Life’s occasional symmetry: it was 20 years ago today
August 13, 1993: I woke for my first day in Colorado. I had moved here from North Carolina for grad school. I had a van of everything I owned and barely a penny left after the 1600-mile drive.
It wasn’t the first time I’d put my life in a truck and hauled it across the country to a town where I knew nobody, and as fate would have it, it wouldn’t be the last. Today I sit here surrounded by boxes, taking a break from packing. As I noted a few days ago, I’m now moving to Seattle.
20 years. A generation.
A lot has happened along the way.
- I earned my PhD.
- I have worked for large companies, mid-sized companies, small companies, and for myself. Depending on what criteria you employ, my life as a businessman has either been quite successful or an abject failure. There are things I’m very good at and other things I’m terrible at, and you can draw whatever conclusions you like from the fact that I have not gotten rich.
- I spent an ill-fated year as a professor and have come, at last, to abandon any and all hopes of earning my living in the academy. Ironic, that, since this is why I came to Colorado in the first place.
- I co-founded The 5th Estate on LiveJournal, then co-founded Scholars & Rogues.
- I took up photography and founded 5280 Lens Mafia.
- I wrote a couple books of poetry.
- What else? Oh, yeah – I met a beautiful, wonderful woman and got married. Then divorced. At this point the hard question is which of the two did more lasting damage.
- I moved to Boston for a year, then came back. I moved to New York for a year, then back to NC for a year and a half, then came back. Somewhere in there – I think Columbine was the tipping point – I realized that Colorado had become home. North Carolina will always be the place I grew up, but I rarely refer to it as “back home” anymore.
- And I swore that I’d never leave Colorado again.
In some respects, it’s clear that I have accomplished a great deal over the past 20 years. I was the first in my family to attend a four-year university, so the PhD alone is pretty significant on that front.
But a part of me also feels like I did back in 1993. As I approached my 30th birthday I did a great deal of soul searching and came to conclusion that I had, to that point, talked a good game but I hadn’t done anything. If I died, there would be nothing to signify that I had ever lived. I had made no mark, established no legacy.
I read a lot of Campbell, and this passage hit me between the eyes:
You may have success in life, but then just think of it – what kind of life was it? What good was it – you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don’t let anyone throw you off.
20 years on I’m still not doing the thing I want to do in life, although in my defense nobody will pay you a living wage for the kinds of things I have historically wanted to do. Also, I have meandered. I am interested in a variety of things, and this has too often resulted in a lack of focus that has not served me well. Recruiters look at the winding path that has been my career and…well, put it this way. You don’t want to confuse HR staffing types, who generally have a hard enough time deciphering the complexities of daily life. Things like where on their computer is that damned “Any” key that instruction guides keep talking about.
I’m an idealist in many respects, but I can admit the ways in which I have failed myself.
It has been clear for some time that my life needed to change. Career change, personal change, change of scenery, and then some. I have made a bit of progress, jettisoning activities and commitments that no longer helped me be who I want and need to be. And I have begun filling my life with new things for which I feel a passion – like photography.
So there’s that, and I also have fantastic friends for whom I’m grateful. Beyond this, well, I feel like the guy I was 20 years ago. Standing by the packed truck and looking around one last time. It was home, and I loved it, but it didn’t really love me back. It was time to go.
20 years on, a watershed moment. Looking west, and hoping.
I’ll leave you with a recent photo that I think says something about my state of mind as I look to the future….