We’ll get into it, again,
without getting much out of it
You in glare; I inconstant
and in the midst, I bestow a name
to call your mother with.
This spinning wheel,
it’s a potter’s tool
for flinging mud
and what we throw
can’t be unmade.
If I leave
it’s a threat, and if I stay,
it’s not a home
so I bury the hatchet
down my throat.
We’ll get into it, again,
On the last day of the project, I walked around Manhattan until I found a tattoo shop to get my 18th and final tattoo for 10 Cities / 10 Years.
For those whose wonder what that words mean and where they come from, I wrote an explanation more than 4 years ago on this blog.
But just to give a quick summary, it comes from the final track on Radiohead’s OK Computer, “The Tourist” and it’s meaning can be explained by this quote (originally found on Greenplastic.com):
“The Tourist” was written by Jonny, who, explains Thom, was “in a beautiful square in France on a sunny day, and watching all theses American tourists being wheeled around, frantically trying to see everything in 10 minutes.” Jonny was shocked at how these people could be in a place so beautiful and so special and not realize it because they weren’t taking the time to just stop and look around.
As I enter the next phase of my life – whatever that may be – it’s important I remember the ethos of 10 Cities, which was not about quickly accomplishing as much as possible in order to mark things off of a checklist. Instead, my life was about slow travel, marinating in a place and getting to know it from the perspective of a local.
Now that I’m unshackled from the constraints of the project, the temptation will be to see as much as possible. This is especially true now that I’m older. I was 22 when this project began, in the midst of my eternal youth. Now, at 32, I’m still relatively young, but the burden of time is more acute.
I’ve never seen Europe, or Asia, or Africa, South America, Australia or Antarctica. And believe me, I want to see them all. The trick going forward is to find a way to fit in all the travel I want to accomplish without losing sight of the reason I want to do it.
So, every morning when I look in the mirror, I will have a reminder to slow down, appreciate the space, take in my surroundings. Don’t be an idiot.
Like all of my tattoos, it’s both a marker of my past and a lesson about the future. The 17 phrase tattoos that adorn my chest make up the philosophy and truths of 10 Cities / 10 Years. They are the Bible of my belief system. Essentially everything I could hope to say is already written on my chest, stolen from minds more interesting than mine.
In time, there will come a New Testament, but for now, this is the final word.
We are the culmination of our experiences.
Our experiences are the result of our choices.
Our choices are the product of our temperament.
Our temperament is a gift of birth.
What are we?
From June 1st, 2005 to August 31st, 2015, I was engaged in a personal quest with no discernible purpose. When asked about this “project” as I called it, the questions were the expected. What cities did I live in? How do I support myself? Is it difficult?
And, ultimately, why?
In Chicago, the fifth city, I first told the lie. It was in that city that I had the initial experience of people knowing about my project before I even met them. I worked in a mammoth Forever 21 on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and so, for months, I met new employees nearly every shift.
Inevitably, when I started introducing myself, I’d hear, “Oh, you’re the 10 cities guy?”
Every year after, whether at work or a party or some other gathering, I would discover that people were talking about my project, about me. “10 Cities” preceded me into the room, so much so that it practically became my name in some circles. It was flattering, and unnerving.
That’s when I started getting the questions. The whats and hows were easy enough to answer. The why wasn’t.
So I started lying.
“I’m writing a book.”
In truth, that didn’t answer the why. Even as the years progressed and I resolved to make some attempt at putting my experiences into a memoir, it still wasn’t the answer for the why of 10 Cities / 10 Years.
There was and always has been a very straightforward answer to that question, a seemingly simple one that was uniformly met with blank stares, which is why I dissembled.
I wanted the experience.
That’s it, that’s why I dreamed up the project, initiated it and stuck it through to the end.
I was a writer with nothing to write about. America’s greatest generation of writers – those who crafted classics from the 1910s through the 1930s – had been through war, the “delayed Teutonic migration” as Fitzgerald referred to the First World War. We have war in my generation, but it’s on a TV screen and all but virtual to those of us who have no personal stakes in it.
I thought, if life wasn’t going to thrust experience upon me, I would go out and get it.
The problem with that answer is that there is no profit in simply living. You have to monetize your experiences when you live in America.
At the end of the day – specifically, at the end of August 31st – if nothing else comes of my decade on the road, I will have my experiences.
I can take pride in who I am, because I made myself.
It Is Finished.
So, that’s it. The story is done and the only question people want to ask me now is, “What’s next?”
The answer must be, yet again, straightforward and unfulfilling: I will keep exploring. In what capacity that will take, to what ends, I cannot say yet. The world is large, my time is short, and I am not content to grow happy and bored.
This is the first time in my life since I was a toddler that the road before me doesn’t have a destination. There was always the next grade, the next school, the next city. Now the next is everything and nothing. That’s either freedom or drowning, it’s too early for me to know.
If you insist on a prediction – and I know you do – I will pull my prophet’s hat out of storage to tell you this: In 10 years, you won’t find me living in New York.
The clues to my future are scattered throughout my past, so look back if you like. I will spend the next year doing just that, and then I will move on. They’ll be meaning in what I’ve done, or there won’t. Either way, I’ll be gone.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me.
Now, if I may be so impertinent, I would like to ask you a question.
At midnight tonight, I will achieve a goal more than a decade in the making. An idea that began as a joke and turned into a life’s ambition will finally be completed; finito.
10 Cities / 10 Years was so many things. Most obviously, it was a travel blog – one that provided very little in the way of actual travel advice. More so, it was my attempt to keep a running analysis of the culture both in terms of art and societal patterns. It’s also a memoir predicated on the fact that all memories are fallible. And it’s the story of some amazing people who changed my life.
Most generally, it was an experiment and an endurance test.
And in less than 24 hours it will be over.
On Tuesday, I’ll reflect on the project at large and what this has meant for me and what it will mean for me in the years to come.
But today, I want to take a moment and look back. I’m using this space to say thank you to those whose lives became intertwined with mine throughout this past decade, for better or for worse (for me, mostly the former; for them, mostly the latter). This was a solitary journey for the majority of the years, yet I didn’t do it on my own.
First of all, there are the members of my family who have been a constant presence in my life, even when we don’t talk regularly. My mother, a devout Christian who would probably be mortified if she knew most of what I’ve gone through and done, has always supported my pursuit of this foolish aim. What more can one ask for?
My siblings – Fonz, Steve, Debra and Daniel – are the people I’ve fought with most in my life, and because of them I’m stronger, wiser and funnier. And boozier. They have supported me as much as they have mocked me – and if you know my family, you know that’s a lot. We might be dysfunctional, but… nah, that’s it, we’re just dysfunctional.
I want to thank Shelly and Marianne, 2 of my oldest and closest friends, strong and amazing women I’ve known since before the project began. If I’m even remotely a decent man, it’s because of both of them.
And then there are all those friends who I’ve made over the years of this project. There have been some great guys, some friends who have been fun co-workers and roommates and who I have wonderful memories with – what I can remember. If we’ve had a drink together, know that I think of you fondly. Well, I think of the whiskey fondly, and you get the residual goodwill.
Anyone who knows me, anyone who has been truly close to me, knows that wherever I go, I habitually surround myself with intelligent, talented, witty, beautiful, entertaining women. They inspire me, they encourage me, they challenge me – and in return, sometimes I’m kind of okay to hang around with.
So here’s where I want to express my love and thanks to those impressive women I’ve met along the way (even those who are no longer in my life):
Alex – my first friend of this project and still one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Love.
Ashley – perhaps the purest heart I’ve ever known. Meeting you changed my life.
Ivy and Amy – the coolest and badassiest writers I know.
Amber and Kate – cool f-ing chicks who made me feel at home in the one part of the country I never thought I’d live.
Chandra – we went through it all together, and it wasn’t always pretty, but what we had was truly unique and transformative. That isn’t forgotten.
The Ladies of Forever 21 (yes, you read that right) – it was one of the worst jobs I ever had and one of the hardest years of my life but I had some great friends that year who made it worth it.
Jacky, Emily, Jenna, Cassie, Michelle and dammit, just so many others at Demos who made Nashville a year to vaguely remember through the haze of alcohol. I was at a low point when I arrived in the city and it was largely because of you that I kept pushing through onto city 7.
Clarice (and, of course, Tom) – you made Seattle a home for me (even though I didn’t live in your home).
Rhiannon – some days, all I need is to know there is someone who will enjoy receiving New Girl quotes for no reason at all.
All the Tillicum Gals – woah, that sounds dirty.
Brielle – what can I say? We saw JT together.
Rebecca – in some of my darkest moments, you picked me up with a hug or a shot (usually the latter).
Kristin and Brittany – hated the job, liked (and admired) you both.
Annabelle – not sure they come any kinder than you.
All you dolls at E&C (ugh, yes, even you Karisa – the worst) – work was rarely boring with you around.
Emily – we’ve driven the country together – twice – and we survived robberies, mice attacks and our upstairs neighbors. If you ever need a travel companion, just give me a call. I probably won’t be doing anything important, anyway. (You’re seriously too cool.)
Amandine – you remind me that I still have so much more to explore; you’re also the best photographer I’ve ever known and I’m constantly amused by the fact that you doubt how talented you are.
Sophie – sorry about the broken foot, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed my first summer here nearly as much without you. I look forward to trying to convince people I know you in a few years.
I hope you all appreciate how much I care about you. I also hope you all appreciate how hard it was for me to remain that sincere for so long. I almost fainted.
Did I forget you? Well, I drink a lot, so what did you expect?
I guess, in the end, 10 Cities / 10 Years is the story of a guy who is naturally sort of an asshole but is marginally less so because of the people he’s met.
So, uh, thanks.