Sunday, December 30, 2012

Unselfishly Selfish


We have a problem in our culture. We seem to believe that doing what's best for ourselves is somehow selfish. Why should I get enough sleep, eat well, have some solitary quiet time, do something that makes me happy when I could be focusing entirely on putting that energy everywhere else? We have effectively bred a culture that feels it must always be on the go, expending every last bit of energy, but for what? To make more money? To have a bigger nicer house? To have a prestigious career? To make sure everyone else's expectations are met? To appear to have the perfect marriage and family?  To look like we're invincibly happy when we're utterly miserable? We're always busy and yet, somehow, still get nothing done.



I had a conversation with my good friend and trainer about her sister who found out she has stage 4 breast cancer who is doing unbelievably (some may even call it miraculously) well, and we discussed how something like that literally forces you to stop and really look at what's important. When boiled down, it doesn't matter how many hours you've worked, how many committees you're on, or how much "stuff" you're doing. Those things aren't going to sustain you when all else falls away. We all believe she is healing because she stopped and realized that she needed to spend more time taking care of herself- all of those seemingly "easy" things like resting, eating well, and exercising are imperative to improving not only our physical, but our mental health. Additionally, and arguably most importantly, she's spending more time with her family. When our lives seem as though they're falling apart, it's the people we love and who love us in return that matter most. I hope that the question I will ask myself at the end of my life will be, "Did I love to the best of my ability?" And even more, I hope that the answer is an unwavering confident, "Yes."

None of this really sounds selfish when you stop and actually think about it, but why then do we feel pangs of guilt  when we ignore the emails and phone calls from work when we're spending time with our families, or when we decide to take an hour at the gym and say, "I should be accomplishing (fill in the blank) task."? There will always be a million and one expectations and "shoulds" hanging over our heads, but if your rationalization begins with "I should..." stop and ask yourself why. Why should you? Why should you sacrifice your one and only life to the things that matter least? Because you want to and it will contribute to a richer more meaningful life that bring you and those you love joy? Or because the ominous -They- expect it of you? 


Over the years, I've learned that we need to learn to be unselfishly selfish. We need to learn to say 'no' to what isn't a positive contributor to our lives and accept only what brings out the best in us, and in turn, we inevitably will bring out the best in who and what surrounds us. 

It's becoming increasingly important that we learn to slow down, be less busy, and love every.single.precious.moment. We can have a glimpse into immortality when we are entirely present in the the here and now because every moment is of infinite worth. 





Friday, December 28, 2012

One Year Ago


One year ago, I started this blog with the intention of documenting my journey from quitting my job to moving halfway across the country. At the time, I thought I would only write here until I got to Colorado, but then I realized that the description of my blog "a blog about finding the strength to start all over again" is something I do nearly on a daily basis- not necessarily on the same scale as the massive uprooting I did last August, but each morning I wake up is, to some degree, a new beginning.

Every day I get to make decisions that will direct the course of my future. 

Every day, every moment, we have the ability to evaluate our lives, our actions, our selves, and assess whether it is something we can be proud of, or if we need to redirect. So often we get into the mentality that we've gotten too far into something to start over, but that's rarely ever true. My 66 year old father, after over 30 years in one career, is now exploring other paths.

So one year into reclaiming control and responsibility over my life, I can say that it has been incredibly lonely and challenging at some points, but the payoffs have only just begun. As we close out another year, I challenge us all to take a look at our lives and our selves and ask, "Am I proud of who I am and what I've done, or do I need to find the strength to start all over again?"

And if you're proud of where you are, find the strength you need to never stop learning and growing.

I said it before I left, and I say it now, I am finally proud of what I'm doing and where I'm going. 

When There's No Going Back


I've been home for 9 days now. It's a strange mix of feeling comforted by the familiar and sad that what I used to be so much a part of, I am now becoming an increasingly vague memory. I knew that would happen. Such is the nature of leaving- the spaces you once filled must necessarily be filled with something or someone else.

Some of them, anyway. There are a precious few spaces that I know will contain only me no matter how long I am gone from them. One of those spaces I am currently inhabiting, literally and figuratively, as I write this entry.

Family and home have always been elusive concepts for me; I've never really felt as though I belonged anywhere. My most comfortable place still possesses an element of disengagement because at the heart of it, I know it's not mine. This home welcomes me with open arms and hearts each time I come back, and here is where I take refuge from the rest of the world now that I don't have my own space, but when it's all said and done, I will depart and their lives will be unaffected that I'm gone; as it should be.

But I can't help but want something of my own- something that subconsciously brings a smile to my face because I know it's where I'm meant to be. That something could be a career, a place, a hobby, a passion... something that belongs with me and me with it.

A few days ago, I received an email in Korean text from my biological father. I plugged it into Google Translate (I know, I know- that does a horrible job, but it gives at least some inkling as to what he's said) and he apparently made some reference to when they gave me up. I've received a few like that before, but this time it felt different- it was frustrating and left me feeling as though a giant chunk of my identity is tied up in another country in a language I don't understand... because it is. It's strange to think that there are people out there who are intimately tied to me biologically, and I can't even have a small talk conversation with them. They wanted me to be sent to a country where I would stick out- where I would know I didn't belong so I would find them one day. Their plan worked- I did find them, and in turn, opened a whole different level of searching for meaning in family, home, and belonging.

Which brings me back to now. Part of me wonders if my search for somewhere to belong is the result of nearly 29 years of knowing I was sent to a place where I would perpetually stick out. In some ways, I'm lucky because without that sense of displacement, I don't know that I would have been driven to travel as much as I have or been as adamant about how important it is to live in a way that makes sense to me, even if everyone else thinks it's crazy.

People have asked me if I regret any of the choices I've made (like quitting my job), and for me, it seems like a pointless question because my choices were made and consequences are playing out. I can't go back and change what I did in the past, and frankly, I wouldn't want to. Of course I'm anxious sometimes because of all of the unknowns I invited into my life, but I also invited infinite opportunity. For example, I know that if I wouldn't have moved to Colorado, my search into my identity wouldn't have the depth it does now. I have no idea where that will lead, but I can only imagine a positive outcome.








Monday, December 17, 2012

(A Few) Things I Learned the Last 3 Months



After 3 incredibly long but fast-moving months, I'm going back to the place where the journey all began. I'm going back for a break, to rest, to sleep, to eat, to train, to enjoy being who and what I am without every.single.thing.I.say.and.do being weighed, analyzed, and judged. 

I'm going back to the place I hated for so long to find my safe place because many of my safe places are contained in human form; in the faces of my friends and family who are there waiting for my return. Sometimes, you have to leave a place to find what you love about it. 
  
That said, for those who are wondering, I have no plans to move back to PA anytime soon. I've realized how much I value and miss those whom I love, but I still have yet to find what I left seeking. Sounds pretty vague, huh? I know, and I can assure you, it's as frustrating for me as it may be for you. But in the words of Steve Jobs, "as with all matters of the heart, you'll know it when you find it." I don't know exactly what I'm looking for- I just know I had to leave to find it, whatever "it" is... a job, an adventure, a love, a new way of living.... the possibilities are endless. Maybe I'll find all of them. 

Another thing I have discovered is that my obsession with travel wasn't confined only to daydreams within my cube walls. My mind still wanders to far off places and dreams of meeting new people and learning how they live, work, eat, celebrate, mourn, and play. I imagine staring into vast blue oceans, exploring dirty dusty streets, climbing terrifyingly high mountains, and taking in views that would take my breath away while redefining how I perceive myself and my place in the world. 


For now, I have no big trips planned. My only focus is to go home to see my family. "Home" and "family" have also taken on new meanings as I hear the students' stories and re-analyze my own. Generic as it may sound, home has nothing to do with the location, and everything to do with the people.  Family isn't only about who gave birth to you, or necessarily even who raised you or who grew up with you- it's who holds your heart and you theirs. It's who loves you without pretense, without inhibition, and with everything they have. 

I'm going home to see my family.



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Escape from the Cube

Slight deviation from my regular posting...

Check out my photobucket story about my escape from the cube to the mountains!

From Windowless Cube to Wide Open Spaces

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sad for No Good Reason

My friends' friend died this morning from a heart attack. I was not close to this man, but so many of my friends were... and here I sit in the Colorado mountains wishing I could be with them while they grieve.

This month also marked the 4th year since a good friend from high school died. She got her license first and helped teach me how to drive when I was 16. She called me randomly throughout the years to tell me about everything that was happening in her life. The last time we talked she said, "I have so much to tell you."

The next time I received a call from her phone, it was the guy she was seeing telling me he found her face down in his couch. She had overdosed leaving behind her baby girl.

Sometimes, my sadness doesn't know how to reconcile with the loss. I don't know how to deal- how to be consistently ok. Sometimes I just want to fall apart and cry uncontrollably. I miss them all so much that I want to scream my own existence into the universe.

When my friends grieve, I remember what it feels like to feel as though the life has been kicked out of you... to feel as though you can't breathe even though you're sure you can. But maybe you can't...

Here I sit in the Colorado mountains, and I remember why I've been making the decisions I have for the last several months.

Life is unpredictable. And sometimes, it's unpredictably short.

I am living this way because my moments are numbered, and I don't know the count.

Here's to you- all of you who I miss so much.

Monday, November 12, 2012

2ish days and nights in the wilderness


Friday afternoon I set out with our 5 graduates and the wilderness fellow, in what was at one point 16 degree weather, to complete the last camping trip during their time at Eagle Rock. The freezing temperatures made me want to cry. I realized on this trip that I am not a camper. At least, not a winter camper. Surrounded by super outdoorsy people, for awhile I felt guilty about my lack of exuberance for all things camping, but then remembered it's ok to not love everything. Not only do I not love camping in the freezing cold, I flat out hate it. There. I said it.

This weekend was a challenge, not only because of  how the cold affects me physically, but because of what that kind of cold triggers in me psychologically and emotionally. There are ghosts that still haunt me in the cold darkness.

Now that that's out of the way, I must say, I do love spending time with my students. They made every bitter cold moment worth it through their corny jokes, intelligent insights and opinions, and especially when they grabbed my hand to help me when I was having trouble finding my footing. They kept me going- literally and figuratively. 

Making the trek up Bone Pipe.

Mimi helped me up the rocks.

I love these girls (Sandra, Yesenia, Mimi).

Yesenia bundling up.

Eliza, the wilderness fellow, making breakfast
and Jharid who waited for me when I was slow
hiking down. 

Looking off the top of Bone Pipe into the white out.

Taber relaxing on the rock.

In spite of being in a state of perpetual cold, I couldn't help but be amazed by the environment around me. Sublime beauty seems unreal. Mountain filled landscapes appear to be a painting. A night sky gorged with brilliant stars seems like a backdrop, that is, until you gaze so intensely into the infinite space that you can no longer doubt the depth of its profound existence- and in some small way, begin to recognize your own. Under the cloak of bright moonlight, I began to understand the insignificant significance of my place in this world. Ghosts and all.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You


I would have never believed it a few years ago. Even as I write this, there is still some element of disbelief as I wonder, "Has all of my heartache finally amounted to something useful?"

For the first time in my life, even some of the most obscure lessons I learned without thinking about it (like learning little bits of Arabic during a tumultuous relationship years ago), have found a niche in this tiny community in which I now reside. My loss, my pain, and my fear are all receiving closure in finding a purpose. 

I spent many years bitter, frustrated, depressed, and angry because I had no idea why it seemed that I had been handed the royal flush of shitty cards. I watched as other people my age and years younger started families, successful businesses, and changed the world at dizzying speeds while I struggled just to get out of bed some days. I often felt useless and completely defeated. How could I or my life ever amount to anything when from the time I was born, it seemed that my existence was a mistake?

 But here in this time and place, it somehow all makes sense. 

That's not to say that I've arrived, or that I don't have days when I wonder what the bloody fucking purpose of it all is, but after nearly 3 decades, I can say with genuine sincerity that I'm grateful that I was broken so many times because without that, I wouldn't have learned to be strong. 

I can't even begin to speculate what the rest of this year holds in store, but I can say that in only 2 months, these people have already changed my life in ways I will likely not fully understand until hindsight opens my eyes years down the road.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

You Never Know What the Tide May Bring


Two months into the Fellowship year. My days feel like 4-in-1, but also feel as though they fly by at the same time.

Overall, I've been really happy and pleasantly surprised by the experiences I've had so far. That said, there are times when I'm frustrated with how tiny Estes Park can become when I need a little space. Sometimes, I just need someone to talk to or some place to go that has no connection to where I live and work.

Sitting in one of my few local escapes, a coffee shop (of course) in which I've already spent countless hours, I actually met someone who isn't a tourist, can't be mistaken as a part of the retirement community, travels a ton, and has a lot of interesting hobbies and stories. It was a short conversation, but that was all I really needed to help bring me out of the weird head space I've been in the last several days. It was a good reminder that just when you're least expecting it, the unexpected can happen.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Goal-Setting


I ask my students to set goals. I help them form measurable, realistic, and timely goals for themselves.

One would think it would be easy to set some for myself; however, upon being asked to give 2 for the year, I came up blank... and have continued to do so for the last week. Why is the simplistic sounding question, "What do you want to learn and/or accomplish this year?" as difficult for me to answer as "What do you want?"

Initially, I thought perhaps it was because I hadn't figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up, but then I eventually came to the conclusion it's partially because I've invested so much of my time focusing on helping others, I've forgotten to give myself a little attention. The other, possibly bigger, part of the story is that a lot of my life has been spent just trying to get through the day I'm in; I'm not used to stepping back and thinking in terms of the long(ish) distance future.

But here I am at 28 years old learning that maybe, just maybe, my life will extend beyond the day, week, month, and even year I'm in. It's time to learn it's ok to dream and plan for the future- even if those dreams and plans change a billion times as my life progresses.

Goals are important. They give milestones to reach for, and a framework for future endeavors. They make the abstract more tangible, and assist in propelling momentum towards accomplishment of even bigger goals.

So in these quiet hours, I'm asking myself, "What do you want to learn and accomplish this year?"

  1. I will continue writing in a way that is productive, integrative, and introspective (possibly even published outside of my own blog)- at least 4 journal/blog entries a month until the fellowship year ends.
  2. I will learn to communicate more effectively through daily interactions with staff and students, weekly check-ins with my supervisors, and weekly meetings with  my housemates. 

Nothing particularly profound, but baby steps towards answering the broader more difficult question of, "What do you want?"

For now, I don't quite have an answer to that question, but perhaps I will by the end of the year.

To be continued...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Balancing Act

not a bad place to do my work and decompress

Today is my day off.

Sort of.

When you live where you work, "days off" are a hazy line.

I love what I do, but I'm finding my brain still seems to need a break from it all- several hours to not have to troubleshoot, problem solve, mediate, wrangle schedules, maintain a calm composure, try to pretend I know what I'm doing, and do my best to make sure every.single.thing.I.do.and.say is setting a positive example.

So what do I do to actually give myself time off on a not-so-day-off?

I take my laptop to a beautiful spot that has wifi access, work for awhile, and then do something that restores me. Like what I'm doing right now- writing. Sometimes I escape to a nearby city to hang out with friends, or I hide away from everyone for awhile to check in with myself, decompress, and let my mind wander freely to whatever draws its attention.

I'm just over a month into my new 'job', and I'm learning what it means to balance work and play, being accessible and taking time for myself, when to intervene and when to let situations play out, and being content in the moment and realizing there may be some future moments that require prior planning.

I still have times when I'm incredibly nervous about the end of the year as I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, but I'm also learning to 'trust the process' as the staff so often said during our first 2 weeks of orientation. For now, I need to focus my energy and attention on where I am, and plan for the end of the year when the end of the year approaches.

I'm learning to balance planning out my life and then letting go.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fourteen Years Later

"To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures who people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you..."

In about 12 hours, 14 years ago will have passed.

Fourteen years.

In 12 hours, my mother will have been gone more years than she was with me.

It's a hard concept to process- and one that's not easily (or at all) understood by many others. In spite of all of the silver linings I've found, the strength I've gained, and insights I've accumulated... there's an echoing loneliness every year at this time. And now, it's amplified by being so far from familiar people and places.

Don't get me wrong, I've never been as happy with my life and what I'm doing as I am now. It's just that I still have these fragile moments of bittersweet melancholy that remind me of the vulnerable bits of my heart.

I guess I don't really have a positive twist, inspirational line, or any sort of wisdom to this entry. In the midst of my beautiful surroundings, amazing internship, and incredible people- I miss my mother because she's not here to listen to my stories.

But as I've reminded myself on so many other occasions: "How lucky am I to have something to miss so much?"


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Language Barriers



The students have been here for over a week now. Things that I would have thought would bother me just amuse me- their antics, their attitudes, their varying degrees of defiance and testiness.

I love it. I love their personalities, their quirks, their stories... though, sometimes their stories break my heart. They are a group of survivors- resilient fighters trying to figure out how to live in this world.

And sometimes, they're also just goofy bratty teenagers.

While discussing my daily schedule with my supervisor, I realized that I don't actually know when I'm working and when I'm not because what I'm "supposed" to be doing is stuff I want to be doing. I had a moment of utter disbelief... "Wait... What? Seriously? That's what my days are supposed to look like?" I mean, obviously there are going to be days where I retract everything I just said; however, after the purgatory that was my last job, even the hard days here will likely pale in comparison because here there's meaning. There are people involved- people who tell stories and speak in a language all too familiar to me. They speak in honest tones of avoidance and detachment that give away the depth behind the facade, and at the same time also speak with open sincerity and willingness to let you into their space. I was surprised by how quickly their affections surfaced with us. They hug, tease, test, challenge and inspire.

I feel lucky to be here in this beautiful place where I will be challenged to grow in ways I would have never imagined a year ago.

The intensity of the schedule and environment leaves me little space to process some of the tender areas of my life... so here I am, putting it out there into the safe anonymity of the internet.

About 6 weeks ago I decided to reconnect with the adoption agency my parents went through in efforts to find a translator to make communication with my biological father easier. One would think that after over 8 years of trying to communicate between English and Korean, I'd have learned that this process is never easy. This is a language I don't understand, and honestly, I'm not sure that I want to learn it for a multitude of reasons. There's a surreal element to my life- this whole other family, culture, and identity that almost was, but wasn't, but somehow still is. Pieces of myself are contained in this family literally a world away- and I don't even know how to speak to them. It's frustrating.

Years ago when I first initiated contact, the agency sent me a letter that my father had written 3 days after I was born. It sat in the archives for over 20 years. I learned that my parents intentionally wanted me to be sent to some place where I would stick out- where it would be clear that I did not belong so that I would look for them one day. And they succeeded. My entire life, I have not once felt as though I belonged anywhere, so I've traveled, wandered, and searched for the transient meanings of "family" and "home."

Here in the mountains, I'm exploring what those things mean. I'm exploring the concepts of identity and belonging with and through the students. I'm exploring parts of myself that I had to hide away because I wasn't strong enough to deal with them before.

Before I left Pennsylvania, a few people felt it necessary to remind me that I couldn't run from myself. I was never trying to run away from myself; I am giving myself the chance to know myself in a way I wouldn't have been able to without letting go of my comfortable routines- without facing my fear.

This year will be hard in a lot of ways, but as I'm finding, not in the ways I anticipated. Instead of learning to build walls and defenses, I will need to learn how to let them down while maintaining healthy boundaries.

There is much growing to do, and I'm looking forward to learning the language of it all.

As far as my biological family is concerned, I suspect that, like the rest of my life, the results will be something I would have never predicted.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What's Love Got to Do With It

In spite of being through various broken uncertain hells, the forefront of conversations are... 

Can you guess?

Relationships. The current loves of their lives. 

It's amazing that no matter how old people are, what they've been through, where they're from, what country or culture they belong to- relationships are so often front and center of what matters. 

Even if it's in the context of attempting to avoid them because it's "safer"... 

Why is it that someone can be abused, raped, neglected, and/or abandoned, and somehow, what still seems to matter most is a deep meaningful connection to another human being? 

It makes me rethink our society's tendency to champion complete and utter independence. Sometimes I wonder if that's just a facade to cover the insecurity and fear that prevents so many meaningful connections from occurring. Maybe what we need isn't sheer independence, but an acknowledgement that we are social creatures and there is no surviving, let alone thriving, without each other. 

I do it too. I try to pretend I don't need anyone or anything... but at the end of the day, all I really want is for someone to understand the language of it all- the sacred unspoken nuances of existing.

One of the most poignant messages I remember hearing in passing was "love changes everything." The more I thought about it, the more I realized how profound such a simple sentence was... Love does change everything- the way you see yourself, others, and life itself. It gives depth and purpose to existing- it changes how you live.

It only makes sense that people who have been through hell- lost their homes, cultures, identities, friends, families, loves, dignity, maybe even parts of themselves- would want another person to be there, to stand by them when the world is too much to bear because love makes the unbearable bearable. 






Monday, September 17, 2012

Living Space, Work, and Elk

Into week 2, and I finally have some semblance of what I'll be doing here.

With my super useful bartending, waitressing, barista-ing experience, English degree, and 4 years in logistics, I will now be counseling teenagers.

WHAT?

Yeah. I thought about that today while I was discussing the next few weeks as the students arrive with my supervisor.

But in spite of my seeming lack of experience, I've never felt more grateful for my sometimes idiotic decisions, massive dysfunction, and complete and utter heartbreak and loss. My lack of academic experience is, thankfully, overcome by (some) life experience.

That said, I have no delusions that I'm at all fully prepared for what I will encounter this year. I know this year is going to be incredibly challenging (and I will likely want to cry at some points).

I'm learning to adjust to living with 11 other people fairly well. Unexpectedly, I don't mind the constant bustle. It likely helps that there's more space than I was initially anticipating in spite of the small campus.

Another thing I have a love/hate relationship with is the wildlife- it's mostly love, but the unexpected herds of elk sauntering across the street in the middle of the night has caused a few intensely startled moments.

The students began arriving today, so there will likely be much more to write in the coming days...

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Company You Keep (guest blog!)

Sooo... I submitted a guest post to The Creatives, and it was accepted! 

Check out my post The Company You Keep, and join in on the conversation!


Monday, September 3, 2012

Into the New Beginning


Day 3 of CORE training.

Day 3 of adjusting to living with 11 other people.

It's an eclectic, and so far, compatible mix of personalities (yes, I realize it's been 3 days, but I have hope/faith this is a good group). It's fascinating to hear about each person's path- how they've each come to the same location with a similar goal from incredibly different backgrounds.

Honestly, I'm a little overwhelmed. The students don't arrive for another 2ish weeks, so the Fellows are on task to learn the basics of the school and get to know each other. It is- like any other gigantic long-term very social commitment, daunting. I have all of the typical questions and fears: will these people like me? Will I like them? How will these relationships and personalities change over the course of the year? Will we be able to maintain our focus and not become the next reality TV show? Will I succeed with reaching the students in a positive productive way? Did I make a mistake? Will I be able to handle this year?

The list could really go on and on.

This year is going to force me to face myself in ways I've never had to do so before. I can already feel my insecurities attempting to creep in on suspecting prey.

I have to remember to simply do my best, take responsibility for the consequences of my actions, then let it go.

I can't believe I live here, in these spectacular mountains in a place some only dream of... The drive in from Boulder was incredible and I couldn't help but smile and laugh to myself. A year ago I would never have expected I had it in me to begin the journey, to quit my job, leave the place I've spent over 2 decades of my life, drive 30 hours away, live in a house of 12, and really give myself the opportunity to find out what it is that makes life worth living.

I am sitting in one of the living rooms of our house with 4 others... the windows are open, a cool breeze is flowing through, and we're all reading and writing with occasional bursts of conversation. After living alone for so many years, I actually enjoy being surrounded by people. Sure, there are moments when I pull back to find some solitude, but overall- I like having other like-minded people around me, living with me. It's another source of inspiration.

I'm here. I'm really here, and I'm really doing this. So amazing.

That's all for now- another meeting coming up in a few moments.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Today


I left home 2 weeks ago today. I am in my last stopping place until I head to Estes Park for my year-long fellowship. I'm in disbelief at how fast everything has happened. It's remarkable how the days fly by when you're not dreading them.

By the time I leave here, I will have spent 5- FIVE- nights in once place. That is the longest I will have been anywhere in nearly a month. While that doesn't sound significant, after having spent 6 years in one place, it's quite a transition to become so... well... transient. (And I'll let you in on a little secret- I kinda like it.)

Last night as I was attempting to sleep, I caught myself becoming anxious about what I would do when the year is over, but then reminded myself that a billion and one unpredictable things could (and will) happen in this next year. There is not only no need for me to try to plan my life out all at once, it's also impossible to do so.


I have loved these 2 months away from work, from responsibilities, from expectations, from all of the "shoulds" I lived under for years. I broke free and am reveling in the moment. For a time, I would assert the disclaimer that I knew this would not last forever and that I could end up regretting this move. It was an effort to displace any potential remarks that could (and did) come about the impending end of the year with no income. But I finally saw how unproductive that was. The only moment we have is the one we currently inhabit, and the last 2 months of my moments have been spectacular. Truly. The one I'm sitting in now as I type this is also pretty fantastic. I have no idea what's around the bend, but that's ok. Even if hell is about to fall, it shouldn't steal the joy I have in this quiet peaceful moment. The next moments can bring what they may, and I will live in them when they arrive. 

For today, for now, for this moment, I am done with trying to figure it all out. I'm going to allow myself to be completely absorbed by the beauty of the day, time with friends, and knowing that everything is all right. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Peace at Midnight


Even in my most triumphant moments, there exists a bittersweet remembrance of my mother and my sweet friend who are no longer here to celebrate these times with me. It used to taint everything with sadness, but as the years have passed and I have grown, I've found it to be an inspiration. These people who poured their hearts and souls into me invested their lives to help make me who I am. Even in their absence, they've propelled me forward through a lasting legacy of unfailing, unflinching, unabashed love. How could I feel sad when I am so lucky to have been that loved? 

As anyone who has lost a part of their heart could tell you, you will miss it, always. But you can either wallow in sorrow forever and let the rest of yourself die while your physical body walks around, or you can live a life you, and those you miss, will be proud of. 

So here at 12:56 AM (mountain time!), I remember those who are no longer physically present with a grateful peace instead of a heart-wrenching sorrow. 

It's been said that 'time heals all wounds', but that's a load of shit. It's not time that heals. It's you.

 
                                       Mom when she was young.                                        A life changing friend. 
                                                                                             


Friday, August 24, 2012

The Adventure Thus Far

My packed up car

This trip has been a roller coaster of emotions. For the last several months I've been preparing for a far off distant thing that was only an idea. And then, the day arrived. The morning of August 17, 2012 actually showed up, and shoved me out the door of my friends' house, where I had been living the previous 2 months, reminding me that I had to go because I said I would. I do my best to do what I say I will do. This time it was really hard. I was terrified. I cried for the first 2 hours of my drive and wondered what the fuck I had been thinking.

I'm sitting in my plush hotel in Omaha, Nebraska basking in my last night alone for awhile. I have a king-sized bed, glass of wine, journal, a book I stole from a new friend I stayed with in Chicago (who also happens to be one of the people I'll be working with in the upcoming year), and a few hours to reflect on the last 7 days. Holy shit. Only SEVEN days??? Those seven days have felt like months. In a good way. 

My trip started with a 2 night visit to my long lost cousin in the Pittsburgh area. We hadn't seen each other, or even really talked much since we graduated from high school in 2002. An entire decade had escaped us somehow. We discovered how much we had to catch up on, how much we had in common, and how much we really needed that time with each other. It was sad that so much time had gone by and we had no idea that we held such large parts of each other's hearts, but on the other hand, the timing of it was impeccable. It was, in spite of how it may seem, not at all late, but rather just in time. We talked, drank wine, and made cupcakes. It was as though that decade apart had never happened. Those two nights were exactly the transition I needed to be able to continue to the next part of the adventure. Tearless.

Lemonberry cupcakes and wine

The next part of my journey took me to Chicago, Illinois where I was able to hang out with friends I had met in Kenya in July. (cue: 'It's a small world after all') Here, I marveled at having met them on another continent while running to catch janky run-down matatus,  attempting to avoid being pick-pocketed in chaotic dirty Nairobi, and lounging on the beach after preparing fresh fish for dinner, and was now hanging out in bustling Chicago catching a metro to the Willis tower, eating 'Chicago dogs', and lounging by a rooftop pool. I stayed with one of them the first night, but they were both heading out of town for work, which left me wondering what to do with myself for the next few nights. 

On the deck in Willis Tower

As luck would have it, one of the other Fellows I'll be working with in Estes Park had mentioned in one of our correspondence emails that he would be driving out from Chicago. Prior to leaving Pennsylvania, I sent an email and asked if he wanted to meet up at some point, and if he knew of any cheap places to stay as my friends wouldn't be around. He offered his place as an option, and though I fully realized that could be a horribly dicey situation in that we could meet, hate each other, and then realize we would have to inhabit the same house for an entire year, I accepted anyway (which turned out to be a funny story because he had the exact same thoughts). Thankfully, we hit it off and I stayed for 3 days/nights- which was awesome because instead of hanging out in Omaha for 72 hours alone, we woke up and had conversation over coffee, met one of the other Fellows passing through for lunch, laid around a park talking and drinking beer, made dinner and watched one of my favorite movies, went to Green City Farmer's Market for breakfast the next morning, hung out in a coffee shop for hours to read and write, then finished the visit on the morning I was leaving (which was today, though today feels like several days), with coffee and conversation

My new friend and fellow Fellow is a giant

And this all brings me back to the present where I now happen to be in Omaha, Nebraska, but only for one night. This is the perfect amount of time to spend doing exactly what I'm doing. I got an awesome 90 minute workout in, had my only proper meal of the day (my favorite peanut butter puff snack, Cheeky Monkey, was breakfast and lunch), wandered back to my room with my second glass of wine, and am compiling my thoughts before heading off to shower, read, and get a solid night's sleep. 

When I began this trip, I felt more scared and sad because I had no idea what was coming. I just knew what I was leaving. As the days have progressed, my fear and sadness have been transforming into excitement and joy. I've had the opportunity to reconnect with people I already knew I loved, in addition to meeting new inspiring people that deeply resonate with me and my life- people that are showing me just how much I had been missing out on by being afraid to take the leap I had known I needed to take for years. But again, like the time with my cousin, though it seems as though I'm "late", I'm actually right on time. 


Tomorrow morning I will get a quick cardio session in, pack up my things, and make the final 8 hour jaunt to Colorado where a whole new part of the adventure will begin in Denver. I will, for the first time, get to meet my dear friends' baby girl, and spend a few nights catching up with them. Then, I will head to Boulder to spend a week with a friend I met last November who has, in spite of not knowing me that long, been one of my biggest supporters. She provided more calming comfort than she will probably ever really know. And last, but by no stretch least, I will go to Estes Park on September 1st to begin my new role. 

Here's to old memories, and new beginnings. Cheers~


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Importance of Coffee and Conversation


What do Ireland, Italy, Belize, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Kenya, uprooting your life, and traveling across the U.S. all have in common?

Coffee.

As I've been making my transitions from Pennsylvania to Colorado, I realized the one thing I've always had access to in some form or another no matter where I've traveled is coffee. It's never been an addiction. I don't "ABSOULTELY-HAVE-TO-HAVE-A-CUP-BEFORE-I-CAN-FUNCTION." I don't always have it when I'm at home, but home has become a rapidly moving target, and the ritual of coffee at some point in the day gives me a constant. Regardless of what has changed around me, that one thing is something I've always been able to find. Additionally, that cup of coffee very often comes with company and a good conversation. Each conversation I've had has been its own little constant- the same sage in different bodies giving tiny precious reminders of why I decided to set off on this journey.

In spite of my efforts to be as present and "in-the-moment" as possible, I can't help but feel as though my life is a movie or a dream. A cup of coffee is like the spinning top, the totem, in the movie Inception. It's a signal to me that I'm awake in spite of my seemingly dream-like storyline. It hasn't quite sunk in that I'm one of those people I always wished I could be...

But here I am, sitting in Heritage coffee shop in Chicago, Illinois with a new friend and soon-to-be colleague, working on our computers and sharing stories about our lives and upcoming adventure. It is these moments that help shift the bittersweet transition from bitter to sweet.

I would have never realized how these simple routine daily activities can be, and unwittingly are, some of the most important parts of our lives if I wouldn't have walked away from nearly every comfortable routine I've ever had. Creating simple portable routines and rituals when our lives are in flux helps to give us grounding so we can take off in other areas.

And so, for my ritual, I have a hot cup of coffee and a quality conversation nearly every day no matter where I am.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trust Yourself (also: Nothing to Fear)

I'm leaving in 4 days.

It really hit me as I was making plans today, then realized, I've run out of "oh, we can do that next weeks". There are no more next weeks. It is this week. In these next few days I need to finish lining up my ducklings and say my goodbyes.

It is 11:41pm and I am desperately tired, but insanely antsy. I feel like a caged animal waiting...

I vacillate between complete and utter excitement and gut-wrenching terror.

I wake up every morning feeling like I'm going to vomit.

There, I said it. Those are (some of) the reasons I haven't written in awhile. I've never felt so scattered and so exhilarated before in my entire life, and I'm not really sure of how to communicate myself. Nor do I always feel like doing so. The closer to the 17th I get, the more I feel the urge to pull inward.

That all said, I feel an underlying sense of peace. In spite of my twisting stomach, I somehow know this is the best thing I can do for myself right now. That decision I made in November of 2011 is entirely changing the course of my life. I'm doing what I was always too afraid to do- leave the safety of my illusion of security to find out what I'm really capable of doing. I'm setting off knowing that I have no choice but to trust myself. I have to trust my instincts, trust my heart, trust my abilities- trust that I will be able to take care of myself no matter what I encounter.
"Why are you scared?" a few of my friends will occasionally ask... At the end of the day, nothing of substance. I'm scared of the unknown. I'm scared because I have virtually no idea how anything is going to pan out from this moment on. I let go of the cushy predictable job, my cozy apartment, my comfortable routines, and have thus  opened myself to a whole new world of possibilities. 

But therein lies the beauty of it. I don't know- I'm open and ready for anything because there are no expectations. I am living based on what I want to do instead of what others think I should be doing. For the first time in a long time, I can say that I am proud of my life. I can own every failure and triumph because I'm no longer allowing someone else tell me how I should live. 


Is this process comfortable? No. Absolutely not. Is it indescribably fulfilling? Completely.

When it's all said and done- there really is nothing to fear. Any fears I may have are tied to issues of predictable security, and as I've seen over and over again, it doesn't matter what you have or what you do- you can lose what you have in an instant. Your amazing job, your impressive home and car, all of your neat geeky gadgets can be wiped away- even the people you love the most. So really, life boils down to the choices you make and who you are when everything falls away.

I've always wanted to be able to say I'm proud of my life- that I'm excited about what could happen.

Now, I finally am.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Home is the Love You Carry With You

12 days.

Holy shit.

I'm leaving in 12 days. Less than two weeks.

This realization began to finally settle in as I re-read the cards given to me at my farewell party last night. Looking at pictures of my 2 year old niece and 4 year old nephew that my sister had put in my card caused me to reflect on the last few years- I remembered part of why I stayed so long was wanting to stay long enough for them to be able to remember who I am.

They remember me now. They ask when I'm coming to visit. They are little people with likes and dislikes, thoughts, ideas... I had a brief teary-eyed moment as I realized my monthly visits to Philly to see them will be reduced to once or twice a year.

Then I thought of the last two months, of the people- my friends and family- I've been able to really spend quality time with, and I felt really really sad. Sad because these people who have loved me, in spite of my quirks and neurotic (sometimes obsessive) tendencies, will be much further than a quick car ride away. Dinners, lunches, trips to the beach, hikes, and happy hours will all boil down to long distance Skype, emails, and phone calls.

But then I remembered that it is also because of them and their love that I am able to take off. They have loved me through some of the most difficult parts of my life, and helped me to heal. I can leave with my heart whole and intact with the knowledge that they will be with me wherever I am. 

I am unspeakably grateful for these people- these talented, passionate, intelligent, strong, loyal, loving people- who, for whatever reason, have made room in their lives for me. They are my family and my home.

As the days wind down, and I prepare to pack up my car to venture westward, I am shifting my focus from leaving what I love to remembering that what I love is the reason I am able to go. For much of my life I've had a pervading sense of lacking a home, but now more than ever, I've been learning that home  isn't necessarily a specific place or person. Sometimes, home is the love you carry with you.



"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, 
while loving someone deeply gives you courage."
-Lao Tzu

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wish You Were Here


Today marks the 9th year since one of my dearest friends passed... I remember the day I received the call telling me he was gone. My first reaction was denial, "You're kidding, right. He's standing there- that's not funny, it's not fucking funny" that rapidly shifted into knowing it was real.  It was as though the life had been kicked out of me; I couldn't breathe. In a numb haze I somehow found myself flying back to PA from Hawaii. Everything that happened after was a whirlwind of foggy, yet painfully and explicitly clear, memory. Part of me was still in denial up until the viewing. From that moment on, I felt as though I had been left to wander the face of the earth alone.

He was the first one to see through the darkness that encompassed me at the time. He was never afraid of my life, and sat with me through some of my most desperate and helplessly lost moments. Inexplicably, he would frequently make contact in some way when I was in the midst of one of my meltdowns, even when we were 6000 miles apart he was somehow still present with me. I always thought the idea of soul mates was a crock of shit... until I met him.

My last adventure to Kenya reminded me that, in spite of how much I miss him, I am incredibly grateful for the lessons I've learned through his complete love and acceptance while he was here, and for teaching me how to live through his death. He is why I've learned that the people and relationships in my life are what matter the most. At the end of it all, I will want to know that those I loved knew just how much I loved them- that I endeavored my utmost to be the best version of myself for not just my benefit, but for theirs. He is why I am teaching myself to make decisions out of love and not fear- to live boldly, openly, passionately, and honestly.

Though, that all said, there's always an underlying bittersweet melancholy I have in every place I go because I know they are experiences he would have loved.




It has taken me years to find the so-called silver lining of such a devastating blow, but I finally resolved that the best way for me to honor those I've lost is to LIVE. My part of the story must go on. 

"There's no second I've lived that you can't call your own." 
-House of Leaves

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Out of 'The Heart of Darkness'

It already feels like a dream. Ten days on a different continent meeting new people, seeing new things, and learning new bits about life and myself... here I am sitting on my bed in my temporary home doing my best to relive each experience, to remember, to carve each moment into reminiscent stone. 

Arriving at the airport completely unsure of myself and surroundings, I quickly found my friend and we took a taxi to where he lives. Guess what? He doesn't live in a mud hut. He lives in a beautiful well-lit house shared with 3 other wonderful people. Exhausted after over 20 hours of travel, I went to sleep fairly early. Over the course of the week I walked the chaotic (sometimes unnerving) dusty crowded streets in Nairobi, camped under a majestic tree in Naivasha, biked through Hell's Gate while watching zebra, antelope, warthogs, baboons, and other wild animals sprint across the land, rode in sardine packed janky matatus (minibuses), swam and lounged on the beach in Diani, feasted on fresh fish prepared by new found friends, and gazed into an endless spectacular star-filled night sky while listening to jazz and drinking whisky with unforgettable people. 

the tree we camped under

in hell's gate


diani beach upon early morning arrival

In so many instances I found myself wishing the moment would never end. Among all of the incredible things to remember, the one that stands out the most was the absolutely sublime night sky. Like an addict, I felt obsessively compelled to partake in its depth whenever I thought of it and it was available for the viewing. I felt so indescribably full of contentment, peace, and joy I wished I could take off and be a part of the endlessness of the brilliantly lit darkness. 


There was virtually not a single other place I would have rather been. I experienced eternity in those precious moments- complete and utter presence in the one and only moment that mattered- the one I was in. 

"If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present." 
-Wittgenstein

I know a lot of people wouldn't have chosen Africa as a place to visit, but I'm finding the majority of the places I want to go aren't on most people's list of desirable places to visit. I want to see as much as I can in the time I have- I don't just want a comfortable novelty; I want the down and dirty of just how different life can be. 

On the flip side of the beautiful paradise like experiences, there was the dirty, chaotic, unnerving, and heartbreaking- every reason why I was warned not to go. I had to be mindful to not drink any water save what I saw properly filtered, boiled, or came in a well sealed bottle. I squatted to pee in holes in the dirt, thankful there were at least walls around it. Walking through the streets would frequently evoke racist slurs yelled at me- much like here, many seemed to think I was Chinese- and it was not well received. I did my best to brush it off and joke that it was like being at home (which, to some degree, it was), but it's off setting to be violently misjudged based on something on which I have zero control. Nairobi at night was scary and I would never walk the swarming streets alone. My friend's bag was skillfully stolen from right beside him at dinner- thankfully it was nothing expensive or irreplaceable, though I was reminded to be grateful for my friend's reminder to hold onto my things before I left. I saw structures that our homeless here wouldn't touch, inhabited by families- small children outside playing with random pieces of plastic in the dirt. Everywhere people were aggressively trying to sell things, to cheat and trick, to make the most money they possibly could to make a living. 

Before arriving at our beach house, we stopped at the police station to report the stolen bag. While sitting in the taxi waiting for our friends, we saw a man wander out of the station crying with blood pouring from a huge gash in his head- our driver explained that 4 men had beaten him. I watched helplessly as he climbed into the police vehicle and was taken to the hospital. 

 I could completely see and understand why so many people would never make the trip to this place that could be so hard, but I never once regretted my decision. The thing I think we tend to forget is that we have our own set of chaotic, unnerving, and heartbreaking situations and circumstances here too, though we are often unaware of how frequently they occur. For whatever reason, it seems to be all many focus on, not just in Kenya, but the entire continent of Africa. Am I saying our situation is the same here as it is there? No. By nature, by location, by resource, by so many variables we are different and we are lucky. But, by that same token, what so many see as a pit of hopeless destitute disease-ridden poverty and corruption is not all there is to the story.

I really barely even got a taste of Kenya in the short time I was there. From the little I saw, I can say there is so much more there than the average U.S. citizen is typically aware of- beyond the hardship, homelessness, AIDS, carnivorous animals, and mud huts there is growing opportunity, people working for a better life and world, friendship, hospitality, innovation, talent- in what has been labeled the heart of darkness, there is light. 

Remember when judging other people, a country, an entire continent that what you know is, likely, not all there is to the story. Novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, reminds us in her speech, 'The danger of a single story', "Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to disposes and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of the people but stories can also repair that broken dignity... When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise."

Kenya opened a new world to me- it, like every other place, contains its own versions of heaven and hell. In everything you do, in every person and place you hear about, find the other stories. It will transform how you think of them. It will also transform how you think of yourself. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Adventure Awaits


The result of another one of my random impulse decisions is coming to fruition today... 

I'm heading to Kenya. Seriously? I kind of can't even believe it myself.

But tomorrow (July 12, 2012 at 830pm EST), after 20+ hours of travel, I will be landing on an entirely different continent in a place completely and utterly unlike any other place I've ever been. 

I.am.so.excited.

And a little nervous, but I suppose that goes with the territory of (yet again) having no idea what I just got myself into.

On that note, I know several people have voiced their concern over my destination choice... Africa- "The Heart of Darkness"- all people talk about is how people die there. I am going to find out how people live (in the midst of my touristy activities). Yes, I realize it is a different culture- there are things going on there that (thankfully) don't generally happen in the U.S. It's also highly unlikely that I'll be greeted by a lion when I walk out of my home here. But here's the thing, much of what people are concerned about (being shot, kidnapped, raped) happens here too- with alarming frequency, might I add. Additionally, let's not forget that we've had a strange flux of humans attempting to eat other humans. We have our own malfunctions here too. I imagine I will have more to say about this upon my return next week. 

That said, yes, of course I will employ caution, awareness, and general common sense. I will do my best to make smart decisions, but I will not let fear make my decisions. I know I talk about death a lot, but I hope I communicate not the morbidity of it, but that it's a big motivator in why I do what I do. Not only because the length of my own life is unknown, but because I want to honor the love invested in me by those I have lost because through their love, lives, and deaths, I am learning how to live.

This adventure is for my friend who I lost 9 years ago this month.

I love you always.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Freedom


A note on freedom. (Disclaimer: for all of my very political friends, this is not at all addressing political/economic freedoms, so the door is closed for debate there because I am not presenting one.)

This kind of freedom is simply what I am experiencing at this.very.moment. It is 11:36 on a Monday when I would normally be working. But, I'm not. I'm sitting in my cozy little gently sunlit bedroom preparing to dive into the rest of my day. I'm not working at the job I hated! I left. I chose to leave and pursue a different path. Part of that path happens to involve 2 months of doing (more or less) whatever I want whenever I want. All of my fears and anxieties are currently at bay; held by the elation of seeing my future so wide open and ready to be shaped by me. I am back in control of the direction of my destiny.

It feels so amazing.

Yes, I am very well aware that life could throw any number of twists into my plot, but that's ok. I'm prepared for the fact that situations will arise for which I am unprepared. I'm ok with with it. I know I'll figure it out when the time comes.

For now, I can barely begin to describe what it feels like to have taken the giant risk of leaving my stable comforts behind for the opportunity to take full control of my life- to find and do what gives my life meaning and joy. Too many times we succumb to the belief that our lives are not our own- that we have to do what everyone else tells us to. It's easy to do. I did it. I believed everything I heard because it sounded completely rational, but here's the thing- it's not. It's not rational or logical if it makes you miserable. It doesn't make sense to spend YOUR life doing what everyone but you thinks you should be doing.

Be bold. Take a risk. Own your life and do what brings out the best in you. There is a freedom residing in the responsibility of taking the reins to your life that can not be matched by anything else.