I’m back on the road now. On an airplane, staring at my beloved horizon line as the sun sets somewhere between Texas and Arizona.
During my travels, I’ve spent much of my time answering questions like, “Isn’t it hard to be on the road all the time?” or “Don’t you ever feel tired of traveling so much?”. These questions sometimes come with an inferred opinion, and are asked with a tinge of pity in the speaker’s tone. Now, anyone who knows me well knows that pity is a trigger for me, so maybe I’m projecting this-that’s certainly the more likely scenario. Or perhaps I just look worn out, so the person asking has good reason to think I am tired! But, while I know that these types of questions are natural and probably come from a desire to sympathize with me (what a nice thought!), I also know that my answer is not what one might expect.
The important factor for me is that in asking me this question it means that the person asking is interested in me and wants to engage with me on some level. This is a gift and an opportunity that I don’t take for granted. It’s a chance to bond, to create trust and understanding, and potentially even an opportunity for exchange.
The moment when this particular question is asked, I feel have a choice to make. I could choose the fast track toward empathy and respond by listing the reasons that we all know travel is tough: the lack of routine, the food selections available at the airport, the wrinkled clothes that have spent too much time in a luggage, the long layovers, uncomfortable hotel beds, the missed loved ones…the list could go on and on. And it’s true-there are many challenges that come with the lifestyle I have chosen for myself. But therein lies the key. I choose this lifestyle. I am living exactly the life that I wanted for myself and because of that, I’m actually living my dream. For that I feel incredibly fortunate each time I have the chance to travel.
Ultimately, this question as an opportunity to describe what I consider to be one of the greatest privileges in life: the opportunity to meet new people. I try to explain that I actually chose this lifestyle out of love and pursued the chance to travel as a way to fulfill my dreams of learning more about the world and my desire to gain a better understanding of humanity. It’s what drives me more than anything as an artist.
Of all of the amazing benefits that come with the opportunity to travel, the greatest gift is the gift of having interactions with people I may not have otherwise come into contact with. I attempt to use these types of casual exchange as opportunities to open myself up in an honest and vulnerable way, and to share stories from my travels.
Sometimes I think of myself as I do my luggage, only instead of belongings, I am a vessel of stories. I imagine myself a trader of sorts, and for any story that a person might share with me about their life, in exchange I share with them one of the stories in my catalogue. This is the connection I yearn for. I hope in doing so I will learn something about life, and perhaps I will have given them something to think about.
At the airport just now I saw a t-shirt that said “Make America Kind Again”. That was a new one for me, and the most convincing line in the “Make America…” campaign I have seen so far. But to me this is the wrong approach, because in truth who really knows America right now? And how can we know our country-one that is so vast and diverse-without knowing its people, its history, and its stories? I certainly don’t claim to know America well at all, but one thing that I have noticed is that many people in this country feel like they are not heard and many Americans feel like their stories don’t matter. This breaks my heart. I think upon the many stories in my little luggage of conversations. They are my form of currency. They are my gold.
I am very fortunate to have the chance to live my dream, and it’s something that I don’t take for granted. In fact, it’s probably the thing that I love most about America-the fact that we are encouraged to pursue our dreams in this country. My parents are the embodiment of the American dream. Both came to this country as immigrants with not much in the way of possessions, and now they have raised three college educated children and contributed to society in many ways. Perhaps it’s because of this that I believe in our country so much. I have been told that it’s a hallmark of first generation Americans-this love of the American dream and its ideals. Only I have never considered it ideology. It’s been my truth—my own story.