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Valuable Frictions

I’ve been living in Kansas for a little over seven months, and I’ll be here for another four before leaving in pursuit of my next adventure.

I decided to move here because the very idea of doing so frightened me. Not in the ‘giant spider crawling up your leg’ meaning of the word, but more like an incredible sense of discomfort and disconcertion.

The idea of having an apartment in the US, having my own furniture, having a car, having all the things I left behind over seven years ago, made me shiver. It made my gut clench up. It wasn’t that I had anything against these things, but they’d become so unfamiliar, so entwined with the life I lived before I started traveling, that I had trouble imagining myself connected to them. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to own and maintain a car. I didn’t know what kind of furniture I preferred.

My lifestyle since leaving LA in 2009 has been immensely flexible by necessity. You can have preferences when you travel full-time, of course, but you’re best served by being able to put these preferences aside in favor of what’s available. If you cannot find the value, the joy, in whatever’s offered — in whatever furniture is in the flat you’re renting, in whatever transportation you can hire to get where you need to go — you’re in for a rocky, frustrating journey.

Do anything long enough and that thing becomes your norm. My lifestyle is unusual, and filled with unknowns, with surprises. But even such unusualness, such unknowns, can become familiar friends over the course of years. I found that I could more easily picture myself showing up in an unfamiliar city where I didn’t speak the language and building a life from scratch, there, than I could picture myself renting a home in the US, speaking exclusively English, going to Target.

I came to realize that the most challenging, potentially valuable thing I could do in terms of growth was to expose myself to a lifestyle, or at least a set of circumstances, that would have once been unremarkable to me, to see how I responded to them as the person I’d become. I’ve lived in the US, rented apartments, bought furniture, before, but I was a different person then. How might I interact with these things, now? How might I live differently, placed in the same environment as before?

I’ve learned a great deal these past seven months. About Wichita, but also about myself, my preferences, my habits, my capabilities, and all under far different circumstances from what had become my norm. I utilize my time differently when part of my day isn’t dedicated to learning cultural norms and the fundamentals of a new language. I’ve also found that some rituals and routines which never stuck while I was constantly in-transit provide massive value when I’m waking up in the same bed every morning. I’ve gained valuable new perspective.

I’ve also had the opportunity to throw myself into projects that wouldn’t have been feasible from the road. Or at least not to the degree that they are here, with solid ground to stand on, with a place to set up my equipment, and with a few bits of consistent infrastructure I can rely on being present each day.

When I started this branch of my journey, I was worried I’d learn things about myself that didn’t fit with what I’d suspected, what I’d assumed. I was worried that I wouldn’t be capable of being happy if I wasn’t always moving, always changing my environment, always exposing myself to a brand new cast of characters and dangers and backdrops. I was worried that I’d, perhaps, become hooked on novelty rather than the pursuit of growth and fulfillment.

Fortunately, it seems that, though the mechanisms are often different, I can still prioritize the important things. I can still expose myself to new ideas and people, I can still consistently challenge my beliefs and body of knowledge, I can still grow as a person. I can do so more capably, in some respects, than when constantly on the move. The desired outcome is still the same, I’m just working with very different tools, right now.

Producing my podcast, writing a new book, and learning to cook have been immensely enjoyable projects I’ve thrown myself into, here. I’m also currently learning to play piano and produce music, which is another intellectual side-path I’ve long wanted to take, but found to be difficult to practically manage while living out of my carry-on.

But the major growth here, in my mind, has taken place on an experiential level. It seems silly, I know, that things like receiving mail each day and having reliable access to Netflix would be novelties worth mentioning. But for me, these tiny luxuries are revelatory. I understand so much more than I did when I arrived here in Wichita. I’m able to keep up with pop culture and I better understand the priorities of people who live far different lives from mine. I could theorize and approximate this knowledge before, but now I get it. I have an experiential understanding of these concepts.

I feel like a part of me that had atrophied, had become two-dimensional, is rounding out. I’m learning a lot, and even though what I’m learning are things that many people on the planet already know, like how to play the piano and how to cook, that doesn’t make the knowledge any less valuable.

Coming back to the US has been a valuable friction for me. It’s been uncomfortable, especially at first, but has challenged me, pushed me, forced me to expand my horizons and face difficulty. It’s not a hurdle to leap, which can be faced heroically, but rather a small, abrasive point of resistance that’s easy to ignore, and even easier to leave unchallenged, unfaced.

It’s not impressive to move to Kansas. But to someone — someone like me, it turns out — it’s immensely valuable.


As a consequence of what I discuss above, I’ve decided to do one more stint here in the US before heading back overseas. I thought about sticking around in Wichita, but I want to check out another city in another state, though with a similar setup and set of priorities as what I have, here.

And I’d appreciate your help in determining where that elsewhere should be. If you’d like to take part, please vote on which state I should live in next. All fifty are on that list, except for those where I’ve lived previously (California, Kansas, Missouri, and Montana).

It’ll only take a second, but it’s best to do it quickly, if you’re keen to take part. I’ll be tallying the votes next week, on March 15.

Let's Know Things

Political Omnivores

I host a podcast called Let’s Know Things wherein I add context to what’s happening in the news.

I love the hell out of writing, but I find podcasting presents an opportunity to discuss important topics in a different way, and often with more depth than might be feasible (or tolerable) in a blog post of a reasonable length.

The most recent episode is about politics and political parties. The next episode is entitled “Pugs” and is about genetics the legalities of designer species.

You can subscribe to Let’s Know Things wherever you get your podcasts, or stream episodes and view show notes at letsknowthings.com.

If you enjoy (or are already enjoying) the show, a quick review up on iTunes would be very much appreciated!

Here’s last week’s episode:

Blog

Thoughts on Conflict

We live in contentious times, and discourse will only become more impassioned in the coming years. Political tremors are upending the status quo around the world, precipitating intense debate about the principles our politicians espouse.

This conflict is probably good for us, though that may not seem to be the case, right now. Airing these issues, big and small, will hopefully help us find more stable, less volatile footing. Which will be necessary if we’re to successfully face the environmental, technological, and other potential threats that have been growing in urgency.

Wherever you happen to fall on the political spectrum, this type of conflict can be draining: psychologically, emotionally, and physically.

Listed below are a few things I’m trying to keep in mind, myself, to ensure I have the energy to step up and do something when warranted, but also to ensure I’m informed enough to recognize when that moment has come.

1. Remember that there are people on the other side of your issue who are just as passionate about their position as you are about yours. This ideally informs how we deal with each other: not as horrible people taking clearly good or evil stances on things, but as human beings who have come to different conclusions about something, using different resources, tapping into different personal experiences, and listening to different interpretations of things that have happened.

2. Remember that there are such things as absolute facts, and an uninformed opinion is not equal to an informed one. This isn’t to say we aren’t all entitled to believe whatever crazy thing we like, but it does mean that if 99.99% of a community of experts says something is true, and .01% says it’s not, chances are the first group is right. There’s always a chance that some big conspiracy is taking place, but that’s almost never the case, and it’s prudent to check ourselves when we find ourselves waving flags for irrational positions.

3. Remember that there are as many ways to fight for a cause or against an issue as there are people in the world. Not everyone needs to, or can march, not everyone needs to, or can, give money. Some people will quietly work from behind the scenes, posting and retweeting nothing that gives away their ideology. Others will do little except that, spreading information they think is vital to those who may not otherwise see it. If we all do the same things, we won’t benefit from our various strengths and weaknesses. If we belittle others for not standing up for things in the same way we do, we demonstrate our own lack of perspective and capacity for strategic thinking. It’s important to understand the difference between a concrete act and a symbolic one, but it’s also important to recognize that both are necessary if you hope to make things happen and maintain momentum.

4. Remember that fighting for a cause is a marathon, not a sprint. There may be moments that require increased volume and effort, but it’s not ideal to participate in an unsustainable way. If you’re feeling drained, step away from the action till you’re back up to full capacity. If you’re feeling sick and tired, get more sleep, eat some healthy food, work out a bit, do some things you enjoy. Self-care isn’t for the weak, it’s for the smart. Don’t use this concept to excuse yourself from participating in something that’s important to you, but keep yourself healthy and ready for whatever comes next.

5. Remember that you’ve been wrong before, and you could be wrong now. I try to remind myself of this particularly when I’m feeling most certain of my ideas and ideology. Continue to check your facts, continue to engage with opposing views, continue to allow that you might learn something opposed to the dominant narrative to which you’ve been subscribing. Changing your mind when you learn something new, and allowing that information to influence your actions is not a weakness, it’s a strength. It shows that you’re more concerned about doing right than being right.

6. Remember that what’s dominating your attention is almost certainly not a new thing that’s never happened before. It’s happened in history, it’s maybe happening now, halfway across the world, and occupying the attention of some other group of people. We can learn from the experiences of others, contemporary and historical. We can use these other instances to predict what may happen next, and to come up with potential solutions. This is also a good reminder that people elsewhere have issues we should care about, even if they’re not taking place in our own backyard. Global awareness isn’t a waste of time. In many ways, we’re all in this together.

7. Remember that conflict makes for good television. Which is to say, some of the drama, some of the cliffhangers, will be more about keeping us tuning in and clicking than about actual, real world events we need to worry over. This isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of drama happening, but rather a reminder that our communication channels are incentivized by their monetization methods to keep us engaged. Watch out for anyone who uses your emotional puppet strings against you, and reward those who give you the information you require to make cold, rational decisions for yourself.

8. Remember to imagine what happens next. Imagine what the world can look like if we’re able to do things better. If we’re able to overcome this current round of obstacles. Focus on this as much or more than the doom and gloom, because simply not failing, not losing everything, isn’t exactly a win. If you want to build a better world, you have to focus on winning in the right way. I think most people would agree that even if one side isn’t completely wiped from the planet, there’s still no real winner in a nuclear war. The same is true in other conflicts, as well. Focus on winning the right way, and do some real thinking about what that means, and what it looks like in practice.

This is going to be a bumpy ride. Take care of yourself, and each other, along the way.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.