As most of my friends know, I've spent the past three and a half years traveling the world. Sure, I've worked a few miscellaneous jobs that I had no attachment to, but these were hardly "careers" or anything I am proud of. With most of the people I've met in the past few years, our conversations normally start with "What's your name?", "Where are you from?", "Where have you traveled to and where are you going?". For us travelers, these are the important questions, but most other people immediately ask the dreaded questions: "What do you do? Are you working? Are you a student? Do you have a degree?" These are always difficult questions for me to answer.
For those of you who don't know: No, I'm not working right now. No, I don't want to talk about how I make my money because that's not anybody else's business nor is it the point of this blog. No, I'm not a student. But yes, I DID go to college. I do have a four-year degree in something that I was once very passionate about. From the Spring of 2011 until December of 2013 I attended one of the most unique, public liberal arts schools in the country, Purchase College. Despite being ten minutes from the town I grew up in, Purchase was like another world. While one could study psychology or biology, the school is world-renowned for its arts programs, from music to dance to visual arts. The best part was that the student body was (and still is) a collective of the artsy, creative, freaks and geeks who never fit into social scene of the average American high school; Purchase was my safe haven.
Photography has been my biggest passion and main talent for as long as I could remember, but after a year of studying Visual Arts at a school upstate, I decided to transfer to Purchase for Arts Management. The program, which was fairly new, but quickly evolving would allow me to continue to learn about the arts, but also learn how to manage myself as an artist. Little did I know that in the next three years I'd become more focused on working in the music business more than anything. Befriending students in the music department and booking shows at a small venue on campus, I began to realize that maybe this was what I wanted to do with my life after all.
Since I was sixteen, I'd always idolized my favorite musicians and cherished those few hours I spent watching them live. Up until then, I only had one band who I was truly passionate about, The Rocket Summer, also known as Bryce Avary, the one-man band from Dallas, Texas. I never thought I'd fall for another artist's music as much as Bryce's, but in 2012 I discovered another band. For certain reasons, I'm not going to say the name of this band, although if we're already friends, you probably know who it is (and may have even seen them with me).
The difference between this band and The Rocket Summer was that they weren't well established outside of the Northeast US. They also reside in and play in New York City more often than other cities. After a few shows, I came to know the guys in the band until we were on a first and last name basis—for a while, they even called me by my last name. Over the next year I saw them at least twenty times, and in the process, befriended a lot of the bands that opened for them. There was a point when I was going to see about five concerts a week, both in the city and on-campus. Being the outgoing person I am, I felt confident that I could make a career out of managing musicians. I already spent so much of my free time traveling to see these bands, was getting to know a lot of people in the business, and went to a school known for producing famous musicians, so what was stopping me?
Fast forward to December 2013: I was in my last semester at Purchase, finishing up my final papers and most importantly, my senior project which was a business plan on how to run a successful music venue. This project was my baby and something that I dreamt of curating in real life one day. I even got one of the members of said-favorite band to let me interview him for this project.
"This is amazing, Alex! I really hope this comes to fruition one day," he told me after I sent him the final project. I was on top of the world.
I spent the last weeks of the semester cramming to finish all my papers a week early in order to drive down to Dallas, Texas with some friends to see a very special Rocket Summer Christmas show. After days of writing papers, I was in serious need of a break, and what better way to do so than to see the aforementioned guitarist play a show at a tiny venue in Brooklyn. After the show, we chatted for an hour about life in the music industry and how to work my way into it. I also ended up meeting a few of his friends and the girlfriend of another band member who was also at the show. At the end of the night, I felt like I could finally consider these guys my friends. But little did I know, this was a false assumption...
Now before I write anymore, I want to make it known that I am an intelligent person. I am extroverted, fun, loud, and possibly intimidating to some, but always make sure to watch my boundaries. I often introduce people from different friend groups to one another, and if one of them is ever feeling like they are not being included in the group, I make sure that they are heard. When meeting new people I try to be friendly, but allow them to exit the conversation if they feel like they don't want to talk anymore. I try my best to pick up social queues, but with certain types of people, it can be difficult. And yes, maybe sometimes I do get over excited and miss an important sign. For the next three years, I blamed myself for what happened that night and it was only very recently, that I realized it wasn't my fault. If a slightly— emphasis on that word—famous person wants there to be boundaries between them and their fans, it is their responsibility to set them. It's difficult for a fan to know where the line is set if the artist has not made it clear.
The morning after the show, I received a message from one of the guys who had been watching his fellow band member play. Talking about this is really hard for me, so I'll just summarize what he said. He said that I crossed a line by friend requesting his girlfriend on social media and that he "told her to deny my request" (as I said, I'm a smart person who would've taken the hint had she simply denied it) and in the nicest way possible, told me to fuck off for a while. No, those may not have been his exact words, but it was very much the implication that was given.
I hadn't meant any harm by the social media request; I was friends with him and all the other band members on Facebook and had a great conversation with her that night. I wasn't trying to be best buddies with her; we simply had a specific common interest that is hard to find in people our age, and I wanted to talk more with her about it. I never thought that this would lead to such a big conflict. The next day instead of focusing on papers I cried my eyes out, feeling like being involved in the music industry was a huge mistake and I just wasn't cut out for it.
I thought I had spent the past two and a half years making friends and connections that could help me find success in a field I was passionate about, but maybe this whole time I had just been looked at as some annoying fan. I realized that this person had always given me hints that I should stop seeing his band so much. This was foreign to me because my other favorite bands had always THANKED their fans for coming to multiple shows per tour! I didn't understand how somebody could be MAD that their fans traveled to see them, which essentially pays their bills.
Despite the state of mind I was in, I finished up my papers in time to drive fifteen hundred miles south to Texas where I saw The Rocket Summer play a very special, epic Christmas show. And guess what? When Bryce found out my friends and I drove down he didn't shun us or call us crazy; he told us that we were amazing and that he loved us.
Despite the eternal love my friends and I received from Bryce, during that drive home I seriously reconsidered my stance on the music industry. A few weeks later, I took off for an unforgettable journey through Israel, where I reignited my passion for travel. I had been so infatuated with the idea of not missing any concerts in New York, that I realized I hadn't left the country in over five years. While I had traveled across the Northeast US for these shows, the music industry had forced me to put my oldest dreams of seeing the world on hold. When I returned home from that trip, I decided that I would do whatever it took to finally live out my dream of being a world traveler.
The day before I left the country in June, I drove upstate with one of my best friends to see a band I'd been trying to see for years, The Head and the Heart. I hadn't been to a concert in a while, and I sure did feel alive that night, but I knew it was time to leave. The following day I sold my car, rushed home to pack, and went straight to the airport where I boarded a one way flight to Istanbul via Kiev, Ukraine.
People often ask me why I choose Turkey as my primary destination. The original plan had been to spend a month traveling through Eastern Europe through the countries my ancestors came from, and end in Istanbul. From there I would hop on over to Israel, where I'd be working at a summer camp for the following two months, and the rest was unknown. But a twist of fate led me to a blog post about Turkey, written by a girl named Kay, who I later met in the Philippines and became friends with. It was this post that made me realize Turkey is actually a massive country, with lots to offer.
"I can't possibly visit seven countries in Eastern Europe in one month," I thought.
Turquoise waters, pristine beaches, a city of 14 million people that spans two continents, a salt lake, unique rock formations, and a dreamland of fairy castles—these were just a few of the things Turkey had to offer. Why not spend an entire month in this country alone? And so it was decided: I was going to Turkey for the month of June!
I was lucky enough to be e-introduced to my mom's friends' cousin who lived in Istanbul and offered to let me stay with him and his Turkish wife. While they were great hosts, the first few days were rough. It wasn't until the third day when I stepped outside, only to get rained AND HAILED on, that I realized I'd never been out of the country on my own like this. I missed my friends and wondered if this was really the life for me. I'd read about people leaving their home countries on one-way flights to travel the world for a year, often falling in love (with either people or places) and staying forever. Would I be one of those people?
Shortly enough, I found my way and more importantly fell head over heels in love with the country. Nowadays, if you ask me what my favorite country is, I won't hesitate to tell you that it's Turkey. Why? Other than it's natural beauty, the friendly people, and not to mention good-looking men (yes, my type is now tall, dark, and Turkish), I think the reason I fell in love with this country is that it's where I first began my solo travels. I didn't just fall in love with Turkey that month, I fell in love with the world.
It's been over three and a half years since I set off on that initial journey. I didn't end up moving to Israel or to Turkey, but I have since traveled to over forty-five countries on four different continents. While I have been back to New York plenty of times and settled into a home base in San Francisco, I still feel at home in so many different places. I never do stray far from the road.
Last year, I saw a musician friend who is still close with the whole crew that steered me away from the music industry. Safe, in my new adopted home of San Francisco, far away from anybody who I may not feel comfortable with, I admitted to him what happened. To my surprise, he already knew the whole story. But what he said about the situation, gave me some clarity on it for the first time.
Maybe all of this happened for a reason.
Maybe if all of this hadn't happened, I wouldn't have fallen in love with the world. I never would've met half of the people I'm friends with, and maybe I wouldn't have moved to California, a place I dreamt about living for half of my life.
To the people who made me feel like I was worthless for all those years: take a look at me now. I've got people who love me around the world, admire me for what I do (even though it's the only way I know how to live), and I'm happier than I ever was. Although I'm not sure where I am professionally, I know that traveling has changed my life more than anything else because unlike the music industry, it's not just a field to work in, but a way of life.