Today I want to introduce you to one of my favourite people, a friend and fellow writer and someone who always challenges me as he challenges the norms of society. Aiden Enns is the founder and editor of an award-winning quarterly print magazine, Geez: Contemplative Cultural Resistance (2005-present). He’s been a staff writer for Canadian Mennonite and managing editor of Adbusters magazine. He was raised in Vancouver and says that “after 20 years of sleeping on the same parcel of land, (I’m) learning to put down roots in Winnipeg.”
Aiden describes himself below as a “person obsessed with ideas”. He is an outside-of-the-box thinker and one of the best examples that I can give you is how he chose to showcase Geez (a fairly new magazine at the time) at a big convention in Vancouver. Most businesses attending trade shows and conventions think BIG: big room means big display. Not Aiden. He had a small, humble table, with a display that stood about a foot tall and gave away 1” copies of his magazine. He was the only business to garner media attention at the convention. He takes this upside-down, norm-challenging approach to everything in life including travel.
As a person who is striving for peace in all aspects of her life and who loves to travel, I often wonder about the environmental impacts of travel. What does it cost the earth to fly, drive, bus, or cruise? How do I balance my desire to learn about other cultures with the impacts of travel? I knew that Aiden would have a unique perspective on this, so I asked him if he’d be willing to do an interview with me and to my delight he said yes. Here’s our (slightly edited) lengthy interview that is well worth the read. I look forward to your responses.
Aiden: As a concept, travel looks more and more like a trap set by consumer culture. I feel like a party pooper to say that but let me explain what I mean. When we assume that new places are bigger, brighter, better, and more exciting than where we are, we are vulnerable to feelings of discontent and prone to keep wandering to satisfy our longing. But it’s more than an existential inner peace I’m concerned about. The travel industry preys upon this consumer penchant for newness, comfort, spectacle, and what I’ll call “canned beauty” (i.e. commodified notions of a perfect setting/scene/moment). The transnational capitalist forces that drive our collective worldview require us to befriend hypermobility, which means we are comfortable driving an hour each day to work, flying each winter for holidays, moving from a stable home community to a new place for a job. As we uproot ourselves from where we live, we loosen our ties to our local community and the land we depend upon. This weakens our ability and inclination to defend local communities, agriculture, and business.
But you probably want to know something about my personal travel choices. Well, when my life partner shared her aspiration to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I suggested it would be just as epic to walk to Regina from Winnipeg. Maybe I’m just a home body but I really want to find a way to live where I am, not always hanker to be elsewhere.
We have a camper van and I like to drive to the Pacific Ocean to visit family, smell the ocean air and be among the lush foliage. The van is getting old (it’s a 1987 model we’ve had for 15 years) so we’ve experimented with summer holidays on bicycle. Two years ago we loaded up with saddlebags and travelled 1200 kms around our province. It was invigorating.
Because your blog is shopping oriented, I’ll add that I bought a new bike for our travels. It was expensive in low-income terms, but not very expensive in new-car terms. I brought an old bike to the shop and got an estimate for making it road-worthy and it was getting close to the purchase of a new one. So I got a new bike, the second one in my life. The first one is a winter bike now.
TSFP: Why is it important to you to travel with a light footprint?
Aiden: I bet most people seek to travel with a light carbon footprint to do their part to “save the earth.” Of course I want to ruin the environment as little as possible. I also want to save money, feel nimble, and enjoy a sense of lightness and escape from a life at home which regularly feels over-filled with stuff and burdened by duty.
But, being a person obsessed with ideas and how they affect communal conduct, I want to discover a better way of being human. I’m finding more and more kinship with animals; I’m getting less enamoured by the trappings of what we call civilization (for example flush toilets, effortless heating systems, machines that carry us to work, notions of work that require physical docility and profit from the labour of others) and charmed by the deer in the park, bunny under the deck, and the birds nibbling at the ornamental crab. What do squirrels do for holiday travel? Maybe trees have a sense of vacation, I wonder what that is?
TSFP: Given that there is much to be gained from travel (experiencing another culture: its food, its sounds, its smells, its language, its attitudes, its people –not souvenirs and tourist traps!) how do you balance that with a commitment to creation care?
Aiden: This is an excellent question. Travel, to speak positively about it, does expose us to other ways of living, which, ideally, opens us to greater acceptance of newcomers, different foods, fashions, and languages. Travel can also, in spite of what I just said about it, strengthen our ties to home and give us new appreciation for and hence dedication to the human community and the wonder of the earth that sustains us. But those good things are very easily co-opted by advertisers, bloggers, newspapers, TV shows, reality programs, great races, and so on, so I don’t emphasize them. Your question gets at the complexity of so many decisions faced by people with wealth, privilege and social conscience.
I tone down my need to travel abroad for these reasons and tone up my exploration of the diversity of culture at home. It’s amazing how different an “ethnic” food store can feel. Even here in Winnipeg, which is hardly culturally diverse compared to cities like Toronto and Vancouver, there are foreign sights, sounds, smells and movements to explore. For example, just down our street is a Filipino Christian church which must be packed with people because of all the cars parked around it and the kids and moms and teens flowing into it. One day I’m going to go in there, as a visitor, much like I would if I were a tourist. I also experience other cultures as I visit with people who travel to Winnipeg. We had a bus driver from Sweden stay with us for several nights. Her goal was to bus across Canada. I peppered her with questions and felt like I was “away” as we bridged our language barrier. Two young women from Norway travelled across Canada to make a film about the oil sands in Alberta, how they are polluting Canada and exploiting nearby residents. I learned all about Statoil, the natioinally-owned energy company in Norway, among other things. Friends have foreign students live with them, others take in international volunteers with programs offered by Mennonite Central Committee and others.
TSFP: Anything else you want to add?
Aiden: I think that two people can do the same thing for different reasons and that the reasons are more crucial than the activity. My friend who’s a journalist just flew from Winnipeg to Bangladesh to write a story about how climate change and rising sea levels affect that developing country. He’s self-conscious about his carbon footprint (and I hope he writes about that for Geez). I have other friends whose entire families flew to Mexico to celebrate Christmas. These are nice, responsible people whom I love. Given today’s norms of civilization, both of those trips are justifiable and fine, I say with reluctance and blessing. But as more people travel with intention to shape new norms of civilization, our values with shift, reality for humans will be lighter. This won’t happen overnight but it can happen.
For my readers: What leaps out at you from this interview? Will it make you look at travel differently?