Foreward by Noah
Each one of us creates their own rhythm. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions all come together to form an almost musical continuum that is the lives we live. Individually, if we can start to move with beat; to understand why we make the choices we do, we begin mastering the art of flowing with the “music.” While the ebb and flow of Brandon Polack’s journey has been, in a word, unorthodox, it is his ability to see that rhythm within himself that keeps him on the cutting edge of modern storytelling. He is a narrator with a keen eye for the beautiful and absurd in himself, and during my own journey through Central America, we were able to learn immensely from one another. Using tools in film, design thinking, and speculative design, Brandon is exploring the disruption of major societal norms. One of the critical components to achieving Jungle Strength is the long process of self-recognition, and I can think of few better to communicate its importance than someone like Brandon. With this, it’s my pleasure to introduce our latest collaborator in the REAL JUNGLE HUMANS PROJECT: a modern nomad and media disruptor, Brandon Polack.
There was a class in high school, ‘Directed Studies’, which gave me my first opportunity to do my own thing. It’s only requirement was create projects around my interests to develop with my teacher to earn credit. I decided I’d make videos, so I edited a montage of FIFA highlights on Xbox, and added a song I made in GarageBand. I wrote, directed and edited a Wii Fit parody commercial, and unfortunately that laptop was stolen so you’ll never get to see it. And even though it felt unextraordinary at the time, in that moment I was my most creative. I was thoroughly enjoying realizing the ideas that came to me.
When I got to college, I followed my friends into a fraternity. I was too afraid to do my own thing and I didn’t have a better option in mind for myself. I drank a lot on the weekends, made questionable legal choices, and had little interest in coursework. I wasn’t being challenged creatively; each class was all about memorizing this or that, and being able to vomit out the answer on test day. I didn’t feel it had any relevance to me.I started to fill my time obsessing over material things. Anything that sparked my interest I had to have. Money wasn't a question; I joined the sperm bank as a 19 year old college freshman. $1000+ a month came easy to me (sometimes it would take a little longer depending on the day) And not that it was hard to question my morals but we were helping people who couldn’t naturally conceive, so we felt we were giving back. Sort of.
Shoes, clothes, video games; with no living expenses, these things gave me instant pleasure, guilt free. I dropped $1,000 on a PA sound system and built a stage for our living room. With no official fraternity house, someone had to host the shenanigans. My 5 other roommates and I lived for this. Of course this could only be sustained if something new was purchased on a continual basis.
I had purchased a beat pad and some studio monitors thinking I would learn how to produce. But when it seemed too challenging, I got bored of trying and sold it. At the same time, I had been filming day-in-the-life videos on my cell phone and felt it necessary to upgrade these with the money from this sale. The Canon T3i base kit I bought next suddenly injected me with super powers, and when people found out I had a camera, they started to hire me to create for them.
This was the ultimate complacency killer. With this new tool I chased my curiosity deeper. Hours turned to days of searching for inspiration and tutorials on shooting and editing techniques. When weekends rolled around, I would stay at home and learn. I got called out by my friends because I wouldn't join in the usual gatherings at the watering holes, but I gained confidence by doing something different. Something I could control. I was creating a new cool. Being the guy with the camera allowed me more opportunities to test my creative skills and feel like I was making something of myself. Sitting on the couch, drinking, smoking and playing video games lost priority of my time. The new rabbit hole was too enticing. This creative curiosity would allow me to take any opportunity that came my way, even skipping a semester of college to tour with an R&B singer with her own wild story to tell. I returned to school the following semester, and immediately switched majors to study film/video and photography.
Listening to the Cheshire Cat
Over the past few years I’ve embodied several roles, from playing design thinker in Half Moon Bay, CA to food photographer in Atlanta and Miami, to cinematographer in Central America, and most recently, Africa. All this still feels like a lot of serendipity –being at the right place at the right time– but it’s really about following my curiosities wherever they led me. This became the case when a Facebook ad caught my eye.
“A network, movement, and a series of experiences designed to catalyze creativity and to ‘HATCH’ a better world,” sounded like something I needed to be a part of. So after some emails to test the water about volunteering, I had an open opportunity to be a part of the the ‘HATCH Conference’ in Big Sky Montana. At the time, the relationship I was in had taken a dive, and my opportunities in Atlanta just didn’t seem to fit my interests. So I found myself at this juncture that has become familiar to me. Lewis Carroll describes it accurately:
“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?” The Cat asked, “Where do you want to go” “I don’t know,” Alice Answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
With some discounted buddy passes from a friend who works for a major airline, it was a minimal investment to access a community where anything was in the cards. The curious whisper telling me to go to HATCH would quickly be justified. On the scene, I realized that Jimmy Stice was to speak about his mission to build Kalu Yala, a sustainable town, in the depths of the Panamanian jungle. I also heard that he was looking for some people to come shoot some videos in this jungle town. The craziest part was that a year or two prior, a friend had sent me a video about this place, and I knew then I would get there someday. Here was my golden ticket.
As luck would have it, Jimmy had left Montana the morning I was planning on speaking with him. Shoulders still high, I switched my focus to returning to Atlanta to continue an ongoing project, trying not to dwell on what could have been. But just as I had counted serendipity out, Jimmy posted on Facebook that he was stopping in Atlanta before heading back to Panama. Without hesitation, I messaged him, introduced myself, and invited him to dinner back in Atlanta. After a couple Mezcal drinks and some vietnamese food, the conversation switched to this job opening. Within moments of describing the details to me I knew I was it. 10 days later I was on a plane to Panama.
LIFE MEANS TAKING CHANCES
Out in the Panamanian wild, next to two colliding rivers and surrounded by jungle, I interacted with people from all walks of life, constantly sharing ideas and working together. My job was to film short documentary stories of the staff there, and allowing space for more spontaneous creative visions. A few months at Kalu Yala gave me, at worst, a going-away camp experience that I never had as a kid, and at best, a new model for living. The fun part of being open to this spontaneity is seeing these opportunities hail down from the cosmos. Days after New Year festivities in the jungle, I would find myself across the dinner table from my next creative partner while on a beach retreat. Ghana was calling us to discover the origins of rhythm and it’s mental and communal effects on the human experience. I said yes, feeling I didn’t have a better idea of where to go next.
I left Panama shortly thereafter in search of these roots, traveling through a stunning and geographically diverse country, learning about the history of drumming and music culture there. We captured images and videos of rituals for deity's, the slave trade’s influence on the migration of specific instruments, and how ingrained they are in West African life, music, dance, and song. Through observation and listening to stories from experts in their field, I learned about the human condition more than anything else. Seeing how a culture that has been overbearingly stereotyped back home lived, worked, and played was eye opening.
For the most part, people were very lively. They smiled, sometimes so much that it was difficult to discern between friendliness and someone trying to sell me something. Kids were playing outside everywhere. Everyone seemed to be an entrepreneur. Everywhere, even in traffic, people were selling just about anything you could imagine. Without even having to leave the comfort of your car, you could buy water hoses, trowels, phone credit, plantain chips, scarves, sunglasses, and soccer balls. This entire trip was an eye-opening experience that I’m still processing. Since I’ve re-entered western society, I find myself caring less about little things like what clothes I’m wearing, or preferring natural air to the luxury of air conditioning. There’s a problem with air conditioning people in the states we often overlook. You become so used to having it, you get upset when you don’t. How could you survive without it?
Being Self- Guided
For me, exploring curiosities is a key to mental freedom and adding meaning to my life. Thankfully, since graduating college I’ve found more sustainable ways to add meaning in the form of experiences over possessions. Living a nomadic lifestyle reinforces the fact that I don’t need any more clothes or my 31st pair of shoes, it’s just more stuff to carry.
“With no excess, everything you have is all you need.”
My ungrounded lifestyle means I'm always thinking about the next move; In what places or situations can I meet the next collaborator? What can I complete today to move me forward in the project that is my life? My advice is to just keep working; complacency breeds on the absence of these questions. Saturday and Sunday are no different than the other five days. They have the same amount of hours and opportunities to give my ideas life.
Sometimes, we get put in boxes by others, and we feel stuck or labeled, but everything is constantly changing. If we remember to keep a growth mindset, opportunities will find us. As long as we can prioritize the “shininess” of each possibility before jumping in, we’ll be good. Give it time, you will learn how to know the difference.
This lifestyle makes it easy to take these opportunities by just packing a bag and leaving. The travel bug is a very real thing, and it’s not only fun, but it’s also entering a different dimension of education. It’s transformative to say the least, and it’s been amazing to satisfy my desire to see the world, especially since I can trade my talents for it. Personally, I am trying to merge my wanderlust with my creative visions. But because I’m just starting out, I’m usually taking on other’s visions. Fortunately, because this happenstance is just like random moments of magic in the real world, I am learning to use my in-between time wisely for realizing my own ideas until serendipity strikes again.
If you’re seeking to start on your own path to fulfillment, here are four things that have worked well for me in the life I’m envisioning:
I believe language has the ability to control our thoughts, so I’ve stopped using certain words in my daily speech. What can’t I do? Do I really want that? Is that something I should do? Better questions, like “what can I do”, or “do I really need that”, tend to have better answers.
Seeking out people who challenge me. Familiar friends are good, but not if they’re holding you back from what you know you’re capable of.
Getting rid of distractions. What happens if you only go out 1 night of the week instead of two or three? You make more opportunities to grow!
Get involved in communities of interest. Your next opportunity or partner might just be waiting for you to say “hello”!
It's incredible for me to consider that my relationship with a tool I took the time to learn deeply 6 years ago has had people believing in my talents and sharing these unique opportunities with me. If you knew me a couple years ago, you might be just as surprised by how my life is unfolding. Yet, all this reminds me of the powerful lesson I learned, filming and drumming in West Africa: the only rhythm the people will hear is the one you create, so let’s give them something beautiful to dance to.