I’m fascinated with how people got to the places they are, whether they’re there temporarily or have chosen to settle there. Maybe it’s part of the geogeek in me — settlement and migration patterns, I guess.

This whole year has been wracked with at times crippling nostalgia. And it’s not like I’m looking back over that long of a lifetime, either. If there’s anything I can’t stand it’s all these famous people my age (thirtysomething) who write memoirs. Memoirs. What in the hell do we have to reflect on at this stage in life?

So why in the world I’m doing all these retrospectives on myself is beyond me. This recent phase hit hard around the time of my birthday in September. I guess that makes it a little bit natural. I’ve gone over the foothill at 30 and now I’m lumbering through the Piedmont of life approaching the summit of Mount St. Forty.

My path to being a thirtysomething in Houston has been pretty circuitous. Each stop — I think — has been driven by opportunities I’ve taken, or chances at the right times in the right places. Other times it has been the forces of making a living in an industry that has no idea of what its future will be that has drop kicked me to the next place. Decisions have consequences. Those decisions haven’t always ended up being the right ones but I’d like to think that even if they didn’t serve me professionally that I’ve at least formed some relationships that are helpful to have in life. Or, they at least planted seeds for some kind of personal growth I’ve yet to realize.

Part of jumping at those opportunities as soon as they arise comes from this fear I’ve long had of not missing out on something enriching. I hate later on having to ask myself, “What if …?” I’m learning that I also hate asking myself, “Did I leave too soon?” Then the dense, mind-cluttering fog of pros and cons rolls in and lingers. You find yourself looking around and checking yourself: Now, why is it that I’m right here, again? Then, you’re reassessing: What am I getting out of it? And pondering: What’s next?

I guess that’s why I’m strip-mining the lessons of where I’ve been and wondering what would be different.

For instance, how would Los Angeles have shaped me if I’d pushed harder to attend my first-choice school? What if I’d interviewed for that job right out of college with a newspaper in suburban Seattle? What if I’d studied hard and taken the foreign service exam like I dreamed I would?

All I have is empirical data from different points along the way. Future uncertainty aside, there are lessons we draw from the character of the places we live and the people we meet that are immediately clear.

What I’ve learned:

My hometown: Change your scenery when you can if you’re stuck in the same place for a while. Once you leave, don’t be so highfalutin that you can’t come back now and then.

Baton Rouge: Carry yourself with some decorum at all times, of course, but it’s OK to get rowdy once in a while — especially when you head down the highway. The cool thing is no one even has to know you went.

Rural Texas coast: Life a short drive from the beach ain’t too bad. But when wild hogs block your driveway and make you late for work, you realize farm livin’ ain’t exactly the life for me.

Amarillo: The Lord saw fit to put some meat on my bones. Though I’m stocky, I ain’t built for that kind of cold. Nor am I built for that much dust.

Beaumont: No matter how long you hang around, you’ll always be an outsider. No sense tryin’ to fit in where you aren’t wanted or prove yourself to people who can’t see the good in one another, anyway. (Kind of harsh, I know.)

Corpus Christi: Work hard, but leave enough time to play just as hard. Especially when there’s so much blue-green clear water around you.

Birmingham: It can take a while to outlive them, but past wrongs don’t determine who I am or what I can be.

Houston: You can be a stranger even when you return home. More people are more equal than others than I originally thought. Self-preservation is cool.

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