Crossing the Lines

By Josh Wagner

My travels through Europe are coming to a close. Next week we fly to Japan. It's been a year of extremes, stunning experiences, profound loneliness, inspiration and growth. This isn't the first time I've discovered how small the globe really is, or how many lessons I have to keep learning over and over...

Most have to do with my biases and fears about people and places. Though my life began in California, I spent most of it in the insular paradise of Montana. Emerging from that world many years ago meant facing my own personal brain storm of prejudice and paranoia.

An early 80s diet of movies and media taught me the concept of good vs. bad neighborhoods. It doesn't take too many detective shows or spy movies to convince you there are places you go and places you don't.

I spent too many years trying to stay on the right side of the lines.

This year I crossed more lines than ever before. I wandered through weird neighborhoods in Istanbul, I hung out with refugees in Belgrade, I lived for three weeks in the heart of the most amazingly gritty zone in Torino--a middle eastern migrant neighborhood which has convinced me without a doubt that multiculturalism can be a real possibility in this world.

In my struggle against paranoia and prejudice, I once believed I could simply eradicate them. But by now I'm convinced the best approach is to make friends with my fears. We go on long walks together. We talk to strangers. We lay our heads in the kind of places that end up on Internet top 10 lists of sketchy neighborhoods to avoid.

I'm not bragging. I haven't yet gone through a war zone or slept on the streets. I don't dive recklessly into danger. All I'm saying is every place I've feared to tread, but then gone ahead and tread anyway, has kindly patted my paranoid head and welcomed me in with a smile. I intend to keep pushing my boundaries and shattering my illusions about people and places, even as those illusions scramble to restructure themselves in my mind. You don't have to travel the world.

Openness to life can be as simple (and scary) as finally striking up a conversation with that person you always see in the coffee shop ...

... or making eye contact on the subway, or taking a walk instead of watching a movie. Out here I find endless confirmation that people are pretty much the same wherever you go: trying hard to live a good life, facing the confusion of existence as best they can, and always just a little afraid of the other guy (who is also a little afraid of them).

I understand the fear. Building walls around ourselves is the most natural thing in the world. But every time I make the choice for avoidance, or cocoon myself away, or say no to experience, I always look back to see another wasted day: without sunlight, without growth, without the rewards of the risk... which, I'm beginning to learn, win or lose, is often simply the risk itself.

Note from Jane: This post was reprinted from Josh Wagner’s 2/27/17 Patreon update, with his permission. We love Josh. Please check out his wonderfully weird and brilliant books, including his current project, "The Changing Things."

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