Here's the message I sent out to my various online communities on January 26th, 2018, announcing my intention to embark on a bit of a wild journey:
It is with a potent mix of excitement and sadness that I announce my plans to depart Seattle in April. That’s the main bit of news, boiled down; what follows is the long explanation, and a request for help. (Read on if you dare.)
The sadness is because I love this place and its people, of course. I grew up here, and returned two and a half years ago to try Seattle life as an adult, and a working musician. It has been a great time in so many ways. The music community has embraced me. My partner Erin and I have made so many wonderful new friends. But after much careful consideration, we have determined that this isn’t where we want to be long-term.
There are many factors in this judgment. Most have to do with the way the city is evolving. As Seattle grows, it is becoming more expensive, more crowded, more homogenous, and more corporate. Much of what made it a quirky and laid-back place when I was a kid is going or gone. As people get busier and busier, the traffic worse and worse, I find that there is less and less room for spontaneity, something I believe is crucial to the particular kind of community-rooted life I am seeking.
The excitement, then, is in knowing I’m moving toward the life I really want. We’re hoping to find a new home somewhere significantly more affordable, where people can thrive on modest incomes, where there is room for experimentation, where one-of-a-kind businesses needn’t be cutthroat-competitive just to survive. I’m imagining it might be a bit smaller than Seattle—the kind of place where you might run into your friends from time to time, where you can find real quiet, where the urban and the rural intermix—but still happening enough to attract artists of all stripes.
We now have some momentum, carrying us forward into whatever is next. As you may know, Erin moved to Sitka, Alaska, earlier this month, to take two jobs, including one at a public radio station. She has been talking about pursuing a career in radio for many months now, so this is an exciting step. Inspired by her willingness to jump into an unfamiliar situation, I’ve decided that now is the time for me to do something similarly scary. In that spirit, I am putting in motion a plan that I’ve been constructing and tweaking for quite a while.
My plan, in a neat phrase, is this: an indefinite period of nomadic journeying by bicycle. In fact it is much more than that, its purposes manifold: to find community, to share my music, to be healthy and strong, to learn about myself, to enact my values, to become a better listener, to see for myself how the world really is, to write and write and write. It is a project that represents the weaving together of many separate dream threads, each tied to different points in my past. The desire to live on the road, going from place to place as I please, goes way back, as do my love of sharing food and music with new friends, my obsession with American landscapes, and my ambitions to have adventures and write about them.
The bicycle component is newer. Having had several bike tour experiences in the past few years, I now know that it is my favorite way to travel. On bike trips, I get exercise and feel good every day. I save tons of money compared to a car trip. People are interested and curious, and they want to be helpful; I meet new friends all the time. The speed of bicycle travel allows me to really see the landscape as I move through it—and being outdoors allows me to smell and taste it. I could go on, but you get the point.
So, in the second half of April, I plan to set out from Seattle, heading generally south, stopping in as many different communities along the way as I can. I have several guiding principles for this journey, which are, roughly:
1. Make meaningful contributions to every community I visit. I do not wish to simply benefit from others’ generosity and give nothing in return. Rather, I hope to contribute something of value. Specifically, I’m thinking of labor (garden work, housework, project assistance) and music. Where folks are moved to offer something in return—food, shelter, money, wisdom—I will gratefully accept. But the essential point is to lend a hand.
2. Limit the role of money as much as possible. I will try never to pay for sleep. I aim to pay for food as infrequently as possible, relying instead on trade and gift. When I do pay for food, I intend whenever possible to buy it directly from those who have grown and/or prepared it. With any luck, limiting the role of money will allow me to continue this journey for a long time, operate on my own terms, and push back against the commodification of human interaction.
3. Stay open. An essential element of this journey is that it is indefinite, and that I have no obligation to be anywhere in particular at any time. That way, I can wake up each morning and ask myself “would I like to stay where I am today, or am I being called elsewhere?” and act accordingly. When good opportunities arise, whatever they may look like, I would like to be able to take them.
4. Record what I learn. A big part of this journey will be writing. I have wanted to write stories and novels since I was very young. I studied creative writing in college, and still hope to make a part of my living from writing. However, I have yet to get seriously disciplined about it. During my journey, I will be writing every day. I will certainly be writing some account of my travels, but also hope to continue working on a novel that I started in college, and to write and revise short stories and essays as well. My goal is to come to the conclusion of my journey with a polished portfolio of pieces that I can then attempt to get published.
5. Face my fears. As someone with significant anxiety, I am often focused on what could go wrong, and what is potentially scary about a given situation. As part of this journey I hope to unflinchingly face my fears and try not to let them dictate my actions. Most especially, I have a strong wish not to be afraid of other people. It is not yet clear to me exactly how this intention will manifest, practically speaking, but I know it is important.
I am under no illusion that I can pull this off by myself. True, I have been as susceptible to the cult of the individual as the next person, but I’m hoping that, in this project as in all areas of life, I can hold fast to the truth that we are one interconnected being. I do mean this in a very practical sense: we are constantly relying on one another, in ways visible and not. In my travels I will certainly be relying directly on the kindness and generosity of the people I meet. I have been fortunate to have many experiences in my life in which this sort of dependence on others has been deeply humbling and spiritually enriching. I trust that someday the roles will shift, and that I will have a home into which I can welcome wanderers.
But for now, I am the wanderer. So here is where I ask for your help: I’d like to assemble a directory of sorts, filled with names and contact information of folks who live along my route. These could be people to stay with, to jam with, to help out, to work for, to meet and chat with, to learn from. These folks might have valuable information for me; they might have a living room with a piano in it and be excited about hosting a concert for their friends. They might just be the kind of person you think I should know, for some reason you can’t name.
If anyone comes to mind, anywhere on the continent, I’d like to know. That said, contacts in Washington, Oregon, and California will be especially helpful in the near future. And if you have contacts in small towns, in the big spaces between larger metropolises, those would be especially useful. So, if you feel so moved, please reach out to me with some names and contact information, and I’ll add them to the directory. Thanks!
I’d also be happy to discuss my plans further with anybody who is curious. Get in touch, ask me questions, challenge my assumptions, tell me what you think!
That’s all for now, but I do imagine you’ll be hearing more from me soon.