As you know, I had been in a really bad place recently.
Somewhere in St. Petersburg, FL – near the drag queens, cigar shops, outdoor tapas bars, palm trees, blue water, and really weird rain clouds, I kicked my artist’s block in the nuts. Oni is back.
We are all painfully locked into our own world. In my case, I spent most of my early life in one city – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I couldn’t afford to travel. Now I have lived an almost equal amount of time in Pittsburgh and New Jersey. I’ve visited New England, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, and spent a lot of time in New York, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida.
It wasn’t until recently after working my ass off for years that I was able to travel at all. I haven’t been lucky enough to travel internationally yet, but I do consider being able to travel at all something that I am very grateful for. My visits to the conventions who have been gracious enough to have me as a guest speaker, and my personal travels to central Florida and various places in the Northeast, have given me back some perspective when I have been in danger of losing it.
Last week, this was the case.
I have found that American states are like countries. They have their own personalities and cultures. There are assholes and nice people everywhere, but the heart of each place is different. It’s made me re-evaluate how I type to you, because I now understand that words are taken differently in other places. Playful speech in NJ can sound absolutely vulgar to someone from the south. I still talk to you like a drunk sailor, but I now understand how to use it better.
But I digress.
My burnout last week was a result of a loss of perspective. Frankly, I am used to being shit on, so I can be quick to undermine my own accomplishments and value. I might make this look easy, but it’s not. I tend to hyper focus on work at the expense of fun. If I don’t get out of my pattern every 6 months, I’d probably explode. It is because of this that I don’t go see movies, canceled cable, and made other such cutbacks so that I could afford to do travel more. It’s vital to my mental health that the reset button gets pushed. I’ve been doing this too hard for too long. The time is now. I am not a kid anymore.
I learned a lot this week and came to some conclusions.
The things available to me in New Jersey just aren’t the type of activities I enjoy. I am a sunflower. I do not thrive here.
At first I thought there was something wrong with me. I worried that the only reason I liked traveling was that I wanted to escape to a theme park. I worried that the reason I found other places more friendly was because I was simply in a better mood or talking to people who are paid to be Disney nice.
However that didn’t seem quite right. I remember living in Pittsburgh in the 90s. I remember that there were people who liked art, didn’t get stupid pretentious about it, and liked having fun.
I did an experiment this time and didn’t actually visit many parks. I explored real Florida, and acted the same way I act in New Jersey.
The results shocked me. Regular people hours away from Disney welcomed me, spoke to me, and made me feel at home. It was almost uncomfortable because I am not used to people speaking to me that way. Normally if I say “excuse me”, “I’m sorry” or some pleasantry in NJ, the response will be a grunt or nothing. When I broke my foot people constantly were slamming through me at work and nearly knocked me down the stairs without a word. I actually had stopped speaking politely to people because I grew tired of the embarrassment of being ignored or pushed through. It’s all push, shove, work too many hours, hate life, do nothing about it. One of my friends said it best: “Apathy is a contact sport here.”
I love a lot of things about the Northeast, but it just doesn’t seem to love me very much. New York can be great if you can afford the price tag, but the level of pretentious bullshit is so high I often want to openly mock it.
My thanks to the people I met on my most excellent adventure in Orlando, Tampa, and St. Petersburg for restoring my faith and hope in everything involving art, fun, and community. As I watched a horse drawn carriage go by in St. Pete’s my mind flashed back to the days that taking a simple carriage ride (or buying simple groceries) would have been way out of our budget. I realized then how far I have come, how friendly people really are, where I intend to go, and how many people I intend to help along the way.
If the sky weren’t so beautiful and the food so amazing, I probably would have burst into tears. I was just too happy to do anything but grab Harknell’s hand and talk about the road ahead. It will be hard, but I just have to do it for 6 months. Then reset and do it again. Eventually, I’ll be able to get to where I want to go.
The world can be like the best people I know in NJ, not the worst. I needed to know that and also to remember where I came from to recognize who I am today.
Oni Harstein is an New Jersey-based entrepreneur that is obsessed with Marketing, Art, and Technology. Please direct all business inquiries or technology review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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