New post on The Stories—A Dayton Family Story

My latest piece for The Stories on Medium is up. It’s about my family, the city the centered around for generations, and the cemetery I visit to pay my respects. Hope you enjoy it.

More updates soon..

The story can be read right here:

View story at Medium.com

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The Road Ahead

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Taking in the sunset with my brother in our hometown. (photo: Justin Johnson)

When I moved to New Orleans a little over nine years ago, I started almost from scratch. No job. No car. Nowhere to live. Hardly knew anyone. Over nearly a decade, I built a solid community, became part of the city, and for the last five years held the best (and best paying) job I’ve ever had, working as a tour guide. I lived in a great place by the Mississippi River in a truly extraordinary neighborhood.

And now, I’m on the road. Everything I own is on my back or in a storage unit. I’m traveling, and I have no endpoint in sight for my travels. I’m going to keep going until I’m done and I’m going to write about it as I go. And hopefully, I’ll figure out how to make a living doing just that.

That’s an abrupt shift to make when you’re almost 40, but here I go.

A lot of the travel blogs I’ve seen (the ones that seem to get written up anyway), center around authors who have launched out of another life that they viewed as a dead end. There’s a lot of this going around, a theme of, I walked away from my dead-end, soul-sucking corporate job to live my dreams and travel the world.

Well, power to ‘em.

But that’s not what this is. I had a great life in New Orleans. Great job and great friends. My reasons for going on the road aren’t about escape (not anymore, anyway). It’s difficult to articulate, but I think it comes down to this idea: This is what I believe I’m supposed to be doing right now.

That’s a little embarrassing to admit, and more than a little frightening, too. The conventional wisdom is that you aren’t supposed to start your life over when you’re almost 40—not unless you’re deeply unhappy. Which, as noted, I wasn’t.

At this point, being happy with where I lived and with my work, I was supposed to start thinking about settling down. Thinking about the future. And I did. Really. I spent the last two and a half years paying off all my debt, from student loans to old taxes. I got my teeth fixed and visited doctors and changed my exercising habits. I put away some savings. And most importantly, I started going to therapy to process grief I’d been storing in the hidden corners of myself for as long as I knew how to do that.

I wasn’t even certain why I was doing all of this while I was doing it. I simply felt I had to clear the decks, get my past cleaned up before I could think about my future. There was even the thought that I might buy a house at the end of this. I held onto that fantasy for nearly a year.

And then, over the last year, a shift came. I began to look at the two constants of my adult life—writing and motion—and wondered if I could put them together. I never wanted to be a full-time writer before. Mostly, because I didn’t want my passion to become my job, something I had to slog through. That’s what I told everyone.

Liar.

The real reason I didn’t want to try working full-time as a writer is because I didn’t believe I could do it. Not because I didn’t think my writing was good enough, but because I didn’t think I had what it would take to follow through. To keep submitting articles after a hundred rejections. To keep knocking on doors that have been shut in my face. To keep doing the business end of being an artist—the humiliating grind that no one talks about. I have friends who do it. I’ve always admired their persistence. I always believed I was missing something that they had. Part of me still believes it.

If I am most susceptible to one of the seven deadly sins, it is sloth. I have always been a procrastinator. I have frequently done just enough to get by. That’s not going to do now. This is a walk to the deep end of the water and a leap of faith that I can swim when I have no other choice.

I will be traveling for the foreseeable future and I will document it. I will hope to earn enough money while doing it to stay on the road. I have enough to get started, my overhead is low, and it is entirely possible that this is the best chance I will ever have to do this.

There will be a lot of changes coming. A new website, for starters. Those of you reading this will also see updates about my work appearing elsewhere, starting on Monday. In January, I will head to South America, where I hope to travel for the bulk of 2017. What comes next is still to be determined.

I’m on the road, looking forward, telling myself I can do this. That this is what I do. That it’s what I’ve always done.

 

Last Days on Deslonde Street

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In the end, I decided to go forward. I decided to leave something behind. It’s been nine years in New Orleans, longer than I’ve lived in a city since I left home at 17. And in those two decades, there is no address I’ve claimed longer than the little cabin on Deslonde Street that served as my home for two years, one month, and twenty-seven days.

I’m off the map again. Nothing new, really. I recently tried adding up all the moves I’ve made in my life and came to around 45. From the split houses that came with my parents’ divorce right through to the new life I formed after my own marriage collapsed; from my first shot outward when I went off to school, to the three schools that followed that first one; through ten states, a foreign country, and all the moves and all the dissembling and reassembling that came with them, the dominant theme of my life has been movement.

And last week, once again, I moved. I loaded everything I own into a truck, drove to Florida, loaded it all into a storage locker, sold the truck, and took off to Mexico, where I now sit, calculating possible trajectories.

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My corner of the world.

There’s no way to write about what this move means for me without falling into overt sentimentality. Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. But I find I need to remind myself that this latest move isn’t about this house. It isn’t about New Orleans. It’s not a means of escape or a crisis of being. It’s simply an attempt, a hopeful and potentially misguided one, to embark on the life I want now. In nine years in the city, I learned to build a life from ground up, and to make it stick. I’ve never done that before, and the life I had at the cabin is the best evidence that it worked out the way I wanted.

I wanted to live in this house years before it became my home. There was a time when if anyone asked me where I would choose if I could live in any house in the world, this would have been the place. That I felt that way and found a chance to make that feeling become a reality is still surprising to me. Some places we live in seem magical, and maybe there’s some truth to that. But I think the bulk of it is just finding a spot that syncs up perfectly with who and where we are in our lives, as though what was happening to us internally had manifested itself into the shape of a home. I’ve rarely lived anywhere that had so much of what I needed surrounding me all at the same moment. My favorite neighborhood. The Mississippi River just steps away. A good friend to share the space with. And music, all the time, pouring out of every wall.

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One of the many backyard concerts held at the house.

When I tell people about my time here, years from now, it will come back to the music. I would lie down at night, and the music from the jazz band on the steamboat Natchez would drift across the water and sit in my room. My friends recorded single tracks and entire albums in the living room. The house was a living, breathing space where one person after another came to create their work, whether it be a new song breathed into a microphone and made permanent, or a campfire in the backyard where the songs welled up and held together in a shared space before floating away to make room for the next ones.

One of the best parts about getting older is watching your friends become who they are going to be, and to find success with that. I’ve watched people who poured coffee and sang on the street when I first arrived become international touring musicians. I’ve watched friends publish their first books, their first stories. One after another, I’ve seen the people I know find their callings and begin to live them.

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A freighter passes outside my door on my last night in town.

In a way, that’s what I’m trying to do now. Over the coming months I’ll be reworking the website and making moves for a massive trip that will consume the bulk of 2017. And I’ll continue to write, and to see how much further I can cast this net. I’ve been writing in the blog for a little over a year now, and it’s gone from a hobby to a cornerstone in what I hope will be the primary work I’m doing for years to come.

I’m not done in New Orleans by any stretch. I’ll be back in town in a couple months, and I will be staying a couple months when I return. But I will be doing it without a fixed address or a room of my own. There are larger steps to come. But this was the first one. It feels big and it feels terrifying. I have nothing to complain about with the life I’m moving from. This house was a gift, and this house was ballast. It’ll be interesting to see how well I can keep my balance without it.

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