Discover more from Thinking Out Loud | Michael Ashcroft
A densely-patterned fabric of meaningful stories | #56
Greetings from London. My year of nomad adventures has come to an end. But as I close the curtain on that phase of my life, I'm looking ahead to the next one with excitement.
11 February 2023. Greetings from London! After a year of travelling the world as a digital nomad, I’m excited to be back in my home city, where I’ll be for the next year, at least.
Before I get into it, a couple of notes:
Thinking Out Loud is back on Substack. Substack has improved a lot since I started writing here in 2019, plus it feels like all the cool kids are here now. If I’ve made a mistake in harmonising the lists and you’ve already unsubscribed, then sorry about that.
I aim to publish every Saturday. I used to think I should only publish when I had something interesting to say. I was probably wrong about that. I now want to create structures that orient me towards having lots of interesting things to say. A weekly newsletter is an excellent way to do that.
A densely-patterned fabric of meaningful stories
In February 2022, my partner and I packed our lives into a 35-square-foot storage unit in south London and headed to Mexico with a couple of suitcases and backpacks. After three months in Mexico, we spent time in Hungary, France and Singapore, ending with a full six months in Bali. I will tell stories about what happened.
But returning to London has been a psychedelic experience because everywhere I go reminds me of something. I moved here in late 2006 when I was 18, and until the nomad year, here I stayed. Fifteen years of life contained within a few square miles.
When driving to visit my grandmother at Christmas, just a few days after arriving from Bali, I passed five different places I had lived over the years. Each came with a flood of memory and emotion. As I walk around familiar streets, I feel the tug of the many people I used to be. Their stories, troubles, hopes and dreams call out to me as I navigate Tube stations, sit in cafés and walk these well-trodden streets. This experience is why I wanted to leave in the first place; to see who I would be without the influence of these narrative gravity wells.
And it worked. Riding a scooter around the back roads of Uluwatu was so far removed from my previous life that thoughts and feelings unencumbered by my past selves were free to show up. Couple that with the culture of personal transformation modalities that are abundant in Bali, and that period, in particular, ended up being one of the most powerful periods of my life.
Despite all this, I knew that unbounded long-term travel wouldn’t suit me. I never set out with the intention of not coming home, a sentiment I was surprised to see echoed so soon after returning in The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, which I’m currently reading. Describing Shevek, the protagonist:
He would always be one for whom the return was as important as the voyage out. To go was not enough for him, only half enough; he must come back. In such a tendency was already foreshadowed, perhaps, the nature of the immense exploration he was to undertake into the extremes of the comprehensible. He would most likely not have embarked on that years-long enterprise had he not had profound assurance that return was possible, even though he himself might not return; that indeed the very nature of the voyage, like a circumnavigation of the globe, implied return. You shall not go down the same river twice, nor can you go home again.
In coming home, I realise, more clearly than before, that I’m choosing to embed myself back within the fabric I had worn in the previous fifteen years, choosing to weave new stories while acknowledging and bowing my head and spirit to the old.
As I settle into a new property in London for what is, I think, the fourteenth time, I wonder if that’s all ‘home’ really is: a sufficiently densely-patterned fabric of meaningful stories told across time and overlaid on a single place.
This time, the year away from these stories provides a new perspective, a break in the pattern—perhaps even the crack where the light gets in. Maybe this fresh perspective in the familiar home offers the firm foundation for “the immense exploration he was to undertake into the extremes of the comprehensible,” which, honestly, is a pretty exciting proposition.
Let’s see, but it feels like it’s going to be a good year.
Some things I made
Here are some things I’ve published since the last issue of Thinking Out Loud.
1 // The courage to feel it all, a short article on my experience with Tantra.
“It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon in Bali when I found myself doing standing hip thrusts while yelling "FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!" as angrily as I could at a man I had just met. He was doing the same to me. It's not as weird as it sounds—although it's still pretty damn weird.
2 // Want to Improve Your Public Speaking? Develop Your Awareness Skills, my latest essay in Every (paywall)
Allowing yourself to be fully present with the experience of being seen, however challenging it may seem at first, helps create a meaningful connection with another person. You’re not talking to a collection of atoms—you’re sharing an experience with a consciousness that’s beholding you as you behold it. If you can stay aware of this dynamic while speaking, your entire system will coordinate itself differently, like taking off layers of defensive armor so you can have higher fidelity conversations.
3 // Radio interview on Alexander Technique on “Find The Others”, hosted by Anthony Alvarado on X-RAY FM — Portland, OR (Spotify link)