This new book is filled with anecdotes from Frost’s recent travels in Southeast Asia, where he went after quitting his civil service job in Canada.
The book is well-written and enjoyable. It’s thoughtful but ultimately a bit unsatisfying. If you’re expecting to read this book and think "Frost shouldn’t have quit his job" or "quitting your job and traveling the world is sure to be super deep and meaningful" you’ll be disappointed either way. The truth is that it’s not clear.
I have a couple good friends who decided to try to "find themselves" (or whatever the preferred euphemism is these days) by traveling in Southeast Asain countries (interestingly, I only know one person who decided to try to find herself in Africa, everyone else goes to Asia – or maybe it’s that women go to Africa and men go to Southeast Asia). I should say upfront that I’m very skeptical of this path to enlightenment. To be brutally honest, I think it’s a big self-indulgent.
Frost’s experiences match those of my friends. Before they leave the US (or Canada, in Frost’s case) they’ve filled their lives with jobs they don’t like, lots of drinking, and either short-term relationships or a series of medium-term relations. They find this existence unsatisfying . . . because it really is unsatisfying.
When they’re traveling outside the US (or Canada), they fill their lives with sleeping late, lots of drinking, and a series of short-term relationships with other twentysomethings from Australia, Scandinavia or the British Isles. Unsurprisingly, they generally find this unsatisfying . . . because it’s unsatisfying.
I should say right here, that if you’re unfamiliar with the thinking behind why someone would do this with their life, you should read this book. The book is well-written and introspective and honest.
Before Frost leaves Canada, he felt like "a man who had given up on greatness . . . [he] knew he was on the wrong path." As he travels though, he says a few things that make me wonder whether he’s coming to the realization that he’s still on the wrong path. For example, he says, "You did something that made you happy. At the end of the day, what else matters?" He "embrace[s] nomadic, nihilistic hedonism" and seems to find it wanting.
He takes a shot or two at the people who waste their life away on "the soft suicides of TV, video games, internet addiction, alcoholism, drugs, an empty vacant hook-up culture, the unthinking pursuit of material status symbols, and the Puritanical Neo-Calvinism of modern political movements." Yet many of the people I know who were most into some of these soft suicides are among "the legions of young Westerners drinking, fucking and tripping their way through Southeast Asia." Is the latter a different form of soft suicide?
Honestly, from my vantage point, I can’t see much of a difference.
Frost is honest enough to admit that he’s found . . . nothing, but some good times (and some good stories). It’d be nice to know a little more about what lessons he’s drawn from these findings. I guess we’ll have to wait for the next book.