choose your own adventure

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with a certain genre of fiction: Choose Your Own Adventure. Fondly referred to as “secret path books”, these works are written in a second-person point of view, placing the decision-making power of the protagonist in the reader's hands. As an illustrative example, the book Your Code Name is Jonah by OG adventure architect Edward Packard signals your role as a Special Intelligence Group spy, giving opportunities to rescue a marine scientist and recover a whale song tape from the clutches of the KGB. Wild, eh?

There were many reasons why I was compelled to this type of storytelling: the sheer replay value in trying to uncover all ~25+ endings, the fantastical places and people that you met along the way, the entry-level lessons of morality in the choices you made, and the feeling of awe & amazement as your expectations were masterfully subverted. But I think the most substantial aspect was that the authors gave me full ownership over my destiny — a theme that has been closely woven into my life ever since the elementary school days.

One way to look at this piece is a pulse check on my quests in Istanbul so far. The other more “meta” lens is the ongoing internal adventure — specifically an exploration of my decisions, relationships, and feelings at this checkpoint. Paying tribute to the books that started my love for adventure, here's my attempt to provide two alternative pathways in the same fashion:

If you want a peek into the touristy Turkey tales, go to Adventure #1.

If you want a glimpse into Sam's self-examination, go to Adventure #2.

. . .

Adventure #1: External

The bus ride from the remote international airport to the hustling bustling town square reveals so much about the multiple personalities of Istanbul. The city persuasively beckons with its architecturally aesthetic makeup and its relentless kinetic energy generated by the proud people. Look around. To the left: the majestic mosques, the tranquil towers, the powerful palaces, the concealed cisterns. Each piece uniquely accessorizes the country's rich Ottoman history. To the right: an archipelago of winding neighbourhoods, aquatically bounded by the seemingly unbounded Bosphorus. The never-ending landscape of hills literally takes your breath away, but not before you get resuscitated by the colourful cobblestones and the sensational street shops, adding texture to the typical tourist experience. You wander more and wonder how it all came to be.

Early on, I met a barista in a beautiful bookstore-coffeehouse hybrid (clearly I have a soft spot for mixed-use bookstores) in the upscale Nişantaşı district. While making my iced cinnamon latte, they imparted some simple words of wisdom: there's really so much to do and see around here, just be careful so you don't lose your way! For me, that sentiment holds true beyond the city life and echoes what I'm appreciating more: the further you dive into something, the easier it is to get trapped in a siloed state of mind. Autopilot mode. It's like if a professional swimmer focused only on their butterfly stroke underwater and optimized for speed, disregarding their need for air. You do need to breathe!

Being part of a city that offers the duality of spirited and spiritual is refreshing. Whenever I intentionally seek out new environments, immersion is important. Given my indefinite time frame here, becoming immersed in a variety of different ways — ecologically, culturally, artistically — is how I want to steward my own individual self in this process. In this way, I view Turkey as another addition to the expanding creative canvas of my life. Let's look forward to those hot air balloon rides in Capadoccia, paragliding excursions in Ölüdeniz, and biodiversity tours in Munzur Valley, in the meantime. Reminder: play is good.

A shared record from Edmondo de Amicis' observations in Constantinople:

"Istanbul, a universal beauty where poet and archeologist, diplomat and merchant, princess and sailor, a northerner, and westerner scream with the same admiration. The whole world thinks this city is the most beautiful place on Earth"

And he might just be right. I'd like to reboot this written exploration of Istanbul (and broader Turkey) during my last two weeks here. Partly as a form of poetic parallelism, but mainly as a way to benchmark my own emotional growth. The narrative is just starting to write itself — self-growth is equal parts terrifying and terrific. Skip to the Ending below to see how these external experiences have already shaped my thinking for what's next. Or if you're willing to indulge a soulful plunge into my psyche, keep reading onwards to Adventure #2.

. . .

Adventure #2: Internal

I've been contemplating a few aspects of this “new life” recently and how they relate to my current emotional state: relationships, community, freedom. I think the tricky thing is that all three are interlocked. One side effect of taking such a drastic leap, to the tune of an Eastern European lifestyle, is the gradual loss of community you worked so hard to cultivate in the “old life”. While remote connection ensures it doesn't completely disappear, the sacrifice is clear: there are much fewer opportunities to directly connect with people and places that played such a substantial part in my formative young adult years. Conversely though, I don't feel as strong of a need to re-create these spaces in Turkey, to fill some unnamed void that actually might not need filling. Instead, I find myself reallocating these loose social hours to the many web-native communities I've stumbled on over the past year. To me, virtual gathering hubs like KERNEL, On Deck, etc. represent a fertile field of fresh ideas, insights, and individuals that I haven't found an offline equivalent for — yet. So I'll continue to contribute earnestly to the digital gardening and worldbuilding process.

Maybe I'm trying to convince myself that a life lived alone (physically) is a life more raw, more honest, more spiritually challenging than staying in a familiar setting. At least in short bursts. Because when you're alone you're completely isolated with your own thoughts, there's nobody there to dilute them, alter them, criticize them. Reflecting now I see that I do enjoy being completely by myself as long as I know I always have the option of company. The funny thing: this observation runs counter to my extreme extroversion, and it's still true that I become a deflated balloon if you deprive me of a people-driven helium source for too long. Fortunately, I'm slowly settling and converging to a comfortable equilibrium between entertaining others and enlightening myself.

There's one constant I want to hammer home to my inner critic: things change and people change, so go ride along with the current as opposed to against it. There's no doubt in my mind that this solo nomadic journey I'm undertaking is going to unearth some powerful possibilities. Possibilities of discovering and refining my identity through honest questions: Who am I? What do I value? What can do I for the world? Possibilities of crafting and creating meaningful artefacts: from something as trivial as writing morning pages to collaborating on non-trivial, game-changing projects for taking back the Web. Possibilities of nurturing a fulfilled life with a special someone. Cheesy, but also compelling.

Technologist Bret Victor would agree with that — fighting for a principle:

There are many ways to live your life: that's maybe the most important thing you can realize in life. Every aspect is a choice — but there are default choices. You can choose to sleepwalk through your life and walk the path that's been laid out for you. You can choose to accept the world as it is. But you don't have to. If there is something in the world you feel is wrong, and you have a vision for what a better world could be, you can find your guiding principle.

Being locked in a maze of optionality is deadly, so choosing is the most essential action to stay aligned to our own personal truths and to build shared truths with others. As long as I keep believing, keep showing up, and keep choosing — striving for that one small thing, again and again — then things will work out.

. . .

Ending: Multi-Dimensional

Living this new life in Istanbul has its upsides and downsides — it makes me appreciate how vast the world is and feeds my cultural time capsule, but also makes me miss the moments back in my old life. Yet I can't shake the feeling that this type of adventure was meant to happen, as an on-ramp to the next rung on my personal growth ladder, filled with enough fears and freedoms to boot.

My brain often defaults to fortune-telling mode: "After X months in Turkey, this will happen. If I develop Y skill or spend time in Z space, then this will happen". I know the risk of skewing too heavily to possibilities-type thinking — you get consumed focusing on unknown outputs as your shelter. I propose we reorient these thoughts to manifest the ideal future we want to see and live in. The catch: being mindful enough to transform thought & emotion into action & presence.

Going full circle with the books that started it all: Choose Your Own Adventure has morphed from fun fiction into a functional life philosophy. All the values I've espoused over the past few weeks are so crucial as I aspire towards multi-dimensional living: feel more, face fear, seek serendipity, share with humans, turn off then on. So much possibility!

. . .

Your current journey is now at an end. Please flip to the next chapter for the new series of adventures.

Published by Sam (samwong) 7 months ago on Sunday the 17th of October 2021.

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