This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader.
My trip from a small town in Southern Washington to Germany took 48 hours. I left after Christmas dinner and finally arrived at the CCC conference in Hamburg two full days later. This time felt different from the other times I’ve left “home” to travel abroad. The earth is shrinking. Whereas a journey across the Atlantic was once daunting and suspenseful, this one from NYC to Frankfurt felt routine, like my old subway commute to the Wired office. I wasn’t giddy or afraid, just ready. Maybe it was because I’d already been traveling for 20 hours at that point, from Portland to Seattle, through a 12 hour layover in NYC during which I trudged all the way to my apartment and back just to nap. Maybe because I promptly popped a valium immediately upon ascent, and The Wizard of Oz was playing on the in-flight entertainment. Or maybe, just maybe, because I’m finally beginning to fully integrate into this life in orbit, complete with all its chaos.
The path from Germany to England was turbulent, emotionally. I was flying with the kind of heartbreak that inflames every previous wound at once, because when love left it took with it the hope that it could heal all the rest. Additionally, I was hungover and burnt out from 10 virtually sleepless nights of high-bandwidth conversations with some of the smartest computer security experts and tech activists on the planet, dancing and celebrating life the German way, connecting so very deeply. Then I missed my flight. By five minutes. I’ve never before experienced a slow train in Berlin, but I guess the Germans were all still reeling from their New Year’s activities—which resembled an apocalyptic civil war more than a celebration—because I think I’d have been better off walking to Schipol. Halfway through the train ride, hope had long left my body, but I still ran the entire way to the terminal, rolling all 19.1 kilos of my portable house with me.
When the attendant told me I couldn’t board, my posture dipped in defeat so violently that my shoulder bag fell to the floor. I stepped to the side and excused myself so I didn’t melt into the dirty tile with it, put myself on the next flight three hours later, paid a rebooking fee that cost more than the original ticket, and scrambled to communicate with my host in London over shoddy WiFi. When I rolled past the attendant once more, I gave her an apologetic smile, mumbling something about a breakup so she didn’t worry I might be too crazy to fly. I’m sure she’s used to this kind of thing. What an unenviable job. The whole way there I lamented the aspects of my lifestyle that made this situation unavoidable. By the time I landed I came to terms with them, supposing that some of those same wild bits are the ones that led me there, to him and the whole whirlwind, and to such a recklessly genuine exploration in human connectivity in the first place.
I left London feeling I had accomplished all I set out to do in a short week there, including reevaluating my life. London is beginning to have that effect on me, with all its rule-followers and closed circuit cameras despite an underlair bubbling with dissent. There was a day when I wondered if I had reached my quota of traveling—if I should throw in the towel and go find a little cabin in the woods to go soak my aching bones and start building something resembling “stability.” Does living this way reach a point of diminishing returns? I was greeted with snuggles and tea from someone very special to me who lives with one foot in each world. She reminded me that we are something of a different breed—we, the ones who have dubbed ourselves travelers, journalists, who have chosen to reject modern stability in order to bear witness to the events of the world. Maybe the most we can hope for in love is getting to collide momentarily with the ones who inflame our greatest desires as well as fears, occasionally getting to roll along together for a brief moment in time. How could that kind of all-consuming love keep up when one is moving so fast? I conspired with my confidante and we held each other close in our arms, hearts and minds, knowing we oscillate on the same wavelength.
One day, after prowling around Brick Lane with one of my most liberated and perceptive artist friends, overdosing on chocolate in the shop where he was resident artist and overindulging in esoteric musings about the artistic condition, I began to wonder if I was somehow cheating at life. Some experiences I encounter living the way that I do—lately they feel like they’re more than people are supposed to experience across an entire lifetime, but crammed into a week. Hunter S. Thompson once wrote of the edge:
“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.”
As the farmlands of Surrey blurred by in the train window on the way to Gatwick airport, I wondered if at some point I did step over the edge, making life exponential in all its tragedies and ecstasies. Can one come back from going over the edge? Maybe I don’t know it at all, and this is just aging. Sometimes I wonder if I was supposed to die a long time ago, and if this state of hyper-intense living is some kind of weird artifact, like a bonus level in a video game. Or maybe my senses have just been so pummeled by the world that I am doomed to feel disproportionately.
Leaving London, I supposed I would allow myself to be life’s punching bag as long as it keeps serving me pellets of bliss occasionally. That was what being with him in Germany was, and it was worth all the subsequent discomfort of withdrawal from all the top-shelf chemicals his presence released in me.
Above the clouds, I reminisced on meeting David Hoffman, a visionary photographer who captured iconic images during protests in the 70s and of social movements all over the world. You might imagine people who carry memories of the most violent outbursts of human injustice around with them to be scary and stoic, broken and curdled by the things they’ve seen and learned, but it’s often quite the opposite. He radiated cheer and curiosity; out of every pore spilled a “fuck it” to life attitude, reminding me that sometimes the only smart option to take when working within the confines of a corrupt system is to cheat by not playing their game. Why not follow one’s artistic drive and play for the easter eggs, snatching every morsel of meaning in life? I asked him how he trained in his youth so he wouldn’t be harmed in the process of creation. “Oh, I’ve had my teeth knocked out, scars…” He chuckled. “Photography is a contact sport, the way I do it. I just got lucky.”
I comfortably boarded my British Airlines flight to Amsterdam, which was calm like the Tube usually is due to a mixture of British politeness and awkwardness. I spent the last half hour of the flight trying desperately to contain my delight while reading the opening of Cat’s Cradle. How comforting to know a writer like Kurt Vonnegut once existed with all his observational powers and methods of transforming facts into evergreen lessons for humanity! Tears of laughter forced their way through my eyes and I sat, discretely gasping for air, struggling to maintain my composure under the sideways scrutiny of curious British eyes. What could possibly be funny while crammed into a metal box hurling through the sky? Everything. Everything! All the emotions densely packed into 2016 so far burst in effervescent bubbles of laughter, and I’m sure the other passengers thought I was already high. But I waited until I was safely and legally in a coffee shop in the heart of Amsterdam for that.
Until next time,