The benefit of traveling is that you are never in one place for too long. You arrive. You visit. You leave your mark. Then you go. It is both freeing and depressing at the same time. I have no ties. But I also have no roots. Is this a metaphor for my life? Why begin journey if I am a destined to remain phantom just as I have always felt?
The number one question I was asked when I told others of my plans to travel the world was, “Aren’t you scared?” It was a sincere question from people who know and love me. But it was less about me and more about them. They were scared for me. Or maybe they would be scared if they were the ones taking the journey. But I was never scared. I was desperate.
I could no longer stay trapped in the prison I had built for myself. At work, with friends, in life – I was living under a dark cloud. I was stifled. I felt confined and misunderstood. My heart was calling out for adventure, nature, foreign languages and foods, novelty, and discovery. I had tried small changes in habit and in interaction. I had talked to friends, acquaintances, and strangers about how to expand, grow, and change. But there was still this underlying feeling of “This is not right.” And the only way I knew how to break the spell was to interrupt it completely.
We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Traveling to Stuttgart brought me to an Alteliergemeinshaft beside the train station. A community of artists living in abandoned train cars called waggons decorated with layer upon layer of graffiti and surrounded by built-up wooden platforms, fences, gardens, and art. There is one shared bathroom for the whole community. It is located in a house about a tenth of a mile away. There is a large party space with a bar, a stage, and a giant, two story, wooden robot. There is no real address. There are few rules. And there is little luxury. But people here are happy. People here are active. People here are creating.
Building stages for concerts and performances.
Building patios and roof decks for communing with each other.
Building art installations to express their souls.
Playing music into the night.
Playing drinking games into the fire.
Playing devil’s advocate in discussions with refugees about politics and war.
I feel very at home here.
The interior of each waggon is as unique as the person residing within. I am staying in the studio of a friend where she creates and builds her puppets and costumes for shows. The walls are stark white, but the counters and work bench are colorful explosions of sketches, skeletons of puppets, blood-soaked cloth wings, papier-macher masks, and surreal fragments of other art interrupted.
I truly feel alive with creativity and freedom.
This is where I learn to be safe being myself. This is where I understand the complexity of everyone’s identity. This is where I reevaluate all that I have thought about “how to live” and “how to be happy.”
No one expects you to be anything. Everyone expects you to be someone. You must live out loud – no pretending. The air is thick with honesty about “who am I really?” The conversation is ripe with owning your past, living in your present, knowing your strengths, and loving your weaknesses.
It is possible I have done the same to this community of artists as so many did to me prior to leaving. It is possible I have projected my feelings and beliefs onto them. Perhaps they are assholes like everyone else. Perhaps they are putting on masks for each other and hiding their vulnerability and truth. Perhaps they are arrogant in their acceptance and theirs is just a different kind of society with different expectations.
But does it matter?
What if I was scared to travel out into the world alone? Does that mean I shouldn’t go?
What if the ateliergemeinshaft is a hippy-tinted lie? Does that make the inspiration I’ve felt any less real?
In Stuttgart, I found a community where being a phantom was the norm. I arrived with blank pages ready to fill with the story this place and these people had to tell me. I was ready to learn. I was ready to expand. I was ready to know better, do better, and stand proudly in my own skin.
In a space teaming with creativity and unapologetic realness, I finally gave myself permission to show up.
And I can’t go back now.