Wander Into –

A Collection of Journeys

Dishes for Dreams: The Search for Employment August 28, 2013

11. 11 is the number of salt shakers one can carry without dropping them. I warn you, it is most definitely not 12.

This is only one of the lessons I am learning as a cook/dishwasher at a camp and retreat center in northeast Ohio. So making minimum wage doing dishes is not exactly where I thought I would be at the cusp of 25, but I am trying to regard it as a learning experience. Who knew 2 hands had such a definitive limit on salt shakers?

Must, admit, I make this look good.

Must admit, I make this look good.

My generation has been nicknamed the Boomerang Generation –and knowing that a vast majority of my friends have spent at least some time living at home after graduation from college to reside at parents’ houses in their twenties makes me believe it is somewhat true. I suppose I fit in well to the nickname, however degrading the connotation. I am settled at home until I find employment.

Finding said employment comes with a host of ego-encompassing emotions though. It’s so easy to be bitter. It’s easy to pick up cynicism and a ‘why me’ attitude, questioning past decisions and wondering if there is anything to show for it. As for me, I think I am most scared of wasting my potential. 

After AmeriCorps ended, I made a list of many of the things that I learned to try to remind myself of the interesting and random assortment of lessons I’ve retained through my experiences. It’s so easy to doubt yourself when all that bounces back in the email is a rejection letter, or when silence from an organization speaks loud and clear. I’ve only been going through this for a month, and already I am struggling some days to find my worth. This list is a reminder of the unique individual I have become. It’s a great motivation-booster on those down days.

 

Things I know because of the past 2 years:

*What a sunset looks like in Sacramento, CA; Manchester, NH; North Bend, WA; Moonachie, NJ; Julian, CA; and Wooster, OH

The view from Half Dome

The view from Half Dome

*How to drive a 15 passenger van

*What a Manzanita plant looks like

*The view from the top of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley

*How long it takes to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

*What living at the poverty line feels like

*How much light a full moon in the desert gives off

*How to properly insulate a mobile home

*How to sharpen a Pulaski, shovel, McLeod, loppers, and grub hoe

 

Oh, I’m sorry. You wanted marketable skills on the application?

I am trying to find this as an exciting time – I have the freedom to decide whatever future I can imagine. Instead of being stuck behind my degrees or boxed in by work experiences, I get to chose what I want to be when I grow up. I have no permanent roots, instead just branches all over the country in the forms of friends, professional networks and miscellaneous wanderings. What an incredible opportunity I have been handed.

But is it too much freedom? I have looked at jobs in just about everything from wilderness trip facilitator to substitute teaching. There’s a part of me that wants 3 different Masters degrees. I have no clue which coast I would be happier with, or if the Mid-West will always be my home. I have found my passions, places and work cultures I enjoy working in through the variety of experiences I’ve had, but it’s meshing them together into one cohesive job search that seems to be my problem.

I guess what I’m left with is the, “It can’t hurt to try,” mentality, and when I eventually get an interview (cross your fingers for the eventually), all I can do is convince my employer how hard I will work, and with what great passion and excitement. I’m not going to settle for a career that just pays the bills. Until then, it’s a trade off: dishes for dreams.

When I find myself getting down about the prospect of jobs, I often read a letter I wrote to myself in the middle of AmeriCorps when things were at a low point. It helps me re-focus on what’s important, and reminds me that optimism and an open heart can go far. I leave it as a note for all of you out there also looking for motivation in your job searches – find those lessons in the day to day…even if you have to spill 12 salt shakers on the ground to learn them.

My love,

There are so many things you have already written, spoken, and felt about this experience. Coming into it never really seemed like a challenge, and that was possibly the worst part. As the months went on, it seemed as though apathy toward the work you were doing and the people you were around was an ever growing shadow. The expectations became fairytales – to find family, love, adventure, meaning. Things changed. Your heart dropped out. People quit. Who you were was more dependent on the weather than from all of those life lessons you worked so hard for.

Can I really convince myself to go back to who I was, or rather become who I want to be – melded by this experience as much as the previous or the next? I am so hopeful.

Keep exploring even when the walls feel like they're closing in. (Anza-Borrego Desert, CA)

Keep exploring even when the walls feel like they’re closing in. (Anza-Borrego Desert, CA)

As I move on in these next few months, there are so many questions that will hang heavy – graduate school, travel, relationships, and work ethic. I am scared of how time will answer them, scared of my heart breaking for lesser causes, worried that I’ll worry too much. What will come, will come. When have I ever been ready for it? When has it ever been what I expected?

I suppose my goals are shaped by who I was the first half of this program. I never thought I would be in and out of crisis. I did expect to be crying on someone’s shoulder. I hope to understand and fully grasp my every day, to overcome this cloudy spirit that seems to be hanging on through the mountains and over gravel roads. I don’t want frustration to feel better than happy. At the end of the day, I want to be able to firmly proclaim that I worked as hard as I could, that I kept my integrity.

My dear Christine, there will be things that break you in the upcoming months, but you already know that. You will be stronger because of it, even though this fact never seems to matter at the moment. Find the good around you – the rivers and immeasurably tall trees, the people who have hearts for others, who help you grow, not sink. Find those with wide eyes and glowing hearts. Pour into those who are dried up. Love everyone. One big love. You won’t find any other here. Remember that you are loved far and away. You’re going to do so much.

Sending much love,

-clm

 

Welcome Back – the Worst Words for a Traveler? August 23, 2013

Filed under: Travel — Wanderhere @ 9:12 am
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My mom says it’s a break. A good break. A well-deserved break. I call it unemployment. I call it having no plan.

Welcome back. Those two words have been haunting my steps ever since I moved back after AmeriCorps. This seemingly inviting phrase has carried more weight than anything else I’ve heard from my friends, family, and relations while I’ve been back in Ohio. Each time I hear it, I cringe.

There was always a plan in the works. In November of last year, I submitted my application for graduate school programs in exercise science and public health. With a personal statement ripe with passion to change the world through healthy living and community based programming, I sent my hopes to further my education to schools that matched my unique desire.

My team was just arriving back to Sacramento in March from our project in Southern California when I got the news about graduate school. I hesitantly opened the sealed envelope and immediately broke down as I read, “Congratulations!” as the first line. I embraced my team, ignoring the Manzanita brush cuts and rampant poison oak on my arms, tears streaming down my face knowing that somewhere wanted me. I had a plan.

2013-08-17_13-13-59_497A lot can happen in 10 months. Passions shift, and you can figure out what’s more important through unexpected experiences. Maybe life just comes into focus a little better as you get further and further into your twenties, or maybe you just turn towards something that used to be your peripheral. Whatever happened, graduate school became this fading desire – a back-up plan to something else in life. When one of my friend’s asked me in May how I was feeling about going back to school after AmeriCorps, I responded honestly. I wasn’t thrilled, and openly conveyed the sentiment that school had just become something to do. It was not until receiving the final financial aid package, and realizing that I could be in debt almost $35,000 after getting my Masters that I decided it was time to change plans.

The problem was that it took me a long time to admit to myself that grad school wasn’t right for me. I didn’t end up unofficially deferring until one week before the end of my AmeriCorps term, leaving me with no plan, and the all too common sinking reality of unemployment.

I know there is no malicious intent when people tell me, “welcome back”, but all I seem to hear is, “I guess you didn’t get much farther than your front door these past 2 years after college graduation. How’s your mom’s couch?”

So what did I do to alleviate these welcome back feelings? I left. Fast-forward to last week and my solo roadtrip to Alabama.

Having some fun when I could drag myself off the couch.

Having some fun when I could drag myself off the couch. We’re trees!

Besides giving me a great chance to practice my singing (more like shouting) voice, the trip away, only 2 weeks after I had arrived home, felt more like home. When I look back on the past 6 years of my life, I have not lived in the same place for more than 12 months. Packing up and going has become a lifestyle, and maybe the welcome backs and the antsy-ness that comes with it has become part of it too.

I blew into Alabama on a whim and the hope that a road trip would help me better focus on what life had in store for me rather than what I was still missing. I was positive the 10 hour drive and seeing one of my closest friends from college would settle me down, and help me cope with having no job and no plan.

I was embracing being in the moment. I was living without a plan and going wherever the southern winds would take me. I was…sick on my friend’s couch for the entirety of the week. My biggest adventure was choosing which tissue box I wanted to grab from, with the excitement of racing to see if I would make it there before the next sneeze. I was pretty well confined to bed rest and Netflix episodes of Say Yes to the Dress.

I think this was my body’s was of telling me, yes, take a break. A well-deserved break. I have been in ‘go’ mode for the past 2 years of volunteering, with the last 10 months being one of the most stressful in recent years. I suppose my mom was right.

But I am scared of this break. What if I become complacent? What if I settle? Even though I know what I’ve done has fulfilled me and hopefully helped others along the way, I don’t know how to convey that to the welcome backers. I find myself thinking in circles, about my graduate school what-ifs – that I could have had it all figured out for another 2 years with a Masters degree in hand. Why didn’t I suck it up and go for it? Instead of moving to Boston next week, I’ll still be staying in my childhood bedroom.

But…

My brother and I at an Indian's game in Cleveland.

My brother and I at an Indian’s game in Cleveland.

After going to Alabama, I remembered how good it was to bask in the warmth of friendship. This opportunity for a break will give me time to reach out to all of those wonderful people I’ve met in the past few years, whereas On-the-Go-Christine didn’t really have the time.

So, instead of starting something new right away, I’ll be surrounded by the love of my family, and embraced, not by change, but by years of friendship, knowing that I have more than a just a short second of hello and good-byes. This is a well-deserved break, and an opportunity to be a part of the lives and community I so treasured years ago.

I know it’s going to be a long and frustrating road to employment. I need to catch myself when I start thinking little of my worth and experiences. I can only hope I’ll keep my heart open enough during this time at home to not become bitter about not being able to improve communities hundreds or thousands of miles away, and maybe find the worth in improving the community around me instead.

 

She was not where she was going, but she was not where she had been August 9, 2013

As my friend and fellow AmeriCorps Alum put it, “What a wonderful chance we have to be knee deep in our emotions.”

Sunset in Oakland

Sunset in Oakland

There is so much to still say about everything I went through for the past 10 months. So many deep feelings about departures and starting overs and homecomings. So many things about good-byes and lost loves and never-did-I-get-to-do or will-do-agains. I am feeling such a loss of culture and who I was defined through it.

I have done this before, but it always seems hard to reconcile when it actually happens. I come back this changed and passionate person, completely defined by the experience I just went through, a trumpeter for all things AmeriCorps or camp or college. As new experiences and life phases happen, the passion of this moment fades. Pictures or memories that once made me cry are now tucked into a place that a simple, “that’s nice,” contains all of the emotion I can muster. The mind acts as a grate, and much of what I am feeling now will be washed over in one month? Two?

My Mom and Dad picked me up from Sacramento after my graduation, and we spent a week driving to Yosemite and Phoenix. I was able to see more amazing and breathtaking things in that week, and was given the opportunity to re-connect with my parents after not seeing them for the better part of a year. While in Arizona, peering out over the red rock in Sedona, my dad gave me the chance to decompress from what was going on in my head. As I fought back tears describing my experiences and sense of loss, he sat and listened, and watching the clouds roll over the desert said, “How many lives we get to lead in this one lifetime. How many things we get to experience and feel and be and do.” I know he is right – this is just the next life I get to lead.P1020447P1020456

There are always little chapters we must put away after finishing. There will always be transition and yearning for how things were, lest we forget that how things were were not perfect in the least…but I guess that’s what made them so special. Our experience is defined by those imperfections and moments of absolute beauty because of them – triumphing over the trials that we faced everyday. It’s just that, in NCCC, those trials faced everyday, were never faced alone. Not one moment of those 10 months was at a loss for people. And when those people are no longer there to help hold you up during those trials or sometimes cause them in the first place, there is an overwhelming sense of loneliness. It feels like this point in time hurts deeper than most pauses between endings and beginnings. Where are my people? And who have I become because of them?

Casey, me, Rachel

Casey, me, Rachel

I find the worst part to be the waiting game with friends, and the worry that the only thing in common in the first place were the gray uniforms. This transition of friendship takes the longest. It’s figuring out what role these people will play in my future, only knowing their constant presence as such an integral part of my past.

Not everything fades though. The important stuff, the stuff that really did change your life, made you more empathetic or hard or vegetarian, remains. It does not get swept away. I take heart in this.

I suppose stay power or not, it is important to remember that – they, it, was everything I had for that period in my life. It did happen, just like camp happened, just like college happened, and just like life will keep happening. I have these stunning moments I am able to latch on to – those memories that just won’t leave me. Or maybe it’s the memories that do, and all I am left with is a warm afterglow to sustain this powerful thing that just happened, knowing that not actually recalling the very words or actions is not as important as knowing that it made me feel deep inside my being.

Yes, I am hurting. I am reconciling with being home and lost and not where everyone else used to be. I am yearning for things to be how they were and knowing they can’t be. I only take faith in the fact that I’ve done this before, and those friends who were meant to stick with me, did.

I watched part of Eat. Pray. Love. yesterday, and stumbled across the part where Julia Robert’s character exclaims, “But I miss him!” The other character she is talking to responds, “Then miss him! Send him light and love over the universe and move on.”

Today, I am sending light and love to my fellow Corps Members, our beautiful memories, our trying times, and every single breath in between. I am especially sending love to my team, who became my family. I hope you feel my love surrounding you today and every time you think well over our experiences. I miss you all dearly. P1020397

 

Follow-up, Follow through, Fall forward August 7, 2013

Understanding that my last post was 6 months ago, I am due for an update.

AmeriCorps NCCC just ended two weeks ago, today, and I am still at a loss for words to describe the last 10 months. This post, however, will serve as a summary of the things I have done over this time. It is in no way the whole story, but hopefully that will be drawn out in the months to come.

Green 6 on graduation from AmeriCorps NCCC, Pacific Region

Green 6 on graduation from AmeriCorps NCCC, Pacific Region

Where I’ve been:

Round 1: Sly Park Outdoor Education Center, Pollock Pines, CA (acting as cabin leaders)

Round 2: Hurricane Sandy Relief with VOAD of Bergen County and Rebuilding Together, Moonachie & Little Ferry, NJ (insulating the underside of mobile homes); Camp Stevens, Julian, CA (fire mitigation)

Round 3: Mountains to Sound Greenway, Greater Seattle area, WA (trailwork)

Round 4: Reading Partners, Oakland, CA (curriculum building)

Below you will find the celebration videos my team made after each project round. They serve a little better as an explanation until I get around to it.

Green 6 traveled thousands of mile together, lost 4 members, and served many incredible people, organizations, and communities. We will never be the same people, and hopefully, in the coming days, I’ll let you know a little more why. As I continue on in my journey, I can only hope to keep acknowledging the lessons I learned throughout this experience.

My goals are to follow-up with what we have done, and the organizations we worked for; follow through with posting more regularly; and fall forward into whatever life has in store for me next. I’ll give you a hint, I have no idea.

My next post will serve as a good-bye to my 2 years of volunteer experiences, the people I’ve known through it, and the acknowledgement of all the space between. Grab your tissues, it’s going to be my, “I hope you had the time of your life,” post.