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How to Settle

I’m not good at dating. I’m impatient and I’m bad at bullshit. If I had things my way, I’d skip straight past infatuation and dive right into the staying-home-in-sweatpants stage of the relationship. I want to settle.

The key word is want. I want to settle, but I’m just not sure I’m made for it.

I’m on the road again and it makes me feel like myself for the first time in months. Traveling is my drug and I never want to give it up.

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

I’d like to formally apologize for the seeming rootlessness of my life as documented via Instagram and Facebook. I do have a job and a home (of sorts) and sometimes responsibilities. It’s just that sometimes those responsibilities involve forsaking all other responsibilities in the name of travel.

On Thursday last, I and a boy band from Colorado took the world’s smallest commercial airplane from San Francisco to Chico, CA where Kristen collected me from Chico’s one-room airport and we headed straight for the Sierra Nevada Brewery to brainstorm possible road trip hashtags. #DrinkingourwaytoDenver was born over a brewery tour and the fact that we both enjoy a nice adult beverage (or two or three or five) at the end of a day.

On Friday, after ignoring several alarms and one shattered rear window later (Papa Dufour’s, not our’s), we hit the road. Some highlights of the long drive through NorCal, Nevada, and a portion of Utah include history lessons (Louisiana was purchased from France and the Alamo is a must-see in San Antonio), chats about nipples, and some very enthusiastic singing of the ‘America the Beautiful’ at the sight of some purple mountains majesty.

Nevada

Those are some real, live purple mountains majesty. Ignore the fact that this picture seems to be taken out the driver’s side window while moving at high speeds.

By Friday night, we were in Park City, UT at Kristen’s uncle’s house. On a whim, I texted a friend from Montana who I knew spent winters in Utah working for Deer Valley. In a surprise turn of events, even though it was out of season, she was living there and we met Saturday morning for breakfast.

Later, as Kris drove me to the airport in Denver, I reflected on how grateful I was to have friends who travel. It’d been two years since I’d last seen Mel but it was like I’d only left Montana the day before (which sometimes it still feels like). In high school or college, you have friends based on proximity–class, extracurriculars, history–but as you get older and get to choose who you keep in your life and who you lose touch with, you realize that distance is irrelevant. If it’s meant to last, it’ll last. So seeing Mel, who from her tattoos to her kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude, inspired me all summer, after two years with all of my new tattoos and kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude I’ve been slowly and surely developing felt like coming full circle.

aspens in Utah

Hiking on a mountain in Utah. “Are these aspens?” “I don’t know but I still have reception; why don’t we look it up?” Conclusion: these are, in fact, aspens. 

If you didn’t know, I’m casually afraid of heights. I quantify my fear with ‘casually’ because it’s not something that gets brought up within the first five minutes (or sometimes the first five years) within meeting me. It’s something that I myself often forget, right up until I’m standing at the top of a turf-covered hill in shorts and sawed-off skis with my PE teacher holding a fire hose shouting, “Just go already!” And then I think, “Oh, right, I HATE heights.”

So as Kristen and I get on the ski lift to take us to the top of the mountain for our hike on Saturday, I mention, oh so casually, “By the way, I hate heights.”

What this really means is that she has to start talking me through the whole getting-off-the-lift process five minutes before we arrive because it bears repeating (“What do you mean I just stand up? What if I can’t? What do you mean I just walk off? What if I don’t? What if it knocks me over? What if I stand up too soon? What if I die?”) and it takes some convincing to get me to let go of the bar so that we can raise it in preparation for our descent.

And Kristen, the sweetheart, doesn’t even tell me to shut up (as I totally would’ve if I was in her situation) when, as she tries to convince me that the ski lift will slow down for me to step off the ski lift without having to jump and roll, as one would exit a moving vehicle, the ski lift fails to slow down and I start to, with a slowly increasing volume insist, “It’s not slowing down, Kristen, it’s not going to slow down. Kristen, it’s not slowing down. Oh God, Kristen, look, it isn’t slowing down. It isn’t going to slow down.”

Spoiler alert: it does slow down, we get off, the ski lift operator keeps from laughing until we’ve safely exited the platform, and then Kristen and I hike back down the mountain.

Utah, Ualright

Utah, Ualright. (See what I did there?!)

Over breakfast, Mel casually mentions that she has an extra room in her house for rent and she’d love to recommend me for a job at the resort where she works in the winters. Her offer sticks in my mind all through our hike, all along the drive through the rest of Utah and into Denver, on my flight to Texas, as I’m sitting here in my hometown’s public library writing this blog post.

And why shouldn’t I give up five months of my life to live in Utah and figure out how to function in snow? I stayed home from another year teaching abroad to give this whole “settling down” thing a try and, so far, it’s limped along with mixed reviews.

But–as when I wrapped up a summer in Montana, as when I contemplated a nannying gig in Italy or seven months teaching in France–I have to wonder where does it stop? If I keep saying yes to five months here and a summer there and another seven months somewhere new, at what point do I say no? Because when it’s Montana, Utah, France, Hawaii, why would I want to say no?

cloud shadows

“Do you ever think about cloud shadows and just how dang neat they are?” -an actual question asked by an actual person, i.e. me, quoted verbatim

I think, maybe like dating, I’m just not built for settling down. Some people are doctors and some are lawyers and some live in houses and some live out of their parents’ guest bedrooms in the middle months between seasonal jobs.

Maybe I’m asking for now, maybe I’m asking for future reference, but how do people do it? How do they settle? How do they silence that voice inside of them telling them that the next adventure is over that mountain, waiting in line with the taxis at a new airport, at the bottom of just one more beer at the next bar in an unexplored city’s downtown?

Because society needs travelers just as much as they need doctors and lawyers. Okay, maybe not just as much, but still, they’re pretty important. You need people to explore and to ask questions and to push boundaries and to boldly go where no human has gone before.

So maybe this is my part in the universe? Maybe this aversion to standing still is my lot in life and my cosmic purpose and all that jazz. Or maybe I’ll settle down tomorrow. Everything is uncertain but any and all suggestions and advice would be fully appreciated, from travelers and settlers alike.

beer in Denver

Cheers to the end of the road!

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Reverse Culture Shock

The Things No One Tells You

In the weeks before you prepare to depart your recently adopted homeland, your Facebook newsfeed and your group Whatsapp and your inbox will be flooded with articles and blog posts and op ed pieces about coming home. You’ll become a pseudo-expert and fervent disciple in Reverse Culture Shock.

But, for all of articles I read and the friend-of-a-friend experiences I heard recounted, there are a few things that I’ve realized in the last few months that no one amount of studying up on Reverse Culture Shock prepared me for.

1. It’s surprisingly easy. One minute you’re meeting friends for tapas in an alley behind your piso and the next you’re driving the streets of your hometown having flashbacks to high school and it’s almost as if you’ve never left. I was just there, you think as you pass the restaurant where you had your farewell dinner, conveniently forgetting the last year of your life. Sure, you miss Spain, but do you know what else you miss? First crushes and your mom’s tuna noodle casserole and your childhood bedroom. Spain seems like just one more thing that’s gone the way of high school relationships and deceased grandparents: there will always be a hole and an ache for the things you left in the past but, with time and new memories, it gets smaller.

2. The panic. You’re lulled into a false sense of security for the first few weeks. This is so easy! you think triumphantly. I should come home from foreign countries more often! And then the panic sets in. Is this it? Is it all over? This big, significant thing that you spent the last ten months living and will impact the person you are for years to come is now just one more memory out of many, like losing your two front teeth at that roller rink or your first heartbreak. What if you forget the language and the lessons and the person you became? What was the point of any of it if you can’t point to at least one thing and say, “And that’s what I learned in Spain.”?

3. Happiness is slippery and evasive and rare. This is the biggest shock that I was not prepared for. In Spain, happiness came easy. It fell in my lap like sunshine, it blew in on the breeze with my curtains through the open window, it was mixed into my tinto de verano and its the stuff that they cure hams with.

This isn’t rose-colored glasses talking; there certainly were frustrating times and hard times and dull times and times when I missed home. But, as a whole, my life was happier there. What makes happiness so easy when you’re not at home? Is it the climate? Is it the lack of responsibilities or reality? Whatever it is, I took it for granted and I want it back.

Maybe these are lessons that you already knew. Maybe they were lessons that already knew, but this is the fourth thing that no one ever tells you about: you have to relearn them, and so much more, when you come home. How did happiness work before? In Spain, it just happened, but now: do I make it? Is it given to me? Do I take it? Where does it come from? This panic that reminds me I was made for greater thing, that I lived greater things, and now my life is a duller sliver of what it was: how do I get past it? This is more than deep breaths and positive visualization. This false sense of comfort lulls me to sleep and I have to fight tooth and nail to work harder and dream bigger than my high school self would’ve been content with.

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Life from Here On Out

Y’know how people always say that it’s better to “have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”? Well, I’d like to call bullshit. Sometimes I think it would’ve been much better if I’d never experienced Montana or lived in Spain so that I wouldn’t have to feel this heartache that hits me in the gut so hard that I have to stop and catch my breath.

This is the fifth thing that they never told me about coming home: nothing is ever the same. Sure, it feels like home and looks like home and it smells like home, but it’s different. Or, rather, it’s not different: you are. And you can sleep in your old bed and hang out with your old friends, but it’s not the old you that’s doing these things. If home is where your heart is, this can never be your whole-hearted home again–just like Spain never felt like a complete fit–because pieces of your heart are missing: you’ve carelessly left slivers of yourself in Gardner, MT and Huercal-Overa, and College Station and Washington D.C. and wherever else you’ve been that you’ve lived.

But, what’s done is done. I’ve loved and I’ve lost and I’m back in the States. I don’t know where I’m going next or what I’m doing but I do know that my heart isn’t here in the Bay Area.

Or, maybe, once I leave, I’ll find that I was wrong. Maybe the Bay Area was just my rebound home and for that, San Francisco, I apologize: you didn’t get the best of me.

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What I learned from Standing Still

Nothing.

After spending a month in Texas, I was given/offered/handed the opportunity to go to California for a while. It was a sweet deal–free rent, paying job, indefinite amount of time–that fell together so quickly that I thought it was Meant To Be, with capital letters.

And then I spent two months out here. I applied for countless jobs was offered zero interviews. I made all of five friends. California was not the American Dream I’d been led to believe.

So, two months later I say the words out loud, “I haven’t been happy for a while.” This acknowledgment brings me a surprising amount of peace but still something holds me back from cutting the ties completely and going somewhere else.

I feel like I’ve failed. I came all the way out here and what do I have to show for it? I thought California would be the Land of Opportunities and instead I’ve found the Land of Waiting. I’ve had some nice times with some nice people, some good stories to tell, but nothing that’s made me stop and say “Damn.” Maybe this is a consequence of a post-Spain life. Happiness is hard and breathtaking moments are just as rare.

But after a talk with Kristen, who feels similarly about the Bay Area and is preparing to cut her own ties with the Golden State and give Colorado a try, I have to admit, I’ve had a good summer. And maybe that’s all I get.

What I learned from standing still out in California is nothing. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’ve had enough personal growth and life-changing lessons for several years to come. Maybe I was supposed to just come out here and have some fun and drink too much whiskey and never ride a cable car and get on a first name basis with the receptionist at my dentist’s office and wear some Superbowl rings and accept that not everything ends with a life lesson.

 

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Jefferson Memorial

It’s been over two months since Italy, a month since Iceland, and almost a year since I sat in this exact same room, in this exact same bed, in this exact same house, puzzling over how to make sense of new beginnings.

After school ended back in May, I walked out of Cura Valera for the last time and straight to the bus station. My principal Laura, the same one who’d picked me up from the bus station nine months earlier, was the same one who dropped me off. Once I got to Almeria I took my last taxi to 26 Paseo de Almeria and let myself in with the key under the mat. That’s when it hit me: this is it. No more Ex-Pat Thanksgiving, no more rounds of King’s Cup, no more tapas at Bambalina or Coke & Hope Floats (or was it Hope & Coke Floats?) on Sunday nights. I had twelve hours to say goodbye so I put my luggage down, pushed aside my early-onset homesickness, and forged out into the night. And at 9 AM the next morning, after two rounds of discotecas and a sunrise skinny dip in the Mediterranean, I boarded my last ALSA bus and began the journey home.

Fast forward three flights, two countries, four time zones, and one week later and I’m back on American soil. After a long metro ride with someone I can only assume was my future self (my future self told me I’m going to marry a Navy man and have three boys) I scarfed down some REAL AMERICAN PIZZA WITH RANCH AND A DR. PEPPER and crashed mega-hard (I say things like mega-hard now that I’m back in the US). In the morning, because I’m still in traveler-mode, I get up at 8, lace up my Chacos and hit the streets.

This is my sixth time in DC.  It strikes me with particular poignancy (or maybe this is just the jet lag) that my time in DC has come full circle. Once, six or seven years ago, I left home for the first time to spend nearly a month in DC. My first week was spent hiding in a basement, terrified of my own shadow, let alone those cast by some of the buildings. And then one day the Downeys took me to these botanical gardens in Virginia with a greenhouse full of lily pads bigger than my entire body. And just like that, I fell in love with adventuring and I fell in love with DC.

One day, I walked the monuments, from the capitol all the way down to Lincoln. I sat on the edge of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to kids recite “I Have a Dream” in childish unison and felt my feet hanging dozens of feet above the ground but felt surprisingly rooted in the magnitude of history and my place in it. And then, with one last monument to visit, I took a right instead of a left and landed up in Foggy Bottom and GWU rather than the tidal basin and the Jefferson Memorial. Each time I’ve come back, I’ve tried to squeeze it into my schedule and failed each time.

So, three more trips, six years, and so many countries, I’ve finally made it to the Jefferson Memorial. And I’ve been walking all morning trying to make sense of things and this is what I’ve got: some things take years to get to. Forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, a surprisingly illusive monument.

jefferon

Some things take years to get to. At the Jefferson Memorial (FINALLY!).

When my dad was twenty, he and a buddy took a road trip out to California. Ever since I turned 18, I have been begging and planning and dreaming of the day when I would finally make what, to me, amounted to my coming-of-age pilgrimage to the Golden State. And tomorrow that pilgrimage begins; some things just take years to get to.

But I’ve come of age. I moved to Spain and I spent a week in Iceland and I finally saw the damn Jefferson Memorial (in real life, not just stills from Scandal). Why am I going? What am I going to do? How long am I going to be gone? All questions I’m looking forward to learning the answers to. I didn’t go looking for this adventure, I just kind of stumbled upon it by accident.

Back in May, I was sitting on a beach in Cabo de Gata with some friends on one of our last weekends together before our bus back to Almeria and I had to fight to keep from screaming, “BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” I didn’t expect the answer to be Texas. I also didn’t expect the answer to be California. I don’t think that the answer is France (for now).

So by Saturday I’ll be the newest resident of San Francisco where I’ll be somewhat of a nanny, sort of a housekeeper, maybe an employee of a software company. I didn’t say anything sooner because I didn’t want to jinx it; not even 48 hours before I received the offer to move to California, I had just finished accepting an offer from the College Station Parks & Rec department to teach swimming lessons. My month back in Texas hasn’t gone slowly and now, without even planning for it, I’m leaving again.

Back in Spain, I wondered what would happen to The Accidental Adventurer. Not surprisingly, she’s accidentally stumbled upon another adventure. Tomorrow, I move to California.

home

Home is wherever I’m with you. At Houston Intercontinental Airport. 

Once when I was in college, on a school night, I drove down to Austin for a concert. At the concert, I stood so close to the speakers that the bass moved through me, shaking down my collar bones and shimmying up my spine until I couldn’t tell where my heartbeat ended and the music began. This past month, I’ve been driving all over Texas, from Shiner to Fort Worth and all around the hill country. And everywhere I go, I get the same breathless, lost-my-heartbeat feeling. And then I see it: my heartbeat, in the hills and the trees and the sunsets and the highways and the rivers and the weddings and the reunions and the families and the friends. How am I supposed to leave this? How am I supposed to leave the place that makes my heart beat?

I don’t have the answer to that one either. I just know that coming home wasn’t as hard as I expected. I just know that today I picked up my Heart of Texas charm from James Avery, freshly polished for new adventures. I just know that tomorrow a new adventure begins and I’m just as prepared for it as I was almost one year ago, when I sat in this same spot preparing to go to Spain.

It’s been a hell of a year, hasn’t it?

 

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