The word, "California," was a poem: a mantra I repeated to myself when I had a bad moment or hard day.
The word is actually kind of beautiful in and of itself, but it was more than that for me. It was the answer to a question I was almost afraid to ask.
Sometimes the question was, "Where am I headed?" Most times it was, "When will I stop needing to run?"
I’ve got the wanderlust itch deep in my bones, and from my East Coast home, the West Coast was as far as I could get without becoming a Hawaiian or an ex-pat.
I figured it was my best compromise between always perching at the edge of the flight counter, ready to buy a ticket to Capetown, and the alternative of truly leaving my home to live like a nomad and never look back.
California really is, I know now, the answer to those questions, and I knew it, somehow, ever since I was 16.
The problem with finally answering your longest-running question and calming your greatest (if, at times, most irrational) drive is it leaves you with an entirely new question: What next?
With this dream achieved and the race to get here finished, what am I going to do now?
Dreams are funny like that. If you’re lucky enough to achieve them, you realize holding the shooting star in your hand isn’t the end to a story, but the start of one.
I’ve always been more of an artist than a normal, well-adjusted, practical person, and being out here surrounded by possibility and adventure feeds a part of me in a way that I could only previously imagine.
There’s a beach town here that’s been almost absorbed by sand; it looks like some 90s music video set but it’s great. There’s a pattern of cliffs that rise above the ocean where sea lions lounge all day, unafraid of the tourists who frequently crowd them.
Every day, I look up and see Los Angeles on freeway signs and am reminded of the dreams and dreamers who live just a few highway exits (and a lot of traffic) away.
With a new world and a new story at every turn, how do I filter my dreams? I come to forks in the road and feel like "Alice in Wonderland":
“Which road do I take?" "Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat. "I don’t know," Alice answered. "Then," responded the cat, "It doesn’t matter, does it?"
The best part, in this new conundrum I’ve found, is, in a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter.
The important thing, in my 20-something opinion, is to never stop dreaming or chasing those dreams. Travel, wanderlust or relocation was my biggest dream for so long, it seemed like I needed to practically be called to my next adventure.
I always knew, deep in my gut, that heading west was where I was meant to be, and not knowing for sure where I would go next terrified me.
Living this dream was so much what I always wanted; how could I nail down anything for sure that could do the same if it didn’t come to me in a dream, vision or some lifetime longing?
This, specifically this feeling, is what I’ve decided is so great about being brave enough to follow such a crazy dream so young.
I may not ever have that pure childhood dream feeling again because a 16-year-old passion isn’t anywhere near the same as an adult who knows how complicated and hard life can really be.
Suddenly, you have rent, car payments and realize a $1,200 ticket home for Christmas isn’t an expense that is easy to work in.
The idea is just to pick a passion or a drive, something you know you’d love to wake up in the morning and do, and follow that for as long as the world lets you (and maybe even a little further).
Remember there are always more dreams, with not enough dreamers to follow through on them.
And when you’re lucky enough to grab one of those dreams in your hands, hold it tight, ask it clearly and quietly, repeat it like a poem: “What's next?”