Hello, my name is Zev. I’m a writer and world traveler. Originally from Northern Michigan, I have lived and taught in Perth, Australia, Gyeongju, South Korea. and Jazan, Saudi Arabia. My debut novel The New Punk is available on Amazon. You can catch me on the road, wherever life takes me.
Our lives are a dance between two views. The first, out the windshield of our mind, stretches before us while we steer safely behind the wheel. The second, in the rear-view mirror, looks back on all the things we’ve done. Life offers up moments to seize so that we may seize them. Like, for example, while on a work-sponsored visa run to Oman with only 24 hours to spare, it’s an easy yes when a coworker says hey, let’s rent a car and go explore the country.
Sure, there’s bound to be hang-ups, but all obstacles are just footnotes on the future story you’ll be telling your friends. Things like the hassle of finding your hotel and destination with no Wi-Fi connection or data; embarking on a 45-minute one-way hike through Wadi Shab with only a few hours of daylight remaining; having one of you cramp up while swimming in the turquoise pools of a submerged cave; or hiking back in near darkness to find that there is no boat to ferry you back to your car. What starts out as adversity, later through hindsight becomes hilarity.
Life is ebb and flow. A constant battle between opposites: plenty and lack, up and down, love and loneliness. One moment we feel everything, the next nothing. It can be a crazy balancing act at times, riding the waves, while also getting overwhelmed by them. We like to think we can change the world, but in reality, it’s the world that changes us. To manage these shifting waters, we must dig deeper into the why before we can set sail on the how. And the why is all about exploration.
My advice. Remain unhinged. Tip the scales. Live a life of extremes. Try new things. Embrace what scares you. Find what you love and stake your mortality on it. One night, treat yourself to an expensive dinner. Buy that pricey glass of wine, go for dessert. The next night, slum it up. Eat a greasy burger and drink a PBR. A third night, stay at home and eat plain rice.
Go out one night and talk to everyone, then go out another night and talk to no one. Listen to a stranger and learn how beautiful they are, then go talk to another stranger and share with them your beauty. Get out of your comfort zone by doing something uncharacteristically you and then by doing something characteristically you.
Perhaps the more unbalanced you are, the more balanced life will become. If not, keep trying and remember sometimes you take from the scales and other times you give. Serenity comes from learning when do to which.
It can seem daunting at first, searching for that initial ice breaker or magic word to talk to a complete stranger, but really, it’s quite easy. All you need are four words. Hi, how are you? Or just one, hello. As humans, we long for connection, whether it be love, friendship, or just someone to listen and take an interest in us if only for a little while. But to get there someone has to have the courage to take the plunge, that first step.
We tend to forget that while waiting for someone to take the initiative there’s a good chance they’re waiting for us to do the same. Whenever I feel shy or discouraged from talking to someone unfamiliar, I think of my five closest friends, the circumstances of how we met, and how they were strangers long before they were friends. One of us decided to make first contact and as a result we share so many stories, memories, and conversations. Life is equal parts deliberate as it is random. And all it takes is just one word to move us from the realm of chance to that of reality.
Whenever I see a sunset, my heart reaches out and tries to touch something beyond my grasp. I’m overcome by an insatiable longing that only love can fill. But love is not always tangible. It’s often a piece of clay with the shape not yet fully realized. What that shape is all depends on the individual who crafts it.
The first girl I ever loved had no idea I loved her and has no idea still. Allison. For the longest time, I thought this unspoken love was wasted, a cosmic failure. I even wrote her a poem, one she’s never read or knows exists. The last stanza summing up the yearning in my heart. Like a pen worn upon a page, ink-dipped darkness radiates. Words written in a fog of blue, the only light I see is you.
Those words are hers and I have no regrets writing them. Love comes at us from so many different angles. Sneaking up on us out of the blue. Grabbing at us from the shadows. Infecting our insides so that we can’t think straight. Then leaving us on a whim. Moving on to someone or something else. Love is the one thing I will never fully understand and I’m okay with that. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s always changing, growing, and evolving, but remaining true to one constant: unconditional.
So, let love, even if it’s abandoned love, consume your body and soul. Let it shine in a smile you give to a stranger for free. Then and only then will you be the sun, a nucleus of love, erupting from within and spreading without, emitting warmth that in the darkness of space can still be felt even when there is no light.
On every road trip, I experience at least one setback. This time, on the Connecticut/New York border, I suffered not one, but two flat tires, derailing my plans of camping and hiking Bear Mountain, the highest “summit” in Connecticut. The closest tire shop, Millerton Service Center, was a few miles away, but closed for the evening. With no cheap hotel option, I decided to spend the night curled up in my sleeping bag on a nearby park bench and deal with the flat tires first thing in the morning.
Expecting a lengthy and costly repair, I was pleasantly surprised when the owners, Mike and Adam, agreed to get me in the shop right away, a full fifteen minutes before it even opened. Less than an hour later, my car was good to go. One tire patched and the other replaced with a used they had in stock. The total $75. They even fixed a broken brake light at no additional cost. Feeling grateful, I paid in cash, an even hundred dollars.
Moments like this remind me that life will always break a string in the middle of your performance or find a way to sabotage the best laid plans, not because it has some evil agenda, but because life is built on unpredictability. Part of its allure and beauty is the messy parts, where magic and mysteries lay dormant for the unraveling.
The key take-away, things can always be worse. It’s how you react that matters most. Do you rage against the current or go with the flow? Initially, raging is easy. It’s the emotional child in us crying out that the world isn’t fair. Playing the victim is easy too, taking away all personal responsibility. It’s only when we take hold of the wheel in a firm grip no matter the circumstance that we’re better suited for life’s randomness.
The road goes on, with or without us. Sometimes all we need is a little air for our tires from strangers to get us back on the road and to appreciate all the things that can go right, even when they go wrong.
After the repair, I stuck with my original plan and hiked Bear Mountain. On the trail, I ran into a Brit making his way from Georgia to Maine. His goal, to complete the Appalachian Trail in the six months allotted to him by his visa. I wished him luck and told him if it was up to me, he wouldn’t have to worry about being deported regardless of how long it took him to reach Mt. Katahdin. From my perspective, there’s enough air for everyone’s tires.
Driving, especially in traffic, used to really stress me out. I’d get flustered and angry and pound the steering wheel at every wasted second on the road. It did little good. The slow snail pace continued and I eventually got where I was going regardless. The only difference being, I was both spiritually and emotionally drained.
Now, I use driving as a form of meditation. Instead of worrying about how much time is wasted, I allow my mind to drift. Put on a podcast or audiobook or just listen to music. No matter what I do, it’s cathartic and beneficial. I no longer see time in the car as wasted, but rather as one filled with personal growth and silent reflection.
The truth is we are all going somewhere and we are all going to get there one way or another. The only question is how.
Having an answer for everything doesn’t make you wise. Wisdom comes from experience. The more you do, the more you gain. Gather experiences and let those shape your truth. One that is not absolute, but rather personal, ongoing, and changing. Never stop questioning. Never stop seeking. Never stop growing. Never stop.
For everything we think we know, there are a billion-trillion things we don’t. For everything we see, there is so much more we don’t. Our eyes are open, but the universe is too vast to take it all in. A tiny blind mole doesn’t even realize that the sun exists. It just knows darkness and hunger and the sensation of warmth. In a sense, that is all we are, blind creatures making our way through existence, searching for pockets of warmth, not always knowing where they come from, but enjoying them, whenever they come, just the same.
All we can do is keep pressing on, working towards next time. As long as we have another second, another day, another tomorrow, we always have a next time.
I read somewhere that Jack White organizes his various instruments on stage so that they’re not easy to get to. It’s this forced adversity that gives his live show a sense of excitement, of urgency, that at any given moment it could all fall apart and topple off some intangible edge.
I too often put myself intentionally into adverse situations. Like the time I hiked Mt. Katahdin (the highest peak in Maine and the northernmost endpoint of the Appalachian trail) on a limited water supply so that when I reached the top, I had only a few mouthfuls left and it felt like I had walked up every step of the 5,267-feet incline; or how whenever I visit a new city I like to explore on foot, walking extra miles to get from one part to next, refusing to use taxis and limiting the amount of public transportation.
Afterwards, I always find myself wondering why. Why make it harder on myself? The answer is simple. Life’s greatest joys come from scarcity and exertion, not abundance and privilege. When it’s your sweat and blood on the line, you have a greater appreciation for reward. When you’re sapped of energy, you have a greater appreciation for relaxation. And when something is just out of reach, you have a greater appreciation for touch.
We spend more time planning for things than actually doing them. Vacations . . . dinners . . . dates . . . weddings . . . kids . . . work . . . school . . . retirement . . . even our own funerals. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as the next when it comes to planning, but if I look back on my life, some of the best moments were those unplanned. Coming out of nowhere, they took a hold of me and wiped away any notion of time. They were exhilarating. Magical. Made me feel truly alive.
Like that night in Quebec City when I asked a stranger to listen to some jazz and that stranger ended up being one of those rare connections you stumble across. It wasn’t lasting or love, but it was a reminder that random encounters of finding true love do exist outside of the movies and that the only to get to them is to throw out any sense of plot and just get lost in the constant reel of movie screen playing before us. The one that prefers improvisation over sticking to the script.
It was Allen Saunders, not John Lennon, who famously said “life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” Life’s beauty is that in an instant anything can happen, anything can change. All our well-laid plans can disappear like a mouse into a hole in a wall. One second there, the next out of sight. Gone. It’s those messy parts, the ones that sweep us up and make us forget all about whatever future plans we may have made, that add much needed zing to this unwritten narrative that stretches ahead of us. What we often mistake for set in stone and given is in reality unwinding.
Ottawa is the girl at the dance you don’t notice right away, but end up marrying. Unlike a large metropolitan area where a person can spend a lifetime and still not come close to seeing everything, it only takes a day to see all the sights. It’s simple, elegantly designed, and a place where you see yourself settling down, raising a family, or retiring.
Some cities are for the old. Others for the young. And then there’s the New York’s of the world, where age doesn’t matter. Ottawa’s a city for those who prefer the quiet comfort of the bleachers over the chaotic closeness of the stage; where the music is less loud and the pace less hectic, but lifts your soul just the same.