Are We There Yet?
Each one of us creates our own rhythm. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions all come together to form an almost musical continuum that is the lives we live. Individually, if we can start to move with beat; to understand why we make the choices we do, we begin mastering the art of flowing with the “music.” While the ebb and flow of Brandon Polack’s journey has been, in a word, unorthodox, it is his uncanny ability to see that rhythm within himself that keeps him on the cutting edge of modern storytelling. He is a storyteller with a keen eye for the beautiful and absurd, and during my own journey through Central America, we were able to learn immensely from one another. Using tools in film, design thinking, and speculative design, Brandon is exploring the disruption of major societal norms. One of the critical components to achieving Jungle Strength is the long process of self-recognition, and I can think of few better to communicate its importance than someone like Brandon. With this, it’s my pleasure to introduce our latest collaborator in the REAL JUNGLE HUMANS PROJECT: a modern nomad and media disruptor, Brandon Polack.
— Noah Daly
You Caught My Eye
There was a class in high school, ‘Directed Studies’, which gave me my first opportunity to do my own thing. Its only requirement was to create projects around my interests to develop with my teacher to earn credit. I decided I’d make videos, so I edited a montage of FIFA highlights on Xbox, and added a song I made in GarageBand. I wrote, directed and edited a Wii Fit parody commercial, and unfortunately that laptop was stolen so you’ll never get to see it. And even though it didn’t feel important at the time, in that moment I was my most creative. I was thoroughly enjoying realizing the ideas that came to me.
When I got to college, I followed my friends into a fraternity. I was too afraid to do my own thing and I didn’t have a better option in mind for myself. I drank a lot on the weekends, made questionable legal choices, and had little interest in coursework. I wasn’t being challenged creatively; each class was all about memorizing this or that, and being able to vomit out the answer on test day. I didn’t feel it had any relevance to me. I started to fill my time obsessing over material things. Anything that sparked my interest I had to have. Money wasn’t a question; I was an exclusive member of the sperm bank as a 19 year old college freshman. $1000+ a month came easy to me (sometimes it would take a little longer depending on the day). Of course I questioned my morals for half a second, but we were helping people who couldn’t naturally conceive, so we felt we were giving back. Sort of.
Shoes, clothes, video games; with no living expenses, these things gave me instant pleasure, guilt free. I dropped $1,000 on a PA sound system and built a stage for our living room. With no official fraternity house, someone had to host the debauchery. My 5 other roommates and I lived for this. Of course this could only be sustained if something new was purchased on a continual basis.
I had purchased a beat pad and some studio monitors thinking I would learn how to produce music, but when it seemed too challenging, I got bored of trying and sold it. At the same time, I had been filming day-in-the-life videos on my cell phone and felt it necessary to upgrade my production with the money from this sale. The Canon T3i I bought suddenly injected me with super powers, and when people found out I had a camera, they started to hire me to create for them.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
This was the ultimate complacency killer. With this new tool I chased my curiosity deeper. Hours turned to days of searching for inspiration and tutorials on shooting and editing techniques. When weekends rolled around, I would stay at home and learn. My friends didn’t quite understand why I wouldn’t join in the usual weekend gatherings at the watering holes, but my confidence was increasing every day and simply by doing something different. It was something I could control. I had found a new rabbit hole. Being the guy with the camera allowed me more opportunities to test my creative skills and feel like I was making something of myself. Sitting on the couch all day playing video games lost priority of my time. The new path was too intriguing. This creative curiosity would allow me to take any opportunity that came my way, even skipping a semester of college to tour with an R&B singer with her own wild story to tell. I returned to school the following semester, and immediately switched majors to study film/video and photography.
Listening To The Cheshire Cat
Over the past few years I’ve embodied several roles, from getting Off THA Couch around the United States, design thinker in California, food photographer in Atlanta and Miami, to cinematographer in Central America, and most recently, Africa. All this still feels like a lot of serendipity - being at the right place at the right time - but it’s really about following my curiosities wherever they lead me. This became the case when a Facebook ad caught my eye.
“A network, movement, and a series of experiences designed to catalyze creativity and to ‘HATCH’ a better world,” sounded like something I needed to be a part of. So after some emails to test the water about volunteering, I had an open opportunity to be a part of the the ‘HATCH Conference’ in Big Sky, Montana. At the time, the relationship I was in had taken a dive, and my opportunities in Atlanta just didn’t seem to fit my interests. So I found myself at this crossroad that is now becoming more familiar to me. Lewis Carroll describes it accurately:
“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?” The Cat asked, “Where do you want to go” “I don’t know,” Alice Answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
With some discounted flight buddy passes from a friend, it was a minimal investment to access a community where seemingly, anything could be in the cards. The curious whisper telling me to go to HATCH would quickly be justified. On the scene, I realized that Jimmy Stice was to speak about his mission to build Kalu Yala, a sustainable town in the depths of the Panamanian jungle. I also heard that he was looking for some people to come shoot some videos in this jungle town. The craziest part was that a year or two prior, a friend had sent me a video about this place, and I knew back then I would get there someday. Here was my ticket.
As luck would have it, Jimmy had left Montana the morning I was planning on speaking with him. Shoulders still high, I switched my focus to returning to Atlanta to continue a project, trying not to dwell on what could have been. But just as I had counted serendipity out, Jimmy posted on Facebook that he was stopping in Atlanta before heading back to Panama. Without hesitation, I messaged him, introduced myself, and invited him to dinner back in Atlanta. After a couple Mezcal drinks and some Vietnamese food, the conversation switched to this job opening. Within moments of describing the details to me I knew I could do it. 10 days later I was on a plane to Panama.
Don’t Look Down
Out in the Panamanian wild, next to two colliding rivers and surrounded by jungle, I interacted with people from all walks of life, constantly sharing ideas and working together. Eating, playing, and sleeping in the open air 24/7 gave me clarity and a better understanding in what I believe is possible. Aside from the creative work, a few months living at Kalu Yala gave me, at worst, a going-away camp experience that I never had as a kid, and at best, a new model for living. The fun part of being open to this spontaneity is seeing these opportunities hail down from the cosmos. Days after the New Years festivities in the jungle, I would find myself across the dinner table from my next project partner while enjoying time at a beach. Ghana was calling us to discover the origins of rhythm and its mental and communal effects on the human experience. I said yes, feeling I didn’t have a better idea of where to go next.
I left Panama shortly thereafter in search of these roots, traveling through a stunning and geographically diverse country, learning about the history of drumming and music culture there. We captured images and videos of funeral rites, learned about the slave trade’s influence on the migration of specific instruments, and how ingrained these musical practices are in West African life, music, dance, and song. Through observation and firsthand experience I learned about humanity more than anything else. Seeing how a culture that has been overbearingly stereotyped back home lived, worked, and played was eye opening.
Mostly, people were very lively. They smiled, sometimes so much that it was difficult to discern between friendliness and someone trying to sell me something. Kids were playing outside everywhere. Everyone seemed to be an entrepreneur. Everywhere, even in traffic, people were selling just about anything you could imagine. Without even having to leave the comfort of your car, you could buy water hoses, trowels, phone credit, plantain chips, scarves, sunglasses, and soccer balls. This entire trip was an eye-opening experience that I’m still processing.
If You Want To Catch A Fish…
For me, exploring curiosities is a key to mental freedom and adding meaning to my life.
Thankfully, since graduating college I’ve discovered more emotionally stable ways to add meaning, usually by questioning myself when I think about purchasing something. Living a nomadic lifestyle reinforces the fact that I don’t need any more clothes or my 31st pair of shoes, it’s just more stuff to carry.
My somewhat ungrounded lifestyle means I’m always thinking about my next move. In what places or situations can I meet my next collaborator? What can I complete today to move me forward in my current project? Complacency breeds on the absence of these questions. How might we redefine what it means to ‘work’? How might we restructure the way we schedule work and play to allow us to feel good? Saturday and Sunday are just two more days within a week. By not defining what activities are supposed to happen on specific days, I have more opportunities to give my ideas life.
Sometimes, we get put in boxes by others, and we feel stuck or labeled, but everything is constantly changing. If we remember to keep a growth mindset, opportunities will find us. As long as we can prioritize the “shininess” of each possibility before jumping in, we’ll be good. Give it time and you will learn to know the difference.
Where you at?
While there are many ways to gain fulfillment, here are four things that have worked well for me in the life I’m envisioning:
- Using only certain language that feels empowering. “Can’t”, “need”, and “should” make me feel useless, that I don’t have enough, and that I’m behind in life. Why feel this way if I have a choice?
- Seeking out people who challenge me. Familiar friends are good, but not if they’re holding you back from what you know you’re capable of.
- Getting rid of distractions. What happens if you only go out 1 night of the week instead of two or three? Everything you do in life has a common denominator; TIME.
- Get involved in communities of interest. Your next opportunity or partner might just be waiting for you to say “hello”!
It’s incredible for me to consider that my relationship with a tool I took the time to learn deeply 6 years ago has had people believing in my talents and sharing these unique opportunities with me. If you knew me a couple years ago, you might be just as surprised by how my life is unfolding. Yet, all this reminds me of the powerful lesson I learned, filming and drumming in West Africa: the only rhythm the people will hear is the one you create, so let’s give them something beautiful to dance to.
[project update]- bit.ly/atlsunshow
Originally published at Jungle Strength on May 14, 2017.
If you want to philosophize further on topics of mind-altering experiences, radical transmedia content, and Making Strangers Not Strange, reach out to me at email@example.com