What I've Learned From Both Living Nomadically and Discovering Home
My first trip to Los Angles was when I was 11. It’s one of the most vivid trips from my childhood. Part of it I can remember as if it was yesterday, like breakfast (and the subsequent conversation with our waitress) one morning at the InterContinental Hotel Los Angeles, located just off Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City. “Oh, you are nearly a Southern Californian being so tall and with such curly hair, but not with that accent.” I blushed, as she continued on, telling me that maybe, just maybe I’d be playing for the Lakers being so tall. 20 years later and I’m back in Los Angeles, just off Santa Monica Boulevard still, but this time I call it home.
Four years ago this weekend, as the sun came up over the horizon, while sitting in a McDonald’s parking lot, I turned in my notice at my job with the state of South Carolina. It marked the end of my life in the south. I put in a good 27 years. I had a good run, which involved a roller-coaster childhood, five years of college that resulted in a philosophy degree, a bit of debt, the loss of my dream job, the passing of my father, and a divorce. The life that had been written for me had run its course and it was time to start a new chapter. So I sold and gave away everything I owned that wouldn’t fit into a backpack and set off on something of a Hobbit-like journey with no return date.
One year ago this weekend I moved into my current house in West Hollywood, California. Just weeks prior I had decided to put everything into my car and take a trip that I had always wanted to, all the way down the west coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. Except when I got to Los Angeles I didn’t want to leave. And not in a epic vacation kind of way. More like an “I’ve found my place and people” kind of way. I was taken aback. It was just years prior, when living in San Francisco, that I stuck my nose up at L.A. Yet here I was in Hollywood faced with something that I hadn’t been faced with in years: A stronger desire to plant roots than to travel.
I used to get a little emotional when I'd talk about my year of travel following the resignation and departure from the south. It was the most formidable time in my life and changed me. I left for that trip as one person and I came back as another. And I feel like everything I’ve done the last three years has been directly tied to that. My life and work the last couple years has all grown as a result from that trip.
But now a year since moving to L.A. and I find myself talking with the passion and emotion about my life in Los Angeles like how I talk about travel. And my life has come even more full circle the last few weeks, starting with my first trip back to Costa Rica since I lived there three years ago. As I sat on the beach on my last night there, watching the sunset from the same beach I had watched it three years ago, a great sense of closure and tranquility swept over me.
It felt in some ways like the closing of one chapter and the opening of another. Almost like my nomadic lifestyle began when I first stepped foot in Costa Rica three and a half years ago and then ended when I stepped foot off of it this last trip a few weeks ago. As if I had blazed certain trails in my life and navigated the waterways of one part of the world so that I could now blaze new trails and navigate new waterways.
There have been three places that I’ve lived where I felt like leaving it would leave a space both in that place and in my life that would be hard to replace, leaving an indelible mark. One is the town that I spent the first 18 years of my life, Graham, North Carolina. The second, Cullowhee, North Carolina, where I spent 6 years, most of which was as a student at Western Carolina University. The third: Los Angeles.
All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own, and if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it. -Samuel Johnson
I used to think that travel was the be-all and end-all, almost as if it was a virtue in and of itself. And I’ll always say that the best version of myself can be found when I’m traveling. I like how Robert Louis Stevenson puts it when he says, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.” Yes, of course, I never want to lose my drive to see corners of the world I’ve never seen. However, the great affair for me is that I would continue to move, that it would continue to be I who writes the story of my life, rather than living the story others would expect and write for me.
Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. -Oliver Wendell Holmes
For right now, that story that’s being written is happening in L.A. Save for a 15-hour trip to San Francisco and back, I haven’t traveled in several weeks, and it’s been equally one of the most challenging, adventurous and satisfying months in recent memory. I went to my first drive-in movie, successfully brewed my first batch of beer, started my PADI diving certification, and completed nearly everything on my Los Angeles bucket list. I hit the road Monday for two weeks of travel abroad, but I leave knowing there’s somewhere I belong even more, and that just because I have a more permanent mailing address, my life is no less a ride.