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.