This was mostly written in Seattle right when I started the blog. Thought I’d save it for a slow time, like Christmas.
Why name this blog ‘thecastawaylife’? I love the idea of the perfect phrase, le mot juste, something fitting. I’ll search and search for the right words. Then I’ll get tired and dump whatever I have and call it good. Such is the limit of my perfectionism.
In this case, the search was a little longer and it found something a little better.
First, the concept of a cast. Around the time I was thinking about this blog, I read an amazing book: “Move your DNA” by Katy Bowman. It opened up a whole new way of thinking for me about just how much the human body is moulded by the mechanical environment we construct for it. One of the key ideas in the book is the notion of casts. External structures which support or immobilize parts of the body. We normally think of casts as a short term and rigid support, say to let a broken arm heal. Something temporary to fix an acute problem. If you take a broader definition of cast, you can see a lot more examples of things we wear, the structures we build and lifestyles we adopt. These push and support the body more subtly than a hard plaster cast, but nonetheless they force it in to a new shape over the course of years. Over the course of a lifetime.
For instance, you can consider shoes as casts for the feet. They restrict the range of motion, they give support. They protect from the ground, of course, but in doing so they dull the sensations we’d otherwise get from our feet. Sensations which would tell our brains how we’re oriented in the world more precisely. The body always tries to expend the least amount of energy and it adapts to this support. This leads to adaptations — shortening of muscles, reductions in ranges of motion. Reducing the freedom of movement to that movement which is supported. Until maybe one day you slip a bit, move in an unaccustomed way, and the pressure overcomes the now stiffened and weakened joint, and you roll your ankle. Or you get old and all the casts of your life make you so brittle a simple fall breaks bones.
The idea that you construct your environment and it in turn moulds you is an immensely deep one. Once you start thinking about it, you can apply it everywhere: in the flesh as in Katy’s book. In your mind as you habitually think the same thoughts. As you tell yourself the same stories. Your job is a cast: you get really good at thinking in ways which are productive for an employer and other mental muscles atrophy. Your body gets used to sitting in a chair, still for hours. To the support of caffeine to maintain your focus. To the cultural morays which govern your interactions with your coworkers.
Your heart can get stuck with the same feelings. Depression is a cast for your heart. The lonely slowly moulding their lives to be lonelier yet. You optimize for specific tasks, healthy or not, productive or not, joyful or not. But optimizations can often make things fragile, and if you want to keep yourself supple maybe it’s a good idea to move and alter your environment and have different forces act upon you: both physical and mental.
The idea of movement and change as the balance to this ossifying casting process brings us to an (older sense of the word cast)[http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cast], as in to cast — to throw, to move or be moved. To be cast out, to cast seeds.
So this blog’s title is about putting aside some of the casts, the job, the static environment. To cast myself out into the world and travel it. To put aside the casts of my corporate life, my first world life, if only for a while, to recover that range of motion in the body, the mind and the heart, if only for a while. Maybe that little while extends further than I can conceive right now; after all, my mind is still in a cast.
M mentioned to me another hidden sense of cast: as in a cast of characters. Cast upon the stage. As I travel I expect to meet many new people. And more importantly, more different kinds of people. In fact, I already have. Not that there’s anything wrong with the tech industry folks I worked with, but they are a all cast from much the same mould as I: mostly guys, universally analytical, mostly driven. Often anxious. I’ve cloistered myself with such people throughout my adult life. It’s time to broaden the dramatis personae in my world.