Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Leap

Note: This post was started nearly four months ago shortly after I moved to Boston for a new job and to start a new life with my boyfriend. I'm just now finally getting around to posting it so I can get on with this writing business on a regular basis...

Although this past Wednesday marked just two weeks since I arrived in Boston, it feels more like I've been here a month...

I do mean that in the best possible way.

So much has happened since I arrived - and even before, leading up to my move - its quite a blur. When my family and I returned to Atlanta from our 18 hour road trip returning from my grandfather's memorial service in San Antonio, I literally turned around, jumped into my own car, and hit the road. I managed to squeeze in a few hours with my mi amor, get some laundry done, and rest my eyes in between, but there wasn't even 24 hours to separate the family adventure from the beginning of my own.

Luckily, I had a short drive the first night, as Robert's aunt and uncle were kind enough to put me up in their Charlotte home for one night, thus cutting my drive down by a few hours the next day. These were the same lovely family members who had given both Robert and I quarters as we prepared to fly to Boston for my original interview just a couple of weeks before. In hindsight, I'm very happy I accepted this sweet offer instead of trying to superhero my way through the whole drive in one shot... day two was hard enough as it was.

After staying up much too late talking the ears off of Robert's family in a coffee + five hour energy induced hyperness, I snuck out of Charlotte around 5 am, managing to avoid any city traffic. Unfortunately, I had really given no thought to what cities I would have to drive through on the way to Boston, and hadn't realized that in my north bound journey I would be lucky enough to see practically every major east coast city... and about half of them at peak traffic hours.

Yes - I even drove through the Bronx at rush hour.

This timing issue plus the insane amount of traffic and a couple of turnaround put my predicted 11-12 hour trip time at somewhere around 15 hours. Doesn't sound pleasant, I know, but there was one major result of that drive that I will be forever grateful for. In that 15 hours I discovered  Pandora radio's comedy station and, despite having already gone about 3 gigs over my data usage, enjoyed the likes of Jim Gaffian, Dane Cook and CK Lewis for about straight hours. There is nothing like laughing in your car alone while other drivers pass you wondering what the hell is going on.

Side note - This is also when I discovered my deep disdain for Daniel Tosh and his crappy, classless, uncreative humor. He is offensive. He is obnoxious. I cannot believe that asshole has his own show. I even heard recently that he doesn't actually write his own material - but that he spews that garbage and calls it comedy is an offense to others in his profession.


I arrived in Waltham, a neighborhood of Boston, to the open arms of my incredible friend Emma's parents (those who have read my previous posts may remember that Emma herself kindly put me up during my cross country road trip in February - so unbelievably kind). It's clear where Emma gets her sweetness, generosity and beautiful smile. She is her parents daughter. The graciously opened their home to me for the two/three weeks prior to Robert's arrival, asking nothing of me, save that I feed their cuddly cats. And while the quite large, beautiful felines Teddy and Irving may be quite a pair of needy animals, it was an above and beyond generous arrangement. I am honest when I say one of my greatest pleasures in these last two weeks has been getting to know Emma's family.

I arrived in Waltham around 10 or 11, got into bed and woke up at 6 anxious and excited for my first day of work. Though like a grade schooler on their first day of kindergarten I had picked out an outfit, planned my route to work and where to park, and had expected to have about thirty extra minutes before I was meant to arrive, I of course somehow took to long getting ready, left later than expected, got lost on the way to Cambridge, couldn't find the right parking lot and instead had to settle for the $20 a day parking deck - plus, to put a cherry on top of an already stressful morning, I managed to maim a brand new Honda Civic as I was parking.

Yes - that's right - in a hurry I tried to squeeze my Subaru into a spot that was way too narrow scraping away silver paint and putting a nice little nick in the rear panel of some stranger's car. I barely had time to frantically scrawl a somewhat legible note that read, "I'm so sorry I'll pay for it all *my phone number* I get off work at 5:30" then practically jogged to my building nearly hyperventilating. My sweet wonderful boyfriend calmed me down on the phone, reassuring me that there was a reason car insurance existed and that I wouldn't be late. He was right as I managed to arrive five minutes early and my new supervisor was ten minutes late coming to meet me in the lobby. (FYI, that's the perfect amount of time to chew a piece of gum for good breath, wash your face off and check a mirror to be sure you aren't profusely sweating nervousness all over your carefully picked first day of work outfit).

The first days of working involved a whole lot of training and information intake. I'm not sure I have ever nodded more in my life. Not only was I meeting new people practically every hour for training in a different area of my job, but the office was abuzz with the excitement of wrapping up one of our busiest seasons with a historic goal just within reach. The biggest thing was that, from the moment I stepped in the building, I truly loved every moment and bit of it. The location, the people, the enthusiasm, the work itself. A few people stood out to me as people I  should watch and learn from. I saw potential new friends and future career moves. I could already tell, as I learned the different departments and the different aspects of my day to day, that this is a job I am going to love coming to each day.

I'm sure, now that training is over and I get to start the real deal learning through experience I will have some more interesting stories to share... For now, however, I'm preparing for yet another major trip. I'm using my non accrued vacation days and the incredible gift of a ticket Robert bought me to travel to Hawaii so I can be a part of the marriage of two of the people I hold most dear.

No big deal :)

It's been a surreal couple of months. Heck, it's been a surreal year so far. I'm tired, but I'm grateful. I'm scared, but I'm proud I've taken this leap. Now, let's see where I land...

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Scene of a Rosary

Tonight, as I sat at my grandfather's rosary, I couldn't help but feel I was outside of my own body, watching bits of a film from someone else's life. In fact, since loading into the car Thursday morning with my five siblings, ranging in age from 7 to 32, my stepmother, and my father, then driving 18 hours in one day to San Antonio, spending the morning in one home playing and laughing, and spending the evening in another, praying and crying, I realize the majority of this trip feels like something out of a movie...

Here is the scene:

The widow, an elderly woman of 88 years, is seated in a rocking chair by the fireplace. The fireplace is unimportant and, without a doubt, unnecessary, as it is the middle of August and the temperature reached over 100 degrees this day. She is peaceful, quiet, watching as people move about the room. This is my grandmother, in all her beauty and wisdom, experiencing a goodbye to the man she has loved since she was 16.

When her son-in-law and one of her thirteen grandchildren approach with two of her youngest great grandchildren, she comes alive, cooing and purring at them in Spanish. When my father, sister and brother sit by her, her hands move about, animatedly telling stories and asking questions. When I come over to kiss her, I can smell her perfume, which always reminds me of holy water and the church we attended during the summers we stayed in San Antonio. I can feel one of her hands softly rest on my shoulder, the other squeezing my fingers. Despite kissing my Grandma's cheeks, I am reminded of Grandpa instantly. Where is he for my kiss? Where is his hand on mine?

The house has filled with strangers. Strangers to me. I've met many of them once or twice, but couldn't tell you their names. If they recognize me, its because they remember Grandpa Joe's twin grand daughters, even if they met me when I was still only four feet tall.

I wish I were still only four feet tall.

If I were still a child, I could innocently hide away in the playroom, watching movies and sleeping until this foreign experience was over. I want more than anything to honor my grandfather's memory, to hear stories about his incredible life, to share in my family's joy in him and grief in his passing. But the rosary is not something I have ever experienced. I'm worried about the ceremony of it. I am worried about the emotion behind it. My tears have come and gone randomly since I heard the news of Grandpa's passing early Sunday, but I know that seeing my family cry will undoubtedly bring all of those tears and feelings to the surface again.

One of my aunts gathers all of the guests in the living room. It must have been Titi Gloria, it is her home after all, but I honestly can't say. I'm anxious and distracted. I didn't bring the rosary my grandmother gave me years ago, nor the one my best friend Chris gave me. I didn't know I needed to. Should  I ask for one from Grandma? But she is seated, so comfortable in her rocking chair by the fireplace, her friends and family surrounding her as they catch up.

Now I feel like I am still four years old, unable to go to Grandma and ask her for a rosary, afraid of being scolded or embarrassed in front of all these strange faces. If Grandpa were here, I would ask him. I decide to take a seat on the stairs with a young girl I do not know, my little sister Shoshana, my twin sister Jessica, and Emma Grace, one of my younger second cousins. I am immediately at ease when I notice from across the room that one of my older cousins and her husband also do not have rosaries, though they may be excused by the presence of their baby and a rosary around his tiny neck.

I cannot see my aunt's faces during the rosary. Nor can I see my father's. I can see my grandmother's though. I realize her expression, whether she is happy or sad, or even in prayer, never seems to change. I wonder if my own perception of her face has been so deeply engrained in my mind, that I can only see now always what I picture when I am not near her.

The rosary continues. I picture Grandpa in my mind. The image is him, sitting across from me in the den of Titi Gloria's home, more serious than he has ever been in my entire life, although Titi Gloria and he himself have assured me that he is 89 going on 13. It's February, and I've stopped in San Antonio on a break from my cross country road trip. Grandpa is telling me about the day he met Grandma, and about how he came to study engineering, and about his friends that are long gone. He doesn't know it, but I've begun recording him telling stories on my phone. I record him saying "90 years old" to himself, as if I am not even there, as if he can't believe it.

The day he passed away, I listened to all of my recordings of Grandpa from that short visit. It was the last time I saw him in person. It was the last time I kissed his cheeks and felt his hands holding mine. I wanted to see him again before his birthday, but I let money and work and other things get in the way. But my own last moments with Grandpa, I have them saved.

I am brought back to the rosary by my little sister's head on my shoulder. She is fighting exhaustion, having woken up early after spending all day in the car, with no nap and a day playing with her young cousins and at the pool. She is fighting tears too. She is a sensitive and intelligent girl, and at almost 10 years old, Grandpa's passing is not something that is over her head. I laid down with her and my stepmom Tamara after my Daddy told her the news, unable to hold back my own tears as she sobbed. Tamara and I held her, kissed her, tried to comfort her. "I wish he was immortal. I wish he didn't have to die." She cried to us.

I wish he was immortal. I wish he didn't have to die.

During the rosary Sho is sweet and calm. She holds my hands. When the group begins singing,there is all at once both a feeling of lightness in the room, yet also an overwhelming sense that the damn may break at any moment. I can't see many of my family's faces, but I have the idea that they are struggling to fight back tears, if not already letting them flow. Maybe its in my head, but the singing seems to channel everything everyone is feeling, making it stronger.

Sho figures out where Daddy is in the room and moves to his side. I see her curl on the floor next to him, and Tamara moves to them both. My brother is close, meditating or praying, I am not sure which. I am alone on the stairs as the rosary ends.

The man leading it tell us that he has heard there are two deaths. The first is when your body gives up. The second is when the last person who remembers you dies. He tells us, I think Grandpa Joe will live a long time.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"P" is for Preparedness... and Providence.

Mi amor and myself enjoying the sun in Providence...

 "Fortune favors the prepared mind." Louis Pasteur

It is absolutely incredible how once a concept or idea enters your brain, you can become fixated on it, so that as life happens around you, you’re able to find a million connections to that exact concept that you normally wouldn’t notice. It’s the same way that reading your horoscope always feels as if it perfectly applies to your current circumstances. Or just like when you start watching a new television show or hear a new song and suddenly everyone and their mother is talking about it.

I’ve recently been thinking a great deal on the plans we make for ourselves and how, in reality, planning is just about the biggest waste of time. Of course, since I began contemplating the (f)utility of planning, my life has become a roller coaster of events with plans quickly being made and, almost as quickly, flying out the window.

Planning. .. ridiculous.

Sure, one should plan to go to college, or plan to spend a certain amount of money next month, or plan a vacation to visit the family. But no matter how much you plan, who knows what the next month, week, or day might bring - shredding all your plans and tossing them in the garbage like another crappy credit card offer.

Yes, if the last six months – hell, the last six days - has taught me anything, it has taught me that planning is for the birds. 

Preparedness, on the other hand, seems to be the life skill to cultivate in oneself.

Certainly, planning is a key part of preparedness. One can plan for the best and plan for the worst, thus being equally prepared for either outcome or a happy medium. But there seem to be times when no matter how much imagination one has, planning for the worst case and best case and in-between scenarios just cannot help you when the events take a turn for such an extreme of the unexpected that there is nothing left to do but simply shrug your shoulders, sit back and watch the scenery fly by. I guess the other big part of preparedness is the ability to roll with the punches, finding the best in every situation, and readjust without much discomfort (whatever the word is for that).

I’m beginning to think that I may just come out of this year as an expert in the art of preparedness.
In the last few weeks I’ve been attempting to plan the next few months with less information than I need, an optimistic attitude, and realistic expectations of the worst case, best case and in-between scenarios. 

Knowing my wonderful boyfriend was in negotiations for an almost as wonderful as he job in the exciting city of Providence, RI, I decided I better get on top of the job hunt if I was planning on joining him in his North Eastern adventure, as he so hoped I would.

I had already decided months earlier that while South Korea, a potential destination for myself this fall, would have been an excellent opportunity for my seven months ago single self, it was now out of the question. I know all too well that an experience like that would turn into a half-life if I attempted to maintain a serious relationship overseas, and I’d rather travel and work abroad with a wonderful friend and love by my side than all by my lonesome.

So I began searching in the Providence and Boston area for full time jobs that would take me out of the restaurant industry and back into the field of education that I so sadly left in Washington.

Lo and behold, I was able to quickly find a dream first(ish) job in Boston, only an hour commute by train from Providence, working for a non-profit, study abroad focused division of a privately owned, international education company. Jackpot! I luckily had a recently refined resume and cover letter to send the company and within the same day had a phone interview scheduled. 

My first and second interview came and went quickly and I found myself giving tentative notice at the restaurant I’ve been spending 40+ hours a week at. I pondered briefly whether or not I may be jumping the gun, however, my love’s negotiations had, by that time, turned into a full-fledged offer and acceptance, and as a northbound move was in my near future, job or no, giving my current employers a heads up couldn’t hurt. This thought process could have been justification and self-comfort for hasty decision making, or maybe that attitude of “I’ve already got the job” which I’m told helps you actually land the job, but whatever it was, it was as much planning and preparedness as I could accomplish with so little to go on.

My love and I quickly scheduled a four day trip to the Providence area, with one day dedicated to my final interview in Cambridge and exploration of Boston, and found ourselves, in the midst of packing and storing all of our belongings, dramatic family events, financial stress and work overload, jetting up to the city we will soon be calling home.

I would be lying if I said this was a carefree adventure in which my love and I were able to wander aimlessly through parks and beautiful cityscapes enjoying the sun and blue skies…

We were on a mission.

There was indeed sun and blue skies, which made the mission more pleasant, but there were also countless U turns, a constant stream of coffee supplied by Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, mini naps in our car rental on the side of the road, hours of debate about the value of purchasing a house versus purchasing a condo versus renting, hundreds of new street names and neighborhoods cataloged in our brains as desirable or non-desirable, very little eating, lots of rushing to different meetings, creeping on properties for sale that we couldn’t get inside of… the list goes on and on…

I am so happy that I am experiencing all of this at Robert’s side.

As much stress as there was leading up to the interview, looking at houses, and everything else that this trip entailed, my love kept me smiling and laughing as best as he could considering the exhaustion and moodiness that overtakes me when kept in a car all day, not fed regularly, talking about decisions and not making any, and/or kept from sleeping. I tried my best in turn to do the same, although he certainly bested me.

Robert was particularly heroic in helping me figure out how the heck to print copies of my resume in the correct format from the hotel apple computer just hours before we were meant to head into Cambridge. I was completely useless, as my patience and intelligence had been eaten up by interview preparation, nerves and fantasies of not getting the job and having to commute to Boston to continue working 14 hour shifts at the sister restaurant of that which I am currently employed. He, my sexy nerd hunk, was of course able to figure it out and send me on my merry way with three perfect copies of my resume (which I didn’t end up needing).

The interview, three hours long, went spectacularly. I was more concerned about getting distracted by the pretty view of Cambridge and fun décor of the office than whether or not I would be able to answer the questions correctly. There were a few points I stumbled on, but overall I must have impressed everyone, because they offered me the job in person by the end of the interview. The terms are perfect, the job is perfect, the location is perfect, and I’m perfect for it all. There is no way around it.

So now, I Boston/Cambridge bound in less than two weeks, to begin working a brand new job, in a brand new place, in which I can count the people I know on one hand.

There is definitely no way I could have planned this, but boy am I happy that everything seems to be falling into place.

I did have a bit of a freak out moment (one could say a freak out day… or two) when everything set in. Immediately I began trying to plan every minute of the next two weeks, money, transportation, time with people I needed to see, what it would be like when I got up there… it was all a bit overwhelming, stressful, and took the fun and excitement out of getting the job and the move.

Just long enough for me to remember all this thinking about planning and preparedness I’ve been doing.

Because as I frantically searched for affordable temporary housing, a friend’s home opened to me. And as I worried about working too much or too little and money, my work graciously allowed me an open schedule to pick up and take off when I wanted and needed. As I began feeling saddened about leaving friends and family I wanted more time with, I found them all reaching out to me, helping me, and making time to see me before I leave.

Once again, the plans (or attempt) weren’t even necessary… all I seem to need is a bit of preparedness for the good, the bad, and the somewhere in between.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.

It's a cliche, overused quote, but it's also a lesson I seem to relearn about once (sometimes twice) a year... you can plan all you want, but the truth is, anything past this very moment is almost entirely out of your control.

I may have realized at the start of 2013 that my year was headed in a very new and exciting direction, but, as usual, the wheels of my brain got to turning and I began trying to plan out how the next twelve months would go. Good friends of mine know this activity commonly takes place in my head. Life throws me a curve ball or two (both good and bad), and I try to Type A my way around it and make it all fit into a super scheme that somehow takes care of all my professional and personal needs. Of course, the last 6-7 months have taken me down a few more topsy turvy roads than even I am used to...

I've spent a lot of the last month thinking about where I am at right now, in the present moment. Whatever happened that I wasn't expecting, and whatever happens next, I realize that when I look at who I am and what I am doing right now, I am filled with a sense of humility. This is two fold when I look at the lives of those around me.

Now, my mi amor tells me I suffer from two simultaneous afflictions when I get into self-reflection mode. First, I tend to compare myself a bit too much with others when the only person I should compare myself to is, well, myself. Life isn't a race, and even with a twin sister, I am my own person and can only measure myself against my own goals, accomplishments and attitude.

Secondly, and this is most certainly true, I tend to judge my past actions with knowledge I have only gained in the present. For example, I should've spent a lot more time in January and February writing more pages on my thesis, particularly since the issues with my work and my health caused me to postpone much writing in March, April and May. But how could I have known ahead of time that my contract would end and that I would suffer such a great deal of physical stress during those months in order to make that decision? Nevertheless, I find myself feeling guilty and struggling with a sense of regret and failure.

I am told this is a common occurrence during the thesis process. Oh, what joy is mine.

While my mi amor may be right about these two pressures on my personal reflections, I am also operating with knowledge that he doesn't have. I know the level at which I can push myself. I think back to days when I was in class for 8 hours a day, completing 6 hours of homework each night and working full time while still maintaining some semblance of a life. I remember waking up at 5:00 a.m. every day to go to my teaching internship, followed by work until 6 or 7 and night classes, climbing and prep for the next day. While I certainly don't wish for that level of intensity and that few hours of sleep again, I wonder where my drive to accomplish that much in one day has gone.

I have spent a couple of months battling this kind of thought process. Trying to crank out more than a few hours of thesis work a day, trying to work at midnight or 1 a.m. after a 9 hour shift at the restaurant, trying to wake up at 6 every day and get the ball rolling. It's a lot of trying and struggling and not too much doing (as always, I hear Sifu in my head, "Stop trying, just do it!")

And then, finally, I had a realization.

I am happy.

Sure, I wish I was further a long on my thesis, or that I had finished it by August, or even better, May. Sure, I wish I had already started a full time job that wasn't at a restaurant and that I didn't have crazy hours serving high maintenance guests. Sure, I wish I was climbing more and sleeping less and saving money and had made all the trips I was hoping to have made this summer.

Maybe if I was only sleeping five hours a day and so intensely focused on writing and I didn't have long walks with my Dad or long dinners with my boyfriend, all of the above would have been possible, just like completing my graduate coursework and completing my teaching internship while simultaneously working full time were. But while I loved the work I was doing then, the truth is, that was the only thing that made me happy at the time. My relationship was a mess, I never saw my friends (and when I did I was falling asleep at bar tables and yawning my way through conversations), I missed my family terribly, and physically suffered both extreme weight loss and depression.

When I think of it that way, I know that there is no way I would ever trade a completed thesis and a full time job for the happiness I feel right now, the time I've had with my family and Robert, and even with new friends. There is certainly room for improvement, and I am ready to knock this thesis out and get started on the next big thing, but beating myself up about it won't get me anywhere.

Things happen more slowly now. Maybe I am moving more slowly, maybe I am planning less. I know I am certainly enjoying more. And as I look at where the next couple of months may (or may not) be taking me, I find myself completely okay with watching the plans unfold this time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Not the usual dust of daily life.

"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." Pablo Picasso

"Clean hands might make clean prints, but it seems to me it's the dirty hands that make the magic." Bridget Mailley

I realize, after reading through my most recent, late night post, then perusing the random writing I have done before with this blog, that I tend to cater to my heavy, long-winded, introspective, self-analyzing tendencies a bit too much with this space.

I swear to anyone who reads this and doesn't know me in real life - I laugh, obnoxiously, uncontrollably and often at the wrong times - and I do so quite frequently.

You know, just in case you thought I might be some sort of mole, holed up in her room, musing about life without actually going out and experiencing it... those are just my weekdays.

Just kidding... sort of.

As I mentioned last week, I need to write more. I love writing. Writing makes me happy. My friend and I were discussing the other day how, when one is surrounded by creative people constantly but does not have an outlet for creativity of their own, one suffers. A blog, or I should say, for me, my blog is just that - the easiest way to create something that makes me feel good. A personal pat on my own back that I can share with my friends, family and anyone else who stumbles upon it. Nothing significant to anyone but me, just a way to quench that need to create.

This desire to do more creating has been fueled lately by said exposure to creative people - mostly due in entirety to one creative type in particular - my sister, Jessica Caldas.

Here we can observe Jessica Caldas in her natural state - dirty, carving and injured.

You can google my sister. Unlike me, what you'll find is not just a jumble of random high school cross country results or newspaper articles. When you Google my sister, or explore her hashtag (#JessicaCaldas for those less social media literate) on Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram, you'll find images of her incredible prints, reviews of her solo and joint shows, articles and interviews galore, and all the information you could want about her many residencies, fellowships and art grants.

She is, literally, kind of a big deal.

(By the way, just because a ton of those hashtags were posted by me doesn't make them any less significant...)

An announcement for Jessica's opening at Beep Beep.

One of my biggest motivations for moving home happened to be Jessica's incredible ambition and motivation in increasing her already rapidly growing presence in the Atlanta art scene.

Here was my twin sister, just having received her undergraduate degree from UGA in 2010, beginning her first major residency, participating in first one group show, then another, then submitting to juried whatever-you-call-its, then kicking serious art butt with her first major solo exhibit just ONE YEAR after graduating, showing up in magazines and newspapers, getting invited to participate in crazy, cool artsy things, printing buildings and bridges and other stationary objects all over the city of Atlanta, receiving ANOTHER major residency, plus a whole ton of other things that filled up something like five pages of a resume...

And where was I?

So far away, so busy with school and work, and so broke that I can't be there for any of it... not one single moment since her senior exit show.

That shit just does not fly.

So I made it back to the ATL just in time to accomplish one of my major goals in moving home - to be there.

I got to be there for the opening of Jessica's second solo exhibit at Beep Beep Gallery. I, along with everyone else who attended, got to be blown away - not through the internet and second hand accounts - but in person, by the incredibly intricate, emotional and skilled work she showed. I got to be the one who took one look at the meager plate of cookies provided and perform the sisterly duty of jetting off to Trader Joe's and purchasing the most random assortment of meats, cheeses and fruits to fill the hors d'œuvres table. I got to watch Jessica meet and greet, mingle and explain her work, seeing a new side of my twin that I haven't yet really learned.

I was there. And that alone, was awesome.

"Anything for the children." by Jessica Caldas

Even more awesome, this incredible review (one of many) that everyone should read if they haven't yet. I cried a little (read, I cried so hard I was practically hyperventilating) when I read words like "mastery" and "finesse".

And on top of that? Jessica has welcomed me into this strange and wonderful art world of hers. I am slowly meeting her print-making, painting, sculpting, street arting friends. I get to tag along to art events, dinners and meet ups that otherwise I would know nothing about. 

Sean Star Wars print for Atlanta Printmakers Studio Print Big event. Google that shit, its awesome.

The friend and I that had discussed the need to be creative were invited by Jessica to volunteer at the Atlanta Printmakers Studio Print Big event, as well as a fun, little VIP gathering the night before featuring Sean Starwars, some sort of infamous printer.

Walking around snapping photos, most of the people there who knew Jessica recognized that I was her sister, and usually began the conversation with, "Are you an artist as well?"

"Uh, no, not really. I'm, uh, just taking photos 'cause Jess asked me to. I don't, uh, do art."

Jessica, within earshot, would immediately interrupt sweetly with a comment about how I could and should be, or how I am a writer, or used to paint - something along those lines.

She's right. I should be an artist. Okay, maybe not an artist per say, but I should be more creative.

Spending the entire day watching all these extremely different people, from inner city high school students, to elderly women, to men that looked like they might be living on the street, even little bitty kids, all get together for an event that's sole purpose was to introduce more people to what I'm guessing is the slightly obscure art of print making, to give more artists, young and old, the opportunity to actually print some massive pieces, and to have a damn good time doing it, made me want to stop being so lazy and start utilizing some of my own artistic gifts.

I'm pretty sure the Sean StarWars guy's whole message was that it doesn't really matter if you are artistically talented or not, you should still go out there and create if you want to (I thinks that what he was saying, I honestly ended up a bit lost at some point during his presentation).

Art, or creating, really does seem like the perfect way to do away with daily worries, and my sister just happens to be the perfect inspiration for how to go about just creating.

So, here I am, joining her realm and actually trying to create (Sifu is in my head saying "Just do it!"), and although I should perhaps be focusing on creating my master's thesis or creating a job opportunity for myself, I have to admit, stringing a whole bunch of random words together for no good reason in this blog is kind of like taking happy pills.

You should try it :)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

I'm a new soul in this very strange world.

There are times when I really have to sit back and ask myself, what better moment to update the neglected blog than 3:21 a.m. when suffering from a bout of insomina, eh?

Here I am in Atlanta, nearly two months to the date since my cross-country, Eastward move, and boy, has life changed.

Which, of course, is to be expected.

I had been wanting to move back to Atlanta for so long, little else seemed as important goal wise (besides maybe thesis completion), and without realizing it, in my mind I think the move home took on this pedestal-ed, unparalleled solution to any kinds of problems or unhappiness I may have been experiencing in Washington.

Bad weather? The south has sun and heat! Need a hug? Atlanta has family and old friends! Miss city life? They don't call it Hot-lanta for nothin'!

I've been through enough major transitions to know that whatever you expect in your imagination when beginning a new path, you are probably about as close to what the reality will be as the 3000 miles between Washington and Georgia.

That being said, I am not ashamed to admit that I thought I had it all planned out and that this time, just maybe, I'd have a jump on life and have this incredibly smooth transition into a new place (that was kind of an old place for me). I mean, I had a job, I have family, I have friends, I have a new man, I have my thesis to motivate me and exciting career options...

Did you notice a few of those tenses? Yeah, let me explain that.

So, the disruption to the "plan" began with finding out, two days after arriving in Atlanta, that my long time job working from home, which so conveniently and fortunately had allowed me to move to Washington and attend grad school in the first place, due to several very valid and fair reason, had decided to end my contract.

Well damn. That sort of, kind of makes things different.

Begin job hunt now - not later, when I've actually completed and defended my thesis and received the piece of paper that will somehow unlock the key to my professional and financial success (or so I fantasize) - but now, right now, can't wait.

'Dem bills gots to be paid, yo.

This proved a very positive, albeit painful, wake up call. I managed to finally put together a decent resume and cover letter with the help of my amazing friends and family, something I had been shrugging off for too long. I also learned a little about going into a potential job with a much more critical eye as well as with a sense of what I was worth, after not doing either of those things and accepting a job (which lasted about one week) that turned out to be complete and utter bull crap. Most importantly, I realized that, even after two more years of debt building education, I still basically have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

Ah, life lessons, how fun you make the daily grind.

Added to the new job situation *cough* unemployment *cough*, is a brand spanking new respect for my body and health. The impromptu hospital visit before my trip was not the last I have seen of some issues with my digestive system and stomach. The solution, so far, has seemed to be an extremely strict diet of foods that do not irritate my probable correct high school diagnosis of IBS and intolerance for certain foods, particularly no gluten, no dairy, no coffee (this one sent me into a week long depression that anyone who knows me and my coffee consumption can probably sympathize with), and no egg yolks (thank god I didn't have to give up eggs completely - let's get real, if salmonella couldn't rid me of my love for non-fertilized baby chicken, than constant abdominal pain sure as hell won't). This, plus slowly getting back into a routine of PT for my knees, core workouts, cardio and rock climbing mean that, slowly but surely, I may just be getting into the best shape of my life.


The largest looming goal/expectation/deadline is of course the thesis, which my love so accurately describes as a noisy monkey jumping around in your peripheral vision whenever you try to do anything that is not your thesis (or something like that). Somewhere in the last two months I did manage to get a lot of work done on my thesis, quelling the monkey somewhat. Not enough, however, to finish it in time to graduate this Spring. Instead, the monkey will remain my companion for a few more months, I will continue writing and working and defend in the summer, thus receiving that sought after piece of paper in August 2013.

This change to the plans probably should have stressed me out more than it did. Actually, most of these happenings - along with all the monotonous, day to day craziness no one is interested in reading about - probably should have. I'm pretty proud of how well I handled everything in the beginning weeks of my new life in Atlanta. I thought often about sitting down to write how, despite it all, I was a rock star and taking it all on with a smile - but I never made the time. Then somewhere along the line I had a bad day, then I had two, then it started to be days where there was certainly good (because there are no days where something good doesn't happen) but I spent more time thinking about the bad and having trouble noticing those good things at all.

Yeah, apparently non-stop grey skies in Washington aren't the only cause of that downward spiral thought process.

I am a lucky, fortunate, blessed, whatever-you-want-to-call-it soul, so this attitude just doesn't sit well with me. It reminds me of emotional places I've been in the past that I don't really care to return to. Look above, look at my last post, look at my life. I know all the things I should be happy and grateful for. So, I've been doing some hard thinking about how to get back to that positive, let it all roll off your shoulders place...

Mostly, writing this already makes me feel better. So I should probably write more. I should write to myself. I should write about my trips and adventures here. I should write to my friends.

Should, should, should. Now that's my problem! I need to do! (Reminds me of my Sifu telling me, "Stop trying, just do it!")

So, I am. And I will.

I am set more or less for the next two months financially, so I can take my time to really make some smart decisions about work. I will finish my thesis ASAP so I can kick that nagging feeling of incompleteness out the door and know I've accomplished something. I am climbing, and well climb more, and somehow will find someone who can belay me and go outside in this glorious sun and heat the South provides. I will finally start actually calling my faraway friends - loneliness may be natural in a new(ish) city, but I've got no excuse for it when there are so many wonderful people to catch up with all over the world.

Everyone has trials, so much more difficult than mine, but I think its how you handle them that makes the difference. Somehow, though I am far from perfect, I feel like I am learning more about handling my trials and respecting myself for them than I ever have before. In a way, its as if I am falling, which I have before, but this time, I know (or am learning) how to catch myself instead of relying on someone or something else that is bad for me.

The truth is, both in general and here in Atlanta, life is really great. Though sometimes I am struggling to see it, when I stop to really think about it, even the craziness seems like one, big grand adventure I am happy to be experiencing.

Now I just need to write about it more.

Friday, February 15, 2013

After the flame, a pause...

At the moment, I am very content. I am sitting in San Antonio, Texas, with my grandmother, watching episodes of Perry Mason and the original Hawaii 5-0. My grandfather is clicking away on Facebook. I have a bad cold made worse by the dryness in San Antonio and an allergic reaction to my dear friend Emma's cat Lemon. My bottom is in a state of perpetual tenderness after 36 hours of driving.

Yes, 36 hours. Over 2,000 miles.

By the time I reach Atlanta sometime around midnight tomorrow, I will have driven (according to Google Maps, my navigator) 50 hours, or just over 3,300 miles.

All by my lonesome.

I've decided, and had already decided by day two of my solo cross country road trip, that every person should at some point in their life make the drive across North America by themselves - for two very good reasons. One, so they can say, "I drove across the United States all alone," and subsequently receive the "Oohs" and "Ahhs" the statement invokes in others. And two, much more importantly, for the incredible effect spending that much time alone with very little to distract yourself from yourself has on, well, yourself.

I've always loved driving. I think I inherited that trait from my grandfather, who spoke just this morning of his own fancy for road trips, and described his desire to jump in the car at the tender age of 89 and drive the 18 hours to Atlanta to see my father. I hope at 89 I am still as raring to take on the open road as he is.

Traveling in general has always been a passion of mine, and has often signified a big change in my life. Shorter trips, such as the drive from Atlanta to college in Savannah represented a coming of age and my first venture without my sister and family to hold my hand. 5 weeks as freshman in Spain had one of the biggest impacts, changing everything about what I dreamed and hoped for. Again, as a senior in college, a trip to Spain and everything that happened (and didn't happen) while there further defined major parts of my identity.

And then, my world changed quite drastically with my very first cross country road trip in 2010 and a move thousands of miles away from my family. Even at the time I knew this drive was a huge turn in my life's path, but I could not have guessed it would be the beginning of three years of incredible adventures, the best and worst of times, and experiences I could not have expected, nor dreamt of, and could not be more grateful for.

Here I am again, in the midst of yet another big turn, realizing there is nothing quite like 50 hours in a car all by your lonesome to put you inside your head, reflecting on your life, for better or for worse - as I so enjoy doing :)

Classin' up hospital gowns since 1986.
My trip began a bit dramatically - surprise, surprise. I'd like to think that things happen in my life in such a way as to remind me to be grateful for all the luck, opportunity and blessings I have. Having to spend 7 hours in the ER in the midst of preparing for a cross country road trip is no exception. While I'm not sure what the life lesson is in having a series of exams/procedures I had hoped I would get to spend most of my young life avoiding, the time spent in the hospital and in bed for the next 24 hours when I should've been on the road did lead to a few personal realizations.

First, I am getting older, and it may be time to start acting that way - at least in terms of my health. While I can feed my free and young spirit with crazy road trips, drop of the hat life decisions and extreme sports and adventures - I cannot keep feeding my actual body without making better choices and some consideration. Not if I hope to avoid said exams/procedures in the near future. The paperwork of adult life that I have let fall to the wayside is also something to get on top of, not to mention a bit of budgeting wouldn't hurt.

A little less on the concrete side, my exciting day in the ER (along with many other moments along this trip) reminded me that I am blessed with truly wonderful people in my life. Bri, whom I was supposed to meet for coffee at Batdorf but instead met for tears and uncomfortable exams at St. Pete's, was there for me in a way that I would have before expected only from my sister or mother. I had forgotten that friends, too, are family - particularly when thousands of miles away from your own. This was similarly demonstrated by my beyond incredible roommates. Knowing the amount of things I had left to do before my move, Rey (my honorary little brother) and the rest not only visited me, updated my family, friends and boyfriend, helped me fill my prescriptions and fed me, but they also took loads of stuff to Goodwill so I wouldn't have anything but packing my car to worry about (which they also helped with).

Some of my Washington family at lunch after a kick ass climbing trip to Vantage, WA.
Driving away from Olympia on Monday morning, my Washington family (as my old roommate Sarah so accurately dubbed them) entered my thoughts - and there they remained for the next 12 hours. I may or may not have cried for the first two hours of my drive. Nothing too embarrassing, just the kind of controlled sobbing that results in snot and tears running down my face and a bit of chest heaving, all in such a way that I could still safely drive.

It is an understatement to say that I had a truly remarkable family in Washington. I had sisters and brothers and moms and dads in all of my friends, peers and even my teachers and co-workers. This family introduced me to new sports and re-kindled my love for old ones. They took me to places I could have never dreamed of, and  taught me things I never thought I would know. They told me I could do anything, and cheered me on when I did, whether I succeeded or failed. They fed me when I was hungry, housed me when I was tired and needed rest, and they made me smile and laugh and cry when the time called for it. I learned about trust and love from this family. I saw  true strength and I found out how strong I myself was from this family. I realized the value I can bring to a circle of people, and I learned how to better value other people, even when they challenge everything I stand for. I learned how to stand up for myself and I found the kinds of friends that are worth standing up for. I learned about forgiveness and I learned about moving on. I received unconditional love from this family, and I loved unconditionally. Heartbreak and failure could not destroy me, for I had more than enough love to hold me up. In the future, no matter what heartbreak I may ever experience, I know a group of people I can turn to - whether for a laugh, a hug, an escape, advice or to help show me the way when I am a bit lost.

My friend, my sister, my lover ;) There is no one who has been there for me more in the last couple of years. Photo by Robert Combier.
I cried because I was leaving them, but also because I am worried that this family doesn't know what they meant to me. I have spent so long planning and looking forward to this move, I am worried I didn't show these unbelievable people in my life how much I appreciate them. I spent too much of the last year talking about Atlanta, and too little thanking them. I cried, feeling that as I go through this major change in my life, I have committed another great folly, knowing I have still not corrected one of my worst flaws - I have failed to tell the people I love how much I love them.

My brother from another mother and a godsend in the last six months, Rey.
I eventually got it together and stopped bawling, but memories of times in Washington and thoughts of them stayed with me through the entire drive. The scenery was perfect for a day of nostalgia. Rivers and lakes and rocks and mountains reminded me of all of our times together. The straight forward highways gave me time to reflect on it all, and the important lesson I want to keep with me always - life is short, sometimes later is never (a quote from my little brother), so I better find a way to make sure everyone I love and appreciate knows they are loved and appreciated. Hell, I was almost t-boned in Salt Lake as I drove around in circles trying to find my Aunt and Uncle's house according to my crappy navigator!

So, Washington family that read my blog and managed not to get bored out of their mind and tired of reading this extremely long winded post, I love you and I appreciate you. You all, in each of your own ways, have made me a better person and I can only hope to have a smidgen of the impact you have had on my life on someone else's. I already miss you and I cannot wait to see you in April.

All smiles with Emma in Boulder, CO.
I was lucky enough to get to see a bit of my ex-pat Washington family in the form of bestie Emma on days two and three of my road trip. If there is anyone who can appreciate drastic life changes and being far from both the family you choose and your biological family, its this beautiful lady. After two days of driving while beating myself up mentally, spending time with someone as sweet, supportive and positive as Emma is a godsend. Though Boulder may be too slow paced for me and filled to the brim with hippies, I can't wait to get back so I can spend more time eating, drinking, arting, shopping, and talking about everything from child pooping habits to dream mean to skeletons in our closets - next time, preferably while not finishing a round of antibiotics, in zombie mode from driving and battling allergies/cold symptoms - with Emma.

The longest legs of this trip are the drive between Boulder and San Antonio - a stinky, smelly, unpleasant drive through small towns with 35 mph speed limits, farms populated by evil cows and fields of oil rigs and windmills - and the 18 hours to Atlanta tomorrow.

My favorite capture from the trip so far... The Columbia River.
Luckily, as I did in Utah, I have a safe haven for rest with my Dad's family in Texas. I am recovering both physically and mentally, taking a break from the endless self-analysis and reflection the open road seems to inspire. Instead, I am enjoying listening and recording the stories about my aunts, cousins and people I've never met that my grandmother tells, and conversations with my grandfather about my thesis and his great grandfather who disappeared on a Spanish ship. Though I know how much work it takes on the part of my aunt and cousin, I am envious that they live with my grandparents, and have gotten to spend so much time with my grandparents throughout their entire lives, particularly as the pair grow older, their endless stories, though told and heard many times, becoming even more valuable. My grandparents lived a good, simple life, filled with travel, accomplishments, and most importantly, lots of children and grandchildren - inspiring much of what I want from my own life.

Tomorrow I will complete my cross country road trip, this crazy 3000 mile journey that marks, in many ways, the end of a hugely important time in my life. I feel more or less prepared for the drive, to move in to the loft awaiting me, and to start this next step. I am definitely ready to put an end to eight months of transition and looking forward. I know I have my family, great friends, and a wonderful man waiting for me. I know that, just like before, I can't even guess what adventures and experiences this new path will bring.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lucky 13

If the first week of 2013 is in any way foretelling of the year to come, this may prove to be one of the most exciting years of my life.

Or most emotional. Maybe dramatic. Definitely scary - though in the best way possible.

All of which is saying quite a bit when I consider the roller coaster that was 2012.

I had been wanting to write a reflection on the last year at some point before New Year's Eve (as if all my posts so far haven't been reflective enough). I've given a lot of thought to the many changes, adventures and moments that shaped my 2012. Alas, another wild trip to Atlanta and an inability to force myself to sit down and write meant it just didn't happen.

I could write about all of the amazing trips I took (which I also meant to do as they happened - oops), new and old friendships that all seemed to take on lives of their own, the unexpected successes I had...  but right now, my mind is racing a mile a minute, filled with thoughts of everything that has happened in the last few weeks.

Or just the last week.

In only the first few days of the new year I have already experienced some majorly magical, head in the cloud feelings, as well as received the the kind of news so bad that the only appropriate reaction is to burst into uncontrollable sobbing immediately.

Okay, I guess the bad news, as upsetting as it was, wasn't the worse news I could ever receive. I mean, its only related to my education and career... not health or family or anything as important as that. And nothing I can't figure out and turn around into a more positive outcome for myself (fingers crossed).

The point being that, this week, for the first time in a long time, I find myself tired of looking backwards, reflecting on the past and trying to figure out what it all means. I try very much not to recycle old feelings and get stuck in thoughts of "What if" and "What could've been", but I also spend a lot of time trying to discern the importance of things that have already happened and how to do better the next time around. Maybe a bit too much time.

I don't know how to describe it, but I just feel so done with that.

My bad news had to do with my research. For an hour or so after reading a three sentence rejection of six months of hard work, I entertained some thoughts of what I did wrong, what I should've done differently - basically, how to blame myself for my research application being denied.

Then I got over it.

Shit happens. A lot of the time, that shit is completely out of our control.

I'm not always the most confident about my skills, my intelligence or my education, but I know what kind of work and enthusiasm I put into this research proposal. The reasons given for its rejection have absolutely nothing to do with anything I could've foreseen or done differently. Which means I shouldn't waste any time beating myself up over it - especially when I need to jump on this chance to re-evaluate, re-work and do a more kick ass job than ever. In an odd way, it is as if I've been handed the golden opportunity to make my thesis better than ever, and the motivation to show a few jerks somewhere in Washington what I'm made of.

Woo, silver lining!

I'd like to attribute all of this optimism to my own sunny out look on life, but the truth is, if I had received this news while in dreary, rainy Washington, I'm not sure how easy it would have been to find the bright side. I mean, I would have eventually of course. But being at home, surrounded by loved ones within arms reach, its always easier to see that the grass is plenty green right where you're standing. Even when receiving what could be dramatically construed as somewhat devastating news, I can't help but want to look forward to the next step with a smile on my face.

I'm looking forward to finding a solution, another way to complete my research, with the help of my amazing mentor and colleagues, and finishing my Masters degree in May. I'm looking forward to tying up the loose ends I have in Washington, enjoying goodbyes with the mind blowing group of friends I have here, and packing up my life to move it across the country. I'm looking forward to living with my twin sister for the first time since I was seventeen. I'm looking forward to continuing to build a community of close friends in Atlanta that I can lean on for fun and support, and be there for as well. I'm looking forward to enjoying some unexpected but very welcome feelings of hope, excitement and anticipation for another person. But above all, I'm looking forward to enjoying this new found feeling of just being able to look forward at all - of finally letting go of the past - of being able to enjoy each day's hard work and happenings, for better or worse.

As just one week has already shown me, there will most definitely be a lot of good, and there may be some bad, but I can't help but feel that it will all mix together to make 2013 a truly unforgettable and incredible time in my life.

Ringing in the new year, lucky 2013, with some amazing people in Atlanta.