The following is an excerpt from Come Back Frayed.
I make more sense in motion.
There’s a storm just outside my door as I write this. I’m on a small island in the Philippines, and there’s a typhoon up north, carving into the shores of the larger island where I was living a few weeks ago. We’re only seeing wisps of the tail here, backwash from the core action, but it’s enough to shake up the atmosphere, the air vibrating with adjacent activity. The beach is vacant except for a few brazen locals and ignorant visitors, pushing themselves into the waves and walking the beaches, leaning into the stinging force of the wind, hoping that their frantic fun won’t take a turn, praying that they don’t become a statistic, a tale told to forewarn children of the dangers inherent to island living. Ghost stories for resort-dwellers.
I’m one of these people, one of these potential projectiles. I’ve spent the day wind-whipped, coming up with excuses to leave the little studio apartment I’ve rented a few steps from the beach, watching as the surf climbs upward, first beyond the usual tide-line, then beyond the flag that displays the direction and freneticness of the wind, its rip-stop fabric torn in places, its outline a blur as it’s tugged by the 60 mph winds and 80 mph gusts. The water is creeping toward the chairs that are replaced each morning by restaurant owners, which on a normal day provide spots where tourists can sit with drinks and international foods while ogling the ocean from what’s typically a safe distance. That perception of safety is fading: the giant umbrellas were removed yesterday, and the chairs are being eyeballed by managers, each wondering if they can wait out the worst of the wind or if they’ll have to whip-crack their underlings into chair-moving action from the loll they’ve fallen into during this lull.
I’m two coffees into my day, each acquired from a different location and each representing one less legitimate excuse to step out into the elemental fray. The weather has been swelteringly hot, shirt-drenchingly humid, for weeks. There’s still a stickiness to the air, but the temperature has plummeted. It’s 85 degrees Fahrenheit today, but it feels like 75. The gale chaps my skin and cools my permanent glaze of sweat, transforming the moisture-heavy air into something not just tolerable, but pleasant. The feel of the wind in my hair, on my face, across my bare legs and arms, is marvelous. I can’t get enough of it. After two weeks of sweating out every drop of water I’ve ever consumed, all day, every day, the relief is like the deep, complete exhale of a long-held breath. The predictability of postcard-worthy beach weather wears at me, and this island is ensconced by the same class of climate that fed my discontent with Los Angeles many years ago. I crave randomness. An ever-present environmental element that I can’t control. I need to wake up and not know what to expect so that I can go out and pursue the unexpected.
I’ve had relationships in which my partner has said they didn’t really know me until we traveled together. It’s not that I’d ever held anything back, they said, or that I was different in any quantifiable way while wandering. But aspects of my character, my habits, even things like my haircut and facial expressions and category of confidence didn’t fully make sense to them until we were in transit. Once on the road, though, it all fit.
We’re shaped by our environments, just as we shape the places in which we live. Humans are skilled at stomping around and inventing solutions to problems and turning things into other things, but as we alter the world, so too are we altered. Our habits and our outlooks and even our genes, all in flux. Our habits become traditions, our outlooks become focused perspectives, and we become people who are partially defined by our habitats. Our homes.
A person without a home, or as I prefer to think of it, a person with many homes, is defined in part by that lifestyle. Shaped by mobility and a lack of permanent roots. Such a person must bend, lest they break. Must get along in order to get along. Must roll with the punches by default.
My clothing is durable and modular: everything goes with everything else. My work is an assemblage of projects I can do from anywhere and is burdened with few infrastructural necessities. My relationships are in large part shaped by where I am at the moment, and the deep, lasting partnerships are the kind that transcend physical location. My workout and hygiene regimens are routines that I can perform predictably so long as I have a prison cell-sized area in which to move. I’ve adopted a hair style that can grow long and heavily disarrayed while still appearing somewhat intentional.
I enjoy holding still sometimes, slowing down and taking stock. Assessing and processing. But the moment I get back out there, the moment I arrive at an airport or a train station, or board a bus, or hop on a boat, or start walking a path that will take me someplace new, I can feel the difference. I feel like I’ve arrived. Like I’m back in a place where I can be truly and completely myself again. I don’t have to realign and reshape, or convince myself that I entirely enjoy having everything neat and tidy and controlled.
I no longer need to tolerate the weather being the same every day.
Should the wind or rain become typhonic, should the ocean move uncomfortably far inland, should plans fall apart and the unexpected become the norm, should the world suddenly spin wildly and thrust me into something for which I’m not prepared, while I’m out here on the road, at least, I’m not expected to step back and go inside and wait for it all to pass. I can walk in that wind, I can get ruffled and wet and worn. I can use and abuse my possessions because that’s what they’re for: to get me where I want to go, wherever that happens to be, whether or not there’s an existing path that will guide me there.
I make more sense in motion. While moving, experiencing new things, feeling a little uncomfortable and always somewhat off-balance, while pursuing new ways of looking at life, at people, at society — that’s when the world makes the most sense to me.
Update: April 21, 2017
Holy hell, I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I published this book. I can still remember quite vividly sitting on my patio in Mayoyao and on my bed in my little one-room flat in Boracay, typing away at the keyboard, compiling all the things I wanted to say into digestible stories.