One hundred days from now, if all goes as hoped, I will say my goodbyes to New York City, my home of three years, and board a flight to Spain.
There’s still so much unknown, so little figured out. A place to live, a means of income, even my exact day of arrival, it’s all still up in the air. If past moves are any indication, I’ll likely be working out the details up until the last minute. This is the circular motion by which I achieve momentum.
I have no idea how long I’ll be gone. After living so long with a precise schedule and definitive goalposts, I’ll admit, it’s disorientating to have such a nebulous future ahead of me. It’s an altogether fresh challenge, to take a dive without knowing the depth of the water.
I am someone who likes structure. This might seem counterintuitive considering how tumultuous and unpredictable much of my life has been as a result of 10 Cities/10 Years. But that project, for all its winding roads and uncertainty, still provided me structure, a guide rail.
As I’ve said frequently, the project was created to push me out of my comfort zone. With my natural shyness, my social anxiety, pushing myself towards situations where I had to meet new people and acclimate to new social situations forced me to develop mechanisms for adaptation. Evolve or die, that sort of thing.
I remain fundamentally the same person as I was when I left Kansas: socially awkward, blithely misanthropic, and utterly devoid of charm. But when the situation requires it, I can muster enough energy to seem downright personable, and that’s what a decade of traveling has developed in me. That, and alcoholism.
(I do have a tendency of drawing out fellow misanthropes; we sense each other’s hatred, a kind of Hadar, if you will.)
If 10 Cities/10 Years was about pushing myself to face my social anxiety, then this next journey is about challenging my reliance on structure.
It’s the rare person who actually thrives on total uncertainty in their life, and I am not among their tribe. Even in new surroundings and in the midst of near constant disruption, I seek out patterns, familiar routines that can ground me. A little chaos can be exhilarating, to be sure, but living without any parameters, well, that’s frankly terrifying.
I grew up in Kansas. If you mention that state name to almost anyone in the United States – hell, in the world – they’ll have one reaction: “You’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Ask any random person to name five images they associate with Kansas, four of them will be Wizard of Oz related, and the fourth would either be a Bible or a basketball (in Lawrence, arguably the same thing).
At the core of the state’s association with flighty redheads and yippie dogs is perhaps the most feared singular image in all of nature, the tornado.
I’ve shook in California earthquakes, witnessed the immediate impact of a hurricane in New Orleans, and soldiered through my share of blizzards. Yet, whenever the subject gets broached among people from any region of the United States, they all agree: tornadoes are the scariest.
I was always confused when people who grew up in the paths of hurricanes claimed to be more afraid of tornadoes.
“You realize hurricanes are just massive tornadoes, right?” I’d counter.
“Yeah, but you don’t know where a tornado’s going to be.”
And that’s the crux of it. Although most natural disasters will cause far more death and destruction than the average tornado, the unpredictability of a twister, the inescapable chaos that it represents, is far more potent as a symbol of terror. We watch forecasts for hurricanes and blizzards, we know where fault lines exist. But tornadoes, well those sons of bitches just come and go as they please.
I get asked from time to time, usually with a faint glimmer of horror in the inquisitor’s eyes, “Have you ever seen a tornado in person?”
Yes, yes, I have. More than a couple of times. Although, in truth, most of the time when a tornado warning blared from the sirens, I was nowhere near it and only ever saw the resultant damage a day later if we intentionally drove by to view it. A tree was probably dislodged, a fence knocked down. If it were a particularly bad storm, we might see a branch thrust through the window of some stranger’s house. For most people, life went on as normal.
I’ve never lost anything or anyone to a tornado, which probably explains why I don’t fear them and, in fact, why I love cyclone weather. First, the sky turns a gnarly shade of green or purple. As the atmosphere begins to tingle, the air gets warmer, but steady cool breezes whip through neighborhoods, the narrow passageways between houses focusing the wind like rushing rivers. A mix of rain and hail usually – but not always – pours down as the sky turns black as midnight, the clouds swirling in acrobatic maneuvers fit for the Olympics.
Then, somewhere, maybe near, maybe far, something fearsome touches down, twirling wisps of air sharper than any knife. It’ll cut through your car or home, chop down a hundred-year old tree or fling a piece of flimsy paper into stone. Few things in life actually warrant being called “awesome.” This is one of them.
Pure, unbridled chaos is a thing of beauty, stunningly so. The way you felt when your sixth grade crush would talk to you, that’s approximately the same sensation as the shaken nerves that burble in your gut when you and your college roommates stand atop Mount Oread watching a tornado slide up 15th Avenue and raze an apartment complex you’d been at only the previous weekend.
Pray all you want, it’s never stopped a tornado. Is it any wonder it’s called Mother Nature? She’s in control.
In a little over three months, I will begin the next major journey of my life, aimless, no control. No project, no guard rails, no final destination in mind (except, you know, for the big one they made all those documentaries about). Circumstances and chance will determine where I end up and how long I’ll be there.
What comes next will be the greatest challenge of my life. Major changes should always strain us. If I ever reach a place in my life at which I no longer feel any anxiety in my gut, I know I’ve grown too comfortable, too complacent. There could come a day when I’m ready to feel that sort of calm, but I’m not there yet. I’m still chasing storms.
Have you ever seen a tornado in real life? Keep reading, you will.