Reconnecting with the old world in Pittsburgh

Lawrenceville loft apartment exterior

I left Asheville early yesterday morning, stopping off at Izzy's cafe for an early morning cup of coffee on my way out of town. I knew it was time to say goodbye to the South for awhile, so I soaked up my last bit of southern culture before heading north.

The mountains of Tennessee were as grandiose as I remember from my travels last summer, and granted me hope that there were still parts of America left untouched by endless strip malls and subdivisions.

As I crossed into Virginia, and then, West Virginia, I got a taste of the desperation of Appalachia. The atmosphere through most of West Virginia was one of a place left behind and forgotten. At traffic light after traffic light on U.S. Route 19 lay fast food restaurants, Wal-Marts, and gas stations, and no unique sense of place to speak of.

And then, after exiting West Virginia and emerging into Pennsylvania, I felt a sudden sense of being home again. Not because I have any real connection to southwestern Pennsylvania specifically, but because I grew up on the outskirts of the Rust Belt and could feel its ominous presence in the architecture and landscapes. Rusted rail bridges cut through the mountains and there was a sense that here, real stuff had happened.

Living in Florida, it's rare to feel that way. Sure, there's history in Florida. The confederacy reigned there. One can go to see the sites of former slave markets. There's a rich indigenous history. I won't deny there's a past there. But I cannot identify with it, because it wasn't in my family's lineage. My great grandparents immigrated here hoping to secure a better life. My grandparents lived in the Rust Belt when they had my mother. My parents grew up immersed in this environment. And I was born into the remnants of the industrial era, having not known its pain or glory, but certainly knowing its environment. Nostalgia is a powerful force and it forges our identity whether we like it or not.

Florida often doesn't feel like a place because, for the most part, it's make-believe. Most of the built environment was designed as a resort, an escape, a retreat from the realities of productive life. One can drive a hundred miles along coastal Florida highways and not actually go anywhere, because there's another strip mall with a Publix and parking lots and subdivisions full of retirees for miles in every direction.

That's not to say I haven't loved my time there. I've met some of the most incredible people in my life in Florida. There's a charm there that's unlike anywhere I've ever been. But it doesn't feel like home. The northeast feels more like home, even if its climate is less forgiving and its are people less friendly.

So far, Pittsburgh feels like a working-class town whose rough edges are being sanded down by the pressures of gentrification. A walk down Butler Street in Lawrenceville feels like walking down Bedford Ave in Williamsburg in 2008. There's a chaotic juxtaposition of old and new—the 1938 Arsenal Bowl bowling alley is on the same street as a pour-your-own-candle shop, for instance.

Today I'm planning on walking the length of the Allegheny River and over the bridge to the Andy Warhol Museum. It feels fantastic to be in a prewar city whose urban density is suited to long meandering walks and whose drivers are accommodating to pedestrians.

Charmed at the Moogseum


I sauntered home from Haywood Rd and made a turkey sandwich inside Vincent's belly. I love having the ability to prepare my own food on the go—it's a delight that I haven't been able to enjoy in so long!

Once I ate my "brunch", I packed up my things and headed eastward toward downtown Asheville. My first stop was the Moogseum, a museum chronicling the life and work of Robert Moog.

As I approached the door, a transient woman was stumbling down the sidewalk screaming at the sky. Cursing in every direction, she violently struck down the A board outside the museum. I shrugged it off and went inside.

The clerk appeared, greeted me, and explained she needed to go take care of the A board that had fallen at the hands of the screaming woman. I waited for her at the counter and she came back, explaining how that sort of thing happens all the time. I reassured her that I was used to dealing with that sort of thing as well. We meandered on and on in a lovely conversation about our travels, Asheville, culture, and the like.

To me, the most profound part of travel is meeting new people and sharing meaningful conversation together. I've noticed that southerners are especially open to conversing with strangers and don't have the guardedness that tends to pervade northwesterners. In just a couple days being in Asheville I've had the pleasure of finding myself in several fantastic conversations.

Once I perused the Moogseum and played a theramin (they unfortunately didn't permit photography inside), I wandered to a nearby coffee shop called Rowan:

Rowan Coffee

The interior of Rowan reminded me instantly of Barista, a small chain of cafes in Portland, Oregon. The crown moulding, retro fixtures, and fine woodworking gave me an instant feeling of nostalgia for my time in the northwest. And, unsurprisingly, they served coffee roasted by Heart Roasters in Portland.

After sitting and doing a bit of writing, I decided to try to find Malaprop's Books, a small bookstore cafe I'd read was worth seeing. I headed to Vincent and entered "malaprop" into his GPS, driving away from my parking spot. But then I realized it was walking distance from where I was, and there was hardly any chance of finding another parking spot.

Downtown Asheville, while breathtakingly beautiful and charming, is incredibly stressful, both on foot and by car. It feels like a place that was once modest, but then became gentrified as people discovered it as a mountain refuge. It has to me the same feeling of retrofitted gentrification as Portland. And with that, it seems, comes bands of roving tourists feverishly driving cars with out-of-state plates... myself included.

I retreated back to West Asheville for the afternoon—a place that feels more local, less contrived, less touristy, calmer, more real.

Rambling in West Asheville

Turtles in a half-shell

Yesterday I breathed a sigh of relief as I returned to civilization and could finally take a proper shower again. I spent some time at my new digs—a basement apartment a few blocks off Haywood Rd—before venturing up the hill to do some flâneuring along Haywood.

West Asheville reminds me a bit of Seattle and a bit of Portland. It's gritty, derelict, and industrial. There's a unique mix of old-world shops and new-world gentrification.

I stumbled upon another kava bar after having spent the afternoon across town at Sovereign Kava. Elevated Kava Lounge is situated on the upper level of an old brick building on Haywood.

Elevated Kava Lounge

This morning I woke up and originally intended to find a cafe called Izzy's that I had read about the day before, but my desperation for caffeine was too mighty for me to find it. So I settled for a quaint coffee shop called Bean Werks just a couple blocks down from Elevated Kava.

Bean Werks

When I travel, I love to notice subtle differences between the place I came from and the place I am. The thing I notice here compared to in St Pete is that people are a bit more earthy. That's not to say I haven't met my fair share of earthy folk in St Pete, but there's a mountain town feeling here that reminds me a bit of the Pacific Northwest.

Today I'm hoping to make my way to the Moogseum—the Moog synthesizer museum downtown. And there's a bookstore I've heard is worth visiting as well.

I'll always be a mountain man

Working out at a viewpoint near

The past few days have illuminated a truth that I think I've known since I moved to Florida, but that I tried very hard to escape: I'll always be a mountain man at heart.

This morning I awoke at Black Mountain Campground an hour's drive northeast of Asheville. The temperature upon waking was a brisk 58 degrees Fahrenheit and there was a gentle mist lining the treetops. The forest floor was moist from a combination of the rain during the night and the morning dew.

I had yet another glorious night's rest—probably the best I've had in months since the brilliant, dry, cool Florida winter gave way to its horrid, sticky summertime cousin. Which is a bitter irony, considering I sleep in a luxurious king-sized pillow-top bed in my apartment, but on a paltry twin-sized home-made couch conversion in Vincent's belly.

As I made my way through the winding mountain pass back toward Asheville this morning—with its hairpin switchbacks and crisp air, I giggled with a feeling of conviction that this is the environment in which I thrive. Perhaps not Asheville or North Carolina; the south has a political undercurrent to which I still cannot acclimate. But the mountains, generally, will always have my heart.

The next couple days I'll be spending in a rented room in West Asheville so that I can finally take the time to soak up the local culture and perhaps meet some of the locals. I'm eager to take a shower, to shave my head, to make a triumphant return to urbanity, at least for a little while.

Waking up at the Cracker Barrel

Woke up like this

Yesterday I barreled (haha, get it?) through the swamps of Florida and Georgia and into the forests of South Carolina. Last year, I stopped somewhere south of the North-South Carolina border for a night's sleep at a cheap motel. This year, however, I persisted and made it all the way to Asheville.

I pressed the button on Vincent's dashboard until the temperature displayed below his speedometer, and watched it drop precipitously, from 91, to 88, to 83, to 79, to 72. I remember that incredible feeling when I'd traverse the mountains out west and could feel the temperature change after only travelling a hundred miles.

Exhausted from the day's travels, I scoured West Asheville for a reasonably stealthy place to park, but couldn't find anywhere that wasn't either directly in front of a residence or on a busy commercial street. So I searched for the nearest Cracker Barrel and made their parking lot my home for the night.

To be honest, my night's sleep outside that Cracker Barrel was among the best I've had in months. The cool mountain air soothed me with its natural fragrance—so much more inviting than the stale, noxious fumes of recycled and conditioned Florida summer air. Whenever I take trips like this I'm reminded that the simplest changes are often the most profound. We spend so much of our lives chasing status and material goods, not realizing that often our contentment lies on the other side of a simple environmental shift.

So far, my trip has cost me only gas money and a few dollars for coffee on the interstate—my food supply has so far been commandeered from leftovers from my apartment. What bliss to know you're making the most of your earnings and stretching out the amount of leisure you can have by eliminating luxurious spending.

Now I'm sitting in Vincent's belly, enjoying a fresh cup of coffee I brewed in the parking lot of an Ingles grocery store. I somehow had five green propane bottles stored up at home that I thought I'd bring along, so I want to run my stove as much as I can so I can discard them to free more precious space.

I had forgotten, in my past year of domesticity, the thrill of not knowing where you'll sleep.

Preparing for departure

Morning Pages @ Black Crow

There are only a few short days until I head northward from my home base in Saint Petersburg, Florida all the way to Montreal.

I'm very eager to get out of Florida and see some different landscapes and interact with different cultures, even if I'll only be traversing North America. I was stunned by how different Florida was when I arrived, and it will be equally as stunning I'm sure to once again witness the North through Southern eyes.

I'm so grateful for the friends I've made during my time in St Pete. I'm not sure I've ever been a member of such a dynamic group.

Because I kicked my smartphone to the curb, I'll be taking photos on the trip with a Nikon Coolpix camera I bought from Craigslist for $20. As you can see from the image above, it's of excellent quality!

Check back here for updates as I traverse this wild continent!


I'm on a mission to change the way I love. Maybe you'll join me.

Our culture has taught us that love is a romantic fairytale, and that it is normal and healthy to expect your partner to live up to all of your wildest dreams. This leads us to harbor unrealistic expectations that inevitably lead to resentments and misery.

These expectations can be socially constructed, such as in marriage. A spouse is expected to behave differently from a casual romantic lover. A different set of norms and expectations arises out of the new social contract, which the person might not be capable of fulfilling.

Expectations can also be about our partner. We expect them to conform to our needs and wants, and believe we've been victims to injustice if they don't meet those expectations. Even if we have the best of intentions when we express our unmet needs and do not indulge in blame or shaming, our grievances break the bounds of trust with our partner and place us in a position of victimhood to our emotions.

But most subtle and sinister of all, we craft expectations about ourselves in our relationships. We believe we need to live up to the version of ourselves we think our partner needs and wants. We become performative, acting out the role we believe will garner acceptance and validation. We deny our own limitations and boundaries, losing what makes us us in the process.

The fact is, the culturally sanctioned version of romantic love is not love: It is infatuation. It places the ego at the center of the relationship, and insists that we make satisfying our own selfish desires a priority over being a present, grounded, reliable partner. The trouble with the ego is that we often don't recognize clearly when we're being selfish, and sometimes mistake our own selfishness for selflessness.

We play the role of the fixer. We try to resolve our partner's problems without asking, or insist on "being there" for them, becoming disappointed when they don't want or need our help.

While on the surface, this behavior might seem sweet and accommodating, it's actually self-centered and insecure. It seeks not to help the other person, but to validate our ego. Instead of being grounded and available, we place our desire to be recognized and validated by the other person above all else.

Love starts at the source: Within ourselves. We cannot love another without first trusting and confiding in ourselves. When we try, we project the love we ought to have for ourselves onto the other person. We deny ourselves attention and care, and expect the other person to make up for it.

Our misguided cultural notion of romantic love has deluded us into believing that when we enter a relationship, it is normal and healthy to make that person the center of our lives. We are led to believe that constantly tending to the other person is compassionate and caring, and that constantly making your needs known is vulnerable and sensitive. The irony is that this is the most self-centered and ego-driven way to live out a relationship. Our identity suddenly becomes defined in terms of the other person. We lose our footing and become dependent on the other person for meeting our needs.

Instead, we must recognize that the truly compassionate path is the one of self-love, self-sufficiency, and groundedness. By taking responsibility for our own lives, learning to manage our own emotions, and grounding ourselves in our own self-love, we are able to arrive to our partner with our needs already met by the only person who can meet them: Us.


When was the last time you had a good, long cry?

We've been socialized, especially as men, to believe that crying is a sign of weakness. And, while there is value in controlling the expression of one's emotions, there's also immense value in the catharsis of a good cry.

The other day, I spent a morning doing an exercise that might sound crazy. You know those painful memories you have stored up? The ones where you were bullied, or you got dumped, or a loved one died? I made a long list of all of those.

And then I added to that list all of my worst fears. My parents dying. Someone I love receiving a terminal diagnosis. A car crash. Nuclear war.

I looked up and down the list. Had I truly felt the pain experience of all of these past occurrences and future possibilities and certainties? How often in my life did I avoid feeling that pain, through drugs or sex or intellectualizing or media or shopping?

So I went down the list and forced myself to confront the pain of each experience. I lay in my bed crying, alone, for hours. I allowed the flood of emotion to overcome me. When it felt like it might be too much, I breathed into the experience and reassured myself that I could press on.

And then, I confronted the ultimate ego pain: my own death. I've spent my life avoiding the truth that one day, I'm going to die. So I focused on it. I pushed my ego off a cliff. You're going to die. One day, some day, is going to be your last. I bawled my eyes out.

Afterward, I felt a divine calm wash over me. The only other experience that offered me a similar serenity was in the aftermath of a psilocybin therapeutic retreat. I held my own hand. I hugged myself. I felt, in that moment, self-love and self-acceptance. I realized that, in spite of all my painful experiences, they don't define me. I came to understand that by embracing my mortality, I could access an inner peace I didn't know was possible.

You know that feeling when something funny happens in a quiet setting where it would be inappropriate to laugh, and you have a hard time holding it in? You cover your mouth and try to hide your smirk, but your laughter still permeates through the gaps between your fingers. And if it doesn't and you do manage to hold it in, you'll be gasping for air laughing maniacally as soon as you're able to leave the room.

Holding in your pain is a lot like that. Except when you hold in your pain, releasing it tends to hurts other people. Whether by emotional abuse or by actual violence, it's true that "hurt people hurt people". Our stored pain becomes a ball and chain weighing us down. We carry our pain wherever we go. It's heavy and burdensome. It keeps us from opening up. It damages our ability to trust—both in ourselves, and in the people we love.

We recede into childish validation seeking, neediness, and addiction in order to get what we perceive to be our needs met. They're not our needs: They're the pain of not feeling okay in the world because we internalized our past mistakes and traumas as a reflection of who we are. In choosing to feel our previously unfelt pain, we open ourselves up to a more adult modality of relating with others and ourselves.

So don't be such a baby. Cry more.

The nature industrial complex

Ever stop to think about how much we consume just to be outside?

There's an entire industry that relies on the idea that we're all just a bit too urban, that going into the woods is good for us, and that to do it, first we need $300 boots and a $200 jacket.

But it's not just the outdoor apparel industry that uses the narrative "nature is good for you" to peddle its wares. The tourism industry, with more than a hint of irony, develops previously "natural" land into hotels, restaurants, and resorts—all in the name of "getting back to nature."

And it's not that nature isn't good for us. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence from my own life that when I take a walk in the woods, I feel better afterwards.

But perhaps the outdoor lifestyle is actually just another machination of the advertising industry. What if the outdoorsperson's desire to drive a Subaru Outback, shop at REI, wear KEEN shoes, and go backpacking is actually a manufactured desire, planted by advertising which alleges the benefits of going outside in order to sell expensive outdoor products?

The truth is, you don't really need that much equipment or special clothing to go outside. A decent pair of boots and a windbreaking jacket are a good start. Walk into your local REI though, and you'll be surely convinced otherwise.

Buying nothing in 2020

I forgot to tell you about my New Year's resolution: This year, I'm not buying anything.

Okay, maybe I'm going to have to buy food, toiletries, and the odd article of clothing out of necessity. But every time I catch myself thinking "wouldn't it be nice if I had X", I'm going to pause, smile, and divert my attention.

So far, it's been a wholly liberating experience. I wear the same outfit every day (black shirt with blue jeans), so I'm not fazed by the birdsong of advertisers or storefronts beckoning me to look differently.

Priorities shift when you elect not to buy anything. Instead of focusing on the next acquisition, the attention shifts toward creativity, stillness, and community. I've spent so much more time among friends than in the self-imposed prison of work-and-spend.

As well, a life with less stuff is less work to maintain and less space is required. An inner peace is reemerging out of the knowledge that I have an abundance—not of stuff—but of time and space.

We're constantly fed messages that we ought be busy, that we ought work and consume and work and consume again. But what if we practice refusal? What if, instead, we all stopped buying and started smiling more, loving more, and learning more? How would the world change?

I'm not buying anything in 2020.