bedroom Ė all the work things, economics, biology, natural history, development Ė itís much harder. Getting rid of those is getting rid of my professional self. How much do I want to do that? And how much of that is essential if I am to retain my career and move it further? How much risk do I really want to take in this trip? Many of those books Iíve never even read Ė yet as I browse through them I find they seem very interesting, and perhaps I should take them with me to read in my cozy little van. Some were a building block of my education or the development of my interest, like The Life and Death of the Salt Marsh Ė I wouldnít be doing any of what I do if not for that book. Itís a keeper. And I guess I must keep all of the environmental accounting work.

But Iím weeding out some with perhaps a heavy heart. I pulled out some books on Hong Kong. I love that city, and the hope of working there or perhaps writing about it was strong in me. I was delighted to find the books about Hong Kongís political and economic systems in the bookshops of Tsim Sha Tsui. But Iíve never read them, and chances are I never will. Do I give up my love of Hong Kong or my hope of ever spending time there if I pass on those books?

Iíve weeded out some books about urban design, too. Kevin Lynch, and books about urban history. I wonder if Iíll go so far as to give away Jane Jacobsí Death and Life of Great American Cities, too. I do seem to have a number of ďlife and death books,Ē donít I? I guess cities and ecosystems could be thought to live and die in similar ways Ė or in a more positive view, to live and evolve in similar ways.

Really everything in my career has been at the nexus of environment and society. Will that change? If I give away some of these books, will I realize that Iíve made a mistake and wish I had them later? Or will I never know what Iím missing, because I never had a chance to absorb them and experience how their ideas might relate to the new things Iím doing? Itís a gamble, which to bring with me, what to read as I travel. I canít know in advance which books will end up being important or useful, but can I even guess?

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