On The Road Issue 1: Synchronicities in Seattle

Hi From Seattle

A disclaimer: the tidbits that follow are merely snippets of my travels. Beautiful sights, heartwarming connections, Hailey-esque neuroses, and the little revelations that weave it all together.

So here's the skinny: I'm a personal coach and digital nomad, living out of my epic backpack while I travel throughout the US working remotely. I decided to hit the road because I wanted to grow in unexpected ways. I wanted to see who I became when I wasn’t entrenched in the routines, communities, and comfort zones that shaped my life in Boston.

The year preceding this journey was a wild year for me. That wildness was a culmination of pursuing my current career as a Life Coach; awakening through a rough breakup; working on my codependency; recommitting to sobriety daily; embracing my sex-positivity; building healthier relationships with friends and family; learning what my life could look like if I put myself first; and embracing spiritual growth. All of the good, crunchy stuff that splits you open and leaves you free to rise. Becoming fully location-independent was the final permission slip I needed to hit the road. So I leveled up and bought a one-way ticket out West. That’s where this begins.

In the Pacific Northwest, nomadic life is considered especially lovely. In Seattle, the dedicated detective who investigates this lively city is a member of an elite squad known as the Seattle Visitor’s Unit. These are her stories. *DUN DUN*

I flew out of Boston to Vancouver at 5AM on August 30. As I Ubered to the airport, I peered out at the familiar streets, the rows of houses sleeping, and wondered why I didn’t feel more… bursting. You’re leaving!! I told myself. Say goodbye to Somerville!! Say goodbye to this city you’ve called home for the last three years!! But the nostalgic reveries didn’t come. It didn’t feel monumental. It just felt like another trip to the airport. 

It didn’t hit me until the plane landed, nine and a half hours later in Vancouver, that “home” didn’t mean Boston anymore. Home meant wherever I stood, on whichever street corner, in whichever city. I stepped out of the airport into the morning, the sky a rich combination of blue and grey cloud that I’ve learned is quintessentially Pacific Northwest. [The air is richer out here. Cooler, cleaner, runs richly through my lungs.]

The view of North Vancouver from the Pan Pacific Hotel.

The view of North Vancouver from the Pan Pacific Hotel.

Despite my jet lag, I felt stunningly alive. When I finally made it to the Pan Pacific Hotel where I was spending my first two nights with my friend Brian, it really hit me. I tossed my gargantuan backpack on the ground, let out a whoop, and threw myself on the queen-sized bed like a baby seal. [I guess all of those therapy sessions spent accessing my inner child paid off.] I was like, “Holy shit, I’m actually DOING this, I’m actually in CANADA, EH!!!??!” It felt damn good. And I was proud of myself for taking the leap and making it happen. 

That night, I made friends with the hotel bartender and the hired guitarist singing mellow covers in the lobby. I drank a tonic water and shouted out some requests (Fleetwood Mac and Hall and Oates, if you’re wondering) before connecting with Brian. We explored the cobblestone streets of Gastown, which reminded me of a mellower version of NYC’s West Village, and traded stories as we walked along the water, looking out over the darkness at the North Vancouver skyline.

My stay in Vancouver was short - not even 24 hours total - but during my only morning there, I experienced my first potent synchronicity. [For those who are curious, a synchronicity is a phenomenon coined by psychotherapist Carl Jung to describe the simultaneous occurrence of events - otherwise known as coincidences - which apparently have no clear cause, but are deeply meaningful. Like when you've spent all month deciding whether to take a vacation to Puerto Rico or Spain, and then you see six vacation ads for Puerto Rico in one day. Synchronicities are said to appear in one's life as affirmation that the person is on the right track.]

Anyhow, I was journaling and sipping coffee in the hotel lobby when an amiable stranger approached me. He asked what I was writing. I explained that journaling was a daily habit, which sparked an intimate conversation about our routines, values, and lifestyles. Turns out my new friend was a nomad himself. He had decided to travel after a radically debilitating break-up that had forced him to question his priorities. He realized he’d never put his own dreams at the forefront, and impulsively took the first job that would allow him to work from the road. (In his case, it was a jewelry merchant position on a cruise ship, catering to the elite by day and exploring the seas and the shores by night.) I didn’t have the chance to communicate how similar our stories were - he was pulled away by the blast of a horn on the harbor, warning passengers of the ship's departure - but as he walked away, he turned over his shoulder to remind me to “put my dreams first’ and “follow my heart.” I chuckled to myself; the exchange felt cosmic. 

My first four days on the road felt like a dream. Not in the “Oh wow, everything is so beautiful, rainbows and butterflies!” way, but like a, “My brain is processing this experience as a dream and I’m literally not sure if it’s real” way. I uprooted my life to start anew, so I suppose it makes sense that the transition would take time to sink in.

I'm enamored by the contrast of mountains and forests here on the PNW. Here, I feel a spiritual combination of awe and reverence at the hugeness of the world. The mountains swell into the sky like gentle beasts and the buzz of the city is pacified by the distant silence of the Sound. I look into the sky and am consistently reminded that I am a human, not a robot, which is how I often feel in the urban suffocation of Boston or New York. It’s different here.

A  massive  tree with beautiful roots on Bowen Island.

A massive tree with beautiful roots on Bowen Island.

After Brian and I left the hotel in Vancouver, we caught a ferry to Bowen Island where we’d booked an Airbnb for two nights. My experience there was straight-up goodness. We went on a five-hour hike through the mountains, traded songs on guitar, feasted on popcorn and chocolate [and also real food], and spent our mornings overlooking the water on the patio, steaming coffee mugs in hand. Brian is the type of person whose presence feels energizing and comforting at once. We flitted from goofiness to cathartic soul-reveals and back again in a matter of minutes. It’s rare to find someone you can be your whole self around and I couldn’t have had a better host for the first leg of my trip.

After two nights in the Airbnb, we coasted back down to Seattle. That night Brian played a gig at Tim’s Tavern, a thoughtful dive bar that mixes painted-black walls and bathroom graffiti with candle centerpieces and compassionate bar staff. [For the Bostonians out there, it was like a cleaner, happier version of Allston’s O’Briens.] The night featured four singer-songwriters, and I was like, Bingo! This is my jam! I felt immediately comfortable as an anonymous spectator. 

For months, I’ve wanted desperately to reintegrate musical reverence into my life. Ever since I began working as a career coach for artists, I’ve watched my musical appreciation become formulaic, linear, and businesslike. My spiritual attachment to making and hearing music has been supplanted by a dry harshness. When I decided to visit the West Coast, I knew I wanted to recover my appreciation of music as an expression of one’s deepest self. That night, Brian’s show at Tim’s Tavern was exactly what I needed. I slouched back in my barstool, my heart open and full, and felt sated. After, we went for late-night eats at a quintessential neighborhood bar, Ha!, the type where everyone knows everyone else’s name, and the bartender makes wisecracks at the patrons, and even the drunkest beer-sloshers don’t get kicked out because they’re a part of it all. There was a lot of gratitude in my gut that night. 

Matt presents Brian with a "U R My First Guest" certificate.

Matt presents Brian with a "U R My First Guest" certificate.

The rest of the week has been deeply rewarding, largely due to the rad human beings I've met. Brian kindly shared his friends with me when I bunked with him. Between evening picnics by the water and cozy late-night dinners at the homes of fellow musicians, I really felt like I was being exposed to the crème de la crème of Seattlelites.

Perhaps this is the wide-eyed Bostonian in me speaking, but I’ve been enamored with Seattle-folk for two specific reasons: their authenticity and their quiet confidence. During conversations, I don't get the sense that they're performing for an audience. They speak more slowly than the Bostonians I know, finding comfort in the stillness between words, not rushing to prove that they're this or that. Their presence is reassuring. By witnessing them feeling comfortable in their own skins, I feel permission to be comfortable in mine.

Map of Seattle with my route traced in black pen on Day #1.

Map of Seattle with my route traced in black pen on Day #1.

Two nights ago, I bid Brian's house goodbye and made my way to my first hostel on 2nd Ave in Belltown. I’ve had two days to explore the city by foot, cross-referencing street signs with the intersections on my map. I line my trajectory in pen and make it my mission to cover the Seattle grid before I leave. On my first solo night, I walked to the nearest dive bar - Lava Lounge - and sipped on a RedBull, people-watching, feeling a little bit lonely and homesick. I'll be honest - sobriety is particularly challenging on the road. I feel like I’ve entered an alternate lifestyle where the rules are looser, my identity is in flux, and the potential for connection is infinite. A bunch of my teetotaler buddies have resumed drinking recently and I've felt pretty isolated in my sobriety. When I feel those pangs of unsteadiness, I try to remind myself that the whole point of this trip is self-actualization, and that said self-actualization can’t happen without sobriety. They’re one in the same at this point in my life. 

As I contemplated this today, one of my sobriety role models, Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety, published an article called "How To Travel Sober: 23 Questions Asked And Answered." She explains her success staying sober on the road this way: "I wasn’t coming into [my sober travels] with a depravation mindset... I didn’t think I was trading out a bigger life for a smaller one, and I felt very certain that ditching alcohol was an upgrade to a bigger life." I adore this perspective because it reminds me that my sobriety enables me to do rad shit like take morning runs around the park, remember every beautiful detail of every night out, and do my job properly. I couldn't believe that she published this article today, when sobriety had been hot on my mind. [Holly blogs about once a month, give or take.] Quite frankly, I felt like the Universe had my back. 

Anyhow, at Lava Lounge I befriended Gabriel, a long-time creative writer. [Cue synchronicity #3.] Simultaneously humble and wickedly interesting, he peppered our conversation with sprawling metaphors and brief glimpses into his novels-in-progress. [I won't spoil the plots, but one of them includes post-apocalyptic raccoons. Mmmhmm.] Gabriel is an avid book-lover (obviously) and a member of multiple creative writing groups in Seattle. He offered an open invitation to join him at any time, and I see this as a simple extension of my intention to rediscover my own creativity and catharsis while on the road. I left our chat with a plan to grab a bite with him the following day AND a strong sense of self-appreciation for sitting with my loneliness instead of leaving the bar when I'd felt uncomfortable. Those momentary sensations of unsettledness are necessary growing pains as my body, heart, and mind acclimate to this new pace.

Seattle city skyline from Pier 66. No filter.

Seattle city skyline from Pier 66. No filter.

Right now, I'm sitting in the hostel kitchen after a rich, dynamic Sunday. I just got home from the Sunday night Compline Choir service at St. Mark's Cathedral in Capitol Hill. Every Sunday night from 9:30 - 10, the Seattle Men's Chorus sings madrigal-style in the pews. It's a tradition that's been going on for over 65 years, and over 300 attendees gather from all corners of the city with blankets and pillows in hand. I sat on the floor near the altar, my jacket cushioning my knees, and closed my eyes in gratitude for the moments of stillness. It was a perfect way to end the night.

Being on the road rocks.

It feels good.

It feels right.

That's all this time around. If you've made it this far - thanks for coming along on this journey with me! If you have any questions about nomadic life, comment below; I'll answer them in my next post.