Perception

People tend to see what they expect to see.

When we travel through towns we are an oddity, particularly down here in the south. When people see us they make a lot of assumptions based on our appearance, and those assumptions can vary widely depending on where we are and what time of year it is. The assumptions are always wrong, the life we are living is something completely unknown to the vast majority of people. We are exploring a new paradigm of work and leisure and vacation that has only been possible for a small amount of people until the last 10 years or so, and it is still inaccessible (sadly) to most people.

Most people put us in one of three categories: vacationers, trust-fund babies, or unintionally homeless.

Vacationers: We haven’t had this one in a while due to the season. During the summer, particularly up north where cyclists are more common, people assumed we were on some sort of short term bike tour. They figured we had saved up some money to take a month off work and cycle across the country. While we are somewhat “vacationing”, we are also working each week and don’t have an end date like vacations do.

Trust-Fund Babies: This is a common assumption if people see our computers or recognize our bikes, and hear that we are travelling for a few years. They assume we have parents that are just covering our expenses and we are slacker millenials who won’t just accept their lot in life and get a fucking job. Unfortunately, we are not that at all. I come from a large family and have had a job since I was 13. The GI Bill (not my parents) helped pay for my college, but I still have a buttload of student loan debt. Anna is debt free right now her parents are in no way supporting her now. We are financially independent.

Unintentionally Homeless: We’ve been getting this one a lot lately. I think people in the south (well, at least in Texas and Louisiana) connect bike riding with transient homeless. I guess that kind of describes us, but it gets awkward when people try to give us money or food. We don’t need the support, but we generally accept it and just pay it forward down the road, accepting a gift is a good thing to do (see video below). I guess technically we are homeless, but our transient nature is an adventure and not out of financial necessity.

One of the big lessons from this bike ride has been to not judge a book by its cover. We are individuals whose lives are complex and deep, just looking at two people on bikes who haven’t showered in a week doesn’t give you the whole story. I am trying to take this lesson to heart, I am just as guilty of it as anyone else. All too often I will see someone driving a big RV or wearing a police uniform or some other surface attribute and I make assumptions about their lives and character. I need to change.

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Vacation vs Transformation

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why I enjoy the things I do. Pleasure inducing activities seem to fall into two, sometimes overlapping, categories: Vacation and Transformation. Vacations are the things that recharge us and allow us to relax. They are comfortable and stress-free. In some ways they are like a physical therapist, but for our motivation. They help us return to a healthy state when we are worn out and tired. The benefits from the vacation rarely last long once the vacation is over.

Transformation, on the other hand, are experiences that encourage us to grow and alter our behavior once the event is over. They are like personal trainers for the mind that make us stronger and happier for a long time, even if progress is slow in the beginning. These experiences are often extremely pleasurable, but they are fundamentally about growing and learning first.

Some events and experiences can fall into both categories, depending on the person. You can go to Burning Man or take MDMA and have that be a vacation. It can be about the moment, the pleasure, the recharge, but it can also be more than that. It can be Transformation when you take what happens during these experiences and use them to alter your behavior and mind once you leave. I don’t think Transformation comes naturally though, it takes some work.

To take an example that is close to me, let’s look at MDMA. While rolling you often are much, much more open to things like cuddling, touch, discussing painful issues, and new experiences. It isn’t like being drunk where your inhibitions go down and you do things you regret, instead it is like tearing down artificial or unnecessary walls to become the person you want to be deep down. The experience can be incredible, but once the day ends and you start to recover then you run the risk of it being a vacation instead of a transformation. You may not feel any regret for what happened and you may logically desire to do those things again without drugs, but there is still a block. The experience becomes an excuse not to change your life, you think “yes, I did that and I liked it, but only because I was (at Burning Man, on Molly, backpacking Europe, etc)” instead of acknowledging that you did it because those are things that you fundamentally want to do, they are part of the person you want to become.

Moving past that barrier is difficult, even when you recognize it. I don’t think I really have any solutions to it. I’m sure there are steps you can take… for example, if you want more platonic cuddling in your life you can actually schedule cuddle sessions with a willing friend. Or if when you are at Burning Man you are inspired to create art then when you get to the “default world” (which is burner talk for life off outside of Black Rock City) you can join an art class and find a way to keep yourself accountable.

It seems that the default position is vacation instead of transformation, at least for me. It is easy to conserve, rest, and be comfortable, even if it isn’t going to help fulfill your life. I guess that is part of what makes humans unique, we can recognize these higher goods and pursue them, even if they are in conflict with our evolved urges. It is never easy, but in my experience transformation is always worth it.

Moving Forward

Today is the last day that I’ll be on holiday “vacation”, and that means when we get back to Dallas it will be time to start the routine again and ring in the new year. While on this break I intentionally neglected a lot of my habits as a reward to myself and as a way to minimize my stress and guilt that comes from holiday gorging, playing video games, and slacking. The three notable exceptions are that I still took my daily nootropics/supplements, I did some Duolingo German work daily, and I completed the work and classes for my writing Coursara course. Other than that, I just let myself roll with each day and didn’t worry about exercise, meditation, etc. Thanks to this break I have a clearer idea of what and how I want to make 2016 my best year yet.

First, I am going to take my health more seriously. That means not making excuses for bad eating habits. Just because I am biking almost daily that does not mean I should consume unhealthy foods or lots of beer. I also need to make time for strengthening exercises using body weight or the equipment I have available. I should be able to easily improvise weights with what I have on me.

Second, I want to really learn German. I have a three-pronged approach that is cheap and should be successful. I will continue with daily Duolingo, I’ll listen to the Pimsleur lessons on Audible, and I will watch a German language film 1-2 times per week. I am also going to research other free options online to see if any would fit my lifestyle.

Third, Anna and I are going to get started on “The Adventures of Higgins” (tentative title), a series of children’s books about our bike travels from the perspective of our dog. It will be a picture book that tells his stories exploring the US and will have basic lessons about geography, different cultures around the country, history, fitness, etc. I am going to use the “Isaac Morehouse Method” and try to do one thing daily to keep this project moving forward. This will provide me with an outlet for creativity, writing, and entrepreneurship. And maybe if it is a success it will bring in some cash too. I hope to have our first short book out this year and ready to send to friends who have kids for product testing.

Fourth, get into a regular meditation practice. Meditation, like flossing, is one of those things that I know I should be doing but somehow have a hard time getting into the habit. I know there are incredibly health benefits to mindful meditation and I have time to do it. I need to make it a priority.

So, those are my goals for 2016. I might create some sort of milestone for each with small daily or weekly tasks, or maybe I’ll just wing it. My current spreedsheet that has a point system seems to be working well for me so far. 2015 was the best year of my life and was filled with incredibly adventures and wonderful growth that comes from trials and success. I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring me.