“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”-Steve Jobs
This whole traveling around the world thing has been pretty rough on my parents.
Not only did I put myself through all those long and sometimes dangerous bus rides, but them as well. My father has felt every bump in the road and my mother’s gnarled down all her nails by now.
Over the two years I’ve been gone I’ve missed every birthday, holiday and special event imaginable and they’ve also had to watch all of my younger cousins get married and pop out enough kids to fill up a carnival. They’re my biggest cheerleaders, but I’m sure they’d much rather see me settle down and start a family than head to South America alone today.
Florida was as flat and as humid as I remembered and it’s been nice to be back for six weeks or so. I made it back just in time for Thanksgiving and returned my mother’s car to her right on time as promised. It felt so good to have pizza-football Sundays again like we used to when I was a kid. It doesn’t get much better than lounging around their living room and stuffing myself with plate after plate of delicious pepperoni pizza while rooting on our hometown Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s the little things like that that I’ve missed the most and I’ve been staying with them in Port Saint Lucie, just resting and writing before the next long leg of my journey begins.
After I found out I was going to be able to go to Antarctica with Antarpply Expeditions, I was able to book myself on the cruise I had originally looked into back in California. It’s the one that goes from Fort Lauderdale to Valparaiso, Chile. I’ll disembark on December 25th and then I’ll have just sixteen days to make it 5,000 backbreaking miles by bus to Ushuaia (I’ve heard from other travelers that the roads in Southern Chile and Argentina are rough and unpaved).
All in all, it’s been great being here, but I must admit I’m jonesin’ to get back out on the road.
It’s always just been the three of us and we’ve taken the same seats we did the day they dropped me off at the Orlando airport, which signaled the start of my journey. My Dad’s driving, I’m riding shotgun (because I don’t physically fit in the backseat) and my Mom’s perched in the seat behind him. My cruise leaves later tonight, but I wanted to get to the port early. You can never trust 95-South. Sometimes it’s a parking lot even at odd afternoon hours like this.
They’ve cleared their schedules to see me off and I can’t think of a better way to honor the way my parents raised me than to follow my dreams like I’m doing, but I feel like a bad son sometimes.
Both my mother and father had serious operations this spring and summer while I was bobbing across the Pacific and then traipsing through the US. I obviously wasn’t there for either of them. Their recoveries were long and agonizing and all that they had was each other. My Dad whose knee had been replaced would have to hobble around the house to help my mother who had hip surgery and vice versa. They were limited to the inside of their house for months and when I’d call to check up on them, it sounded like they’d been clawing at the walls.
I never wished for a brother or sister while growing up, but I must admit that now that I’m older it’d be kind of nice to have one, even if all that sibling does is take the attention away during my absence. They’ve never blamed me for my travels or even hinted at it as though it’s a bad thing, but as time keeps ticking by the questions about grandkids keep getting louder and louder. I always sheepishly reply, “one day.”
But to be honest that one day is starting to feel like it’s never going to come. When I was in my twenties I always thought I’d want kids by the time I was thirty and then when I was thirty I assumed I’d want them by thirty-five, but I turned thirty-six this summer and the desire to have a child still hasn’t surfaced inside me. And (Mom cover your ears) actually the older I’ve gotten, the more unimaginable it’s starting to feel.
Anytime I talk to my friends that are parents and they see that I’m out here traveling around the world and trying to live my dreams the first thing they always somewhat jealously snap at me is something along the lines of, “the only reason you can do that is because you don’t have kids.”
Personally I’ve always looked at blaming your kids for not living your dream as a cop out, but that’s easy for me to say since I don’t have any. I’m sure I’ll live to regret writing that last line one day, but I kind of agree with what the motivational speaker Les Brown says, “There’s no better teacher than the unlived dreams of a parent.”
I’d like to think that I’d still be out here doing this even if I had a child (and they’d be right here alongside me). I think I’d rather let my child see my struggles and just how hard I’m fighting for my dreams on a daily basis than to hide all that good stuff. I always think that that kind of openness would bring us closer together as a family and eventually help them dream up their own really big dreams one day. But then again, what do I know? Everything seems so much easier on paper. It’s probably like when I was back in grad school and they’d give us all these pie in the sky educational theories about how to deal with students and their different erratic classroom behaviors. But then when I tried to apply those theories as a teacher in Philadelphia’s inner city schools, I found that none of them were actually practical, and teaching (much like parenting I’d imagine) quickly became just about surviving.
What I can say though is that my parents are super proud of me. When I did a short film last week for the Country Club they belong to, almost every member (whom I’d never even met before) came up to me and congratulated me on my travels.
My Dad is the more vocal of the two and he goes around sharing my website with everyone he meets. When we were in the doctor’s waiting room two weeks ago I cringed as he made the receptionist watch all seven minutes of an interview I did that’s on YouTube. He’s a Leo like me, so he’s loud and proud. My mother, on the other hand, is more reserved about the whole thing, which is also like me. She won’t beat her chest about my accomplishments, but instead she’d rather let people find them out on their own.
The way they talk about my travels is a microcosm of who they are and I always tell them that I’m an exact split right down the middle of the two of them, but they never believe me.
I always know what they’re thinking and what they’re going to do and say before they do because it’s exactly how part of me would react as well. I think maybe that’s one of the benefits about being an only child. Not only do you get all of your parents love and attention, but it becomes easier to pinpoint where your personality traits originate from.
As we pass the exit for Jupiter I say, “We aren’t too far from where this whole dream started.”
I was at my desk in Miami (about an hour south of here) and I had eight thousand dollars of credit card debt and seven thousand dollars in my bank account. I was unemployed, but feeling pretty light on my feet because I had just finished my three-month trip around the world. My parents never bailed me out from my bills and I’m thankful they didn’t. I actually begged them not to when they offered to help because I knew that this was something I’d have to work for all on my own.
But they did insist on buying me a camera as a birthday gift that year, which I’ve used every single day since then. There’s a classic video of me turning the camera on for the very first time in their house and pushing record and then not knowing if it was recording, while looking into the lens and saying, “I just got this camera and we have no idea how to turn it on or what any of these buttons do, but hopefully we can look back at this one day and laugh.”
Since my inner artist was still at its infancy stages back then, I took things super slow. Trying to become creative for the first time ever at the age of 32 wasn’t going to be easy. So instead of being overwhelmed by all the camera’s mysterious buttons and confusing settings, I told myself that I was going to learn creativity instead of the ins and outs of the camera. I dove into Julia’s Cameron’s book, The Artist Way (which my mother had gotten me), and began doing all the exercises in it, which are set up to help people unlock their creativity. But I didn’t stop there. I went the extra mile, like my father would do, and I created my own exercises as well. The best one came to be out of happenstance.
I had been briefly dating a girl back then who had a somewhat large following on Instagram. She just so happened to share one of my photos with her followers and in the caption she wrote, “Follow TravelTall because he posts one cool photo everyday.” Well, she made that last part up. At the time I had maybe taken like 5 cool photos in total, but I liked the idea and I looked at it as a great way to challenge myself creatively. So I set out to take one creative shot every single day since.
Now I’ve mentioned before that I’d get up for the sunrise each day to practice, but I’d also go for long walks each afternoon. I’d circle around Miami Beach and I’d always walk down different streets and alleyways in hopes of seeing something new and interesting. Sometimes I’d take as many as 500 photos in a day and then I’d take the best one from the batch and post it on Instagram, (which also helped me build my following). Then, each night right before bed I’d delete all the photos I’d taken earlier that day and wipe my memory cards clean as well.
Now I’m not going to lie, that made me cringe sometimes, but I think it was a key step in my creative process.
It wasn’t until I was about a year into deleting all my photos each night that someone explained to me what the Buddhist Monks do to the sand mandalas they create. Monks will place tiny granules of colored sand in these elaborate geometric designs. They will work for weeks on this tiring and tedious process. It involves a large amount of work and concentration to create the complicated designs with such intricate detail. Then once they are created, the Monks dismantle the mandala and return the sand back into nature. This symbolizes the impermanence of life and the world.
While I didn’t delete my photos to symbolize impermanence, I can relate to destroying something that you worked hard to create. I deleted my photos for a few reasons, one of them being that as soon as my alarm would go off the next morning at 6AM I knew that I had no photos saved that I could rely on for that day’s Instagram post. It pushed me up and out of bed early because usually the best photos were to be had at sunrise.
Not only did it teach me discipline and dedication, but it also enhanced my creative eye. Plus, another added benefit is that I slowly learned what all of the confusing camera buttons did. It’s funny because as the months went by I always thought I was going to use up all the creative shots Miami had to offer (like that’s even possible), but actually the opposite started happening. I started seeing more and more things to photograph and figuring out how to capture them in a creative way almost became second nature.
There was one day in particular that I’ll never forget. My buddy was having a going-away party so I had stayed out drinking all night with him. Of course when I woke up late Sunday afternoon my head was pounding and the room was spinning. Needless to say there was no way that I was going to go for a walk that day or try and get myself to the beach because of how much I had overdone it the night before. But I still had to take and post my photo for that day. So I looked at the blank white wall behind my couch and I told myself that that’s my canvas today and that I’ve somehow got to turn that blank white wall into a cool and creative photo.
So I took some Advil, pushed my couch out of the way, and then got my tripod out of the closet. I set my camera up about five feet away from the wall and then I set its ten-second timer. I quickly crouched underneath the lens of the camera and then cupped my hands like I was making an offering to the gods so that all you could see in the shot was the white wall and my hands and forearms.
Then, I created a second Instagram account where I uploaded that photo. Once it was online I liked that very photo and as I did so I took a screen shot of it. I did this because whenever you like a photo on Instagram a white heart appears in the center of the photo just as you like it.
The white heart Instagram created matched up perfectly with where my hands were, so I was able (after ten tries) to screenshot the photo when the white heart was at its maximum capacity in my cupped hands. So then I used that photo for that day’s post in my original Instagram account, and (I think) it looked really cool.
I looked like I was offering my heart to someone or something, which is exactly what’s at the core of unlocking your creativity.
But just being able to come up with an idea with just my blank white apartment wall was a big breakthrough for me. It gave me confidence that I could in fact take a creative photo even if the conditions were not optimal. Ultimately, the camera that my parents got me as a birthday gift has not only helped my creativity bloom inside me, but it’s also gone on to pave my way around the world.
I remember the last thing my Dad said to me right before I left for Africa over two years ago. While looking at my camera he said, “Your Mother and I hope that you think of us every time you take a photo.” And as I watch their car pull away from the Port of Fort Lauderdale I just hope that they still know that I do.