I was dating a girl named Destiny.
That isn’t the beginning of a poem – it would be terrible if it was – but it is, more or less, the beginning of 10 Cities/10 Years. Destiny was the prototypical mid-2000s emo chick with the requisite shock of dyed hair and star tattoos on her wrists. A hairstylist in Charlotte, she had transplanted to the city from Seattle via Tallahassee and spoke with the soft, stoned surfer girl’s patois of some indistinct Pacific Northwest tribe from which I imagined she had emerged, punctuating every other sentence with a slurred, “For sure.”
She was my type, which is to say in those days my type was any cute girl who’d date me (still is). A regular at the bookstore where I had initially been hired as a barista, I had fawned over her every time she ordered her coffee. Eventually, I was promoted to Receiving, but I popped up on the book floor whenever there was downtime. One day, seeing her sitting out on the café patio – despite it being January – I made the unprecedented move to walk out and talk to her. I’d rarely been so bold in my life.
I have no idea what we said, but it was an introduction. A few days later, a buddy of mine at the store called me up and let me know that Destiny (or, the “cute emo girl,” as he didn’t know her name) was back at the store. I lived across the street, and under the pretense of walking to the art store around the corner from the bookstore, I crossed Destiny’s path.
The total time I knew Destiny was one month, neither the longest nor the shortest I’ve gone out with someone. Most of our time together was spent in her large pick-up truck – jacked up on giant tires so entering the vehicle was a bit of a climb – listening to music. She introduced me to quite a few bands and albums I still listen to, most notably the Magnetic Fields and the Shins’ “Chutes Too Narrow” which she lent to me. We made a lot of mixed CDs for each other; I’m more than a little embarrassed to imagine what music I would have given her at that time. Our other activities together, like going to a poetry reading and eating at diners at 2 in the morning, have congealed in my mind as some sort of romantic ideal, but the truth is, we barely knew each other. I didn’t even know her last name.
One night, when we were supposed to meet up after I got off work, there was a message on my cellphone from Destiny. Through some indecipherable noise, voices and her laughing, she had left a message for me. When my shift ended, I called her but she didn’t answer. Days went by without any contact from her. I tried calling again a few days after she no-showed but she didn’t answer.
“Just checking to see if you’re around. I need to give you back your CD.” Destiny didn’t return my call, which is how I came to own “Chutes Too Narrow” (still my favorite Shins album). I never saw her again at the bookstore and that’s where I left it. (Pro-tip to guys: One message is good enough; if you don’t hear back from her after that, it’s over, move on.)
I’ve dated my share of women since Destiny, most more seriously than her, and in fact, only a couple months later I would meet someone who would become a major love interest in my life for the next seven years. Destiny and I didn’t have a relationship, we were just casually seeing each other. And yet, she remains in my mind a pivotal character in my story – in a way I’m sure I’m not for her. Maybe it’s just the storyteller in me – a mix of false memories and symbol creation – but those brief moments with Destiny feel important.
It was with Destiny, the two of us sitting in her apartment while she smoked weed and we listened to Billy Joel on vinyl (what can I say, she had eclectic tastes) that I first started talking about 10 Cities/10 Years like I was going to do it, not just as a fantasy. I remember distinctly telling her, “I’m moving in June.” My little idea had gone from a hypothetical dream to a plan, and with that touch of reality, my life had direction.
Perhaps I imagined I could impress her with my confidence, or maybe as winter set in, I simply realized that I was running out of time to luxuriate in a dream. Whatever the case, by mid-February of 2006, 10 Cities/10 Years was reality.
At some point in all of our lives, we have to reach a tipping point, that line we cross when a dream becomes a pursuit. At some point, the words we use must transform from “I would love to…” to “I’m going to…”
This isn’t some sort of mystical, Oprah-approved, The Secret pablum. I’m not talking about “Telling the Universe what you want.” What I am saying is that at some point, if your dream is going to be real, you have to go from talking about hypotheticals to making plans. You will never save money without a reason, you will never take the big leap if you don’t know where you’re going to land. I don’t mean that you have to know everything before you start – almost nothing about the next decade of my life was planned before I set out – but you do need concrete steps. That’s your job, no one else’s.
When I returned from Spain in September, I realized that I needed a new direction. Ever since I had finished my project, I had been living without a plan. That had been my intention, because ten years is a long time to live by a schedule. But after a year with no distinct goals, I realized I was ready to have a plan again. So I made one.
It’s great to dream, it’s the hallmark of all creative people. But at some point, dreaming dissolves from an active to a passive activity. At that point, you need to live with a different set of verbs: Go. Do.
I’m going. I’m doing.
What about you? You can’t wait for Destiny to find you; you’ve got to go introduce yourself.
So answer this: Where will you go in 2017, and what will you do?