Those who know me personally know 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, challenging, and filled with lots of growth. I sit here a better man, 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 small part of that story.
I planned this trip to the best of my ability, given how little I could foresee. My trajectory depended primarily on things beyond my control, and I would need to wait to see how things unfolded. I decided to stay in Oakland for a couple of weeks to see how much artistic community there is in the Bay Area and if it felt right to stay longer. Beyond that objective, I was wide open.
Addressing logistics, I booked an Airbnb for two weeks and a pit stop in Coquille, Oregon. I also built a travel pedalboard to go directly into my audio interface and computer so I could keep teaching remotely on my trip. I did this because I was curious 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 enjoyed this teaching format because it is more intimate, like a podcast, the sound quality is terrific, and it keeps me more focused on our lesson trajectory. Zoom also has this excellent 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 and how I set up my pedalboard here.
I killed my hours alone on the road listening to podcasts and music, but often simply enjoying the silence. Silence is 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 to fill space. I thought about the overarching themes of my experience, about how our environment influences us, my idiosyncrasies, and the passing sights. The world is massive when we choose to notice.
From what I’ve heard, the feeling we describe as “awe” happens when the mind encounters an experience so strikingly unfamiliar that it becomes overwhelming. 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” and present in the moment. I have agreed with this theory for some time now, on a secret quest toward deepening this ability through yoga, meditation, playing music, and being more internally observant daily. During times of stress, I tried to remember it was ok to 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.
The entire trajectory of my trip relied 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? 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 smoothed out. Once I figured out how to balance on that tightrope, it was all good.
The other big challenge was my age; I am no longer a kid. I have read about how the brain loses neuroplasticity as you age. 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. 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 am capable, stable, and equally flexible in facing challenges and new experiences; these are my ingredients for growth.
Given the challenges above, throughout my travels, there was one obvious overarching theme to this human-machine: resilience and adaptability. After the third or fourth hotel, I realized how quickly I became accustomed to unfamiliar surroundings. How do I check into this place? How do I unpack my things? Which 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 routine procedures, and I realized I was the source of my 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 at my new lodging. It was the routine of no routine. I learned that humans are hella adaptable.
Where did I go? I went to Oakland, Los Angeles, Yosemite, Eureka, Arcata, Crescent City, Portland, and several small towns in-between. I got to spend quality time with my fantastic niece and some other close friends in LA, and I stopped by my old school to see how it had changed. I hiked Mount Baldy and thought of Colorado. I made peace with the sprawling urban machine of Los Angeles.
I saw immense wealth disparity in the Bay Area and some striking similarities with NYC that were difficult to digest. Still, they provided city friction that is important to have as an artist. I went to Yosemite on a whim 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, refrigerated areas were abandoned, and 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 I 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 following morning, I overheard a message broadcast over the megaphone from the prison yard.
I saw some great live music outdoors and in good taste.
All in all, this trip was great.
Seeing my niece and old friends was a real highlight. Also teaching on Zoom; I love my work and client relationships. Teaching is a natural stabilizer for me, and it keeps me going knowing I am making the world a little better through my talents. Also, I loved seeing those redwoods and standing in awe of Half Dome. All my experiences, both wonderful and challenging, were valuable. I am already planning my next getaway.
I have yet to decide where I’ll be moving to, but I have learned much. There is no rush to decide. Nothing is permanent, and the music industry is changing daily, becoming more decentralized and collaborative. Making my music is something I can do by consciously choosing to pursue it every day, and that is not location-dependent; I have to make it a priority. I need to find a city with good people and opportunities for lateral mobility and career advancement, but there are good options. I love NYC, Denver, LA, and the Bay for different, unique reasons, and I want more out of life than I did when I was younger. Each of these cities feeds my soul differently. I have some thinking to do.
(Note to self: nothing is permanent.)
You can reach me in the real world here.