Ramblings of the Last Five Weeks

Hotel rooms and the D.I. life

Those of you who know me personally are aware that I have been traveling for some time. With remote working being a thing nowadays, I found the call of the wild irresistible, so I packed up and got out of Dodge. It’s been fun. It’s been challenging. It’s been filled with lots of growth. I sit here a better man, and fully aware of how I am settling back into my new environment and routine. I am doing my best to make my life a story worth telling. Here’s a little part of that story.

Prep

I planned this trip out to the best of my ability, given how little I could foresee. My trajectory depended primarily on things beyond my control, and I was forced to wait to see how things resonated once they were actually experienced. All I had decided was to go stay in Oakland for a couple weeks, hopefully see how much artistic community there is in the Bay Area, and if it felt right, to stay a while longer. Beyond that objective, I was wide open.

Addressing logistics, I booked an Airbnb for two weeks, along with a pit stop in Coquille, Oregon. I also built-out a travel pedalboard designed to go directly into my audio interface and computer so I could keep teaching remotely on my trip. I did this because I didn’t know if I would end up living with roommates or not as things panned out, and I wanted to keep my work life private through headphones. Turns out, I really enjoy this format because it feels more intimate (like a podcast), the sound quality is amazing, and it keeps me more focused on our lesson trajectory. Zoom also has this awesome feature where you can record the feed using a direct audio signal, which makes my video recaps insanely good quality now. I’m keeping this format moving forward.

There’s a breakdown of the equipment I brought with me and how I set-up my pedalboard here.

Yosemite, by dawn

Blastoff!

I killed my hours alone on the road listening to podcasts and music, but often simply enjoying the silence. Silence is kind of my default. I’ve always been the type to enjoy solitude and reflection, and I don’t feel the need to jam something into my head just to fill space. I thought about the overarching themes of the experience I was having, about how environment influences us, my own idiosyncrasies, and the passing sights. The world we travel is massive, as long as we chose to notice it.

Awe

From what I’ve heard, the feeling we describe as “awe” happens when the mind encounters an experience so strikingly unfamiliar that it becomes overwhelmed. Because the mind cannot find a way to fit this new experience into any preexisting schema it essentially short-circuits itself, and this sweet spot in our experience uptake is why we feel “lost”, present in the moment. I have agreed with this theory for some time now, and have been on a secret quest towards deepening this ability through yoga, meditation, playing music, and being more internally observant on a daily basis. During times of stress I tried to remember it was ok to simply acknowledge my given experience without feeling the need to categorize it into something familiar or try to make it conform to my expectations. The entire point of my trip was to get outside and experience the unfamiliar, and adopting this mindset of staying present and non-reactive was a real game-changer for me.

Mount Baldy, Los Angeles

Challenges

The entire trajectory of my trip was relying on unknowns. Once I got to Oakland, would I like it enough to find a sublet and stay a while? What then? What if I did not? (I did not–the market is insane.) Where to then? (Visit friends in Los Angeles! Sorry, guys!) How do I productively spend my time? (Work remotely and stay regimented, think about why I’m here and what I would prefer to have done when future me is looking back on how I spent this opportunity.) Not being able to place ducks in a row was the caveat of real freedom, and this trip was not a vacation to me, but rather a mission to research where to move next; where to set-up shop and root down into an art community, to evaluate a place with real long term growth potential. Feeling like my future hung in the balance created a lot of pressure, and in hindsight I realized this pressure inhibited my experience. I adjusted my perspective later on and things really smoothed out. Once I figured out how to balance on that tightrope it was, quite literally, all good. 

Blue Angels over the Golden Gate Bridge

The other big challenge here was my age; I am not a kid anymore. I have read about how the brain loses neuroplasticity as you age, and I’ve noticed an increasing tendency within myself to become entrenched in routines, prefer the comfortable and familiar over new challenges, justify my old habits, etc…the struggle is real, and it is old code that needs to be reassessed, and it can be. Change is difficult, but getting entrenched in routine can be worse. I have formally declared myself capable and stable, and equally flexible in the face of challenges and new experiences; these are my ingredients for growth. 

Given aforementioned challenges, throughout my travels there was one very clear overarching theme to this human machine: resilience and adaptability. After the third or fourth hotel I began to realize how quickly I was becoming accustomed to unfamiliar surroundings. “How do I check into this place?” “How do I unpack my things?” “Which way do I walk in the middle of the night to use the bathroom without bumping into the wall?” “What drawer has the forks in it?” “Where will I create my workspace?” All these questions became a routine-of-no-routine of sorts, a comfortable collection of familiar procedures, and I came to realize I was the source of my own mental stability, not my surroundings. The more I traveled, the more I felt myself adapting; three days in a place and I lived there; a week and I was a native, in touch with the energy and the people. Later in my trip I felt at home immediately upon arriving in new lodging. It was the routine of no routine. I learned that humans are hella adaptable. 

Yosemite Valley

Places

My trip in the physical? I went to Oakland, Los Angeles, Yosemite, Eureka, Arcata, Crescent City, Portland, and several small towns in-between. I got to spend some quality time with my amazing niece and some other close friends in LA, and I stopped by my old school to see how it changed. I hiked Mount Baldy and thought of Colorado. I made my peace with the sprawling urban machine of Los Angeles, and could actually see myself living there, if my career could allow it.

I saw immense wealth disparity in the Bay Area and some striking similarities with NYC that were difficult to digest, but they provided a city friction that I feel is important to have as an artist. I went to Yosemite on a whim before heading home back up the coast, and hiked to Glacier Point. Overlooking Half Dome, I had the summit to myself for a minute or two. That evening, as I left the park I saw a camp of converted Sprinter vans and added another thing to my bucket list (get one).

I saw how a large portion of rural America lives. On a run for vegetables/actual nutrition, I arrived at a grocery store that had none. All the shelves were empty and refrigerated areas were abandoned, likely too expensive to keep running. Only the alcohol was cold. A maskless, weathered man hobbled inside and purchased hard liquor and cigarettes from the only person there, a Middle Eastern woman, probably the owner. I watched the uncomfortable tension between them. She smiled hopefully at me as I left empty-handed and I smiled back. Then remembered the sign outside: “Please wear a face mask”. I walked back to my hotel thinking about both of them, the state of things, and how we got here.

Returning up the coast, I drove through a rainstorm in northern California to spend the night in a trailer that was in a redwood forest and next to a prison. Having been up the entire night before, I fell asleep listening to rain and bullfrogs, and slept like the dead. After my coffee the next morning, I overheard one solo message broadcast over the megaphone from the prison yard.

Of course I saw some great live music, all outdoors and in good taste. 

Polyrhythmics in Alameda, CA

All in all, this trip was amazing.

Favorites

Seeing my niece and old friends were real highlights. Also, to be honest, teaching on Zoom was as well; I really do love my work and my client relationships. Teaching is a real stabilizer for me, and it keeps me going knowing I am making the world a little better through my talents. Also, I absolutely loved seeing those redwoods and standing in awe of Half Dome. All my experiences, both wonderful and difficult, were valuable. I am already planning my next getaway.

Avenue of the Giants, NorCal

Decisions

I haven’t decided where I’ll be moving yet, but I have learned a lot. There is no rush to decide. Nothing is permanent, and the music industry is changing with every day, becoming more decentralized and more collaborative. Making my music is something I can do by consciously choosing to pursue it everyday, and that is not location-dependent; I just have to make it a priority. I do need to find a city with good people and opportunities for lateral mobility and career advancement, but there are good options out there. I love NYC, Denver, LA, and the Bay for different, special reasons, and I want more out of life than I did when I was younger. Each of these cities feed my soul differently. I have some thinking to do.

(Note to self: nothing is permanent.)

Alone with Half Dome

You can reach me in the real world here.

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