10 Cities / 10 Years: Consummatum est

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?

What for?

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.

What’s next?

Exploring - Calvin and Hobbes




The Final 2 Weeks

I’m so close I can taste it.

Specifically, it tastes like a glass of whiskey that sat overnight on my bedstand and, cut through with melted ice, has turned lukewarm. It just sort of sits on the tongue.

One last gulp.

Ever since I started this blog back in 2009 – on the verge of moving from San Francisco to Chicago (cities 4 and 5) – I’ve expressed my varying levels of panic due to financial concerns and the reality that, with any missteps, I could end up broke and homeless. Some years were more worrisome than others (Chicago and Seattle being the toughest, post-SF), but I never felt secure. You can’t plan for all eventualities.

In May of this year, I was finally able to breathe a little easier. That’s how long it took to pay off a debt that had accumulated in the wake of my move to Brooklyn and my subsequent months of less than steady income. It required considerably longer than normal to dig myself out of my annual debt and if I had needed to save up for another move in September I would have been in quite a predicament.

But I don’t have to save. Not for another move, at least.

You remember how your parents (or grandparents) would talk about how their parents were so stingy because they grew up in the Great Depression. They had frugality and the value of a dollar ingrained in them at a young age. Even in prosperity, they never fully shook off the habits of their youth.

That’s how I feel after 10 years of living to the bone. I don’t know how to not save.

Every year I’m a little chagrined when I hear co-workers – people who make roughly the same amount of money as I do – complain about being broke. Sure, some of them have expenses I don’t, like car payments and insurance, pets and cigarettes. But they don’t have the expense of relocating every year or losing a few weeks (or months) to a job search.

I wish I could offer up some tips for how to nurture a nest egg. I sincerely do, because I could make a metric shitton of cash hawking self-help guides about saving money. I don’t have any secrets, though, no hidden tricks or lessons from the ancients.

I only know 1 thing: If you want to save money, you have to have a specific reason, a purpose.

10 Cities / 10 Years has been my purpose (in so many ways) for the majority of my adult life, and to that end I have focused all of my energy and drive. I’ve sacrificed so much on that altar – the most obvious being relationships. I haven’t always enjoyed the journey. That was never the point.

It is because of single-minded dedication (a.k.a. “obsession”) that I now find myself 2 weeks out from the completion of a decade long endeavor.

I’ve been trying to process the enormity of that accomplishment, and honestly, I can’t. I suspect that when I wake up on September 1st, I’ll feel numb. It will be over, the lingering taste of whiskey still on my tongue, and, peering ahead at my unmapped future, I’ll not know what to do with myself.

Luckily, as my experiences have proven over and over again, time will eventually help me comprehend what this has all meant. Time is like that, turning heartbreak into character, pain into strength and tragedy into comedy. Time will make sense of nonsense.

And then.

I will find a new road and I will take it to its end. I will make a goal and I will attain it. Because that’s all I know how to do.

2 weeks: The bottle is almost finished.

Jameson Insta

2015: Year With A View

From the point of view of a recent college graduate who had just moved to a city he knew next to nothing about, the year 2015 was about as distant in the future as 3015. Back to the Future II was 1 of the first movies I remember seeing in theaters and entering my 30s seemed like crossing that fine line between living and dying. So when I was freshly 22 and ostensibly beginning a decade-long project, it was hard to imagine actually being here: At the end.

Manhattan from the Cemetery

With 5 months until the project’s 10th anniversary and 8 months until I’ve officially hit 1 year in Brooklyn, I still have some time before the end, with plenty of opportunities for me to screw it all up in the meantime. It’s looking like finances will still be a question mark all the way up until the finish line, which is thematically appropriate.

There’s still a lot to experience this year.

I have spent much of my first 4 months in Brooklyn like I spent most of my 20s: ping-ponging between 2 groups of people. The first are the late 20-something (or older) service industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet and have vague ideas of what they want to do with their lives (be married; move away; write something) but are generally settled in this moment in their lives.

The second are the young 20-somethings, the college students and newly graduated who are still coasting on scholarships/parental support and know what they want to do with their lives. They talk about their futures with great certitude, even without a plan, and they pontificate about the world with even greater certitude.

This is the ironic seesaw of our 20s. On one end, we’ve been raised up above the world, praised for our school work and accomplishments, imbued with the confidence that we have the greatest view of humanity because we’ve studied it in books. On the other end, we’re in the dirt, beaten down by a world that doesn’t give a shit about our perspective or how many ‘A’ papers we wrote. Optimism gives over to realism.

There’s an old adage attributed to any number of speakers (most often and most incorrectly to Winston Churchill) that goes like this: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” Taken literally, this is patently false on both accounts, but understood as a maxim about the way life blunts our dreams it speaks a fundamental truth.

I am where I am because of the choices I made nearly a decade ago. Which is to say, after a long and winding road, I am finally in the city I wanted to live in when I was 17-years-old. So many of the people I have met skipped the journey and the years of poverty and came directly to the holy mecca of Western Civilization. I’m not sure either path is better than the other.

Queensboro Bridge 2

The other night, 1 of those energetic 20-somethings greeted me at a party and asked, “How are the tips?” There was no reason to interpret anything in the question. I work as a server, it’s a fair question to ask especially around the holidays. And yet, I’ll admit, in the moment a part of me took it as a dig. Here was a young, wealthy guy still on the verge of all his potential and almost certainly on the path to a lucrative, respectable job, and he was asking how my menial job in the service industry was paying. Even if he meant nothing by it, there was an inherently classist level to the interaction.

Or maybe that’s just the insecurities of a 30-something man talking.

I want to reassure myself with thoughts like, “Well, I have 10 more years experience so…” and that kind of shit, which is certainly what plenty of people would tell me. But I don’t buy it. Experience has no material or quantifiable worth. Not to 22-year-olds and certainly not to the world at large. Experience only benefits the person who has it, and mostly in intangible ways.

My experiences have blunted my dreams a bit, I admit. This project that seemed cool and impressive when I told people about it at year 5 now sounds silly and pointless when I talk about it here at the end. Partly it’s because the project was always conceived to be pointless: I didn’t have any great plans for my life, I just wanted to do this one thing.

It also feels somewhat hollow because people keep asking me, “What’s next?” and I have to admit I don’t have an answer. Travel, sure. But what does it all add up to? Lots of people travel. Check your Facebook wall, one of your friends just posted a picture from the Great Wall of China. Travel isn’t an ends, it’s a means. Or at least it should be.

It’s not just the gaining of experiences that we should strive for, it’s the accumulation of wisdom and empathy. We should be going into our 40s with both brains and hearts.

At the beginning of this project, I was a 22-year-old kid hyping all the great things I would accomplish (believing I would be the next Fitzgerald), and my vision was spoken with certitude. This year, I’ll turn 32, and I am anything but certain. I am older. I am more experienced, and more cynical.

But I don’t begrudge the 22-year-olds of the world their passion and confidence. That’s the age at which you begin audacious journeys, that’s the mindset you need to create something that no one else has ever created. And many of them actually will accomplish great things. In my years among them, I’ve seen no shortage of talent and intellect.

I admire the young, impassioned 20-somethings. I respect the older, aimless 20-somethings. I commiserate with the beaten, insecure 30-somethings. We’re all in this together.

Like almost everyone who grew up watching Marty McFly traverse the time stream, I spent my youth imagining all the possibilities that 2015 could hold. Now we’re here and we have to work with all the realities that 2015 does hold. Cars don’t fly, boards don’t hover and jackets don’t self-dry.

But, hey, there’s always 2016.

Sunset Silhouette

One Last Month

Boston in the Gloaming

August 1st marks the beginning of the end. With exactly one month until my New York City year begins, 9 years of traveling, moving, working, writing and living are coming to their payoff.

I intentionally left NYC for the end of my project because I feared (rightly) that as a boy who had mythologized the Big Apple for so long, once I got there I would never leave. Now that I’m wrapping things up, I’m looking forward to the possibility of holding a job for longer than a year, renting an apartment through a second lease, hanging out with friends during more than one cycle of the seasons. And then again, I’m already peering two or three years down the line to where I may move once the bug hits again. I’m thinking a new continent is in order.

For 9 years, everything (everything) has built towards this moment and with it so close, it’s difficult to express what that means. People ask me if I’m excited. I think I must be, though it’s hard to tell among the cocktail of emotions, concerns and thoughts that churn non-stop in my burnt out mind. At some point, the reality will set in. After I’ve found a place in Brooklyn. After I’ve begun working. After I’ve bought my first stock of groceries and eaten my first meal at a neighborhood restaurant. Then, it will become real. For better and for worse. Because once I’m in New York, that’s the end. The very thing that has defined me for nearly a decade will have run its course. I will be still.

I know what my final 10 Cities tattoo will be, the one I will get in August of next year to mark the true end to the project. I’ve known for a couple years now, in fact. No, I’m not telling you what it is, but it will mark my transition into my new life. Or is it my old life?

It’s worth noting that I began this site exactly 5 years ago. The creation of 10cities10years.com (still a WordPress address back then) in my last month in San Francisco marked the point when this project went from being a semi-serious joke to a fully realized idea, a life’s pursuit with all the unintended consequences that come of ambition.

It’s not been easy. I’ve gotten old doing this.

But I beat on…

Anyway, I’m going to the beach today. And next week I’m flying out to Seattle to see old friends and revisit one of my favorite places in the whole country. Hopefully by the time I return from my trip I’ll be able to say I have an apartment in Brooklyn. And once I’m back, there will be just over two weeks left in Boston. A little more working, a little more drinking (who am I kidding? a lot more drinking), a little more exploring.

And then the end.

10 Cities Fog


I’m Almost There

You're Almost There

Four months is plenty of time.

A lot can and will happen between now and September 1st. In fact, as the weather improves, options open up. No one wants to just let two or three months slip away into oblivion, but the brutal cold does have a way of making me want to huddle up in a blanket and turn the lights off. I wasn’t exactly a hermit this winter, but on the grayest days I kept to myself. Now, though, my aim is not to waste the little time I have left here in Boston.

Because once I’m done with Boston, I’m done with the project, and that is a crazy thought.

Boston from Charles

That’s not entirely true, as the tenth year and tenth city, New York, must still be lived. But unlike every year before it, once I’m in NYC, there isn’t another destination ahead of me. That’s it, the end of the road. The end of a road.

The most frequent questions I used to get were about how I picked my cities or how I found an apartment or job, or if it were lonely doing what I do. Now, though, with only one city left, the question I get most is, “What’s next?”

I suppose that after devoting a decade of my life to such an expansive project, it’s only natural that people would assume there was something else grand on the horizon. 10 Countries / 10 Years, perhaps? Move to Africa? Hitchhike to the moon?

The truth is, I haven’t a clue. I’d like to be able to say, “For my next trick…” but I really don’t have a good goddamn idea what I’m going to do next. I’d love to travel the world, but I don’t want to be just another yuppie tourist collecting life ‘experiences’ like postcards. Traveling the way I want to travel would require substantial funds, something that I’ve never had.

There’s writing, of course. My first and only true love has always been the written word and this entire project arose out of a desire to turn my passion into a career. Honestly, though, I’m not sure I’m any closer to realizing that dream than I was when I first began traveling almost 9 years ago. Certainly, my writing has gained greater exposure and I’ve had my share of publishing credits, but none of that necessarily translates into long-term financial stability. Truth be told, the modern literary landscape suggests that my tastes and style are very much out of vogue, so long-term financial stability probably isn’t in the cards for me unless I decide to write a YA novel about a post-apocalyptic world.

That is, ultimately, the life I chose to live and there’s no regret in it.

I don’t know what’s next for me, and despite the many uncertain paths I’ve taken in life, this may be the first time I’ve ever been able to say that. There’s no college ahead of me, no ‘next’ city. Maybe nothing comes after New York. Maybe my next great project is waiting to be discovered.

That’s a little terrifying. A little exciting, too.

I’m almost there, but I’m here now.

Welcome to Allston

“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”: The Case for Change


A friend recently contacted me in regards to a career opportunity that would require relocating across the country and leaving behind a life she’s been building for a number of years. It’s a major decision, with a whole host of factors that doesn’t make the decision a basic binary choice. Few choices in life are that simple.

When she called me about it, there was really no question how I was going to advise her: Take the job, make the move.

I believe in change. As a central tenet of 10 Cities / 10 Years, I’ve discussed the importance and empowerment of embracing change. If you’re seeking my opinion on a big life choice, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’m going to recommend the path not-yet-taken. I suppose that could be seen as kind of self-serving, a way of justifying my personal life direction by encouraging others to follow suit. And, sure, that’s probably true. So what?

All things being equal, change is always the better choice. We all have a finite amount of time to store up life experiences before we enter the void, so why not try to make them as diverse as possible? Look, either we disappear into nothingness when we die or we go to heaven/hell. Either way, eternity is going to be one monotonous slog. It’s our years here among the corporeal when we get to mix it up some, try strange things, live different places, get new tattoos. Change is the sole province of the living.

Even if your life is pretty damn good right where you’re at, that’s no reason to fear change. If you managed to make a good life for yourself once, there’s no reason to assume you won’t be able to do the same somewhere else. Over the past 9 years, I’ve lived in 9 cities. I didn’t love every single one, and there were definitely times when I realized I wasn’t as happy as I was the city before. That’s the great thing about embracing change as a life philosophy, though. I always knew that the next year offered me another chance to make things better.

Now, I want to stress the “all things being equal.” I’m not advocating masochism or self-sabotage. Not every opportunity is a good one, and it’s certainly not always the right time to pick up and move. In any decision, a multitude of factors can weigh heavily for one side or the other, in which case the choice becomes easy. But, after one has carefully loaded up all the relevant materials on both sides of the scale, if there is no obvious winner, the possibility of change is a 20-ton weight.

Change isn’t for everyone, I realize. And that’s good. The world needs people who embrace stasis. Without the risk-adverse, how could we have a 4th Transformers movie coming out this summer? And Lord knows every company likes to have at least one employee who’s been around for a couple decades. It provides a sense of continuity. People who never make a significant change or step outside their comfort zone are the ones keeping most industries alive, buying the same thing over and over and over (and over) again.

If, though, life offers you a detour and there’s no good reason not to take it, take it. Every time.

I don’t know what my friend will decide because I can’t possibly know all the factors involved in her choice, but knowing her, whichever way she goes, it will be the right decision.

But if you ever come to me with a tough choice, you can go ahead and just assume what I’m going to suggest: Try something new. A change is gonna do you good.