I’m writing this on the train from Vancouver back to the Bay Area, sitting in the glass-encased observation carriage as farmlands and forests sweep by, dramatically snow-capped mountains in the distance. We are in southern Oregon and it feels like every few minutes we cross another river near-bursting its banks. It’s all so lush and gorgeous, characteristic of the Northwest Forests I’ve had the chance to experience in recent days. Trains really are the best way to travel. While yesterday I had wifi from Vancouver to Portland this 18-hour stretch from Portland to San Francisco is offline, which I don’t mind as it’s a good time for clearing my head and doing some writing.
The past couple of weeks have been unusually stressful, with my visa to re-enter the US initially being rejected, stranding me in Canada with my pregnant wife left back in San Francisco and time ticking down to our departure from the US back to Australia, unable to help with the tasks of relocation or say goodbye to my friends in person. This is all thankfully behind me as I steam towards the Bay, with 17 days once I get there to finish packing and depart.
Despite the stress and frustration when in the future I look back on this time I don’t think this is what I’ll remember at all. Instead I think I’ll have overwhelming positive feelings about these two weeks, remembering the incredible support and love our friends showed both K and I, which managed to turn what could have been an awful experience into truthfully one of the most moving and uplifting of my life.
When we first announced the visa rejection on Facebook, the response was immediate and near-overwhelming. Offers of support and advice poured in. I was connected to Australian, American and Canadian diplomats, immigration lawyers, and people who had gone through the process before to get advice. I was offered numerous places to stay and people to connect with in Vancouver and Calgary. Our friends in San Francisco really stepped up to help K with packing up our house, at one point she had seven of them working under her direction, or just to deliver her food and offer her company and support.
Beyond these specific actions was the unbelievable sense of love, concern and solidarity we both experienced. When we could have felt very alone, kept apart by border and bureaucracy, we instead felt deeply connected to our community. It’s a feeling I will always treasure. Thank you to everyone who reached out and offered comfort during this time.
In the most practical and necessary way possible I also experienced incredible hospitality while in Canada. In Vancouver I stayed with a new friend who I had only met at a street party in San Francisco this past New Year’s Day. It’s not as random as it sounds, we share a mutual close friend who was at the party and she spent five years in Sydney previously. While we never met we were part of the same cultural community in Sydney, the outdoor psytrance scene, and this sense of being part of the same tribe, despite having only recently met, was powerfully connecting, even as my intended 3 days in Vancouver stretched to 11. Last Saturday night we went to a psytrance party in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, and the feeling of the community there was reminiscent of the tribe we both missed in Sydney: open, fun-loving and expressive.
I had the same experience in Calgary, staying with a relatively recently-met friend who I share many social ties with, both having been part of the beautifully close-knit Burning Man community in Washington DC, but never having lived there at the same time. While in Calgary I also met a group of the local burners (Burning Man devotees) and the ease with which we bonded was both unusual and yet also expected.
The lesson: when you are part of the same tribe, you take care of each other.
I’ve thought a lot about tribes over the past several years, and it’s my belief in the power and abundance of our communities that inspires me about crowdfunding (or tribefunding as I increasingly think of it).
I believe a deeper sense of tribe is only possible when you share a form of cultural expression which is sub-mainsteam. In other words it is sub-cultures that form community. Sub-cultures tend to be based on participation, whereas mainstream cultures are based on consumption. Once a culture gets too big a certain level of intimacy and sense of connection and participation, of having something important and vital in common, gets diluted then lost. You can feel this even in San Francisco, where Burning Man culture has become mainstream, and the truly tight-knit communities are the next sub-cultural level down, groups of burners based around specific camps or sounds.
I also had the chance to connect with my other community, social entrepreneurs and changemakers, when I presented at events in Vancouver, Calgary and Portland, and loved the energy and passion of the people I met. I hope we’ll be able to support many of them on StartSomeGood soon.
It is my connection to these tribes, my pursuit of the subcultures I love to participate in, which has provided a platform for my last four years in America, which has allowed me to quickly make friends and find community in each city I arrive in.
I am so grateful for the support of friends new and old over the past couple of weeks, and for the tribes and cultures which connect us.
“True [dance] music consists of four main ingredients: a cup of spirituality, a tablespoon of love, a dash of togetherness, and a pinch of soul-penetrating beats.” – Bamboo Forrest.