Wild Child West: I Am Gonna Do This

I told myself I would do what any rational human being does. I told myself I would look for a sign. And suddenly, they were everywhere.

So I made a checklist.

  1. Save money
  2. Learn to drive
  3. Develop faith in the universe

That was how it started: I wrote out to-do lists, checklists, journal entries, sample itineraries. I wrote it down over and over and over again until it felt real. I made a plan before I knew what I was really planning.

It isn’t about the destination so much as the journey, kind of like all those cheap magnets you can buy at old-school country stores and probably the local Dollar Tree in your neighborhood. I’m driving across the country to Los Angeles but it isn’t about LA anymore, not like it used to be. It’s just about exploring and finding something new and wonderful, and recognizing how full of new and wonderful things the world is. It isn’t about where I’m going so much as the getting there, and how I think getting lost in all there is in the middle might be how I get to the feeling good at the end. It’s about starting a new chapter without knowing how it ends, and sitting back just to enjoy the ride. It’s about adventure. It’s about freedom. It’s about the open road and learning to feel at home anywhere and challenging myself to finally live out the things I’ve imagined for myself, even if I didn’t always think they were possible.

It isn’t that DC isn’t enough or is too much or isn’t right or is wrong. This city has been a glorious home to me for seven years. I learned how to roll joints here, how to talk shit, which cocktails I liked to buy at the bar, what wild and raucous looked like, how to get away with it, how to be reckless, when to jaywalk across city streets, how to be gay, how to fall apart into a million pieces and come back together again.

But now I’m leaving. And I know why I have to leave: Because I got a dream job and then years later I dreamt my office was a prison. Because I got mugged outside Libby’s house two years ago and stopped being able to go out at night alone, and a friend from college got stabbed to death on the train, and I saw a man get shot on H Street, and the woman behind my house kept yelling in the alleyway, and the city I stayed in because it felt like a safe choice got taken away from me. Because I’m afraid of so many things but most of all I’m afraid of never doing the stuff I’d dreamt of doing all my life, or never being as big as I feel in the world, or rotting in my own boredom until the end of days.

Because a few years ago, my girlfriend Geneva told me that living your ideal life is the only way to live your ideal life. And I realized as soon as she said it that she was right.

For a while, I kept the idea of moving in the back of my mind the way other people hang postcards in their cubicles to remind them of where they used to be. And then it started happening, just like Danielle LaPorte told me it would in The Desire Map. I saw so many signs it was almost impossible to ignore them. My life in DC just stopped feeling the same. Other people, some close to my heart and others just figments of my former life, began picking up and creating new lives for themselves. Nobody else seemed to be where I was at, in a way where I realized that where I was at wasn’t working anymore. I was still waiting for the rest of my life to unfold, as if doing all the right things was going to lead to all the things that it didn’t make sense for me to want. It was broken. And I felt broken. I felt more disgruntled and grumpy and restless.

I began saving my money, almost compulsively. I got my license. I made a playlist called “i am gonna do this” and listened to it every day. I started putting stuff in boxes to be donated or put in the trash and I read books like Wild and The Big Tiny and I went outside every single day as the seasons changed for the last year in Washington, DC ready to absorb every last ray of sunshine, drop of rain, and snowflake the nation’s capital had left for me.

This city raised me. I will love it and all of the people I fell for inside of it for the rest of my life. But at some point, I got complacent. I got bored. I got restless. And I started saying goodbye.

First, I felt guilty.

Guilty for leaving my friends and family behind. Guilty for leaving my job and career path behind. Guilty for making a decision that would inconvenience my roommates and my coworkers and the people who needed me to not be running around learning how to drive and looking for housing. Guilty for admitting, out loud, that I was going to do something selfish and stupid just because I could. Eventually I stared guilt down and said “fuck you” to it, really loud, really defiantly. Sometimes I still listen for the echo.

And then I grappled with the idea of it, the idea that someone like me — someone who grew up with a single mom in the ‘burbs and promised her she’d make all the right choices — could get away with it.

Could I?

You will figure it out became my mantra, something I repeated to myself over and over again to remind myself that I had done all of this before. I had moved to a new city and carved out a social space for myself within its masses of weirdos and stuffed shirts. I had learned how to feed myself and go to the grocery store and the pharmacy alone. I had navigated murky waters and learned to ask for help.

You will figure it out. It’s okay to fuck up. You can turn around. You can always go home again. I said these things to myself until I felt better. Until I felt ready. Until I felt brave. I reminded myself that even if it doesn’t work out I’m gonna learn something. I reassured myself that even if it just turns out to be an extended stay in a new place it’ll be a damn good road trip.

I am doing this because a few years ago I wrote in my diary that I was glad I changed, that I was glad I was someone else, that I was glad I couldn’t remember who I was a few years before. I am doing this because I want to change again. I am doing this because I’m finally ready to admit that.

I am trying to learn how to trust myself. How to declaratively say “yes” or “no.” How to make decisions that feel good, faster. How to figure out whether my brain and my heart are telling me to go forward or turn back. How to get in touch with what I want and feel secure pursuing it.

And I am trying to let go of control. Of my control-freak impulses, at least. I am trying to learn how to find the road less travelled, how to buck the rules, how to make it on my own terms. I am looking to get lost and then found, looking for adventure to spark me back to life, looking for something new to help me see the world a little more clearly.

I am doing this because I have decided, against all odds, that I can. That I know how to get there. That I am still wild. That I still have it. That I can hustle. That I deserve to be free. That sometimes what you need is to rip yourself out of everything safe and certain and reliable and start from there.

This week I will pack up my (brand new!) car, and I will probably cry, a lot, and I will put some stuff in the mail, and I will take a million photos, and I will drive across the country. I am going from DC to Los Angeles with a few candles and a record player to my name.

I’m doing the whole thing with Geneva, my partner-in-crime and co-adventurer, in tow, because she loves me and she taught me to get free. I’m buckling my permapup Eli into his car seat for the ride, because he loves me and he’s my entire world. I’m making hotel reservations and having a lot of really stupid and totally wonderful visions of the future and picking up lots of road trip snacks.

I am gonna do this. I am gonna do this. I am gonna do this.

And I am gonna write it all down.

Wild Child West is a mini-series about this thing I’m doing with my life wherein I quit my job so I could pursue my dreams and fulfill my intentions as written in my copy of The Desire Map in Los Angeles. Alongside road trip diaries and all of my feelings here on Autostraddle, I’m also posting live from the road using the hashtag #WildChildWest on Instagram and Twitter, so.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. Well hopefully you get here safely. There are a lot of nook & crannies here that even as a person who’s lived here for 29-ish odd years is still discovering. Also, those rolling skill may come in handy when cave exploring(there is a Jim Morris cave that is gre3at place for a getting to know you picnic), which there many I still need to explore. Same goes for many, and I mean midnight taco stands.

    If you don’t mind me asking what section of LA will you be in?

  2. Really looking forward to reading more about your journey, Carmen! This sounds exciting and awesome and I wish you luck! Thanks for sharing with us. <3

  3. Journey on! Sounds like this is a very big adventure and a very necessary one. Us California girls will set up a welcome party at the border, wishing you safe travels in the meantime!

  4. This was so good; I seriously want to read it every day!

    Maybe it resonated with me because I’m coming out of the long dark tunnel of finishing grad school after 8 years (HEAD EXPLODES) and I feel like after that, I could eat nails and spit out bullets; like there’s nothing I can’t do after surviving that hostile environment. But how you described being open and growing after a challenging experience; that’s such a great spirit to have. I aspire to take this philosophy to heart.

    Excited for this mini-series and your adventures! Thanks for sharing with us and have an amazing time!

  5. I actually feel the same way about DC and I’m ready to say good bye for now. Don’t be surprised if you have a couple stowaways

  6. Wow this felt way too real. I think I’m where you were when this idea was just a tiny seed in your brain. You put perfectly into words how I feel when you said you are ready to change. I also feel ready to change but I’m afraid of so much that that entails. Your journey is already giving me the strength I need to eventually follow my ideal life. Thank you @carmenrios!

  7. Excited you will really be here in LA!!!! CANT WAIT. IF you have an apartment warming I will bring you whiskey. Haha.

    Theres so much stuff to explore here in LA. A lot of shit even I dont know about. Haha! Safe travels!!! Hi Eli!

  8. this is awesome, how exciting!! i’m looking forward to reading these, i’m doing the same thing early next yr- except driving from the west coast of australia to the east coast and i feel like this will help me brave enough to do it hahaha

  9. Some of my closest friends have started to pack up all around me, and that has also left me with a resounding, “if I’m unhappy here, which is okay to admit, why don’t I leave too?” Because I don’t think I always allow myself the same encouragement that I give to others. Thanks for writing this. Also, I know a great place in LA to get an amazing latte right before seeing a great (and cheap!) comedy show, a kind of combo that will wipe almost any worry away, for a little bit. Mb I’ll see u out there sometime.

  10. This is so beautifully written and I’m so excited to read more. Thank you for this, and good luck with everything!!

  11. This is so wonderfully and beautifully written! I’m super jealous because I’m waiting to finish my undergrad before I move myself across the country. I’ll be looking forward watching your story unfold :)

  12. THANK YOU!!!! Seven years is important. I left the Midwest 7 years ago and now I’m back a much stronger me, someone I think my 18 year old self would be happy to know. I just made a drive east with a person who loves me and a dog. We got lost a lot and we changed the itinerary a lot. I have landed a few hours from my family, but I have no friends here yet, no place I’m supposed to be to be, learning the new culture. 5 hours from where I grew up, but aside from the language thing, it feels a lot like moving to Turkey. I went to the local library, and got their events calendar, and put a big red star next to the cool things, including the 55+ walk meet ups on Friday at 10 (I’m 25). I am learning a lot of stuff, and reading this helped me know that. Last night I felt like I didn’t know where my elbows and knees were, and that was scary, but also familiar: I’ve felt that before. And learning where my knees and elbows are all by myself is just what I need to do.

  13. Carmen! This resonates so much right now. I admire you so much. I can’t wait to hear how your journey goes and, wherever you end up, I’m sure you’re going to find wonderful things you weren’t even looking for.

    The thought from Geneva about living your ideal life is what is making me spend the morning looking up martial arts classes, because I always wanted to do that and…. “I am gonna do this”!


  14. Carmen! This is so beautiful and inspiring! It’s bringing up a lot of feelings, so here’s some rambling about them:

    I don’t want to move! (Though a cross-country road trip is appealing as a vacation.) I love my life in Boston and the community I’ve built here. But this is an expensive place to live and I’m un(der)-employed and needing to decide how desperate I am re: taking a temp job that’s pretty much the last kind of work I want to be doing. (And would require putting my night owl brain/body through hell to work an 830-5 schedule.) So I need to figure out how to balance my long term and short term goals and my health and all that. And if I pass on this particular job, I need to actually take action towards applying for the jobs I actually want, instead of being paralyzed/overwhelmed.

    And there’s a bunch of other stuff on my “I want to” list that I think I imagine will just happen someday…but really if I want my apartment/life to be less cluttered, I’m going to have to do some cleaning and decision-making to get it that way. And that’s worth time and energy whenever I can spare it, and should probs rank above law & order reruns! :)

    I just finished reading the “theory” section of the Desire Map and had a hard time turning off the cynic in my head. (Really, you didn’t care about profit and followed your heart and “of course” you made more money? Really?!) But I want/need to actually do the workbook part and force myself to articulate what I want and think about how to go about making that my reality. I’m hopeful that the benefits of that process will outweigh my frustration with the rest of the book!

    That’s enough of a personal ramble from me. Carmen, I’m really excited to read more about this adventure you’re on, and the new life you’ll build out in LA! Say hi to the Midwest for me! :)

  15. Yay! I was so happy at the end when you mentioned Geneva was going with you. Perfect. This is going to be epic. I can’t wait to read how this unfolds for you. <3

  16. U go grrl … straddle – versians await. Can’t wait to hear of all your straddle – adventuring. Remember to brush & floss regularly.

  17. I love this series I love you I’m proud of you you’re doing great love the dream don’t forget me when you make it big

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