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This issue documents Brandon Ballog’s 3-month trip through Europe.
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Is This It?
That’s the question I was asking myself in the past year as I faced the prospect of turning 40. It could be described as an existential crisis. Another term for this would be arrival fallacy: If I achieve a certain amount of personal and professional success, then I will have made it. All my anxieties and yearning would subside and I would finally feel comfortable in my own skin. I’d be able to relax and enjoy life.
I’d written in previous issues about experiencing burnout as I ascended the design professional ranks to become a creative director at a contemporary art museum. I strived to be a person who could do everything and please everyone, and for a while I thrived there. My sense of purpose and self worth was directly tied to work even when it jeopardized my ability to have a life outside of work. Over the years, I accumulated over a month of unused vacation time and didn’t feel like I could use it. Just one more project, one more initiative, then I could relax. I was addicted to producing more so I could keep receiving validation that I mattered. Our capitalistic work culture and society not only encourages this never-ending cycle, but reinforces the idea that happiness is just around the corner if we all work a little harder.
At the start of 2020, I left that job and thought I finally could relax, travel, and skate like I wanted to. But then the pandemic happened. My plans (and everyone else’s) were no longer possible, so I returned to the workplace hoping for a different result. Similar to a lot of my skate injuries, I rushed back in before I was ready. I entered into a design position in a completely different industry and also started teaching design on the college level. This rearranging of the scenery only distracted me temporarily from the fact that no matter how much validation I received, I was not feeling stable or happy. I began to fear that if I slowed down, I’d never get what I wanted, or I’d lose what I already had.
This insidious way of thinking was even apparent in how I was approaching skating. Skating, in many ways, is inherently performative. We are all concerned with style, aesthetics, and the execution of the trick. But I found myself obsessed with documenting everything so I could watch it back and show it to others. I won’t even try certain tricks unless a camera is present. Does the trick actually exist if no one filmed it?
I endlessly watch and rewatch my clips to study imperfections and improve my craft. Once I’ve passed my own judgment, I seek validation from others when I post it online.
Turning every session into a film production produces arbitrary quotas like: what will my followers think, will this crop vertically as a reel, how many posts do I need to make each week to stay relevant on social media? Who should I be tagging and how can I get more engagement?
It’s hard not to feel like I lost some authenticity and enjoyment in skating. I want to showcase my creativity and craft, but I’ve fallen into a loop of instant gratification and the temporary rush of posting content. Skating feels like a job. My clips are a commodity. And that commodity is tailored to what I think Instagram will like instead of what I want my skating to be.
Just like my professional life, I’m left having to figure out what I truly want in this life if it’s not the constant hustle of producing. After several years of avoiding that question, I reached a point where I became willing to seek answers.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to leave my job and teaching commitments and embark on the sabbatical I had planned to take in 2020. I used that time to reevaluate my relationship to skating and the disposable nature of posting clips and photos to Instagram, as well as trying to figure out what I want out of a career.
Both roads lead to the same conclusion: print publication is the type of content I want to create. It feels more meaningful and long-lasting. I was thrilled to find and be accepted to a Master’s program at the University of Reading in the UK specializing in book design.
To celebrate (slash jumpstart) the major change this will bring to our lives, my wife and I embarked on a nearly 3-month long trip from March 27th–June 15th, 2023. Any time we’d been frustrated with work or life or our apartment, we’d talk about how we just wanted to fuck off to Europe and leave our responsibilities behind. The FOTE trip, as we came to call it, was something we talked about doing for years, but couldn’t do because of the pandemic. We realized we needed to do it now if we were going to do it at all, or we would just keep moving the goalposts further.
Getting ready for this trip and subsequent move asked a lot from us. But what it offered in return was an uninhibited break from the life we were living and embracing the uncertainty of what is to come. We recognize just what a privilege it was to have steady jobs that let us work from home during the pandemic and save up enough to make something like this trip and this move possible. We are incredibly grateful to the friends and family who have helped out and taken so many once cherished possessions off of our hands, and extra appreciative of those letting us crash with them post-trip but pre-move.
With my goal of prioritizing print publication, I aimed to shoot a skate photo in every country we visited so I could create this zine as a documentation of the trip.
I found a lot of joy in this process as I would set the shot and lighting, and my wife would shoot the photo. Getting a great skate photo can be a lot easier than filming a clip, and I found this to be very helpful in avoiding major injuries for the duration of travel. Most of my previous injuries were typically a result of pushing too hard while filming. Treating filming as secondary to photos, I was able to let go of my expectations a bit and even skate some sessions without a camera.
– Brandon Ballog