We were driving through the solstice sunset of Iceland’s southern coast, a sunset that’s never satiated with a night-dark ending because it, some pastel-drenched hours later, simply turns into a sunrise; refusing to betray the majesty of the landscape by hiding it from the light. But just for these summery weeks does the sun march across the horizon like a tireless, poised soldier. In other weeks, on the opposite side of the calendar, the night creeps along without apology, only relenting from the blackness for a few hours of dusky twilight in the early afternoon.
It’s as if the year in Iceland is one long, slow day… the light and the dark, separated by seasons instead of hours. The thought crossed my mind more than once while frolicking through its formidable landscapes: what an injustice it is to be here for only one week, one blink of an eye in the long day of its year. Those that spend the full calendar here earn the white night by braving the darkness of winter. We earned it perhaps through a different kind of long night, in fact many of them, the ones of triumphant excess we had strung together the previous weeks in a couple of the old-world’s legendary metropolises to the southeast.
We started in Barcelona, the loud, rebellious Mediterranean city where gothic grey meets contemporary color. We used the music festival on its shores that week as an excuse to gather nine of us from across the world in a luxurious flat that had enough beds to sleep everyone, even though we didn’t really end up using them, at least for sleep. Instead, we ate and drank and danced without measuredness. We talked boisterously about politics and art, about the world’s problems, about our ideas for the future, about our hopes for each other—all with such passion that we eventually had to get a spatula from the kitchen to serve as a talking stick… shhhhh, you can only talk while holding the spatula! That worked for about five minutes. Then, we laid on a big bed together and gave each other the kind of feedback that comes best just around dawn. We uncovered things that needed to be uncovered and we buried things that needed to be buried. Not wholly because of, nor in spite of a certain amount of chemical assistance.
Traveling is important for its ability to force one to lose balance, to lose predictability, to lose comfort, to lose the calculated sobriety of striving. Gone is the stability of routine and the neatness it creates in life. Gone are the definitions of how the day is supposed to be carried out. Gone are the structures of quotidian organization that, even in their invisibility, beckon with such constrictive inertia in one’s place of living. When the paths of least resistance so present at home are given geographical space, the limitations they impose on identity quiet down. A foreign city carries little expectation. I can do anything I want, I can be anything I want!
Traveling also erases the certainty of knowledge—of where the cardinal directions are, of the meaning of street signs, of what the locals are talking about, of what lies around the next corner—but also, the knowledge of what the world is, of who the person traveling is. And in this way, traveling is a lot like love: the world being reinvented, lying itself at ones feet, begging another step into the lack of clarity, into the potential of letting go, into being something bigger. Where we lose the balance of sleep, where we lose the balance of consumption, where we lose the balance of practice, of practicality, of responsibility; we churn an immense opening of potential, so that when the scales rebalance, they do so with incredible freshness. There's a new idea of what's possible, what exists, what's healthy, what's important, and most critically, what lies within waiting to be unleashed—the one thing that can never be found while clinging to the need to always know which direction on the horizon will receive the sunrise.
I thought a lot about my next steps in life while driving around Iceland, I thought about what’s really important to me, about what I want to create, about where I want to be in one year, five years, twenty years. As we passed through a seemingly endless stretch of bulbous lava rocks dominating the foreground between the road and the grass-covered volcanic peaks in the distance, I had a moment of questioning whether the rocks were really the pale yellowish-brown they appeared to be… maybe they were deeply black like the rest I’d seen, but covered now with a tundra of moss, sliding across the rocky surface. It was hard to tell. I had to pull over, put my hands on the ground to investigate. I had to see by feeling.
It was in fact a muscly moss covering dry, dark lava. What looked rock-hard and permanent from the road was actually an inches-thick plant life, making the jagged, rocky edges more feminine and soft, more full of breath. After feeling the mossy surface with my hands, I could then, for the rest of the week from the highway, feel its slow movement in my mind. We drove some seventeen-hundred kilometers across the edges of the island, camping wherever we grew tired. When the moss popped up from time to time, it seemed somehow just like the glaciers off in the distance. Both were incredibly alive, just on a different temporal scale, a very slow one, in great congruency with the sedated but steady pace of the sun above. After two weeks of rapidity and explosiveness, I let that sedation seep into me from the sulfury water of the many hot springs in which I floated with a smile that could never be hurried away.
Just days before that Icelandic drive, I was sitting at one of the world’s most perfect cafés on Sorauerstraße in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin—sitting with a cappuccino, a piece of carrot cake, a pencil and a notebook. The street there is lined with uniformly spaced trees. The branches reach towards the open windows of a row of flats whose faces all look similar in their differentness, as if the buildings are siblings in a family that can all agree on a time and place, but not on a mutual view towards which to face; a perspectively-challenged family, like the rest of them. But those buildings feel very much at ease, leaning on each other, covered up to their ankles in a spray-painted graffiti whose beauty is defined by its pervasiveness. It’s so appropriate there, in a place built from ashes. Six feet up from the ground, there’s a city-wide ring of color that seems to somehow comment on the things that are now six feet deep, after a generation of rebuilding.
The girl who served me coffee that afternoon was now sitting outside as well, with a friend, at a table just to my right. I became sharply aware of this fact because I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. As she reclined there in a grey tank top and a blue skirt tied together with a floral apron, I wrote in my notebook about gravity. Not the type that binds planets in a cosmic dance, but the kind that makes someone directly to my left feel a thousand miles away, while she, sitting the same distance to my right, could feel like an unavoidable black-hole. I thought then about giving her a note to tell her about her gravity: We can only see ourselves through each other, and I see you as a perfect beauty in this wild world… I hope you see yourself in the same way.
I ended up writing that note days later with the accompaniment of a cold beer and a fresh cigarette outside an art gallery in Mitte. I wasn’t sure if I’d give it to her, just that I wanted to remember what I saw in her that first time, as well as the following few we made it back there, to the café across from my friend’s flat, after long nights of filling the world with vividness, of being filled, by the world, with vividness. While writing, I smiled internally at the silliness of love at first sight, knowing that it’s very real to love someone without knowing their complexity, but only the simplicity of their gravity.
Then, days later, and minutes before getting onto a train headed for the airport, I reached into the breast pocket of my black jacket, retrieved the folded, graphite-covered papers and handed them to her at the counter of her café. In doing so, I was in some way committing to always follow the mystery of gravity, to chase it towards its perfection, towards the place where nothing can escape. She smiled with a blush and I walked out a little bit taller for having found the courage to show her her own beauty through my words.
Later, on the last night of an exemplary trip, my friend and I took a seat on an old leather couch in the corner of a bar in downtown Reykjavik. We pulled some art magazines off the bookshelf, had some drinks, and laughed as certain scenes from the previous weeks surfaced from our memories and from our iPhone photos. I eventually found myself having a hard time reading the magazines because looking across the small, music-filled Icelandic room provided a better view for me to reflect upon what I’d learned, what I wanted to take home with me, and who I wanted to be in my old, new life.
We’ve heard that the safety net appears only after we jump, after the risk is taken to fly into the world fearlessly. Any hope that we have to achieve our full potential comes from a swift movement towards the unknown. After three weeks of pushing myself socially, physically and emotionally, I sat next to the window of an Airbus watching the sunset over San Francisco… deeply saturated colors now that signaled the arrival of the first dark night in a week. I thought yes, the net appears after we jump, but, only if we spend the days of our lives building that net in our imagination can we trust our inevitable leaping. Before any quick movement towards evolution, there is a glacial, mossy slowness of change built of the steadiness of questioning, of expanding into the world, of pushing the boundaries of what we think we know, of what we think is possible. We are always traveling, there is always newness. There is always an opportunity to be more vividly alive, more vividly in love, at home, now.