Thrashing Wildly

June 3, 2018

In the last eight years, I've moved cities 18 times -- an average of five months per place. As you can imagine, it's quite a bit of work to fill in applications which require me to list every place of residence for the last five years. And that's not even counting the year I've spent backpacking over that time.

Perhaps as out of as much self-defense as necessity, you start to get really good at being on your own. Making two new friend groups a year is tiring, but possible. It's not long enough to develop really strong relationships, however. As my roommate was fond of saying, "you can't make new old friends."

As a young buck in a small town, I never really felt like I fit in. I had my clique, but all things considered, they were the other misfits in town. In the beginning we bonded more over that than anything else. Those of us with ambitions left as quickly as we could, and barring unforeseen circumstances, most of us wouldn't choose to go back. Of the adults in my life, there was always an implied regret when they spoke of the past, of the what-ifs, maybes and might-have-beens. Of what their lives could have looked like had they not settled down in my small town.

I don't think these people were necessarily unhappy, merely pensive. Maybe this is true of adults everywhere; I don't have a particularly large sample size.

But the lesson I internalized from this was to never stop moving, to never settle in, to never be in a situation where I would wake up and ask myself "what the hell did I do with my life?" You can see traces of it in some of my earliest writing:

The key to a successful philosophy: being happy about the present ensures that I obtain the longevity bonuses of being maintainable until the distant future. Simultaneously, being upset by my current trajectory in life ensures that I will always be working to improve myself; that I will never fall victim to contentment.

which, I'd write a little more pithily today as "be happy with how far you've come, but dissatisfied with where you are1."

With a successful philosophy like that under my belt, it doesn't seem like much of a surprise that I find myself here: rather accomplished for my age, but tragically lacking for strong ties to people and places. I'm hesitant to use the word "fault", but it's certainly a situation of my own choosing -- a fact I only noticed last week. Framing it in this way helps significantly.

I don't think it's an accident that the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is admitting that you have a problem. With the benefit of hindsight, I can pull on this thread through the last few years, and it brings a lot of my past behavior into focus.

More than once in the recent past I've felt dissatisfied with where I was, and decided that it was the location that was the problem. And so I moved somewhere else, without much planning or thought. And would you believe it, most of the time my dissatisfaction persisted! Who would have thought?

Recently in a fit of "fuck it, who cares!", again without much thought, I chopped off the majority of the dreadlocks I've been growing for two years. As far as haircuts go, it looks good, but I think that was more of an accident than anything. It feels like one more symptom of the underlying problem.

I call it thrashing wildly. Thrashing wildly is doing something -- anything -- to change the status-quo. Moving cities, giving up after a few years of persistent work on a project, maybe even retiring. Thrashing wildly is what untamed animals do in cages. The analogy feels a little too real to be comfortable.

As far as symptoms go, flamboyant ones are often the best kind to have. Once you recognize them for what they are -- indicators of a deeper problem -- you can start paying attention to them. And paying attention is the first step towards getting it right.


  1. I must admit: I'm sure as hell happy about how far I've come in my writing since originally publishing that essay!