Why I Keep Moving

Note: This piece was originally published over on Working/Not Working's Free Range and I'm proud to be able to bring it to you here as well. They have tons of great stuff - click on over there sometime, and check them out!

When people hear I'm constantly on the road, switching cities every month, changing cultures, learning new languages, constantly trying to comprehend how even basic things like crossing the street or getting on the bus are done, they often say the same thing: "That must be exhausting."

The truth is, it's not. In fact, personally - and especially creatively, keep moving has been the best decision I've ever made. It recharges me in fundamental, powerful ways.

As creatives, none of our work lives in a vacuum. If you're a writer, think of how reading another writer's work echoes out in yours the weeks after. As a photographer or designer, of how your visual style is impacted by the work you see on a regular basis.

Now imagine that every single piece of stimulus in your life is changed, all of it entirely new. Imagine that you're suddenly living in a world where people have found entirely new solutions to problems you thought were solved. A world where the standards for what's appropriate in public are radically different, where the balance of what you share and what you hide are shifted.

And imagine that none of that is explained to you - you have to figure it out, day after day, mistake after mistake. That's the world I get to live in. The effects are profound.

It's so much easier to take creative risks, and make creative mistakes.

Would I have ever published an open-hearted piece about depression or the deep philosophical insights you can get from traveller's diarrhea when I was living in the states? No way. It might impact my klout score or my brand or any of the bullshit I've made up in my head as a rationalization for not putting genuine work out there.

But when you're out in the world, failing at communicating, buying groceries, and even basic navigation, failure just becomes a normal part of what you do. It ceases to be scary, and you don't need try-harder mottos to help you put things out there. You just live with your work how you live with your life. You know some of it will be an abject failure, and you learn how to recover and still get to where you want to go.

You get access to entirely new ways of seeing the world.

All of our work is rooted in the world in which we live. So when how-the-world-works shifts, the effect on our work is tectonic. Imagine the sort of work you'd create in a world where you never said sorry, or one where you never said best. How would things shift if instead of meat or bread, vegetables were the foundations of food? How would your work change if child sex trafficking was something you had to look in the eye, understanding first-hand what it says about all of us.

There are huge overlays on the cultures we live in that are only visible when we're able to step out of them into something genuinely different. The effect of Christianity in the United States is powerful and forms the bedrock of every natural-born American's world view, even if they're not Christian. Spend a few months in a country that, for all of its recorded history, has been Buddhist, and those differences become obvious and palpable. They open up a new way of seeing, of expressing, and of course, of creating.

You have a built-in deadline.

One of the most lovely bonuses is that once you've settled in and started making, you immediately feel the clock start ticking. I'm in Mexico now, but I won't be forever. How much can I soak in here? How fully can I express the things I find?

There's a real power to a deadline, even a gentle one, that prompts you to keep creating, keep making today and every day - because soon, this muse will be gone.

It's like one of those short-term flings. It's wonderful, and you want to squeeze every second in before it's gone. Which reminds me - it's time to close this laptop and head off. There's more to Chiapas to experience, and more to write.

Enjoy this letter? Share it!