Sometimes, when everything around you is falling apart, you just need to get the hell out of town. And that is exactly what I did. I found myself overweight, unhappy, and stuck in a city I hated. To top it off, I had just separated from my (now ex) fiancé. Every time I heard Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet”, I shuddered at the possibility of these ominous words: “I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will.” Often, I wished to be somewhere else just so that, in case I died, it wouldn’t be in my hometown.
But, I digress. This rut I was stuck in was thicker than any mud and heavier than Atlas’s boulders. Left with my future plans changed virtually over night, I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go. Up to that point, I had been writing very minimally about travel- let alone anything else. While my mind constantly wandered to the now-forbidden destinations I frothed at the mouth for, I had no hope for real travel. I had committed to live in a place that brought me no joy, doomed to marry a penniless and possessive man-boy who ultimately made me miserable. As a former wanderer of the world, each day was the equivalent of spiritual suicide.
Time seamlessly and uneventfully droned on until one day, I was violently awoken to reality. My eyes suddenly widened, as if pried open with toothpicks, aware of the haze I had been living in. It dawned on me- true love doesn’t necessarily mean a futile devotion to another human being. Especially if that person makes you fall out of love with life itself. Perhaps true love is being committed to those things, people, ambitions and goals that make you feel alive. If you let your passions die, so will you. You may still breathe, walk and speak- but as a dull, sullen, ghostly fraction of your real self. And this is precisely what I had done- what I had allowed to happen.
We all live, but are we alive? Many of us have been understandably jaded by the harsh indifference of life’s tragedies. Unless you’ve lived in a bubble your whole life, are 16 years old, or are insanely delusional, chances are you know what I’m talking about. The moments of pure, crystalline, ecstatic vitality are rare. We must ask ourselves what it is- what passions, actions, thoughts- that makes us truly alive. For me, these moments come when reading beautifully raw words, ripping heartstrings I didn’t even know I had. Or, more intensely, when I am on the move, on the road.
My memory sets on an overnight train ride I took with two friends in 2006. We spent 23 hours from Shanghai to Guangzhou, China in a three-tiered pocket bunk bed set-up. We were in undoubtedly close quarters with Mandarin-speaking strangers, shaky Eastern squat toilets, and impending claustrophobia. I sat drinking “REEB” (a brand cleverly named “backwards for beer”), chewing on chicken feet, laughing with the Chinese men aboard, though I understood nothing they said. Watching through the window, vast green mountain ranges, rice paddies filled with countless miniscule straw hats, and neglected, crumbling buildings passed by me at furious speed. I realized- more than ever before- I am happiest in motion. I am truly alive when in transit. When life becomes a verb, my mind clears, I breathe easier, and I am a better version of myself .
And so, my direction occurred to me about two months ago. I was sitting in a dim, near-empty suburban bar called “Tequila”, drinking vodka tonics served by Silver Dragon the Bartender. An old-time friend visiting from LA sat in the bar stool next to me, chatting. Mid conversation, I looked at her and just knew. I was tired of shitty bars, tired of suburbia’s complacency, tired of the person I had become. It was time to pursue happiness, and there was no other choice. I had to get the hell out of town.