Wander Into –

A Collection of Journeys

I Will Hold on Hope – Local Journeys and the Job Search September 10, 2013

Coming into these past few weeks, I felt a gray cloud of apathy starting to creep in. I am so anxious for my next step that I have been afraid to take any while I am still at home. I keep willing the phone to ring, praying for my email inbox to show a sign that I would be moving on soon. It hasn’t yet, and I am left sitting, alone, waiting, stagnant and holding my breath. The minutes pass with so much effort that by 8pm each night, I am ready to let the rest of my waking hours escape me as hope for new things fade with the sunlight.

Last week would have been the first day of school for my graduate program in Boston. I know it wasn’t a mistake that I didn’t go, but even so, the sting of what could have been a new adventure is still fresh. Even though I could see my mind slipping into feeling sorry for myself, I didn’t quite know what to do. Luckily, I had several trips scheduled for Labor Day weekend that made me feel like my world was still moving. They made me acknowledge something past this computer screen and my constant refreshing of Idealist. 2013-08-31_11-35-47_364

My first stop was to Troy, Ohio, a small town on the Southwest side of the state, famous for corn fields and aviation. The town was part of the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Tour – a weekend music festival that included bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, and the headliner, Mumford & Sons.

Camp city at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Troy, Ohio.

Camp city at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Troy, Ohio.

To say songs like Home, The Cave, and Wagon Wheel got me through marathons, long nights of studying, and roads that stretched the California coast, would be an understatement. Countless hours were spent with friends humming the lyrics, or on runs pushing myself to the rhythm of folksy banjo playing. Not only was I excited to see some of my favorite bands perform, but I was also able to meet up with friends I had not seen since last December. Celebrating the music with them, and finally forgetting my shortcomings of not finding a job was all I could have asked for.

As Mumford closed, I couldn’t help but believe in what the band was crooning to me – I will hold on hope. Thousands of people were raising their hands in belief, knowing something they must hold on for or to or with. We were all holding on for something, and knowing that our humanity held us so close cradled my thoughts as I traveled away from Troy the next day.

2013-08-31_19-27-08_893After an exhausting 2 days filled with music, humidity and plenty of hippies, I drove to the other corner of Ohio to Cleveland where I met up with former AmeriCorps NCCC teammate and irreplaceable friend, Rachel. She and her mother had driven in from Baltimore for the long weekend to see the Orioles take on the Indians.

The last time I had seen Rachel, we were embracing after graduation from NCCC in Sacramento, California. It was one of those formidable moments of friendship, knowing that past that moment, nothing would be the same. She had been with me for 10 months as my roommate, confidant, and super hug giver, and I had missed her dearly over the past month we had been away.

Like the cliché, it was as if no time or distance had passed at all. We talked about our team boys, reminisced about the best and worst AmeriCorps had brought out of us, and what life had been giving us lately.

Our team carried lumber to build a bridge along a Washington trail. 12 miles in the rain!

Our team carried lumber to build a bridge along a Washington trail. 12 miles in the rain!

For the first time in a month, I felt normal again. I felt at home. Here was someone who knew what I meant when I spoke about carrying lumber 12 miles in the rain, who knew what it felt like to live with 7 other people and love it and hate at the same time, who could describe the bitter cold of a New Jersey winter and the extreme heat of a Sacramento summer in the same breath, and who had gone through something that others simply wouldn’t understand. It shaped us. Applying for jobs had felt so hopeless because it was impossible to convey what I had learned through volunteer work and travel in 3 lines of my resume, but being around Rachel, words could finally form about the experience. For the first time since coming back from California, standing still felt ok because I finally was no longer alone.

Maybe my experiences over Labor Day are to say, I need my people, or new people, or more people. I need others there to make this feel worth it, to make it feel like I can hold on hope because they’re holding on just as hard and as long. I suppose it’s something I can take with me on my job search as well – I need people. Whether it’s making them feel loved, or strong, or they’re reminding me over the distance of cornfields and storm clouds that I’m home just hearing them –  I need them.

Rachel and I at the Indian's game.

Rachel and I at the Indian’s game.

Throughout the time I spent with Rachel in Cleveland, Edward Sharpe was echoing through my head, “Home is whenever I’m with you.” I have written before of the homes I have built in people, remodeling my homes when I start something new, but always keeping treasured pieces of my past displayed on the mantle of my heart.

Home is whenever I’m with you.

And even when I can’t see these people, when they’re not in close proximity, I know they are part of the foundation of who I am and who I once was. Even though they’re miles from me, and even now when I feel our lives diverging, their love surrounds me. Even in the people I have never met, I share a common humanity with that allows us to love one another, and feel empathy for their hard days too.

We will hold on hope because we can build homes in each other. My heart sometimes breaks for the unemployed of my generation because this job search feels like broken promises. I honestly hope young people don’t give up on pursuing what they love or feel they are called to do. It’d be a shame to stop believing we can reach our potential simply because no one is there to tell us that we still CAN, after every rejection letter.

So let’s join hands like those hippies I saw in Troy (maybe minus the tambourine and washboard). Let’s feel like it does to hug a friend you simply can’t live without. Let’s believe in what we’re doing and who we’re becoming, even if it feels improbable that we’ll ever make it out of here sometimes. Let’s know there is a world out there waiting to embrace us, even when all we want to do is scream at the skies we’re under.

My last words to you come from Rachel, and I hope you believe them too. “Don’t you know? You’re going to be ok.”

Hold on hope!

Billy Joel speaking truth at the Roack and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Billy Joel speaking truth at the Roack and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

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

Filed under: Travel — Wanderhere @ 9:12 am
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

 

Who we are and Who we were (Finding Home) January 6, 2013

Filed under: Volunteering — Wanderhere @ 4:54 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

AmeriCorps NCCC gave us a two week break over the holidays. It is the only long break we have, so many of us took advantage of the time to go home. In that time, it was a race to see how many memories we could relive. It reminded us of who we were before we put on the A. For some of us, it was a wonderful relief to be embraced by familiar arms, for others, it was a reminder of what they were trying to grow out of. Among my comings and goings, I have learned that the transition between who you are and who you were is one of the hardest things.

I love these wonderful ladies!

I love these wonderful ladies!

I came home to the open arms of family, and the loving embraces of friends. It has come to the point in my life where I am only seeing these dear people once or twice a year. I have come to terms with this, seeing them grow and become beautiful people makes it seem worth the wait. Upon seeing them I have found that over the years, we hold on to what is most true in ourselves, and often work toward what is most good.

Over break, I had the chance to visit my college town to meet up with some very good friends to ring in 2013. It was so nice to be back in Oxford. It was the first time since graduation that I had visited, and more than the great memories of school, it reminded me of something I didn’t realize upon being a fresh graduate– that I successfully committed to something. I put 4 years in the same place and I didn’t get stuck, but rather, the exact opposite. I had flown away from there.

Friends from Miami.

Friends from Miami.

One of my biggest fears for my own future is that I’ll end up complacent. This is part of the reason why I haven’t actively been looking for a career, instead choosing to travel and work in spurts of year long commitments. If I travel in work in somewhere new each year, I feel like I’ll eventually satisfy that need to seek and explore.

But, the realization I had while walking around Miami University’s campus, helped me actually believe I’ll end up somewhere – settled and comfortable. I’m not saying that wandering is all of a sudden not a priority in my life at 23, but the prospect of being somewhere for longer than a year isn’t so unrealistic or scary. I have renewed faith in myself to commit to a place, a person, or a job, as long as I am finding worth in it. I know that someday I’ll find that place I can call home again, and build my life around. For now, this feeling has also given me a renewed excitement for this current opportunity to find home in myself, and a contentment in what I am doing. I wrote this last year when I was wrapping up my VISTA year around others in the VISTA program:

As I sat thinking about the people surrounding me this weekend, it struck me that at the core of this journey, AmeriCorps becomes about being content in service to others. It becomes about finding the common ground between you and this big, big world. Sometimes it takes standing still for a bit to realize it.  

Between all of us, the definition of the word ‘home’ as we have now come to understand it is, indeed, a fluid one. We have become our own homes, holding our hearth inside our chests, giving warmth to those around us as we travel into and out of these tunnels and throughways. The entirety of the coastline our bedroom and comforter, the highway our lullaby, as the miles pass and woo us into sleep. Even those who serve their own state or city become wrapped in another shell, now dressing themselves in a role where home is different somehow – both new and old as perspectives shift with the passing of days. These programs ask us to be content in this, our service here, wherever ‘here’ is, to sustain all other things.

Miami University

Miami University

As our home is created around us through our own values and lessons learned, it’s the relationships we’re forming that will be the most important when we look back; they are part of the sustaining life-force to drive this contentment. Though we have come for our own reasons, with so many stories already written on our faces and hands, we look forward to being written on by others, intrigued by their wrinkles and scars. It’s people that make the difference, and therefore it’s people that we invest in. We gladly hand them a pen and tell them to record what they have seen on our awaiting pages – our hearts. Some of these relationships we bury. We try to whiteout the paragraphs of the parts we find unimportant, only to realize, with the passing of time, an important note written in the margins. In this journey, we come to see that we need to keep our eyes wider, our hands ready, and our hearts open to all of these people and experiences.

Home.

Home.

As for now, these people are my home. These young people willing, yearning for a change in themselves, in their country, in mankind. I know sometimes we don’t realize the impact when day after day small steps seem to add to nothing. We check our math, reassuring ourselves that the footprints are leading somewhere, that the addition of our work will eventually give way to a collaborative effort much greater than ourselves. These hard days come, but that is precisely when we need to look back and firmly resolve that the decision and want for improvement is in itself a positive impact on our society.

We are content in our service to others as the mainstay of our lives for now, and I hope this purpose finds a way to stay within us. Filling, pouring into, creating, restoring. But what it comes down to, what it really comes down to, is that contentment in service, that common bond among us carrying with it, the potential to change our world.

I hope for this new year I can appreciate and learn from who I was in all the places I’ve been, and take it with me for the remainder of this fantastic journey. But, for now, I’ll find my home in the people I am surrounded by, and I am content in that.

Tomorrow I will be flying in to Baltimore, MD to start this next project. A big THANK YOU to Southwest Airlines for donating tickets to AmeriCorps NCCC so we can help with the disaster relief in New York and New Jersey.