Fishtrap Week 5: Reflections

A good friend of mine who lives in Brooklyn emailed me one day, alerting me to someone called “The NYC Nomad.” She described him as my urban counterpart. His mission? To live in a different neighborhood of New York City every week for an entire year. His motivation? An intense breakup with a long-term girlfriend and a desire to get to know the city that he loves…in a whole new light.

This afternoon, the NYC Nomad and myself had a videoconference via Skype. Ed, the nomad, is staying in Fort Greene (Brooklyn, NYC) with my friend this week. Thanks to her, we were able to connect. Like me, the nomad blogs (here), and his journey—like mine—is also a journey of privilege. We have both chosen to accept placelessness in exchange for, ironically, getting to know “place” better than ever before. But unlike me, Ed has a day job for an internet startup that comes with a steady paycheck and also the challenge of “never enough hours in the day.” I don’t have much cash flow, but I’m rich in time to explore and write.
Ed doesn’t identify as a writer, but if you talk to him about his experiences (9 months, or approximately 25 different neighborhoods across NYC…and counting) you might be fooled. He’s busy, but not so busy that he hasn’t started thinking about the bigger picture; how his experiences now could turn into a book later.
We discussed our reactions when people we meet along the way call us “homeless” and we both easily agreed that our journeys don’t fit into that category. Although there are many kinds of homelessness, “travel”—even if it’s in your own city or country—is still markedly different. And travel with a specific concept or goal in mind, takes on a different tone altogether. What is that tone?
For me, it’s the tone of exploration. What will I find in each new place? How does the landscape shape its inhabitants—from cougars spotted in town (Oregon) to drinking espresso in the midnight sun (Alaska), from cowboy boots that fit like a second skin (Wyoming) to students blaring opera music in the center of campus (Michigan). What enables these events and what, if any connection, do they have to place, to community, to—above all else—story. My exploration has an end goal: to secure a post-graduate fellowship and/or a book contract and write my heart out along the way. The scariest part? The high possibility exists that I won’t land either. Then what? I try not to dwell on it.
What I do dwell on is this: How will it feel when I get off the tour? What will it be like to “live” in one place for a year? Two years? With 10,000 car miles and 20,000 domestic air miles already stacked up in the past 13 months, it’s hard to think of myself sitting still. Ever. Again. When I asked Ed about his end goal, he had a similar reaction. “I guess I’m hoping that something will emerge from all of this,” he told me. “Some possibility that takes me in a different direction.”
It’s that spirit of openness, that surrender to the greater concept at work in both our journeys, that enabled a fascinating 2-hour conference this afternoon. I told him about “the big sort” (days when I resort, pack, and move to a new location) and he told me about taking the subway to navigate a new neighborhood every week (while carrying all of his belongings). Some days, we’re tired from all the change. But most days it feels like the most unique, affordable, contemporary adventure one could conjure. Dare I say that at times life on the road—these American roads, at any rate—has come to feel downright patriotic. How will our explorations end? What organic possibilities will emerge? If that doesn’t conjure a mini-Manifest Destiny, I don’t know what does.
Here’s to the greater wisdom at work during such explorations, and to gracefully maneuvering to the next great thing. Manifest Destiny doesn’t have to mean rape and pillage, usurp and settle. I can mean look closely and listen, give back and ask questions; take what your city, your country, your self-driven-artist’s-life offers you. Hold it in the palm of your hand and up to the light. Look for the places that sparkle, and navigate your way toward them.

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