A lot of friends and acquaintances have had the occasion to ask the perfectly reasonable question of why I wanted to give up a good home in a beautiful city on the Pacific -- where I have nice friends and associates, a decent job which pays well, health insurance and all the trappings of middle class American existence -- in favor of life on the road and an uncertain future.
(They usually don't use highly caffeinated run-on sentences like the foregoing, but you get the idea.)
Part of it is for the same reason that dogs lick themselves (because I can!!), but the overarching reason why is very personal, and has to do with the quest I have been on since I was self-aware enough to think of such things: I want to live a good life and be happy.
That quest has taken me in a lot of different philosophical directions and to a lot of destinations on the Earth. I think of it as kind of a winding path that has trended in the same general direction. There was a period where I thought the key to a good life was self-knowledge and spiritual discipline. I studied Zen under a renowned master and practiced about as diligently as an attention-deficient slacker could. Then, I spent a number of years of my life learning, so that I could earn a decent income - never as an end in itself, but what I saw as a necessary means to an end at a time when I was lurching from job to job in an island economy. Then I entered a period of my life where I sought meaning in being a good partner and supportive boyfriend: again, not as the be-all and end-all, but as an important step I felt I needed to take.
It seems to me that a good life is lived by giving your gifts fully in the service of some greater good. Some people find that good in family: I see that as a noble and appropriate purpose, though one that will not be mine, for biological reasons at least. Others find it in religion, or in a career. I have never been especially religious, though I would say that I am fairly intensely spiritual. And, as far as a career goes, it's hard for me to imagine that I could find lasting satisfaction in a job, at least as the Anglo-American economy is presently constituted. I find the world of work far too reductively focused on abstracts like profit and productivity... and in any regard, the things I think of as valuable (equality, justice etc.) are not really market commodities.
This journey, for me, will be a time to break out of my routine so that I can meditate deeply on what my true gifts are. In addition, I intend to leave myself open to inspiration as to how I can give those gifts in a way that will help create the kind of world I want to see... or, in any case, somewhat slow the slide into barbarism and brutality that I see happening day by day.
I'm trying really hard not to pre-judge the outcome, though it's not like I haven't thought long and hard about these issues. I have the gift of communication - this makes itself manifest in my ability to speak multiple languages and also to explain complicated technical issues to others in an effective way. I am widely-read and curious about the world, and history: I feel I have a pretty good understanding of this historic moment and the underlying trends -- and this understanding is not limited by either an America-centric or a Eurocentric perspective. And above all, I have a real desire for social justice and want to play some small part in creating a world that works for everybody.
It may be that I somehow find a job that pays me to harness my gifts in order to create social change on a massive scale. More likely, I will have to put the pieces together in a more ad-hoc way: a job that supports my values along with some sort of part-time occupation in organizing, speaking writing... who knows.
Jefferson declared the right not to happiness itself, but its pursuit. Aristotle held that a happy life could only be judged so after death; until then, as Solon admonished Croesus, a man could not be called happy, but merely fortunate.
I have been fortunate to have lived a life that has allowed me to learn a little about what brings lasting happiness. I am very fortunate to be in a position where I can actually act on some of the things I have learned.
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- Mile 575: the Grand Canyon
- Mile 525: crashing at the Grand Canyon
- Mile 145: kicks on Route 66
- Mile 0: escape velocity
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