A couple months ago I drove across the country alone for the first time. Both ways—LA to New Jersey, seven-day layover, New Jersey to LA. I took my time: I was gone almost two months. There were a lot of reasons to do it. A safe way to go home for Christmas, getting to see the country in a historic period of its life, checking an item off my bucket list…
That’s not why I went, though.
I went because I’ve been on a pretty big Bukowski kick, and it felt like something he would have done. I’ve always had a deeply romanticized few of the nomadic, beat poet lifestyle. Bukowski is the logical next step—so nomadic he couldn’t even get along with other writers.
As I was reading more and more of him, I was becoming more and more envious of his life: he had absolutely nobody who was dependent on him, and he was dependent on no one. His family threw him out after high school, and by his mid 20s he had lost touch with any friends from his youth. This was no accident—He makes numerous allusions in his works to his preference of “walls over people.”
He was, by all accounts, a misanthropic loner. He had many acquaintances but no friends, many jobs but no career, many lovers but no partners. It wasn’t until his late 60s that he settled down and found steady success as a writer.
Obviously, I’m viewing him through rose-tinted glasses. We’re talking about a guy who spent 20 years at a dead-end job in a post office, and self admittedly quit so he wouldn’t kill himself. And yet, something in him calls to me, and always had, long before I read him: utter independence
My life has always been a battle between a strong support system in an overly convenient modern world, and a burning desire to remain independent.
There are many ways in which I have proudly maintained independence, especially when it comes to technology. I have lived in Los Angeles for two and a half years and still to this day have never used a GPS. My friends laugh at me for pulling out my guidebook, but it doesn’t die if I forget to charge it.
And yet, with the same ebullience, I have always prided myself on having a strong network of close friends. People who will take my call at 3 am and who know that I would do the same.
These two things seem completely unrelated, but in the globalized world, they’re diametrically opposed. My closest friends are in New York, Chicago, Israel you name it. Even before the pandemic, phone calls and zoom calls were how I kept bonds strong.
It all came to a head when the pandemic happened, and I found myself faced with the virtual components of my life without the physical ones to act as a buffer. I was disgusted by their prevalence I decided to travel around the country. In the summer I was with friends, but for this last trip, I went solo.
You know what I found?
It’s hard for me to admit but… I like feeling connected. I like being able to call up a friend in Nashville and see if he’s also got antibodies. I like pulling into a Starbucks parking lot in Arkansas to do a fantasy basketball draft. I like being somewhere in New Mexico and seeing a rock that for some reason reminds me to text my mother a little heart.
I did spend a lot of time in silence, just like my addled brain believed Bukowski would have. I listened to the wind in rural Colorado, and walked around the empty streets of Little Rock. Silence is extremely important—I think we could all do with a bit more of it. I wrote some of the best poetry I’ve ever written in that vacuum (don’t worry I pulled over).
I’ve spent almost five years now using a flip phone, abstaining from social media (don’t get me started), and generally believing we were all better off as hunter-gatherers. Now, a year into a global quarantine, I’m starting to see that despite its many, many flaws, the internet is here to stay.
I’m finally willing to admit that might be a good thing.
I was drawn Bukowski because he seemed weightless—nothing tied him down, and thus he could soar. There’s a lot to be said for the that kind of life; busking on the street in Oklahoma City, eating fried chicken in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska. But somewhere out there on the road, I realized I don’t want to be a common swift, a bird that never lands. That sounds really exhausting. I’d rather be an eagle, able to take flight at any moment from the comfort of a cozy nest.
If in 2021 that nest is a digital one, well, so be it.