I never had a fundamental principle to guide a decision-making process. With enough time, I’ll consider the future and make a choice based on what I think I’d look back on favorably from my death bed. After all, a choice is deciding what you attempt to control in your life. Some people want financial stability so they choose a career track and let the rest of the chips fall where they may. Some want a strong family core and fight through the complications of society to maintain that.

Me, well, for most of my life I’ve just wanted to have an adventure, fight the power and take some pictures along the way. For that, I needed to control my options. Prioritize my ability to always have a choice in a situation, to not get tied to responsibility.

I don’t believe in fate or some master universal plan, but I do trust the general energy of a circumstance. I have a gut instinct that I follow when it comes to making a choice, and I tend to look for a coincidence that would clue me in, if I’m doing the ‘right’ thing.1 It could be something small, like deciding where to go for dinner and getting in the car and the first song on the radio is a good one. To me, that’s the universe signing off on the dinner decision: You made the right call.2

The spring of 2014 presented me with the larger type of decision to make. I’d just been paid for a freelance gig and work was consistent. I was directionless but in a place that didn’t require much: work during the days, go out at night, see friends on the weekend. A long-distance, on-again, off-again relationship was in an ‘off’ place, and my friend James was volunteering in the south of France reconstructing historical sites. One day he sent me a message: Wanna meet me for two weeks in Morocco?

This was the universe putting the choice out there: have a fully-funded summer in Portland to bet on working the relationship but live out a relatively repetitive and mundane lifestyle, out or spend my entire bank account in getting to and from Tangier. It took me longer to pack my bags than it did to decide.

Moroccan Cats

Morocco

The cats of Essaouria

For whatever reason, I was thinking about the cats when the message came through. Essaouira had come up in conversation randomly when, a few days before leaving the States I was buying a couple linen shirts for the journey. The shopgirl asked what the occasion was and I mentioned the Morocco trip. The woman behind me in line perked up her love for the country and the oversized Mercedes cabs and the constant bartering. As I gathered my bag, she said, “Make sure to go to Essaouira, it’s incredible.”

What she had failed to mention—along with everyone else James and I had talked to about Essaouira before the trip—were all of the cats. Feral felines that, while not aggressive, were certainly everywhere.

So when the message came through, I was assuming this was all because of the cats: I was laid up in my bed on hour 13 of what would be a two-day ordeal the absolute worst gut pain I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t move without feeling like a literal knife was inside my stomach and shifting about, scraping along the insides of my insides. It felt like one of those feral cats was inside me and it was trying to claw its way out of my chest like a scene from Alien.

The previous night, James and I had eaten at a little corner stand where a card table and patio chairs were propped up against the medina wall and a couple guys were selling chicken sandwiches out of a small kitchen. We’d been walking for hours, indecisive about what to eat, to the point where most of the restaurants were closed and the grocers had long packed up their spots at the market. Our only option were the chicken sandwiches from this kitchen on the corner where quite a few of the local cats were darting about.

Writhing in pain, thinking about feral cats and what exactly could have made me feel this way and how it’s Sunday and I don’t speak nearly enough of any language to find an open clinic, James is off exploring the beachfront while I’m beginning to wonder what kind of a process he’d have to go through if he returned to my dead body, hunched over and drenched in sweat from illness and the fact it’s fucking Africa in July. My eyes are watered over to where the light and shadow congeal in and out of shared space in my field of vision. Amidst it all, my phone buzzes to a new message from my recently ex-girlfriend, and I wipe away my eyes long enough to read I know we aren’t talking right now but I didn’t want you to hear it from someone else that I’m engaged.

They say laughter is the best medicine, but at some point it’s the only one you’ve got. One of those points is when thoughts of imminent death seem very realistic and then the person you love texts to say they’re marrying a guy they met last month in rehab. You have to lie in the bed you make, and this one—a glorified cot with a wool blanket on the third floor of a residence in the old medina of Essouaria, where I knew I had chosen the trip instead of the relationship and that these things happen but damn really what timing—was the fucking worst. It felt excruciating just to hack up some semblance of laughter, but on that bed, looking at the State Of Things, the only thing that made sense was to laugh at how nothing really made sense anymore.

Morocco

Essaouria

There are periods of time in life that I don’t revisit often. Circumstances or events that get filed under Mistakes Were Made and locked away until further review is necessary. The hope is, of course, that lessons would be learned and those mistakes would not be repeated, and the files would just stay locked away forever. That stretch to end 2014 is one such era.

Most everything major in my life that has happened since has been because of, or in response to, that stretch of six or so months from five or so years ago. I’d not done something as rash as the Morocco trip before,3 and by the time it was over, the predictable and repetitive nature of my life before just didn’t make sense anymore. The choices I’d been making—an attempt at keeping the options I valued so much—were actually keeping me within the confines of a system and state that I am fundamentally opposed to.

The relationship had blown up. I shifted focus from my design career to prioritize art and, really, just living. I moved out of my apartment into a warehouse and ended friendships that didn’t seem even and honest. I had no clue what came next, or how I was going to manage it. To call the subsequent period of my life ‘an experiment’ would imply I had any plan at all for it. Back then I developed a mantra, Lean In To The Curve; if and when the world starts to spin out of control, hit the gas. Keep pace, embrace the change. Live at the speed of chaos. It’s been my way since.

Madrid had not changed, but I had. It had only been two weeks—I had spent a few days in the city before flying in to Tangier. Upon leaving Morocco I’d booked another couple nights in Spain as ‘precaution,’ which was really just an excuse to spend more time outside of America’s borders. My general outlook on the world and life was in a spin-out, a total shift, and there was Madrid. Just hanging out.

It was, completely by accident, the perfect location for a state of simultaneous wonder and ambivalence. There are centuries of heritage and examples of passed-on tradition everywhere, representations of what actually survives time itself. The blocks are long and the buildings palatial, as if the city was made for people who were carried by chariot. The city has unimaginable potential, even draped in all this history. Still, though, a portion of all these traditions are sitting around and drinking wine on restaurant patios until four in the morning or waving as the king drives by.4 It demands the good be taken with the bad.

So it was a welcome surprise that, upon finding a bus line to get to my hotel, I pass a billboard for a Cartier-Bresson exhibit opening the very next day, my one full day in Madrid. A sign from the universe, perhaps: You made the right call. Welcome to chaos.

It’s kind of funny how change changes with time & age. Once I took notice of it, it made complete sense; our priorities shift with our status and role in society and so naturally our options do too. It wouldn’t be as debilitating an idea if our society was different, but in America if you aren’t doing something with your life—which has an unequivocal subtext of Doing Something requires a Profit Margin—then change and choice are increasingly pressured to point that direction.

Madrid

Madrid, 2014

I find myself now in a similar situation to that stretch in 2014 where the world I had been living in seemed to untether itself from me. The way I had bounced between the trajectories and expectations of the status quo with school, jobs and girlfriends came unglued beginning with that trip to Morocco; yet now, the subsequent past five or six years of gliding over it all & skipping from one room to the next along the fringes of society has grown to be a more foreign concept. A personal change is calling; these last years were complete de-construction, to the point where my life is a slab of wood and a collection of art supplies. However, I have a foundation and it is a true and good one, something to build from. A period of re-assembly.

But looking out over America, the only opportunity in this land is plagued with some sense—moral, social, cultural, whatever—of dishonesty.5 Building is usually informed by intent and concept, not the abstract knowledge that in times of systemic despair, sometimes making something just because is important. My question is, How does one do that with a life?

I suppose it starts with making some choices, hoping the universe sends some signs along the way, but I can’t help but think the answer is somewhere back in 2014, some idea I’d not considered as it didn’t coincide with the my general invitation to complete anarchy as a driving motivation. Maybe it means going back to the edge of the world. We’ll see.

Morocco

At The Edge · Essaouria, 2014

      Notes
  • What I mean by ‘right’ is completely arbitrary and concerned mostly with how I envision the nature of the universe so it’s only an opinion, but I guess it’s best imagined by a scene from Donnie Darko; I just enjoy the idea of following the path that is ‘supposed to be’ in front of me.
  • Another example, just because it happened while writing this post: I had some notes scribbled on a sketchbook, placed on a table in my studio. The sketchbook was balancing against a ledge and I don’t know if the wind shifted or what, but it randomly fell behind the table, down the entire wall (one of the walls on my second-story space is hollow and reaches all the way to the floor), likely lost forever. This is the type of event that makes me think, Maybe you shouldn’t be writing this one. Additionally, I am aware all of this is completely self-centered and paranoid, but it’s also my fucking life and I’ll interpret the existential nature of the universe as I see fit.
  • In 2012, I did go to Japan for a month on my own with only a rail pass and a couple grand, no real plan or reservations. That was a trip, though, I had saved over years for and planned out dates, studied the culture and was overall pretty prepared for. In going to Morocco, I spoke none of the three languages (Arabic, French, Spanish) needed and had little to no cultural prep time.
  • I did, in fact, see the newly-coronated monarch in a surreal turn of events where I just happened to be in town for the parade.
  • Capitalism will do that to people.