Meet Ian: a 34-year-old painter from Marfa, Texas. For those who have never seen the Amazon Prime show, “I Love Dick” (starring Kevin Bacon), Marfa is a small artist colony in the middle of the desert of west Texas. Ian has been traveling for three months by heading north in the shape of an “S.”
So the last three months your life has been brought to you by the letter “S.” I don’t know if that’s what “Sesame Street” had in mind when they chose their daily alphabet sponsor.
I take things literally sometimes… or I take something figuratively and act it out literally. If that make any sense…
No it doesn’t, but I’ll be honest and say that I don’t understand the motivation of some of my couchsurfers who crash with me. However, I am always open to learn some of their philosophy. So Marfa, Texas, is a place that I have actually heard of. How long have you lived there?
I lived in Marfa for about six years off and on. I would do a lot of trips to Los Angeles for weeks at a time, or there is this other artist colony in Arizona called Tubac. I have a creative partner there, and sometimes I will go there or she will come here and we will work on projects together. I moved to Marfa in my late 20s from New Orleans. After struggling to do art full time there, I went looking for a place to “hide” so I can just work on my art.
We have a place like that in Iowa called Fairfield, although the driving force for people to move there isn’t art; it’s the transcendental meditation movement that was started by Maharishi. Similar attitudes with a lot of the transplants.
Well, when you feel frustrated it can seem like a great idea at the time. Running away is an easy thing to do. But I wanted to a get a refresh. I was in a long-term relationship of four years that ended, and I was really struggling with the work I was creating. You know that feeling when you drink too much coffee in the morning and you haven’t had any food? You get the shakes, and you feel super anxious. That feeling is what defines what I was going through. I had all this energy that was just making me bounce off the wall; however, nothing was coming out of me.
That’s the feeling I connect with unemployment.
Oh, yeah, totally. I felt extremely lost. So I was looking for a reason to leave. Not sure if that was a good choice or not. But my time in Marfa is something I can never replace. There is nothing like being out under the stars at in the middle of the desert. Creatively it was something I needed because I had that reset of a new location, new people and all the energy that comes from that. That didn’t last forever though, and I think I might be a psychic vampire. I came and I drained this town of so much energy, and after so many years I felt empty again.
Can I ask if there was a relationship involved?
It’s always obvious, isn’t it?
Lucky guess. But love and death are usually the main catalysts for people to start change. So I was in a relationship that ended, and I will spare you the details on it. But there were some other issues, too. I never really had a job while living in Marfa. I just made my art and sold pieces. The town isn’t an expensive one to live in, but if there isn’t enough sources for money, you will eventually run out. And that’s exactly what happened to me. I almost drained my entire savings account to just live. The only person who had any money were the guys that owned the coffee shops that we hung out at. Paradise eventually burns. So I sold a handful of pieces and took the last $400 to my name and decided to pack up and head north. The “S” map trail that I am making just made sense if I wanted to see more of the country. I spent a long time in New Orleans and Marfa. I’ve lived in the South my whole life. It would be nice to spend the winter with some snow on the ground.
The majority of Iowa would disagree with you on the snow, but I hear what you are saying.
It’s not just snow. I’m chasing that reset feeling I had when I first moved to Marfa. I have actually had it in every city I have stopped in. I arrive at a new place, and those few days are just amazing in the sense of being creative. So I am just chasing that feeling for awhile. Before I made it to Des Moines, I was in St. Louis, and after this I am heading to Omaha and up to Wyoming. I will keep going until weather keeps me in one spot for a while. I’ve been earning some money by selling paintings. I maintain a small social media presence so I can ship wherever.
You are the first couch surfer I have had that is actually making some money online while you are traveling.
Well, I need to have some money coming in. The world isn’t cheap no matter where you are. It also lets me have a safety net. I only really spend money on gas and food. I don’t buy trinkets or anything like that because I don’t want to be traveling with any more junk than I am. The only reason I have all the paint supplies is because I need that to make a living. I also need clothes and bathroom supplies. That’s all I have. I am the mobile minimalist. ♦
Kristian Day is a filmmaker, musician and writer based in Des Moines. He has couch-surfed across the west coast as well as through the Midwest. He also offers his home up to unknown travelers passing through Des Moines… for free. Follow him on Twitter at @kristianmday.