The summer of 2020 has been one of whirling change, grueling uncertainty, and upheaval on every level – but for many, it has also been one of connection, soul-searching, and growth as we are forced to confront aspects of life that we have long been avoiding. Many white Americans have awoken to the racial inequality of the United States. Married couples have been forced to confront issues during quarantine together. People living alone have been forced to look within themselves for a sense of stillness amidst chaos. Our culture has developed a newfound appreciation for healthcare workers, teachers, and minimum wage workers. And the Zoon Garden Team has experienced the challenges and rewards of seeking connection and authentic conversation during a time when physical closeness is impossible.
This summer, Zoon Garden has used its platform to host conversations with political, economic, and media experts to gather their thoughts on polarization. We’ve discussed the connection between environmental issues and systemic racism, the issue of affordable housing, the digital nomad lifestyle, media literacy, bus life, and the construction of brand narratives – and amidst the discussion of these important topics, the team has experienced genuine connection, friendship, and resilience in communities across the United States.
“We became a family,” says author Jordan O’Donnell. “We laughed, we cried, we yelled, we spoke deeply, overcame an incredible amount of adversity, and had the greatest summer of our lives.”
As the book tour draws to a close, the team aims to integrate their experiences into a return to "normal" life. O'Donnell plans to continue work on the Zoon Garden documentary in time for submission to Sundance. Many interns are returning to their homes and schools. But no matter where they go, they will embark with new friendships, deep compassion, and a hunger for truth.
You can buy Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation here.
Last week, Affordable Housing Tips published an article featuring breakout author Jordan O’Donnell on the topic of the digital nomad life – that is, what it’s like to work remotely while living on the road. This week, we turned that question to the rest of the Zoon Garden Team.
“Being on the move can apply to not only the physical, but also the mental and spiritual. For this trip, we've been on the move in all three,” says Leanne Weaver, the team’s Website and SEO Manager.
Physically, the team has transported their vehicles and belongings across the country. Mentally, they are on the move daily as they formulate and re-formulate promotion plans amidst a shifting cultural landscape and dissolving norms in the face of COVID-19. Spiritually, their sense of wonder, belonging, and trust is in a constant state of growth as they affirm and challenge one another, and are affirmed and challenged by their external circumstances.
“While on the move, things are crazy fast paced and always spontaneous. The plan would be to drive into our next city and get some work done, but then the car would break down and we'd get stuck on the side of the road for six hours,” says Shannon Nonora, Zoon Garden’s Media and Marketing Specialist. “Things usually happened like that on the road. While that was definitely challenging in terms of getting work done and having very small amounts of rest, those are the moments where we bonded as a family. The best thing about being on the road is how much you can connect to the other people on the trip.”
Other challenges the team has faced on the road include limited space, lack of privacy, and absence of amenities such as running water and electricity. These issues clearly can be frustrating – yet it seems that it’s all worth it for the sense of connection and freedom that the group experiences.
“The experience definitely puts you in a position that humbles you and makes you appreciate some of the simple amenities,” says Weaver. “But I enjoy the free-spirited nature of the trip, being able to redefine what ‘home’ is. Each place we've been has helped us reflect on different aspects of ourselves.”
Guest written by Team Members Shannon Nonora & Grace Tierney
The Zoon Garden Team has spent a lot – and I mean a lot – of time on the road this summer. This time has been spent working remotely, reaching out to publicists, designing updated itineraries in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, and, of course, belting classic Disney songs while the highway flashes past. Jake Harris, the team's manager and resident "skoolie" driver, happily identifies as the team's DJ while on the road.
Here are just a couple of the jams that the team has been screaming along to.
1) Hakuna Matata -Lion King
2) Coming in Hot -Andy Mineo
3) Fitzpleasure -Alt Jay
4) Under Pressure -Queen
5) Feeling Good -Nina Simone
6) Anything Hardcore EDM/Techno
In Big Bear, California, the team held a going away dance party for Creative Director, Jonah Baker. But this was not a hook-your-phone-up-to-the-speaker kind of dance party. Harris pulled out all the stops. He grabbed his headphones and mixer and set up his DJ booth in the corner of the room. Not only is Jake the life of the party, but his DJ skills got mad respect from all of the interns (despite their inevitable complaints when hardcore EDM blasted on the speaker for hours on end). Feeling both a glowing admiration for someone and a mild irritation with them at times -- now, that's how you know you're really close.
As the trip continues, the team grows closer every day. A team of once very different people with very different interests has evolved into a family of individuals who share and explore their interests with each other. For example, many started out with different music tastes, but they have slowly started to adopt each other's favorite songs. Shannon Nonora, a Media and Marketing Specialist for the Zoon Garden team, says, "I went home with a playlist filled with song suggestions from everyone on the team. Songs fit for driving through the Grand Canyon, jamming out in downtown Nashville, or watching the sun go down after a sunset hike. The only thing better than meeting 17 new friends was getting a bunch of new music to fit with the memories."
From the long car rides blasting throwbacks and Disney music to the EDM dance parties, you can be sure that the team is enjoying their time on the road and picking up more music with each place they go.
“My sources tell me animals stayed awake fearful for their lives well into morning.”
These words appear on page 106 of Jordan O’Donnell’s breakout political satire, Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation, in conversation between the zoo leader and his advisor. But the United States today is not so different – our country and culture is, in a sense, wide awake with fear, trying to wait out the night, tossing and turning. This week, the Zoon Garden team examined the idea of fear in their own lives. The team members were asked to consider what they are afraid of, what fear means to them, and how fear operates in their daily lives on tour.
Leanne Weaver, the team’s Website and SEO Manager, shares her fear of not belonging or mattering to the people she loves.
“It's a downward spiral; when you try to connect to people motivated by that fear, it inhibits your ability to truly connect with them,” she says. “You become so self-absorbed in this need and try hard to mask it, but in the end you feel like you're just bothering people. They can't hear your silent thoughts of questioning your self-worth, so how can you possibly expect them to challenge those lies you keep feeding to yourself? How can you expect them to prove you wrong?”
When Weaver felt suffocated by this fear, she ran two and a half miles from camp to Big Bear Lake, hoping to collect her thoughts alone.
“I was bewildered by the peace I felt. I felt so lonely moments ago when I was surrounded by people, and here I was by myself completely at peace,” she says. “In that moment, I pondered about how my self-worth isn't as malleable as I thought. I decided to take back my power by choosing the definition of my self-worth instead of sacrificing that to others to decide for me.”
Upon returning to camp, Weaver felt empowered, connected, and ready to work. Her friend and fellow team member, Shanon Nonora, Zoon Garden’s Media and Marketing Specialist, has since weighed in on her own perspective on fear.
“You can live your whole life being afraid and not realize it,” she says. “That's something I definitely found when I came onto this trip. I had been afraid to go out of my comfort zone, afraid to be so spontaneous, afraid for things to go wrong, afraid to open up to the people in my life... If I had continued living my ‘ordinary’ or routine life, I'd never overcome fears I never know I had.”
Nonora maintains that the solution to fear is pushing yourself out of ordinary comforts. “Take opportunities you’re saying no to because of small worries, and say yes instead,” she says. “If you are in a place in your life where you can say yes, whether it be telling someone something about yourself you were afraid to share or going on a cross country road trip with twenty strangers, my only advice is to go for it! In my experience, it's always resulted in closer friendships and insanely crazy, awesome memories.”