When I last moved out of Colorado (for the fourth time, I might add), I had an accumulated feeling of discontent, lacking in personal accomplishment, but I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly. On my final step out of the Rockies, I opined to a friend, stumbling through my thoughts and words, about what had happened, collectively, on those four stops in Colorado, a place I professed to love so much. It was difficult to articulate, and I kept circling back to a few basic points, the foundations of my grumbles and misgivings for my time in my former homeland. I never deemed myself “successful,” by my standards or anyone else’s (not that the latter should matter), but I never deemed myself “happy,” either. I had a professor in grad school who said that, “happiness is a state; it is impossible to sustain.” This logic implies, then, that you can be happy here and there, but you will not be consistently happy, and you may not even be mostly happy, but you should at least hope for some fits and spells of happiness along the way. This may be an accurate assessment of my four forays into the Front Range. All the hopes and dreams, aspirations and goals, in large part they were never met. But the small moments, the little wins, the ones I glossed over or forgot, those were the stuff life was made of – or were they?
The blindly wandering fool I am, one who never believed in luck but always hoped for it, well, I continued to roll the dice to see what would come up during those mountain years, and it was always snake eyes. In craps it is called snake eyes to resemble the supposed betraying nature of the creature, but in reality, the betrayal was all mine – I betrayed myself. They say a fool and his money are soon parted; so too are a fool and his time, and a fool and his opportunities. And while we’re on cliché, trite sayings, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, too; only this applies to the (lack of) effort invested and the opportunities (not) ceased. You see, as I wandered aimlessly and played the twentysomething who is trying to find his way card, which eventually (and quickly) turned into the thirtysomething version, I left a lot of money – and time – on the table. And I did so in the Front Range. But you cannot discount any life experience; they all lead to who we are now, today. So it very well might be that it was necessary for me to screw up and stumble through life to get to where I’m at today. And if that is true in the cosmos, so be it. But I can’t help wondering if it wasn’t the pursuit of professional advancement or social growth and fulfillment that was the problem, but rather the place? I mean, after all, I had a pretty bright and blinking sign very early on telling me so…
I first moved to Colorado in the summer of 2001, fresh out of undergrad. I lasted about two years before I moved further west, in part to chase a job, in part to chase a dream, but also in part to get out of town. I had quickly grown tired with the caliber of people and their lifestyles I was encountering, though I couldn’t really explain why. There was something about the type of people, so I thought, that rubbed me the wrong way. That was my first sign. But my second sign, that I had made another poor decision, came when I moved back to that very same town less than six months later. I had truly found what I didn’t like further out west, but that didn’t mean that Colorado was going to offer me what I did want. It is true that I certainly didn’t know what I wanted then, so maybe I would have been beleaguered and disgruntled anywhere. But nonetheless, I came back to my old stomping grounds (part two of four) to make the same mistakes and have the same frustrations, though I had somewhat less of the distaste that I’d had before. I guess I had learned, in part, that you have to compromise, you’ll never get all that you want. A lesson, I might add, I’m still trying to learn today.
To speed this up, those same frustrations nagged at me on Stop 3 and Stop 4 too, but even though my personal mantra starts with “presence” (though it was not in existence at that time), I struggled then, and still struggle now, with the awareness of being present. So fittingly, it wouldn’t be until after I had left that fourth time, and add another almost two years to it, that I would really start to figure it out. Or at least think I have. Going back to my musings and grumblings to my friend, post Stop 4, the message I was trying to convey to him was that I hadn’t felt successful for a long time. In fact, I never had, not really. Sure, I’d had a few wins along the way, but in the big picture scheme of things, those paled in comparison to the total count. My record should have gotten me fired from my life. But even as I’d allowed those feelings to bubble up to the surface, and even though I tried to convey them to my oldest friend on a very dreary and rainy day (how fitting), I still hadn’t processed them. Not until very recently.
I was looking at two weeks in Colorado this summer, and at the time of my original planning, I had considered a return to Boulder for the whole two weeks, even though I knew, and had publicly voiced, that there really wasn’t anything there for me. I don’t learn lessons well, and apparently I see right past the obvious. But fortunately I began to actually think. I was soon reminded, that while I enjoyed aspects of Boulder, I enjoyed some friends I had in Boulder, Boulder was no longer for me. It was arguable whether or not it ever was for me in the first place. I wouldn’t say I regret my nine years and four stops there, but I also wouldn’t describe them as necessarily personally enriching, or at least not the way I would have liked them to be. Nonetheless, I stopped in Boulder for 5 days this year, fell back into old routines and remained conscious to the fact that “this” was behind me. Way behind me. I wasn’t itching to get out, regretting that I came, or unhappy to see old friends, but I knew there was no longer any nutrition in Boulder for me. In fact, I don’t know that there ever was. It was a placebo, sugar water.
So then I went down to Buena Vista, a small mountain town in the valley, with a population of roughly 3,000 folks. In the summers it is a tourist trap, as is anywhere worth going anymore, so it seems, and in the winters it is desolate. You better have an entrepreneurial spirit of some kind to make it down there, otherwise, eventually, you’ll get ridden out of town. Or just limp by until you burn out. While much more comfortable in this area than I could have imagined, I was, thankfully, fully aware that it wasn’t exactly what I sought either. It was close though, much closer than I’d ever been. In many ways it was a microcosm of Boulder: affluent, white transplants motivated by the environment and radical outdoors playtime. BV is the sportsperson’s paradise: climbing, hiking, biking, whitewater, skiing, you name it. But it was also, glaringly so, a snapshot of the society I had already had too much of.
Every once in a while I’ll say something that comes across as profound, well at least to me. Before I was to move to Texas for grad school (after Stop 3 in Boulder), someone asked me how I would manage the natural and cultural shock, I replied: “Place is a subjective reality largely dependent on expectations. If you expect to hate somewhere, you will. I expect to get an education and get out.” Which I did. But education applies to much more than book learnin’ as we all know. My education for my own personal growth and development still trickles on, and I still try to make sense of all that has come before me. So, you might ask, where is that I would want to live in Colorado, that is if were ever to return again? The answer remains to be found, but it will be on the outskirts, away from the tourists, away from the locals. Colorado is still home, as much as any place could ever be for me – remember not all “homes” are ideal, nor are all upbringings – so I long for that liminal place between nowhere and somewhere, and close enough to buy groceries. I know what I got, now I need to find what I want.