Two years ago

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Thinking back on my ‘big year’ of travel feels like remembering a vivid dream. At times clear, but otherwise foggy. It can seem like it was just yesterday, or a lifetime ago. I’m often glad for the extensive photo journal I kept along the way. Without it, I would have forgotten places, names, and countless other details by now. There are cities, landscapes, trinkets, food. More importantly, interesting people and great friends. What I always notice the most, however, are the changes I see in myself. A photo of me from August of 2013 shows one person, and a shot from August of 2014 shows someone else entirely. Since being back home, I’ve wondered if a younger me would have gotten as much out of that trip as I did at thirty two. I doubt it.

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*Insert cliche about how travel changes you here*

Well, just like stereotypes, cliches exist for a reason. Though in this case, I’m not sure anyone can change unless they’re open to it in the first place. Many people are desperate for a transformational travel experience. Others stubbornly cling to their ‘home’ selves. I didn’t try for either, yet somehow accomplished both. Not that it was easy.

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I still think of that year as the best of my life so far. It was also the worst. There were amazing new friendships and romance. There was also prolonged loneliness and heartbreak. I visited incredible cities and landscapes, and was stimulated by fresh experiences and knowledge. None of that is constant. There were also entire days spent alone on trains or buses. Entire nights in airports. Times when I couldn’t escape from myself, or find a big enough distraction. Places I hated but was stuck in. Days where all I’d want was an actual friend to talk to.

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The Fall after I came home, I had an idea to create an emotional journal of my ‘big year’ using my favourite genre of dance music: Trance. I’d listened to a lot of it during my trip, and certain tracks had taken on new and powerful meanings for me. It took several months, but I was eventually able to string them together into a set. It’s still the most narrative set I’ve done, and a year and a half after recording it, I still give it a listen every once and a while. Every track, every lyric, and every mix and key change are deliberately chosen to tell the story back to myself. I’ve shared it with a few close friends, but have only decided to post it online now. If you give it a listen, I’d love to know what you think…

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Causeway – Thirty Third Orbit

Causeway

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Finally!

Trying to come up with a Trance alias for DJing has been an exercise in prolonged frustration. Alexander Hamilton has become so associated with Soundproof and Techno, that even having Trance on the Mixcloud page seems jarring and awkward. There have been a few name ideas over the last couple of years. I even went so far as to create online accounts for some of them. Ultimately, they just didn’t feel right. I mentioned the struggle to a friend recently and after listening to a couple of my Trance sets, he came up with ‘Causeway’ straight off the bat. I’m pretty happy with it, so it’s finally time to get back to posting Trance sets. For now, I’ve uploaded my existing favourites, but expect some new material soon.

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Feeling at home

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So far I’ve found only one certainty about travel. If you go looking for something, you won’t find it. When I left on what became my ‘big trip’ more than two years ago, I hoped to regain my love of home, and a passion for my career. Neither of those things happened. Instead, I was so restless and unsatisfied than I immediately began planning a second departure. This time, the goal was different: there wasn’t one. No lofty ideas. No life altering intentions. Just a chance to enjoy travelling with my friends. Another memorable tour with the ‘world famous’ Balkan Boyz.

I didn’t realize it was happening, but while I was focused for so long on leaving home, my feelings about it began to change. New people and new places mixed with the favourite bits of my old life to create a different perspective. By the time the guys arrived in Vancouver, I was faking excitement about leaving. But leave we did, on what surely was the road trip of a lifetime. From Vancouver to Halifax, through Canada and the United States. Almost three months with best friends in fantastic places.

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I should have been happier, but home was calling louder than ever before.  A great friend passed away, some others were going through tough times, and I was waiting to renew an incredible relationship. Every day away meant wanting to go back even more. It took a year, but home went from being a place I didn’t mind leaving, to one I felt compelled to stay in.

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A month after returning, it still feels right. The Balkan Boyz tour continues through Central America in all of their incredible style. I couldn’t be happier for all of us to feel that we’re doing what we want to be doing. Next week brings a return to work, and next month, a new apartment. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt excited about my future here. Unexpectedly, I got out of this trip what I wanted to get out of the big one. The walkabout is over, and it really does feel like a Happy New Year. It’s time to enjoy being home.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Woah! A movie review post? It’s certainly been a long time. It’s been an even longer wait for the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. Ever since Disney bought the franchise from George Lucas, announced the making of a third trilogy, and hired J.J. Abrams to direct Episode VII, people have been anticipating this film. I have to admit I haven’t been much of a Star Wars fan since the prequels were released, and the original theatrical cuts of the old movies became nearly impossible to find. Life without Star Wars has actually been pretty good. A real shock, I know.

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I did not wait in line to see this film. I did not purchase reserved seating on opening day. The thing’s been out for weeks and I’ve just gotten around to seeing it recently. Most of that has been because of the busy Christmas season, and a desire to avoid crowded theatres. I have to admit, though, that a part of it was because my expectations were pretty low, or even non-existent. Look, we all knew ‘The Force Awakens’ would look great, sound incredible, and be entertaining; with great action scenes and some humourous, snappy dialogue. Those are all things J.J. Abrams does well, and Disney wouldn’t tolerate anything else. This film is expertly made, and best of all, it feels like Star Wars. It all looks right and sounds right. What should be real is real, and what needs to be a visual effect is done extremely well.

The cast is excellent. Performances are spot on. It’s so nice to say that about a Star Wars film again. That’s where having Abrams in the director’s chair really shows through the most. He seems to do a good job of pulling believable performances out of his cast. Finn is really enjoyable, and as the first Stormtrooper the audience has ever gotten to know, probably the most interesting character. He’s also easily the most original addition to the franchise. Rey, the modern-but-female equivalent of Luke, and Kylo Ren, this film’s version of Darth Vader, are well done but predictable. Originality is sorely lacking in ‘The Force Awakens’. Abrams has even felt the need to openly defend the film from critics. The entire first scene is an almost exact copy of the beginning of the original ‘Star Wars’. Secret information gets hidden in a droid. Stormtroopers, led by a masked figure in black, give chase to a desert planet. A young person befriends the droid and is led on a galactic adventure aboard the Millennium Falcon, discovers they are strong with the Force, and helps to destroy a giant weapon that obliterates entire planets. There’s even a trench run. It was all a bit too familiar for me, as if this was supposed to be an homage and not a continuation. Abrams says “those simple tenets are by far the least important aspects of this movie”, and that what really matters is “introducing brand new characters using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that is new”. If those tenets aren’t very important, why use them again? Why tell a “new” story that isn’t very new at all? “The Force Awakens” wants to tug on every single Star Wars heartstring, but instead hits them with a hammer.

This film hasn’t changed my opinion of J.J. Abrams as a director. His talent for exciting set pieces, visuals, and action is obvious. So is his shallow emotional language and penchant for vague, nonsensical plot twists. ‘The Force Awakens’, like Abrams’ Star Trek efforts, feels like a series of trailer shots and epic moments were conjured up first, then strung together by a loose and fickle plot afterwards. It’s also apparent that scenes were left out of this film that probably should not have been. We’re never given enough explanation about why Kylo Ren is so angry at his Father, so when he finally and predictably kills him, there’s no weight to the moment. Rey comes to use the Force more easily and naturally than any character in the history of the franchise, doubling down on the notion that people are born and bred to be Jedi. Years of training and discipline? Boring! And why must we have yet another secret Master of the Dark Side? Where was he during the original Trilogy? It would have been more interesting and dramatic if Kylo Ren came to the Dark Side all on his own, and was figuring it out as he went along. Anger, fear, hatred, and all that the Dark Side represents is tempting enough on it’s own to a young Man, and suggesting he was coaxed into it just cheapens his motivations. I find myself agreeing with almost everything in this piece: Everything That’s Wrong With Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

At the end of the day, ‘Star Wars’ is back. It’s just that this film didn’t really make me care. It had all of the sounds, all of the imagery, but just felt like history’s most well executed paint-by-numbers piece. I hope the next two episodes are different.

The Big City

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I’ve been in New York City for a week now, and still have a week to go. It’s certainly a different experience to other big cities I’ve visited. I suppose most of that has to do with the scale of it. This place is so big, and so dense, that expecting to get a handle on it in just a couple of weeks seems ridiculous. I can usually feel comfortable with a new transit system in just a few days, but I’m on day eight in New York, and still find myself double and triple checking maps, trains, and stations. There is an incredible, exhausting energy here. I find myself feeling tired, even if I’ve hardly done anything.

I thought I would enjoy the city more. It’s certainly not a place I could imagine living. There are too many things that drain my energy, and not enough quiet or beautiful places to recharge. Central Park is overly manicured. Full of concrete walking paths, roads, and trees that are too small to hide what surrounds it. The constant sirens and horns pierce any sense of calm. Most of the grass is fenced off and unwelcoming. It underscores how lucky I am to be from a city that has so much natural beauty so close at hand.

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I’m curious to see how my second week goes. With a decent chuck of the sights now seen, I’m hoping some more relaxed exploring will make this place feel more comfortable. Right now, another week doesn’t seem like enough time for that. From what I’ve heard, even a few years might not cut it. Maybe that’s what New York City is all about.

On The Road Again

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Well, here I am again. Travelling. The Balkan Boyz reunited in Vancouver, and have spent the last month driving across Canada and the States. We’re about to leave Nova Scotia, back to the US for November, then onwards South. The journey feels different this time. Not as fresh, and sometimes not as exciting, but still a wonderful time. The friendship rolls on, the photos are made. It’s shaping up to be the second half of the ‘twice in a lifetime’ travel experience.

We’ve covered over 7600 kilometres in my car. Having the freedom to access almost anything has been fantastic. I really can’t imagine seeing North America any other way. Tomorrow it’s back to airports, bus stations, and transit systems. I hope I haven’t been spoiled, because we’re just getting started!