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Last week was the annual convention known as KansasFest, a celebration not of Kansas, but of the Apple II computer, which Apple Computer Inc. debuted in 1977. Every July since 1998, I’ve traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to attend this event — until this year. Due to the pandemic, this year’s conference was the first to be held virtually via Zoom.

This KansasFest marked another first: one year since I first began considering nomading. And it might not have happened had it not been for KansasFest.

On Thursday, July 18, while at KansasFest 2019, I received a text from my landlord, informing me I was no longer welcome in my apartment of five years. Even before I’d finished reading his message, I’d opened a browser tab to search for a new Boston apartment on hotpads.com. The emotional implications of losing my home were slower to register than my brain’s recognition of a problem needing to be solved. It was a familiar problem, as I’d lived in four apartments in college and five afterward; the neural pathways associated with finding a new home were well-worn.

The next night, Friday night, I’d just finished giving a presentation to KansasFest’s 87 other attendees. As they filtered out, a few friends hung back to help me clean up the boxes of pizzas with which I’d fed the masses. My imminent homelessness was still weighing on me, and I mentioned to my pal Kay that my budget might require I move outside the suburbs of Boston.

Half-jokingly, Kay suggested, “You could always move closer to me in Portland, Oregon.”

I dropped my pizza box and stared at Kay. After a moment to process what they’d said, I anxiously exclaimed: “Oh, f**k… Oh, f**k. Dammit!”

Kay’s suggestion had made me realize not only that I didn’t have to live in Massachusetts, but that I didn’t have to live in any one state. I could take advantage of the remote nature of my job and choose to decide anew every few months where I wanted to live, remaining fixed in no location. The very constrained parameters of my equation had suddenly gotten much bigger.

This was not a problem I’d ever solved; it was not a neural pathway I’d already developed. Kay had inadvertently invited me to live a life infinitely more complicated, both emotionally and logistically.

Yet I knew I couldn’t immediately say no. I knew I couldn’t shy from this opportunity, no matter how challenging it might be. Anyone who saw me in that moment knew I was facing a crisis. My friend Mike texted me from across the room:

Mike: "You okay?" Ken: "Considering a big life change. Hit me like an anvil. A lot to think about."

In many ways, my life had been building to this moment. Ten years ago, I had never produced an unboxing video, or hosted a podcast, or told a Moth story, or cycled a century. These were things I was sometimes embarrassingly bad at, but I wanted to get better — so I studied, I practiced, and I improved. Some might say I’d grown accustomed to going outside my comfort zone.

But to acquire each of those skills, I never actually went outside my comfort zone. These skills existed outside my comfort zone, yes — but, like an amoeba, I extended my boundary to envelop the skills and pull them into my comfort zone. All the while, my cellular nucleus remained fixed in the center of my being — that nucleus being my home, my friends, my family. I was always safely ensconced in them, and any desired skills failed to penetrate into my endoplasm, the risks were minimal; my cell, my nucleus, would persist.

Amoebas are crafty, shape-shifting engineers.

Becoming a digital nomad was an exciting opportunity to extend my boundaries farther than I’d ever thought possible, absorbing new and valuable skills — but it would also mean taking a pipette to my nucleus and removing it entirely. Could my cell survive without that core? How long would my extroverted mitochondria compensate before collapsing entirely?

But I’d never shied from a challenge, be it a podcast or a bike ride; and I especially loved adventure, whether it was hiking to Machu Picchu or taking a month-long, cross-country road trip with my brother. Kay’s proposal was consistent then with the trajectory of my life. It was the unexpected velocity — how much my life would change, and how quickly — that had me saying “Dammit”. In the moment, it was the best alternative to “No” I could muster. I’ve regretted every decision I’ve ever made out of fear; I didn’t want, with my first word to Kay, to repeat that mistake.

Ken and Kay at KansasFest 2013
Me and Kay in simpler times (KansasFest 2013)

It took exactly one month from that text message, until August 18, before I was committed to the nomad lifestyle. Kay was one of the first people I texted with the news. And a month later, when I moved out of my apartment — the last place I would call home — I emailed Kay to let him know. He responded:

I am excited for your new adventure, and will never forget the pained look on your face the moment you thought of doing it.

Kay Savetz, September 30, 2019

(Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay)

When is a time you pushed yourself to do something you weren’t sure you could do, because not trying would be worse? Share your story in the comments!

Ken Gagne

Digital nomad, Apple II geek, vegetarian, teacher, cyclist, feminist, Automattician.

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Ken's Itinerary

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