Posted by Annette on November 26, 2018
I started writing Sustainable Lunacy in 2009.
The Four-Hour Workweek had been published on by birthday (of course) two years previous; I’d read it in a single sitting, plopped down right there on the floor of the Barnes & Noble on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California. I had no interest in getting a virtual assistant, creating a product and/or working just four hours a week. Thing is: I love working. For me—a confirmed autotelic personality—work is life and work is play and play is work and life is play and none of it holds any reliable boundaries against the rest.
The promise of Tim’s book was not a workweek I could finish before breakfast on Monday. It was much deeper than that. It was about the myth of the horizon; that I could pull up anchor and puff up my sails without worrying bout falling off the edge of the Earth.
So I did.
I worked for a year to set up a more-or-less reliable cash flow, currying client relationships as a copywriter between producing gigs. I called myself “Location Independent,” coined by Lea Woodward back when the idea still baffled most people. I registered for a business license under a nickname one of my executive producers had given me, back when I was working the music video beat. "Clever Ginger," she'd called me. That'd do.
I’d planned my inaugural trip to be a volunteering mission to work on a project in Mongolia; at the last minute, the slots all filled. (Whew: Back then, I didn’t realize how important wifi was going to be. Dodged a bullet there.) I switched it up for a gig studying lemurs in Madagascar. Whoops! Civil war. Next idea. Finally, I bought a ticket for East London, South Africa, where I planned to work on a wildlife reserve on ZA’s aptly-named Wild Coast.
I was terrified of Africa. Honestly, I was terrified of being alone. I was afraid of many, many things.
Jetlagged me enjoying Chintsa Beach on the evening of my first day on the African continent, ever.
I arrived not long after my birthday in 2009, staggering down the steps of the little regional air jet into the blinding sun. I was 28 years old.
I had been traveling extensively since the first weeks of my life. That said, nothing before it had felt like this, I realized, as I fought to operate a janky ATM in a crowded arrivals hall, the insect clicking of Xhosa conversation assaulting me from all sides, knowing that I’d chosen to walk away from my rarified position as an LA producer-type to be, y’know. A writer. Out here.
No more penthouse apartment. No more fancy car. Instead, there would just be growth, and constant change, and the coin of seven different countries in my wallet to try to cobble together a tip.
Trying to make Skype work from a pirated connection in Harare, Zimbabwe. 2009.
I am certain to my core that I have never made a better decision.
The old Annette died that day. She’s unrecognizable to me, honestly. This new one has, in the intervening decade, learned to—quite literally—fly. When I think of what my life would have looked like if I’d stayed in LA, it makes me a little sick. "Out here," the many, many things of which I had been terrified fell away.
I never meant to make any money with this blog, and that’s a good thing, because I certainly haven’t. I sharpened so many skills and discovered so many tools along the way that I felt compelled to share them here, in the hopes that the next generation of baby birds waiting behind me would be able to use them. I decided to call it Sustainable Lunacy, because digital nomadism was lunatic, and so was polyamory, and so was BASE jumping.
Now, however, I’m not sure Sustainable Lunacy is so useful. Now is the advent of the pay-to-play digital nomad summer camp (?!) that ships little yuppie flotillas out to serviced apartments in Chaing Mai to enjoy built-in English-speaking friends and not have to worry about SIM cards. Now is the age of co-working spaces in any given city you’d have the desire to live in, where someone will be waiting to happily point you in the direction of an open flat or a shop where you can buy soymilk. Now, a fairly enormous number of people have read Sex at Dawn and The Ethical Slut, and polyamory sure ain't for everybody, but neither is it the stuff of unrepeatable legend. Now, the Perrine Bridge is awash in BASE first-jump courses. Now is easier.
A ten-million-dollar bill found in the bushes. Zimbabwe, 2009.
Also, travel means something different to me now than it did then. And that change makes it a lot harder to preach pack-ya-bags travel as the way forward.
“Genuine travel has no destination. Travelers do not go somewhere, but constantly discover they are somewhere else.
[…] All travel is therefore change within the traveler, and it is for that reason that travelers are always somewhere else. To travel is to grow. Genuine travelers travel not to overcome distance but to discover distance. It is not distance that makes travel necessary, but travel that makes distance possible. Distance is not determined by the measurable length between objects, but by the actual differences between them. The motels around the airports in Chicago and Atlanta are so little different from the motels around the airports of Tokyo and Frankfurt that all essential differences dissolve in likeness. What is truly separated is distinct; it is unlike.
[…] So, too with those who look everywhere for difference, who see the earth as Source, who celebrate the genius in others, who are not prepared against but for surprise.”
— Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse
Now, I’m staying. I’m playing an infinite game.
As of today, I’ve just arrived at the end of my first week in Berlin. I’m applying for a freelance artist visa in Germany, and I’ll be staying here for the foreseeable future. I’m falling back from the front lines of the digital nomad revolution. I’ll let the new kids write breathlessly about their newfound freedom from the backpackers’ lounges of Southeast Asia and Prague. I will most certainly continue writing. When I share musings on remote life, it'll be on my Medium channel. Poetry and personal stuff will still land on Here There Be Tygers. And fear not, my regular gigs with Parachutist, the USHPA Magazine and Dropzone.com show no signs of slowing.
Sustainable Lunacy, however, is now complete.
My living room in Neukölln, Berlin. Yesterday.