We’ve all felt it. That need to disconnect, live in the moment, and “achieve mindfulness.” To shut off everything and just, man. Those feelings — which come and go for most everyone alive in 2017 — seem to always linger in me. Guiding a digital outlet that strives to illuminate “the culture of now” chains me firmly to the news cycle. Opportunities to break free are so scarce that I’ve gotten in the habit of shrugging off my need to disengage. Instead, I’ve clung to the very real possibility that I lack the willpower to seize such an opportunity, even sour grapes’ing myself into believing I might not enjoy it.
But the week after election night, the urge to escape hit me like a MOAB-level payload. I was tapped out; I needed a break. Not a break from America or her future, which I believe are worth experiencing and fighting for, but from the analysis and discussion of America and her future. A break which could not happen within her borders, where every story and conversation was suddenly built around Donald Trump, who won the presidency by simultaneously imploring America to (1) erode its faculty to empathize by mainlining circumstance-forged loyalty to indifferent institutions; and (2) treat its every division as a crude loser-goes-home face off.
No doubt, these principles make for great theatre (every March, this country is transfixed by a college basketball tournament that runs on, basically, those same bylaws*), but post-election this conversation took over our culture. I was contemplating whether the world’s biggest story could be avoided anywhere, when I was presented with an opportunity to find out: An assignment to cover an American musician’s attempt to bring pop music to a country it had historically failed to penetrate: Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.
The story shared themes (a bubbling uprising in the face of long-held conventions) and elements (the UAE’s official state religion, Islam, played a role in contentious campaign promises) with the dominant one I was escaping. But geographically, it was a world away, requiring one of the longest non-stop flights you can take from New York City. Culturally speaking, the assignment would take me even further. It was exactly what I’d been looking for: a departure in both the literal and figurative sense of the word.
As my trip took shape, I realized that my business class plane ticket would also hit precisely the right comfort coordinates. By leaving America in a time of turmoil, I was very aware I was acting like a pants-pissing toddler. That being the the case, I thought, I might as well go all in and be pampered like one.
Little did I know, the opulent flight to the Emirates would provide the spark my psyche needed — though the breakthrough would have nothing to do with decadence.