Leaving everything good
I was only 3 conversations from changing my life.
- I’d need to tell D & J, my business partners, that I wanted to go traveling indefinitely — which would mean most probably that I would have to walk away from Good Apples, the branding company that I loved, that I had dedicated myself to for several years, that I had planned to grow old with, that I had co-founded with them.
- Inform my landlords that I would end my lease early — and try to mitigate the loss of my security deposit.
- Break up with the girl who was not my girlfriend, but who acted like it.
I was close.
The conversations swirled into shape in my mind. I didn’t think that any of these people would be very disappointed.
My mother had been diagnosed with highly dangerous pre-thyroid cancer. She was staying with me in Boulder to be near a healer who she visited three times a week.
She had a dream of traveling – she's from Malta – and she made it to Brooklyn, met my dad, had me, and stayed. There were many parts of the globe she still wanted to see, and I thought I should see them, for fear of missing out on traveling while I was still young (33 was on the verge of being not that young).
As I was gearing up for the conversations, my landlords called me and said that they wanted me to consider moving out early, because they wanted to sell the house. Boulder real estate prices were going from high to ridiculous, and they wanted to cash out. They offered me the option to buy my tiny, flimsy 700 square foot Hobbit-house for $550,000. I coughed, and sputtered, and choked on the air. In retrospect, that would have been the best investment of my life.
I'll spare you the conversations. My graphic design company let me go, and my landlords were happy to cash out their house for their retirement. The girl, she was persistent. She wanted to travel, too. So we agreed to travel together for 90 days, after which she'd fly to New York City, and begin another life.
I was free.
I found a backpack that could fit in the carry-on so it wouldn't have to be checked into each flight. I stashed 16 boxes in various friends' garages, attics, sheds and storage units. The rest I gave away, sold on Craigslist, and donated.
This was February 2013. By April, I was gone.
* * *
Living in the World
I wanted to warm up before flying directly into India, so I chose Thailand. I'd been there several times before, and I knew of a great beach to get my bearings and prepare for a longer, undefined style of travel.
My plan was to live "in the world." Those were the words that kept rattling in my mind. Not that I wasn't already in the world, or living, but I wanted to try it out there. Somewhere else. Many other places. I wanted to live so that the cafe owner in some remote village would recognize me, where I'd smile at my new neighbors who I'd see every morning walking down the dusty path, where I'd adjust to the patterns of a new language, and understand entirely different versions of living. I chose India as the country to start with, then, after that, I left it open.
I also had this altruistic idea that I had been born healthy, (arguably) intelligent, and into a loving family — and as such, it was my responsibility to give back and help others who were less fortunate. I realized that some people find this feeling through their religion, especially Christianity, or through cultural programming like White Guilt, but I am neither Christian or very white, so I'm not sure where it came from. I just wanted to be free and help.
Quit your job, get rid of all your stuff, and fly to India? Really, Dan? I know, it's a cliche, but once I focused on it, I'd get palpitations in my chest. I'd think about not doing it, and my heart would slow and I wouldn't feel it anymore. My mom would say "close your eyes and imagine yourself in India," and again, my heart would start hammering.
In college, I created SOS Media, an art collective dedicated to connection, creativity, and, if I look back, I'd say love. Our pieces were unsigned, except for the symbol of SOS. I remember saying that I'd dedicate my life to SOS, that I'd sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor and eat peanut butter sandwiches in order to bring SOS to life. That all people should be empowered with skills and knowledge so that they feel free. We should feel that we are part of this society by choice. If we wanted to go live in the forest, we could. Not that many would, but at least when you know that you could, you then feel that you can more powerfully commit and choose this life.
One of my favorite pieces that we made was called IS HEART BEATING. It was painted 8 feet by 4 feet, and it had medical drawings of a pulse being taken on the wrist and neck. Above it, it said simply "IS HEART BEATING".
Calendar entry: Is heart beating = heavy/pounding
It was 12 years later when I felt this beating, and I knew I was going to have to be true to the art and the heart and fly away from everything I knew, and test the truth.
* * *
Casting off design
I was also sick of design. I'd done everything I came to do in design – designed album covers, books, websites, gotten recognized and awards by magazines, etc. I felt burnt out, and I was looking for a new vocation.
In the two months between when I decided to leave and when I left, I got a referral to design a branding project for a new client called Captain Jim, a yacht captain who had all the best recommendations for yachting gear. It seemed like such an ironic project for what I considered to be my final project, while I was getting rid of everything I'd amassed in my life, to create a brand and website around shopping for completely inessential items – yacht gear.
Captain Jim wanted his face as the logo. I couldn't convince him out of it. So, after several iterations of sunglasses on / sunglasses off, goatee on / goatee off, earring in / earring off, we found a solution that worked for him and appealed to his audience of yacht owners.
I used the money from the Cap'n Jim branding design project to buy a new 13" Mac Air, 2 GHz i7 processor, with 8 gigs of RAM and 500 gigs of space. I write this so we can return and laugh at this in the future. Nearly five years later, I'm typing this story on this machine, and it's still rocking.
Ok, I thought, this is the last design project.
Why, then, was I loading the Adobe Creative Suite, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, onto the Mac? Habit?
I had packing to do.