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Meet Brent and Michael and Learn How to Become a Digital Nomad
Through Substack, I’ve made many wonderful connections. Some were born out of curiosity, others for collaborations, and still others out of pure envy. Brent and Michael surely fall into the latter category. As my wife will attest, I’d love nothing more than to sell our house, car, and belongings and then hit the open road. So, I reached out to this dynamic duo of digital nomads to learn about how they managed to do exactly that and to examine their daily workcraft. To dive deeper into their lives beyond this profile, I urge you to subscribe to their newsletter Brent and Michael Are Going Places! It’s informative, fun, and well, envy-inducing….Here’s their story…
At the moment, Brent Hartinger and Michael Jensen are living in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both writers, they describe the place well:
“It’s small, home to only four hundred thousand people, and is situated in a mountain valley. At the eastern end of the valley, where we live, the walls of the valley are surprisingly steep, and the red-roofed houses climb directly up into the green trees above. Muslim cemeteries climb the hillsides too, their white headstones gleaming like pearls embroidered in a cloth of green. Just down the hill from our neighborhood of Vratnik is Baščaršija, the ‘old town’ where, in 1461, the Ottoman Empire founded a marketplace that is still the heart and soul of Sarajevo. We love wandering the narrow alleys, finding hidden plazas, watching locals and tourists alike sample the ćevapi, drink Bosnian coffee, and endlessly puff away on their hookahs.”
Brent and Michael are neither tourists nor locals. Instead, they are a different breed altogether-- “Digital nomads”--a term they define succinctly as, “people who work remotely and travel continuously.” They’re halfway through their summer in Sarajevo, where they have enjoyed evenings in the historic district and afternoons hiking in the surrounding mountains. They have been there long enough to befriend some residents and see past the tourist veneer to understand the city still suffers from the calamity that was the Bosnian War, specifically the horrific, almost four-year siege of Sarajevo that took the lives of 14,000 people.
This is generally the nature of their stay and soon they will be moving on to their next destination, likely Novi Sad, Serbia. They only bring with them what they can carry, fifty pounds maximum each, in a suitcase and backpack.
Do they have…
A home to go back to in the United States? No.
Neighbors they’ve known for years? No.
A comfortable favorite chair or every convenience within easy reach? No. No.
“It’s nice to have things that you’re familiar with,” Brent explains. He understands this. “But with our lifestyle, there’s always something great and new. It makes things more special because we never really take stuff for granted since we’re only here for a short time—and it calls attention to that.”
Michael interjects, “Everything is constantly changing in good and bad ways, but there’s room for surprise in our life. I didn’t have any expectations of Sarajevo, and we arrived at our neighborhood, part way up a hillside, and we have this beautiful view. There’s a Muslim cemetery a fifteen-minute walk away with an even better one. Because we’re only here for the summer, I appreciate it all the more, and I’m more present. As for the bad and the aggravating, well, I know I only have to put up with it for a short while because we’ll be gone.”
This is the life of Brent and Michael, digital nomads for the past five years.
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Before the election of Donald Trump, the couple was living in Seattle, Washington where they had met in the early 1990s. They had a lovely house in Green Lake, a group of close friends, and a steady, predictable routine. Brent has spent most of his career as a novelist and screenwriter. Michael was an airline attendant, wrote on the side, and eventually published his own books. During the first dot.com boom, the pair also started a popular gay culture website that was sold to Viacom. Neither rich nor poor, they were comfortable, not least because they had bought into the Emerald City long before it emerged as a new American tech capital—and the ensuing traffic jams and skyrocketing costs. Every year though, that comfort level was diminishing.
“We were always living for this book to be published or that screenplay picked up. That was the focus of our life,” Michael says, looking back to their pre-nomad life
“It’s all we talked about,” Brent jumps in. During our interview, the pair are almost continuously finishing each other’s sentences or thoughts. “It haunted our daily existence. There’s a lot of frustration, rejection, humiliation, and disappointment in writing, and we were always waiting for that next thing to happen. In our 50s, you’re in that decade where you ask what I want to do with the rest of my life. Do I want to be looking toward some perfect, imagined, idealized future where you are successful? Or do I want to appreciate the moment that I’m living in and the relationships I’ve made?”
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