June 1st, 2005
I turned 22 exactly 2 weeks earlier and then walked the Campanile at Kansas University a little more than a week before leaving. I spent my last few days in my hometown bidding adieu to friends both old and new and, with the help of my brother, I ditched my blue Ford Escort on the side of the highway (taking the license plate and any personal effects with me). Then I left.
On the first day of June, I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina with my college girlfriend. The relationship had been strained for some time, but we had agreed to live together during the summer and there weren’t a lot of options otherwise. So, for 3 months, we made the most of what would, ultimately, be an unsustainable endeavor.
A few days after she left Charlotte to return to her collegiate life, roughly 3 months into my year in Charlotte, I ended the relationship over the phone. Not the last break up I would have to initiate. Not even that year. Thus began, in earnest, 10 Cities/10 Years.
I can’t pinpoint when I first believed I would actually spend a decade of my life (the majority of my 20s) in pursuit of this silly undertaking, but I know it wasn’t that early on. I didn’t want to stay in Charlotte all my life, that I knew, and I was still rather hellbent on ending up in New York (even though I’d only ever been there twice), but the future was hazy. Some fervent demon whispering in my ear was convincing me that I had some larger ambition to pursue.
So persistent was this wild dream that, once my year in Charlotte had come to an end, I left behind a whirlwind romance to move to Philadelphia, even though I had no idea what lay ahead of me.
Almost A Decade
For 9 years, I have made my way from one U.S. city to the next, making friends, finding work, getting by. Getting old. When I started this project, not a single episode of How I Met Your Mother had aired and Neil Patrick Harris had yet to ascend to the role of everyone’s favorite gay man (sorry Anderson Cooper). Speaking of which, when I started this project, same-sex marriage was only legal in one state (Massachusetts). Now it’s legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
A lot can happen in almost a decade. The nation changes. The world changes. My life has changed, in large part because of the people I’ve come across along the way. I’ve made dozens and dozens of very close friends over these years, and each one has shaped my evolution as a person.
I’ve given up friends, too. Most of the people who have met me over the years have either known me exclusively as the guy doing some crazy project, or they’ve been the friends with whom I’ve experienced my various cities. For the former, when I left I was merely a person whose story they could recount to strangers, something cool worth a few minutes at the bar. For the latter, though, they had become integral parts of my story, and then because of the dictates of my project I left them behind, possibly never to meet again.
In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and whatever else, it’s possible to remain linked to most everyone I’ve met, but that doesn’t mean that genuine relationships are easy to maintain. Friends have remained behind, gotten married, had children, accomplished artistic/business success, and I have been, quite frequently, only able to respond with a ‘like.’ And for 9 years, I’ve had to trust that that was enough. Even when it wasn’t.
No matter how far I depart from my Christian upbringing, I can’t escape the notion that we should all live with a grander purpose. Religion doesn’t hold the monopoly on meaning.
Perhaps ‘purpose’ is the wrong word. ‘Ambition’ is probably more descriptive. A ‘purpose’ suggests an end game, whereas ambition drives us forward without needing to know how everything will conclude. This project merely provides a vague direction and a hope that when I’m done with this decade of my life I’ll have gained something, even if it’s nothing but a unique collection of experiences.
And there has certainly been no shortage of experiences. I’ve documented a number of them on this site over the years, but sometimes the most life-changing experiences are those that, in the moment, seem insignificant. Certainly, minor happenstances and random chance have played as big if not a bigger part in the direction of my life than the major events. I don’t know how this is all going to end.
When I look back from the vantage of 10 years, what will the story be?
How long have you devoted to a single goal? Maybe 4 or 5 years for a college degree? Another 2 or 3 for a Masters, and then longer for a doctorate. Perhaps you’ve been working at a job for a number of years, working your way up the corporate ladder. Or maybe you’ve been playing in a band, touring and recording, all in the ultimate pursuit of signing to a major label and arriving on the national stage.
I’m entering the last year of my pursuit. With 9 years behind me and 1 ahead, I suppose I feel like anyone who’s given substantial years of their life for a dream. I feel like I’ve accomplished something of note, but I can’t say what if anything will come of it. So, really, it’s not all that dissimilar to graduating.
I guess that kind of makes this the beginning of my Senior Year. One last year to relish every new experience, one last year to acquire all the knowledge I will need for the next stage of my life. A final year to put all the pieces in place and hope the puzzle looks something like the picture on the box.
And who knows, maybe this will be the year I finally ask the head cheerleader to prom.
1 more to go. Wish me luck.