In 2015, due to a series of events, I began a journey across the globe where I lived out of two bags for eleven months. In May of 2017, I left my full time job and started another journey, this time driving across the US. It’s been several months since I started this new minimalist adventure, and it’s not been entirely what I expected. I’ve seen a lot of amazing friends and family. I’ve had a couple of setbacks. I’ve struggled with people, relationships and burnout. My journey is not quite over, but I’ve already learned a considerable amount about myself, people and America.
In my first journey, for most of my eleven months of backpacking, I was on my own. I spent a week or two at a time in various hostels around the world. I was able to cook healthy food at every step of the journey. A well setup hostel also allowed the opportunity to meet other travelers, both those who were on short vacations and those who, like me, had been traveling for months at a time. Nights would be spent working on writing, coding and projects. Days would start well after most people had left to go sight seeing.
In contrast, this journey has been spent mostly with friends. In many situations, I’m still off on my own every day, either exploring new towns and cities or catching up in places I’ve been to before. Evenings have been considerably different, as I am mostly hosted by friends, either being fed or entertained, or occasionally doing the cooking. I’ve driven more in the past five months than I have in the past five years. I am thankful for all the hospitality I’ve received, yet I realize all the alcohol and food is having a taxing result on my body.
I was having lunch with a friend of mine at MOTR, one of my favorite pubs and music venues in Cincinnati, when I asked if they’d like to hear one of my spoken word pieces. I often ask people if they’d like to hear fiction or non-fiction. It never really occurred to me until my friend brought it up, but knowing a piece is non-fiction can greatly change the perception of the story, especially when it contains something deeply vulnerable.
It was a new piece I only started preforming when I left Seattle. Every time I preformed it before friends, I got it spot on. In front of a crowd, I always have trouble remembering, and therefore leave out, one important stanza:
...She sent me a text
That she didn't want to see me again
And I guess that's how the story ends
And it made me wonder if it had all just been in my head
As if ever kiss was just a fib
As if all the drinking was just to help forget
Of waking up in the same bed
The morning I massaged her head
Breakfast and tea
Late nights and evening drinks
Short walks in the park
Sitting down on a bench next to a piece of art
She asked me if it was the sign of a crazy woman
If she showed up the next day at my car...
-Leena, MC SumDog (poem)
When I left New Zealand, I made the difficult decision to leave a very healthy and wonderful relationship. Along the way I fell in love with a good friend of mine who had moved to Germany, a country in which I had no visa and no real means to stay long term.
Short term relationships can be incredibly difficult. We treasure the relationships that last years or decades, marriages which celebrate quarter centuries of dedication. But there is an incredible value in short term relationships we often overlook. When there is a finite end, we tend to embrace the reality we cannot change. In the months and years that followed, I never felt as if those relationships ever ended, but they simply changed in a way that I would never lose my long term friends.
In contrast, when I left Seattle, I was deeply drawn to someone who wouldn’t embrace any part of the connection we had because I was leaving. We talked about meeting up on my journey, but instead she simply became another part of my past and my story. I began to get involved with another person who I had considered one of my closest friends for years, but it quickly degraded into mixed feelings and a complicated situation with previous people in both of our lives.
Minimalism Can Be Hard
It was literally the exact opposite of my last journey. Instead of leaving and finding love, I left conflict and found complications mixed with addictions. Instead of dedicating tremendous amounts of my time to open source projects while exploring new cities, I found myself in the midst of the delightful presence of people who I wanted to spent time with. Instead of worry free traveling with only two bags, I had my vehicle break down in Death Valley; a cooling and oil leak leading to a completely blown engine and having to scrap my vehicle.
I was considering shipping most of my things onward, and continuing my journey via train. Unfortunately it would have required selling and shipping quite a bit, reducing my footprint of possessions and traveling through a country that has not evolved for those without motor vehicles. In the same way I accumulated too much stuff when allowing my being to expand into a one bedroom Seattle apartment, I came to the realization of just how difficult true minimalism is.
"In America, in America
They'll bury us with our cars"
-Bury Me With My Car, Ben Sollee (Song)
We are bombarded every day with advertisements that encourage us to consume in order to bring our life fulfillment and happiness. In Seattle I was surprised how, in just over a year, I had gone from an empty one bedroom to accumulating a mass of possessions. The desire to live minimally is a constant struggle against consumerism and convenience.
Where many South Pacific and European hostels came equipped with kitchens, Wi-Fi and many of the conveniences that allowed one to enjoy being everywhere without living anywhere, staying with friends can be a constant reminder of what it means to be settled. I often saw mountains of possessions, collected over a lifetime of acquisition; often not that much but still more than I cared to ever have attributed to my name again in my lifetime. Although I found myself desiring their stability, I questioned whether I’d ever truly want to own more than a bedroom of stuff again.
Embracing the Buddhist creed of detachment, at least in terms of material possessions, is a difficult one. Staying with friends and loved one makes it easier; and is a reminder of the proverb “We too often use people and love things, when we should be using things and loving people.”
Religious Christians are often told to be “the salt of the earth.” Along this journey, I’ve met up with a lot of amazing friends. I’ve stayed in some of their houses, cooked for them, and shared my time and a small moment of my life with them. I don’t think the religious or those who believe in God, should have a monopoly on being the salt of the earth.
"And everywhere you came and left
You came in the name of love and
Left a wake of happiness and tenderness
And sweet conflict, sweet conflict."
-Everywhere, Bran Van 3000 (song)
Every place I’ve stayed and left is a reminder of thankfulness. I have witnessed my friends growing individually and with their families. Everywhere I’ve traveled, I’ve seen people working towards goals, loving those around them, exploring possibilities and simply living their lives.
Good and the Bad
People often tell me they’re jealous of my travels. I tell them that they shouldn’t be, and that the path I have embarked upon hasn’t always been on the cusp of adventure, but sometimes a lack of direction, meaning and quiet desperation. We often manufacture our own happiness in whatever circumstances we choose or have chosen for us.
Choosing one life doesn’t negate the other. One path is not better than the other less traveled, simply different. One’s hardships should never be held above another person’s, for we are not in a race to the bottom. In every instance I have the opportunity, I try, and often struggle, to bring my joy, my experiences and my journey to others.
When I reach out to people, I do so carefully because I know how difficult it is to support people in their own decisions. I do so because I trust their judgment and experience. I realize there is little someone can possibly say to alleviate the stress we accumulate from the weight of living. To vent and to be open is often a request for empathy, and to find that place where people can deeply connect and share reality of our complex journeys.
...It's been a long life
And there is wisdom in knowing
That you cannot make the whole world right
But even if all you have is bad advice
On those nights when you stay up so late
You watch the sun rise
Casting that hazy glow over orage glazed eyes
At lest you can say
That you tried
You don't have to know what to say
You only need to know how to listen...
-Bad Day, MC SumDog (poem)
During the summer, I’d sometimes start the morning cycling and find myself ending with a 90km long journey. The next weekend I might plan a shorter ride, only 60km for example, only to get 20km in and feel exhausted, ready to quit and end my journey early. I feel as if assumptions about my previous eleven month sabbatical, and expectations about this current trip didn’t quite pan out in the ways I thought they would.
A sabbatical I intended to help restore my being has left me a little drained. Still I am glad I embarked upon it. I’ve learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work for my personal development and wellbeing. I’ve both shared and gathered stories. I’ve worked on many projects, although I haven’t gotten quite as far as I would have hoped on most. I’ve made up for years of unspent vacation time at other companies; days I was afraid to take because I didn’t know how to embrace myself.
I still have a ways to go and commitments I need to keep, but I am seeking an ending, whether it be through work or academia. I look forward to being able to pursue new relationships, even knowing that they often end in sweet conflict. I know the grass will always been greener, and that no matter where I end up, my heart will never end its desire to work towards a better life, where I can find the balance between what must be done to feed myself and what can be done to create and fuel those pursuits I deeply care about.