On The Road Issue 2: Studenthood in Seattle

 Chill and happy on the Bainbridge Island Ferry.

Chill and happy on the Bainbridge Island Ferry.

Greetings from the road! As y’all may have read in my last blog post, I am in the midst of a nomadic journey. In August, I left Boston to live on the road and continue working remotely as a Life Coach. Currently, I’m bunked in Seattle - specifically, the charming, eccentric neighborhood of Fremont. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me <3

Recently, I’ve been thinking of this journey as an opportunity to be a student. Generally, we think of ourselves as students when we’re in educational settings, learning hard skills like math, car repair, pie crust recipes - you get the idea. Sometimes we forget that all endeavors - particularly those that are unfamiliar - are teachers. Identifying as a student has helped me embrace the what-the-hell-am-I-doing sensation that accompanies trying something new - and I happen to be doing a lot of trying something new these days. And how relieving: to feel like it’s okay to learn instead of to know. This mindset has helped me stay curious and keep my mind open on the road. 

In September, I wrote about synchronicities. My first few weeks on the road, I experienced lucky coincidence after lucky coincidence. The mother of all synchronicities took place when a Seattle-based friend-of-a-friend offered me his one bedroom apartment while he travels in South America till November. Seattle was already sneaking its way into my heart, so when the option arose to stay twice as long as I’d originally intended - for virtually no money - I accepted without a thought. 

 Caffe Vita makes an amazing asparagus quiche.

Caffe Vita makes an amazing asparagus quiche.

And so today, like many other days recently, I am cozily sipping coffee at Caffe Vita, the neighborhood coffeeshop steps from “my” front door. Instead of hostel-hopping each week - overhearing friendly strangers complain about their hangovers in German accents at breakfast and trying to find comfortable sleeping positions with earplugs stuffed in my ears - I’m staying in an apartment. With a kitchen. In a neighborhood that I adore. Four of my new friends live within a five-minute radius. Most days, I feel like I stepped into a ready-made life, complete with home, favorite coffeeshop, burgeoning social network, and some days, even boredom. It gives me a sense of what living in Seattle is actually like.

This month may not be the most quintessential “life on the road,” but damn, I love it. Monday through Wednesday, I live a pretty normal life: wake up, make coffee, have calls with my incredible clients, be a human. I spend the other four days a week exploring the humans and destinations of Seattle. My three favorite explorations thus far have been:

 my baby seal! I named her cinnamon.

my baby seal! I named her cinnamon.

#1. Discovery Park: Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest public park, a 534-acre expanse on the shores of the Puget Sound. One Friday night at dusk, Brian and I went there with the explicit intention of finding seals. (I’ve been enamored with seals since spotting my first one at Nantucket. Brian has been amenable to this obsession.) We walked a mile of cliffside overlooking the Sound and the city skyline. A soft breeze rustled through the trees as ships silently carved routes through the water, miles away. When we got to the beach, we (almost literally) stumbled upon a baby seal resting on the shore brush! I lay down beside her, playing big spoon. She yawned, wrinkling her seal nose and opening her tiny jaw wide. A few times, she sniffed my hand. Bucket list item, check.

 Admiring the lake halfway through our hike.

Admiring the lake halfway through our hike.

#2. Chain Lakes Loop at Mt. Baker: Last weekend, ten of us donned our hiking gear and drove miles into the wilderness for this 8-mile roundtrip hike. By the time we got to the trailhead, all we could see for miles were mountains, serious mountains with snowy peaks and broad hillsides sporting early fall foliage in rich reds and yellows. The longer we hiked, the peaks towered above me and, eventually, swooped below me. By the end, I was cold and sweaty and smelled bad and felt like a million bucks. I want more of that.

 Elliot Bay Book Company, AKA, heaven.

Elliot Bay Book Company, AKA, heaven.

#3. Elliot Bay Book Company: This is the best bookstore I’ve ever visited - a bibliophile’s paradise. Elliot Bay’s sections on Self Help, Relationships, and Sexuality take up 45 shelves alone. It’s a forty-minute Uber Express Pool ride from my apartment, but I’ve already been there six times. I can’t resist.

In short, it’s been a “a trip.” Get it?

Anyway, as a student of nomadhood, my biggest lesson thus far has been how important community is to me. What excites me about my travels isn’t the newness, per se; it’s the potential to explore new communities, not as a passerby or a spectator, but as a participant - a community member myself. Becoming a community member takes time and energy, so it begs the question: If becoming a part of a community is most important to me, how does that bode for my nomadic travels? If I love being part of a connected friend group, can I be fulfilled flitting from city to city, month to month?

I don’t have the answers yet. But I do know, with a profound certainty, that I’ve been happiest on the road when I’ve been knee-deep in connection, getting to know other people in a meaningful way. Because Brian has generously shared his friend group with me, opportunities for such connection have been unusually abundant. 

 Munchin’ on some post-yoga food at Sarah’s house. Norma has taken a liking to me!

Munchin’ on some post-yoga food at Sarah’s house. Norma has taken a liking to me!

One member of this friend group, Sarah, is an aspiring yoga instructor. [She is also a musical and visual artist, a deep and rich thinker, an empathic friend, and more.] To fulfill her yoga certification practicum, Sarah hosts an intimate yoga hang - three yogis wide - in her living room every Thursday night. She lights candles, we do yoga for an hour, and then we drink tea, listen to old records, and talk about life. Belly laughs abound. Likewise, last weekend’s Mt. Baker experience included staying overnight in a cabin with a group of eleven friends. Most of them were friends of friends I’d made - and, in addition to the s-peak-tacular views during the hike (get it?), I wondered at the beauty of spending time with such grounded, friendly, funny people. We sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in rounds as we traversed those eight miles of rocky mountainside, and returned to the cabin to make a pasta dinner fit for queens. We sat around the wood stove, donning the coziest of clothes and trading laughter late into the evening. I want to fill my life with moments like that.

 The Mt. Baker Hiking Crew.

The Mt. Baker Hiking Crew.

Let me tell you, man. The people here are extraordinary. I meet personable, interesting people in the most unusual places! This Friday, for example, after being homebound for most of the week with a nasty cold, I trekked to a boppin’ bar down the street for some dance wiggles and pop music. I didn’t know anybody there - apparently it had a reputation of being popular among college students, oy - and I had previously made peace with the fact that I would probably stick out like a sore thumb. Five minutes within walking in, I had befriended two guys who were dancing unabashedly on the dance floor. (I felt less like a sore thumb when I was surrounded by a sore pointer and middle finger.) We got to talking, and two hours later, we were trading philosophies about the effect of weather on social networks as Cardi B thumped in the background. All this is to say: One month after my first blog post, I still hold firm to the hypothesis that people in Seattle are less performative, more comfortable, and outwardly friendlier than most people I’ve met in other cities.

It’s been fun, having the emotional and logistical space to incorporate new connections into my life. Being on the road is a blank slate. I have the same 24 hours a day I’ve always had, but here, there are no preconceived notions of how I “have to” use that time. I can fill my Life Jar with whatever I please. For better or worse, there are no social engagements to maintain, no events I feel pressured to attend. The only requirement - assigned explicitly by me - is to curate the richest, most inspiring, most meaningful time on the road. Within that framework, anything’s game. 

In many ways, that framework has been a godsend. “Fill your time with beautiful people! Beautiful places! Happiness!” Sounds pretty good, right? But it’s harder than it sounds! The lack of structure is unfamiliar and challenging for me. I find myself responding to the uncertainty of my travels with attempts to over-control other areas of my life. I’ll catch myself writing epic to-do lists for my business, scribbling year-long vision calendars in my journal, and then be like - “Whoa, hey! You designed this time so that you didn’t have to do stuff like that, remember? Can’t you just take breather and enjoy being here?” 

 Running always helps ease my anxiety. My favorite running destination is the Fremont Rose Garden, equally beautiful in the sun and rain.

Running always helps ease my anxiety. My favorite running destination is the Fremont Rose Garden, equally beautiful in the sun and rain.

And then I guiltily smile, and put my journal away, and sit in the silence and wonder, “Okay…. What now?”

Letting go of control and opening to the world is a beautiful idea, but it is Work, make no mistake. Stillness and mindfulness fly in the face of our cultural understanding of what it takes to be “happy” and “fulfilled.” In this culture, we’re taught that unpleasant feelings are “problems” that need to be “fixed.” We’re taught that happiness stems from productivity, which stems from hard work, which stems from constant motion and activity. 

Many of us - myself included - are addicted to that motion, that doing, and so breaking that addiction - stopping, and trusting - is Work. When I feel these impulses to act, control, and determine, I remind myself to to simply trust in the natural flow of my process. I remind myself to receive that which is around me. And it’s hard. But I am a student. And I am learning. And that’s exactly what this time on the road is for :)

Thanks for following along on this journey with me, friends. Last week, I posted an Ask Me Anything on Instagram. To wrap this up, here are my answers to the thoughtful questions you posed.

“Have you written any new songs during your travels?”

Last week I got musically inspired but didn’t have an instrument, so I downloaded the iPhone Acappella app and recorded “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” in four-part harmony. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Brian took pity on me and generously lent me one of his (many) guitars. In an attempt to get back into the writing habit, I assigned myself the task of writing a simple song about whatever came to mind, without judgment or expectation. (I know, I know - that’s how all writing sessions ought to be!) Something came out, a half-baked happiness song called “Over Coffee.” It’s decent, but more importantly, I’ve written it after a year-long writing hiatus!

“Do you just want to move around indefinitely to see as much of the world as possible, or are you looking for somewhere that feels like home base without feeling limited? What’s your favorite city so far?”

This is a great question! My intention isn’t to see as much of the world as possible, but rather, to dig my roots as deeply as I can into a few favorite cities. My nomadic journey is different from most because I’m spending 1-2 months in each place I visit. Like I mentioned earlier, developing roots in new communities is important to me, so I want to spend enough time each place to really get the feel. I’ve only been to two cities so far: Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC.

“Do you find yourself getting antsy to move along to someplace new even when you’re bouncing around? “

For some, the wanderlust bug bites so deep that without constant motion, they feel like they’re missing out. For me, that isn’t the case. I love developing meaningful relationships with other human beings over time. I actually find myself wanting to stay in places longer than I’d originally intended.

“Is there any chance we are going to lose you to the West Coast?”

In my ideal vision of the next few years of my life, I have a couple of “home bases” where I spend the majority of my time, with sporadic trips to new and exciting places spread throughout. My current nomadic journey is a way of discovering what I want my home base cities to be. Seattle is definitely going to be one of those places. I’m looking forward to having a few different communities that I call home!

“Are you having more luck connecting with [sober kinky poly feminist nomad] communities in person, or through apps/the internet?”

Good question! Each of those descriptors are an important part of my identity, and I’ve been eager to befriend folks from every community. That said, I’ve had an easier time connecting to some communities than others. Seattle is a pretty alternative city, so I’ve had an easy time meeting poly/kinky folks here. A surprising number of strangers I meet at coffeeshops are Digital Nomads, or have been in the past. Sober folks are trickier! Like I mentioned in my last blog post, sobriety is much harder for me on the road, and so I’m committed to checking out some meet-up groups and SMART Recovery meetings this October. The biggest lesson I’ve learned with each of these communities is that they live among us. The best way to meet sober/kinky/poly people is to talk about being sober/kinky/poly. Out of the woodwork we will come! Each of these identities has been pretty stigmatized (let’s be honest, I’m blushing as I type this), so talking about your own inclinations creates a space for other people to talk about it, too. 

Thanks for reading, and if you have a question, leave it in the comments - I’ll answer in next month’s blog post!