ASTORIA, NYC- A message a friend from a niche social site sent to me this morning:
“Will check that out. I am pretty open to experiences at this point. Led a very boring life so far. Haven’t really experienced anything outside of tattoos and piercings.”
I had given him some advice which seemed to push his boundaries a little. He’s 37 years old, lives in the Midwest, and, by his own admission, hasn’t really done anything … i.e. He has a row of nine barbells pierced down the ventral side of his wang but has never used them with a woman.
After he sent that message to me I sat at the keyboard frozen in a state of trepidation. It took me back. This was the life that I feared when I was a teenager growing up in Nowhere, Western New York. I was absolutely terrified of doing nothing with my life, of getting stuck in my village, of not having a story. I was terrified of growing up, getting married, buying a house, and replacing my parents on the assembly line of life. I spent far too much time wondering how people could go from being young, curious, and fun to old, passe, risk adverse, uptight, and not fun … how does that happen?
All I knew was that I wasn’t going to give myself a chance to find out.
I believe this was a normal fear for teenagers to have, but I reacted against it more irrationally than most. My plan was to just leave, go as far away as I could, as soon as I could, because no matter what would happen it would be better than being stuck. So I did just that. It seems to have worked out.
For 20 years straight I traveled the world doing stupid shit. Experience trumped money / future security / anything really. I wanted to drink from all the vessels of life and I became a lush. This started out simply: by going places. I went to place after place after place. I was just traveling for the sake of traveling, and seeing the New and experiencing the Other were adequately satiating.
But at some point the returns started to diminish. I was going places, sure, but began realizing that I wasn’t really doing much of anything. I was after deep, exhilarating, excruciating experience but I was mostly just pawing at the surface … like a cat trying to get a bird on the other side of a window. I felt real cool returning home and telling my friends all the places I went but I knew it all was a little empty.
Then I began writing, and it gave me the “reason for being” that I was looking for. It gave me a reason to open closed doors — a reason to talk to people, a reason to request access. This evolved into journalism, and once I had big publications behind me the world cracked open like a pomegranate spiked on a sidewalk. I suddenly had access to most of the people I wanted to talk to and many of the places I wanted to go … as my travels were made to feel a little more rotund.
I started out writing because it would give me an excuse to travel but eventually I realized that I was traveling because it gave me something to write about. I knew at that point that travel was no longer the intrigue, it was no longer the motivating factor. It was merely a vehicle — a vehicle to get the stories.
However, I’ve come to realize that I could have taking this line of thinking ever further. It’s not even about the stories. The articles, books, and films are also mere vehicles — vehicles to acquire experience.
I will bitch about the “pandemic.” 99% of it was bullshit — really indefensible with science or fact — but it was probably one of the best things that have ever happened to me. I lost almost everything professionally. I flicked the spinner, moved my piece, and landed on the long chute that sent me back to the beginning of the game. But you know who I found there? My wife and kids.
I eventually realized that I had an opportunity to experience an aspect of life that I never really experienced before. I had the opportunity to face what I most feared as a teenager on a farm outside of Albion: the sedentary life.
Unlike most travelers, I never walked on the beaten path before traveling. I don’t have a story about liquidating a conventional life and hitting the road. I’m not a cubicle ditcher. I never had to sell a home, sell my stuff, and quit my job. No, I traveled from day one. And at 38 years old I was gifted the chance to and find out what it was really like to have a place. I know my neighbors, I see my kids each day when they get home from school, I see my wife almost every night. I’m able to get jacked at the gym. I can help my daughters with their schoolwork, I can teach them how to film. I started taking “trips” and going on “vacations.”
It was a very different reality but I understood its transitory nature and appreciated it … as I would any other experience of another way of life.
During my time of perpetually traveling my perception of the sedentary has evolved and changed. In the beginning, I looked at them as hapless muggles who didn’t know what they were missing. But then as I got older I began realizing that these muggles often had relationships, knowledge, and experiences that simply weren’t available to me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was jealous but I was definitely put on notice.
I went to my older daughter’s martial arts competition this past weekend. We got into the car and drove to New Jersey. At some point I began laughing to myself. I felt like my father must have felt when driving me to my hockey games when I was a kid. I felt grateful that I had the opportunity to feel this way. There is another very plausible version of this story where I wouldn’t have.
Life is a game of phases and the object is to live each phase as fully as possible. When you’re in your 20s you should be getting drunk and fucking everything. In your 30s you start to build your identity, your brand, who it is that you want to be. In your 40s you become what you are. In your 50s you tie together the loose ends and start narrowing the path. In your 60s you start capping everything off. Each phase is a sequence of new experiences, new things to learn, new ways to live.
The traveler mindset isn’t really about going places. Going places is boring. It’s about touching the broadest range of existence possible, of being able to look at an array of lifestyles, professions, and pursuits and being able to say, “I did that.”
When I was 18 this dude that I would sometimes hang out with asked what I wanted to do with my life. I looked at him and without hesitation said, “To be nothing and do everything.”
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