When I was about seven years old, I ran away from home. Today, the word “runaway” conjures images of pre-teens and teenagers going to the city, falling prey to pimps, sexual exploitation, and destructive drugs. I was just a chubby little girl with ribbons in her pigtails.

For some years I’ve tried to tease apart the strands of what I myself remember about my leaving and what I was told in family stories. At the end of Katherine Anne Porter’s “Old Mortality,” the protagonist muses, “At least I can know the truth about what happens to me, she assured herself silently, making a promise to herself, in her hopefulness, her ignorance.” Checking the text to write this, I found that I’d misremembered it. My version was, “At least I can know the truth about myself…” It’s a crucial difference, self-knowledge compared with knowledge about experience that acts on the self…. More…

 

I found myself, at 23, in the land of Chinngis Khan, vodka, and milktea, completely unprepared to teach children. After living in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia for almost a year I concluded that anyone who came to Mongolia was running from something: an eight-year relationship, a gay father, law school, the pressure to get a real job. Why Mongolia? It represents just about the most distance you can put between yourself and anyone in the western hemisphere. It is located smack dab between two superpowers: Russia and China. Plane tickets here are costly: between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on whom you know. Ulaan Baatar is the coldest capital in the world. The country, governed by a disagreeable mix of former Communist leaders and a few who hoped for a smoother transition to democracy, runs on a system of corruption…. More…