Do you know about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? It’s a theory in psychology about motivational needs experienced by humans, starting with the most basic physiological needs such as food, and leading up to the more intangible level of self-actualization that a person only yearns for or seeks to fulfill if the other levels of need are already satisfied.
Something that is so interesting to me is that when you get to the higher levels of need, they feel fluid and changing and circumstantial. It’s difficult to assess the severity of the need, in a way, because if the feeling or desire or yearning can be fleeting, is it really a need?
Nonetheless, nothing makes me feel more human or alive than to be in a new place or around a new person who makes me look inward and question what I didn’t question before.
I recently visited my brother, Hunter, in Brooklyn. He just moved there a couple of months ago. He’s living in the basement of an apartment in Bushwick. He sleeps on a futon next to stacks of books and stretched canvases that lean against each other or hang on the walls around him. Paint cans cover the floor at the ends of drip trails, suggesting to me where each one has been dragged to and from in the days prior. His clothes hang on nails in the walls or sit in neat little piles in two dresser drawers, strategically fitted among the shelves and open staircase that honestly more closely resembles a ladder than any stairs I’ve used before. His roommate’s part of the basement is similar but different—slightly more organized, maybe a little less cluttered, but just as much of a visual feast for the eyes. It’s an artist and a designer living together, separated by only a curtain, adjoined by the common area of an old couch and some terrariums made out of an old pair of vintage Nike Air Force Ones.
I couldn’t have dreamed this up had I not seen it myself, and in the same vein, I could never have known how much I wanted something I’d never seen before. This colorful, hodgepodge world set in a tiny 350 square foot space, full of clutter but at the same time no room for anything more than what they really wanted to own and needed to use, sort of felt like freedom to me. It’s in these kinds of moments that I suddenly feel completely disconnected from everything in my own life, especially my own house and belongings.
Hunter has soaked it all up like water in a desert. He yells across the street at kids he’s met. He’s ridden his weird hipster bike all over town and survived off dollar pizza and bagel sandwiches. He gets 50 cent cigarettes from his favorite bodega. He paints canvases in his basement apartment into the wee hours of the morning, living off the money he makes from selling his artwork. We stop in art galleries where he’s recognized by the nodding curator, probably thinking here’s another kid trying to make it as an artist in New York. And he’s pretty much right.
Hunter showed us around the streets that are even still remarkably fresh to him but in a way that made me feel like he’d been there forever. Not in a bored way—in a fitting way—I could honestly no longer picture him or his life happening anywhere else in the world. He’s always had a spark about him—a sort of intoxicating magnetism that makes you feel alive in his presence, whether he’s making you laugh or telling you something new. But especially in this new life he’s curating, I found the whole thing so appealing. In these moments, I wanted so badly for it to be my world, too. In a matter of a couple hours of being immersed in this new realm of possibility, suddenly my own frame of reference, my own paradigm, was turned upside down. My stupid Ikea-401(k)-Zillow-VW Jetta-9-5 pm-Anthropologie-Parking Garage-To Do List-Wegmans world.
I don’t want Hunter’s life (particularly the cigarettes), but it gave me an itch. It’s an itch I’ve felt before, but one that tends to fade as I re-enter the normalcy that is my own world and my own life. I’m not quite sure yet if the fading of the itch is healthy or a little tragic.
But I think this is what I love about being inspired by others, especially while in a new place. It has the ability, if you let it, to pick you up and shake you around, like a carnival ride, and set you back down again, not sure where your footing is but soaking up the temporary raw groundlessness of something you’ve never seen or felt before.