Why Abscondo and What's Abscondo? (My Story)
My recent interview on a Polish blog started me thinking about the original idea behind the Abscondo project. Let's start with the name. I chose the moniker "Abscondo" from the word "abscond":
2. (of someone on bail) Fail to surrender oneself for custody at the appointed time
Looking at this definition, clearly the word has quite a negative connotation! For the record, I'm certainly not under arrest or on bail! So what exactly am I absconding from and what is the Abscondo message a reaction against?
The Abscondo project is a reaction against the normalcy of a an age that is abnormal...against the values of an era without any. It is a reaction against the type of lifestyle we are encouraged to seek when it is, in fact, a lifestyle that we should be fleeing.
It isn't that I'm complaining about anything...not at all. I've nothing to complain about. My parents loved me, for one. I grew up in an America that still believed that its children deserved equal opportunity.
*That's me, on the left, with my family.
I was educated in a decent, small-town (public) school system where most of the teachers cared about their jobs and were free to actually teach. I paid my way through a university system that was, at the time, still almost affordable to the middle-class (well, if you're willing to work full-time while attending university full-time). Then I went into the workforce in the late 1990's (when the economy was booming and companies were still willing to hire the recent graduates).
*Graduation from the University of Colorado
I met Sofia, the love of my life, when we were both very young. We have created a marriage that is both filled with bliss and also filled with the kind of success and comfort that is found when you are with that perfect life-partner. We grew up together and not only know everything about each other but also know when and how we did what we did and learned what we learned. Our late-night conversations during university were as much of an education as university itself! Anyway, she is my one and only soul-mate. What more could anyone ask for?
*Sofia at age 20 with her sister
"Abscondo" is not just a project for me. I have lived "Abscondo". In fact, the Abscondo project is nothing more than the result of what has naturally flowed from my life. It is simply a reflection of my life.
I have approached this strange life not out of desperation or failure. In leaving Seattle for a life in Eastern Europe, Sofia and I were prepared to "throw away" everything we had worked for throughout undergrad and grad-school in Colorado, as well as everything we had worked for and achieved in our tech-industry jobs in Seattle for the 5 years following it. We were prepared to throw it away just as everything was going as well as anyone could hope! Why?
The simple answer is that, while everything was great, life didn't quite feel as "real" as we knew it could. It was convenient, as long as we were willing to sit 9 hours a day in a windowless gray cube where nobody speaks to each other unless they absolutely must. It was convenient, as long as we stayed in line (no long vacations, oftentimes no fresh air or daylight, no "unprofessional" behavior, etc.). And it is impossible to live in modern-day America without becoming a victim to propaganda. When you're living within such a saturated and effective media climate of mind control, you have to become something of a culture warrior just to hope to have anything approaching an original thought! I found myself debating political points rather than expressing my own, original thoughts. I found myself identifying with cultural movements, as though doing so could possibly affirm something about my own life!
So Sofia and I decided to act on something that had been in the back of our minds for a long time: moving to Slovakia. Sofia is from Slovakia, but lived in the US since becoming an exchange student at age 16. So, yes, I am married to a Slovak, but that's not exactly "the reason" I live in Slovakia. In fact, I live in Slovakia for no particular reason at all.
For years, Sofia and I visited her family in Slovakia each Summer (check out some of the pictures from these visits). So after more than 10 visits, I was under no illusion about what was awaiting. By 2005, when we finally made the move, most of my romantic notions of Slovakia had already faded. But still I knew that we'd find a life filled with more of the people we love, more freedom to carve out a life on our terms, more ability to travel to interesting places...I simply felt that I would be able to walk down the street, take-in my surroundings, hear and smell the world as it is, and feel things! I also hoped I'd find more time for recording music, for writing, for creating.
To be honest, we didn't think that this adventure could last more than a year or two. We had prepared for at least a year to do this, and even before that we avoided making choices that would have trapped us in Seattle (buying a house, a new car, etc.). But still, we knew that whatever money we had saved could only go so far. So we had prepared as much as we could, but we also understood that planning would only take us so far. At some point, there was a leap that would need to be made. We simply couldn't guarantee a stable future while taking such a risk. It needed to be, and certainly was, a leap of faith (pardon the cliche).
I remember, as if it was yesterday, the week that we left Seattle. We put everything into storage except for what could be packed into our luggage and shipped in two large boxes. We lived in a cheap, stinky, furnished apartment near the Space Needle for that week. I remember going to a Mercury Rev concert just a few days before leaving, feeling nostalgic that it might be my last Seattle concert. It was only two days before leaving that both Sofia and I figured out our work arrangements. I told my employer that I was moving to Slovakia with my wife, but that I would be willing to continue performing my current job, working evening hours here to compensate for the time difference. Most people would have simply resigned, but instead I forced them to decide -- to tell me it couldn't work. But in only a minute, my boss responded that we could try it for a few months. That was 5 1/2 years ago and I'm still with the same company. Sofia arranged a very similar situation in the short-term and then transitioned to something even better long-term. To a great extent, our careers actually accelerated since making the move.
Then I remember that first week in Slovakia. We practically converted Sofia's parent's house into an office. When I first plugged in my Voice-over-IP phone (because I needed a US phone number), I blew up the power converter and half the power in their house! My Father-in-law immediately went to town to buy the right kind of power strip and it worked on the second try. We spent the first month tripping over cables in a tiny, ugly town in Slovakia, working and living at Sofia's parents house. Not exactly the ideal outcome to my adventure so far (living with my in-laws and a bit helpless because of my weak Slovak-language skills)! Not exactly that life of freedom we had sought!
But eventually we found an old, beautiful and romantic flat to rent in nearby Kosice (the city where we still live today). What I found in the weeks after moving into that new flat was, surprisingly, a sudden sense of...depression! I had spent years planning my "absconding", but now that I had actually pulled it off, now that I was left in silence with only my own thoughts, now that I could no longer look to the future for happiness, I was just sort of...stuck. For my entire adult life, I had always lived for tomorrow. I realized, in a single moment on some quiet Tuesday afternoon, that I had just achieved my dream. At the same time, I hadn't quite worked out what my next dream was! So I was forced to live, quite simply, in the moment for the first time since youth. Learning to do this, to stop planning, to stop using the language of planning (i.e., questions from friends like "when are you coming back to the US), was perhaps my greatest lesson and greatest change in the past few years.
* Our first flat in Kosice in 2005
In the months and years that followed, I sort of "discovered" Abscondo. I discovered that life meaning does not come from the external (from movements, cultural phenomena, etc.). Meaning can only flow from our lives when we are allowing our uniqueness to thrive. I discovered that, in order to "abscond", we sometimes (though not always) need to go to drastic measures (if only to create a space where it is possible for us to do so). This blog, the podcast...it is all meant to track this process. This is my attempt to not just share my experiences, but to discover and share more general truths that can improve the lives of others. My music, on the other hand, is something far less structured or planned. I cannot describe the song-writing process (really I cannot talk about music at all). I cannot describe what inspires me to go through the endless months of recording a new project. I guess, if you are a creative person, you simply create. No further analysis or explanation is required.
Much has changed in these 5+ years. My path has been trial-and-error. I guess there is no predefined path toward such a life (don't even get me started on the legal and tax complications I have created for myself). Sometimes my quest for freedom and truth actually became my own worst enemy and I nearly ruined everything.
Sometimes I miss things about my former life (Seattle's concerts, wonderful food, intelligent conversations and debates). I also miss Colorado's outdoors. I also miss my family and friends in Wisconsin. It isn't that my life somehow "started" since absconding to Slovakia. When I look back at my childhood, my college years, my 5 years in Seattle, I realize that all of it was equally important and valid. All of it was just as it should have been. Perhaps I only needed the change so as not to get stuck somewhere. But wherever I was, I was always a misfit. It's just that now it is official! I also realize that in most ways I have not changed at all...that "wherever you are, there you are".
Now Sofia and I have a beautiful 7-month-old daughter, Isabella, and we bought our first home a few years ago (which was a very difficult project that detracted from my creative inspiration during that time).
What we have found is far from perfect. At times, we still take our work too seriously and let days fly by without much inspiration or enjoyment. Life will always be filled with stress, worries, and very real problems. This is unavoidable. All we "have" in this life is what we've achieved and who we've become. But even that can be fleeting. We carry with us only the moments we've experienced and memories from the relationships we've built.
In these past few weeks, I feel as though this Abscondo project is just beginning. I know that what I'm talking about here is very personal, but I hope you decide to check-in with me from time-to-time anyway on this journey. I hope that the music and ideas shared here might be welcomed into some small place in your mind and heart. So download the music for free, subscribe to the weekly podcast, sit back and browse the blog. I also encourage you, always, to share your perspectives by learving comments at the bottom of any blog entry. Thank you.