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….

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18 comments

  • Thanks, Frank. Giving myself a break has never been one of my strengths. If I were as unforgiving of others as I am myself nobody would ever speak to me. I try to be fair-minded, though. Recognize mistakes, admit them, learn from them, lather rinse repeat. I have an especially tough time with those cases where I ought to have known better (and in some cases DID know better but plowed ahead anyway).

    Thanks for the comments on the car. It was a beautiful machine and I was trying to do it justice.

    • Growing up working class Baptist in the South being raised by grandparents who lived through the Depression did many things, but instilling an irrepressible joi de vivre wasn’t really one of them. While I learned some important values, it is also true that much of my adult life has been a battle against the lessons of childhood.

      I’ll probably never win the war, but sometimes I come out best in a battle or two. Seattle is going to be an adventure, for sure. But the only Scottie I have mostly ignores me…..

  • Amazing photo man, truly amazing. How much for a framed print?

  • No, my family wasn’t that far around the religious bend, although I knew people who were. That’s the funny thing. We have come to think of Southern Baptists as batshit crazy – and these days they largely are, ever since the conservative takeover of the SBC around 1980. But in no way, shape or form are they the loopiest religion out there. Compared to Missionary Baptists and Primitive Baptists and Pentecostals and a bunch of others they as tame as a pack of country club Anglicans.

    And boy, have I never been a morning person. I’m with your wife on this one.

    As for the dog, it isn’t about the treats. It’s about being a Scottie. He was born a grumpy old man. If I have a treat he’ll pay attention. As soon as he eats it he’s back to being Mr. Independent Leave Me Alone grumpus doggie.

  • 1959 Chevy Impala with 1959 Cadillac taillights with blue dots. The blue dots make the taillight purple at night. They’re illegal in many states, but customizers still use them. It’s a gorgeous photo.

    • Thanks. It was a gorgeous car. Although the owner says it’s a 1960.

      • You’re right, it’s ’60. the ’59 had one long taillight on each side. Dang, embarrassed myself in public. Now I have to go turn in my “car guy” card.

      • The irony here is that the guy taking the shots has no clue about cars, for the most part. It would probably be good for me to learn a little.

      • I think the term you’re after here is “strategic ignorance,” and it has served me well through the years. You’re right, I do not come at these subjects from the standpoint of any kind of expertise. I told a friend a few days ago in a separate discussion, I’m not really shooting the cars, I’m shooting the technotopian ideology behind them. The cars aren’t the thing, per se. They’re expressions of the thing.

        And while I don’t know cars, boy howdy, do I know the critical issues here. If you’re ever really bored and perhaps in a self loathing mood I’ll let you read my dissertation, whereupon I ask an innocent question about the Internet and wind up in Genesis 1.

      • That dissertation sounds great! I’ll have to read it sometime. And I love the phrase “strategic ignorance.”

  • Righteous photo, Sam. A reminder that even a Chevrolet can be a moving sculpture. Capturing the highlight detail among all the chrome reflections is an accomplishment. Wishing you the best in your practice of proper mental hygiene.

  • There is something very interesting about your writing Samuel (at least the few articles that I have read). Good luck in Seattle.

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