Wander Into –

A Collection of Journeys

I am a Wilderness First Responder, can I help you? January 7, 2014

My favorite parts of life are when I can do something that makes me nervous. It helps remind me to absorb the experience fully – to be an active part of this life. Since August, I have been finding 1 new thing to experience each month, all stemming from the fact that I didn’t want to lose myself during unemployment.

August: Road trip by myselfIMG950168

September: Live in Cleveland for a week

October: Volunteer for a trail crew with Ohio DNR

November: Learn the Ukulele

December: Get my Wilderness First Responder Certification

The day after Christmas, I traveled to Seattle, Washington to take a Wilderness First Responder certification course. I paid for it with some of my AmeriCorps Education Award money, and signed up for the course back in October when I was jobless and entirely frustrated with being at home – my entire body aching for adventure and that nervous feeling you get when you do something completely new.

The only problem with my plan was that in mid-December something happened. I had 4 interviews in the same week. I got a full time job offer to work for a well-respected non-profit that was going to start in my home town. I was given the title of ‘Director’ and told to run with it. I have constantly reminded myself that I could do and live anywhere for a year – I never imagined that would mean the place I grew up. I wrestled with what the job would mean for my life goals – would I ever make it west again? Was I giving up on my personal development for professional goals?

In time, I came to accept the position and where I was. I knew the good work I would be doing with children would make a difference. I felt busy and useful. My first two weeks helped me feel more comfortable, maybe even vaguely content. I was lucky enough that the organization even allowed me to miss work and travel to Washington for my WFR certification.

Can you see Mt. Rainier?

Can you see Mt. Rainier?

The day after Christmas I flew west for the course, and it felt like a homecoming. In the edited words of John Muir, “The mountains (were) calling, and I (did) go.” Flying over the crinkled brow of the earth, seeing the Cascades out my plane window, I remembered what bliss felt like.20131226_124633

Something happened in those 2 weeks I was away. I fell in love again with the Pacific Northwest, with every raindrop that created the coast’s beautiful vibrancy of being. Things there are textured with life and the reminder of the motions of it. The stunning mountain views, and chill of the wind off the sound awoke that part of my brain that was slipping into fallacy. I could finally let go of the portion of me that was worried I would forget the lesson that, yes, this beauty does exist, and it beckons with every part of mother earth. It was no dream I lived last April when I lived in this place.

Our class was 10 days on Bainbridge Island filled with wilderness emergency scenarios, growing friendships and an underlying respect for the outdoors. The 30 of us grew to know names and palpate spines. We looked for signs of life in the airways we spoke from, the precious breaths we took, the reminder that each pulse was such a sure fire sign that our hearts could still feel and decide, and lastly, that we were trained to expose something deeper. Our communal living was a force with which we built resiliency. I love the potential of the human body, hence my degree in an anatomy/physiology field, but to combine it with the awe of nature, and complexities of the human condition, well, I was in my element.

My entire WFR class. I palpated everyone's spine at least once.

My entire WFR class. I’m sure I palpated everyone’s spine at least once.

Another of my favorite things in life is to meet new people and become a part of their lives, if only for a short time. It is because we make ourselves vulnerable to others that we can feel this acceptance and acknowledgement of the humanity that surrounds us. When with good people, it’s never a choice. There is an irresistible flow to life that draws us to one another – our friendships and stories that carry us sometimes far beyond whatever was intended – beyond comfort or anticipation of the reaches of even our greatest foresight.

After we were all officially WFRs!

After we were all officially WFRs!

My trip to Seattle was a perfect storm of bliss and nature and people and learning.  Upon the touchdown of my plane wheels in Ohio, it seemed as though my molten and dynamic self was thrown into water to harden. It was like reliving the utter halt of adventure I felt when I arrived home from California. There was such a drastic shift in my attitude toward the place where I am – my head still filled with mountains and playful hearts.

There are two conflicting thoughts that make my stomach drop, that make me nervous – the first being that I am stuck here for another few years as I build myself professionally. The second being that I am scared of what I now know to be true – I feel most at home when I am wandering and seeking new journeys. Though I never want to lose that spark that keeps me moving, that way of life seems so out of my comfort zone that I’m not sure I can handle it as gracefully as the people I surrounded myself with these past few weeks. I can only hope to hold on to the one absolute I am entirely sure of – that I will never love anything more than helping, loving, and learning from people.

For now, it seems I am a broken record proclaiming that home is still not home, and the meaning of my life is based on the culmination of something I’m not quite grasping yet. I hope my journey isn’t inhibited by a distracted existence – only thriving on moments when I am away instead of here, head in the clouds and dreaming of mountains.

 

What Living Without a Door in Oakland Taught Me November 21, 2013

It’s coming up on the fourth month of my unemployment, and sometimes I feel like the last 2 years of volunteering never happened. To keep this from happening, to remind myself of the important things I learned about the world and my place in it, I drift into memories that have stuck with me, even over the miles and minutes.

The last round of my AmeriCorps NCCC experience had my little band of misfits living in Alameda, California – an island suburb of Oakland in the Bay Area. We were serving Reading Partners, helping them stuff over 1,000 new curriculum packets to be sent all over the country for their tutoring program (It’s really an amazing organization that takes full advantage of all AmeriCorps factions, and utilizes volunteers to connect the community. Check them out!).

Obviously working hard at Reading Partners

Obviously working hard at Reading Partners

Since the organization an NCCC team serves is compelled to provide housing for its poor volunteers, my team had stayed in everything from tents and yurts to fully furnished lodges and dorm rooms. Much like transportation and food, our living spaces were usually communal, where bunk beds were commonplace. This is why, when the contact person at our sponsor organization told us that they had rented us a house, we high-fived in excitement. A house meant separate bedrooms. It meant personal space and alone time. It meant dancing in your room naked if you really wanted to.

“I must warn you, it’s not furnished. Don’t expect the Ritz Carlton,” our contact cautioned.

Didn’t care. We had our own rooms.

When we arrived at the house – a Victorian style fixer- upper – we rushed up the stoop and into the house. The hallways were adorned with dust and pale, yellowing paint. The rooms were crusted in memories – you could feel it. Several trinkets had been left by the previous owners – a small note of emergency numbers, hash marks on the wall to mark growth, bent and dirtied spoons still sitting in the drawer.

Morning coffee on the porch before work.

Morning coffee on the porch before work.

Though these spaces we would inhabit were on loan to us, they became our homes, even to us nomads. The only thing our rooms were adorned with this time around were the shelter cots we had brought with us, and our issued red duffle bags. To an outsider, our rooms seemed barren, but to us, a group who had already traveled thousands of weary miles with only these few possessions, we found that we had the fullest living space in the world.

In order to pick rooms fairly, we drew numbers. Unfortunately, I picked the second highest number, leaving me with the choice to live on the ground floor/basement level, or a room on the main floor that was probably the front sitting room at one point. The front room was the first one after entering the house and had no door. I had big objections to living on the ground floor, which smelled of cat urine and housed our inevitably noisy communal kitchen. I chose the room without a door. It put a new meaning to an open door policy.

2013-06-13_11-48-10_336By this point in time, I had spent the better part of 8 months with these 6 other people – through disaster relief in New Jersey, to climbing mountains to maintain trail in Washington. Our lives had become patterned in live work sleep live work pick up and go. Beyond anything I ever imagined, we were a functional and entirely dysfunctional unit.

At the beginning of NCCC, I wanted nothing to do with being a leader. Though one of the oldest ones on my team of 18 to 24 year-olds, I purely wanted the experience and excitement with none of the responsibility. About half way through, when our team was falling apart due to internal struggle, I realized I was so disappointed in my participation and had a decision to make: quit or invest. There was no admiration in being a stagnant body in the experience. I tried to step up, trying to become a sounding board or a better person along the way. I’m not saying I got it right all of the time, but I hope my intentions became more transparent. I believe I gained so much more out of those last 4 months than I thought possible.

So when it came to living without a door, I at first reverted to the me, me, me mindset. This seemed different than all the other times I had to live in the same room other people. It felt like everyone else had the privilege of privacy, and I still did not. Eventually, I bought a 3 dollar, salmon colored sheet from a thrift store and used push pins to hang it up. I could still hear all the comings and goings. People would come into my room without a thought. The front porch and stoop was right next to my front window, revealing both early morning coffee drinkers and my late morning bed hair.

That first week was rough on me. Depending on moods, doors to others’ bedrooms were opened or closed. Depending on whether my push pins would stay in the wall was what determined my space. My teammates would make remarks on how messy my room was if my sheet was down. Even when I put the sheet up, I’m pretty sure I broke the record for fastest change of clothes, knowing the sheet was semi-transparent, and not knowing how soon someone would walk through the door or down the hallway.

Beach time in Alameda

Beach time in Alameda

I put up that sheet as a boundary line. This flimsy, pinkish colored piece of cloth was supposed to keep people out. Little did I know, it served much better to let people in.

The second week, I tried something new – patience…oh, and ear plugs. There was nothing I could do (besides move to the basement) about living without a door. As time went on, the sheet seemed silly – my boundary was entirely penetrable. But you know what else I discovered? So was everyone else’s.

I realized how false our space was. In these close quarters, the illusion of personal space gave us all comfort, but these single rooms were no match for the already intertwined support beams we had become. Even without rooms, we had earned the respect and understanding to meet each individual’s needs.

It was in those final weeks that I think my teammates understood my privacy needs best, and for that, I let more people come in and out of my room. I put up the sheet as a boundary, but it seems that all those lines had been crossed months ago. Sure, there was varied frustration when people would enter my room, my space, without asking, but there was also a sense of kinship as we began to reflect on who we had become.

My door was the blanket we laid out at the beach. It was the tablecloth to picnics and barbeques. Though I would never admit it at the time, I could keep tabs on who was out, and who was making breakfast. Because I had no door, my room was the place we gathered when we found out one of our teammates was in crisis, and formulated how to help him. “Can I borrow your door?” became a rallying cry of togetherness as it was utilized for group activity.

I ended up in the room without a door because of luck of the draw. That salmon colored sheet, stained with sea water and foot prints, proved how my boundaries were broken down time and time again. It proved how trust and respect was maintained, even in such a close space. It proved how letting people in was so much better than keeping them out. I couldn’t escape those people, and now, months later, I’m sorry that I ever wanted to.

 

Unless. September 26, 2013

There was a glimmer of hope this week as I finally got my first interview since I started applying to jobs 2 months ago. I was excited that it was with a well-respected youth outdoor excursion organization, and was in Portland, Oregon to boot! The position was for an assistant instructor for their outdoor education program.

“How familiar are you with Portland?”

I should have known when that was the first interview question…

Still, this didn’t stop me from fantasizing about road bikes, flannel, and all around hipster atmosphere a job in the Pacific Northwest would allow. I dreamed of taking a chance and driving my car out, having to live out of a duffle bag, and be sustained on the passion of my dreams and the outdoors for the first few weeks. It was going to be something that scared me into being a better, more complete person. It was going to be one of those stories I told with pride as listeners said, “You really did that?” My next great adventure was within sight.

And then yesterday happened.

It was one of those days I just felt like I couldn’t get it right. After scouring the internet for non-profit jobs, and realizing my qualifications didn’t match, what felt like, anything, I gave up. I started questioning my experiences, feeling as though they were worthless in the eyes of any employer.

Earning the Presidential Service Award, Congressional Service Medal, Hurricane Sandy Disaster responder pin, and AmeriCorps VISTA completion pin mean something, right?

Earning the Presidential Service Award, Congressional Service Medal, Hurricane Sandy Disaster responder pin, and AmeriCorps VISTA completion pin all mean something, right?

I didn’t do anything on my to do list. I spent a majority of the day watching the second season of New Girl and relating to the character Jess’s unemployment woahs. When I wasn’t zombie-ing in front of the television, I was lying on the floor, contemplating how useless I was.

And then the email came. The, we appreciated you applying email, the you weren’t the right fit email, the better luck somewhere else email.

No Portland. No west coast. No usefulness or worth.

And then my car broke.

I was waiting in line for to go food as my brother parked the car, and, after a few minutes, he came inside, fiddling with the keys in his right hand. “Your power steering went out.” I just kept staring straight ahead. It took most of my concentration not to let my tears break the surface.

Unemployed, no car, broke.

I felt completely defined by these things last night.

But then this morning happened.

As I walked back downtown from the mechanic’s, I glanced at my phone to see what time it was. For some reason, the background stuck out. It was nothing new – a collage of postcards and remnants from my 2 years of volunteer work that I had taken a picture of back in July. There is a white bumper sticker in the picture with the phrase, “Your world. Your chance to make it better.”

YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE IT BETTER.

YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE IT BETTER.

Plain and simple, the message was clear.

There are moments that are meant to act as clear indicators in your life. A Wednesday evening dinner at a camp in Southern California was one of them. At that point in time, I was seriously considering quitting AmeriCorps NCCC. Team dynamics seemed to be all sorts of complicated, and I felt as though I could be doing volunteer work much more happily somewhere else. I was on track to make a decision by the end of the week about whether or not to stay.

Before each meal at the camp, we said a prayer or were read a quote. That evening, the camp director picked a quote at random. It was the ‘Unless’ quote from Dr. Suess’s, The Lorax

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”

If I was looking for a sign, that was it. Obviously, I decided to stick with NCCC, and completed one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life.

Finding a job in something I’m passionate about is my chance to make “it” better, whether that be someone else’s life, or an organization, or the world with a capital w. If I don’t commit myself to doing this, who will?

I’ve thought about giving up on this whole job thing recently. It would be so much easier to find something I could stand day to day instead of a job I am seriously passionate about. In the long term though, how easy would it be to live with myself?

I am thankful for the small things - a beautiful fall day.

I am thankful for the small things – a beautiful fall day in Cleveland.

I am going to keep caring about this job search. I am going to keep looking for something that has me helping people in a way that is meaningful to me, whether it’s in Portland, Oregon or Bow, New Hampshire or any town, city or wilderness in between. I could make ends meet working at a Subway or substitute teaching or staying as a cook at the camp I’m currently making money with. But I can’t. I won’t. I’m going to keep at it.

Unless. Unless. Unless.

I had my self pity day, and even though I have felt like I have been on the verge of tears for most of the past 36 hours, I find myself trying as hard as I can to not define myself by my unemployment or monetary worth.

For now, it’s all I can keep believing in.

Special note: Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my friends and family over the past few months. I could not do this without your encouragement and love via phone calls, texts, letters, posts, and hugs. You are the reason I bounce back. You are the reason I believe I can take on the world. I can only hope to repay you somehow in the future. Sending you all much love.

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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.

 

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