Walking the streets looking for something.
BANGKOK, Thailand- It was early 2017 and I was feeling pretty good from publishing back-to-back-to-back 100,000+ view articles on Forbes. In my journalistic vertical this kind of traffic isn’t common, and I was becoming aware that I the formula that I’ve been working on for the past decade or so my finally have become refined enough to bring in the goods.
I was in Bangor, Maine then, working out of a co-working space. I took a little break after going over my recent traffic stats, walked over by the window, looked out on Main Street, and began congratulating myself. I was feeling pretty good, but then I heard it:
“But will anyone remember you.”
I don’t want to say that I heard a voice, but the effect was very much the same. I’m not sure what it was or where it came from, but I heard it again: “But will anyone remember you.”
After a pause, I responded: “No. No, nobody is going to remember some writer who found a knack for cranking out viral news stories.”
I felt my expression flat-line. Emotionally, I went splat.
Those big stories and the nice paydays that come from them suddenly seemed a lot less impressive. Everything that I was doing was perilously temporary, superficial, ephemeral. While they sometimes stir the pot today — being cited in big lawsuits and used as tools by politicians — they were all ultimately meaningless.
In that moment I came face to face with my mortality, suddenly aware that I am an adult — what legacy will I leave here? I was 36 years old then — no longer a man possessing forever to accomplish what he’s after. I was no longer in the process of becoming; what I was doing was it. I was no longer in the preparation stages; I was doing what could be regarded as “my work.” I was missing my chance.
So this is Bangkok now. Riding on the train into the city I realized that I no longer know this place. I had an extended visit in 2005 when I disappeared in a room on the top floor of a Khaosan apartment building just reading books and partying. Then I returned in 2007 for a short visit to backpacker-dom. That was over a decade ago and the place has been churning while I’ve been away. Shopping malls, shopping malls, shopping malls.
On this around the world trip I’m doing something a little different that I usually do. While I often go out traveling on some kind of journalistic pursuit — something about development or economics or politics — this time I’m looking for something else: good stories of life.
This is a tricky endeavor. There are stories everywhere; however, collecting and processing them takes large amounts of time. Each story is at the expense of 100 stories — each thing that you film, each thing that you write about means leaving many other things untold. Knowing what stories to engage is as vital a skill as knowing how to engage them.
Lebanon went well. In Bangkok I can feel myself sputtering; flirting with falling back in my usual patterns. For the first time perhaps in my career I feel like a man without a mission. There is also the issue of money: what I did before makes money; what I’m doing now, I’m not so sure.
I guess I’m a little lost. Lost in Bangkok. I would like to stop into a bar, sit down with a beer, pull out a piece of paper and start scrawling plans over it. But I can’t. If I stop moving here vultures will descend: “You want massage?”