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.