Querencia (n., Spanish):
a place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are most authentic self.
My entire life, I have been searching for something I can’t fully articulate or understand. It’s the unease of feeling like there is another mountain to climb, another place to see, another person to meet. It’s the feeling that no matter how much I do or experience, there is something I am missing. It’s a fear that has dominated my life, the fear that there is something else out there—not necessarily something better or worse—just an unknown. This obsession is what has driven every explorer, astronomer, artist, and thinker to push past the place where most of society is content to stop without asking: Is there something more?
My name is Jesse Lenz. I am a father to three boys (ages 4, 2, and 1). I’m a husband. I’m an artist. I grew up traveling as the son of a missionary, but grew up mostly in northern West Virginia. After high school I traveled in a metal band for two years. Who would have imagined it would be fun to live with four other sweaty dudes in a 1968 bus? I thought performing music was the reason I fell in love with the road, but now I realize it was my love for the road that made me fall in love with music.
After touring, I started a family and carved out a successful career as an editorial illustrator (www.jesselenz.com), based in my childhood home of Middlebourne, West Virginia. Almost six years later, I co-founded the Collective Quarterly with my business partner, Seth, out of that old longing for the road. My wife, Kate, and I were expecting our second son, Rowan, when I realized that I couldn’t continue working the way I had been for the previous several years. I had everything I thought I wanted: success, name recognition, a six digit income, and almost no living expenses (thanks, WV!). But after four years of 18+ hour days, no vacation, and decreasing artistic fulfillment I realized I was not happy.
I wasn’t living a life that would inspire the high school or college version of myself. Artists like Peter Beard and Andrew Wyeth showed me that you have to live the life you want to represent in your work. You can’t trick your camera lens. If you want to create art that deeply connects to the human experience, you have experience it first. You have to put yourself in the way of good things.
Fast forward another few years. The Collective is real, and it is getting crazy. Every month or two, I fly to a new location for weeks on end. My family meets me on location so I don’t become a stranger to my children. We live out of hotel rooms, and it dawns on me that there’s a better way to do this nontraditional thing we’re doing.
I want my family to be involved in this adventure alongside me. When we wrap Issue 3: Topa Topa, Kate and I discover that our home wasn’t home any longer. The house we started our family in had become an obligation, a chore we had to maintain upon returning from each new adventure. At that point the answer becomes so clear it was painful: sell everything and hit the road. Now, we’re six months in and finally hitting our stride.
Life moves in evolving cycles, and I’m on my second one. I took to the road as a young man, lived how I wanted, settled down, had a successful career, had children, had a quarter-life crisis at 24, started a new company, sold everything, and find myself hitting the road again with my wife, three sons, and dog. Nothing about living on the road this time around is sexy or ideal. Its messy, chaotic, and the most amazing and daring thing we have ever done.
We’re living through a new American dream—a renaissance of thought about what it means to live well. For the first time in history, those with a nomadic soul can take to the road without sacrificing a livelihood, career, or family.
This is the first post in an ongoing series that is dedicated to and told by those who have made the road their home, whether for months, years, or forever. Sometimes it will be a continuation of my story; other times we’ll hear from guest contributors. But in each case, the aim is to share discoveries and insights from life on the road. Whether practical or philosophical, this column will discuss the highs and lows searching for querencia.
Take a look at the process journal to see behind the scenes of our time on the road
Jesse Lenz is the co-founder and creative director of The Collective Quarterly. He is currently traveling the country documenting poeple, places, and things. See his illustration work at www.jesselenz.com