Posts Tagged ‘Life

29
May
09

It’s raining metaphors

Umbrella by Art.Lebedev Studio.

My original intention for this post was to compare life to the unpredictable nature of weather.

Since Spring has arrived, the weather in Amsterdam has become much more fickle and I find I can no longer make a semi-accurate forecast by simply reading the sky when I wake up. This usually worked for me in the winter, but I have lately found myself fooled on too many occasions. Lesson: you can’t judge the day’s weather based on how the sky looks at 7 in the morning, just wear layers and shoes (as much as you may hate it) and keep your stupid plastic rain pants handy.

And there it was, finally some neat and tidy little metaphor I could use to write another long-overdue blog post and remind those who read it that I have not, in fact, lost all of my fingers in some horrible accident. As I face yet another major fork in the road of life and do little but worry about every potential decision I have to make, I can look up at the changing skies and remind myself that I can’t judge something by how it looks at first, that I just have to grab my umbrella and walk out the door. Eureka! Blog, here I come! Everybody can relax now, I finally thought of something moderately clever to bore you all with for a good 3 idle minutes of your workday.

So, thusly motivated, I sat down to write and promptly realized how tired and overused not only this metaphor is, but also the subject matter in general. It bored me too quickly to even get through the first paragraph, and I realized it’s because I was basically about to rewrite the same post I’ve already written 10 times in different ways–most of them at this time last year when I was right where I am now (minus 9 months in Europe). The formula is this: my life is about to change dramatically, I’m facing another bunch of big scary decisions, I might not choose the right ones, there’s no way to know if something will work out until after it’s too late, but I have been newly reminded by some aspect of daily life that it’s all OK, that we just have to push on and make the best decision we can at the time and hope for the best. Ta-da! Enlightening, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, these cute little metaphors leave me still facing the stormy future with no fewer worries, and no more answers. And they probably leave you rolling your eyes at your computer screen thinking “deal with it” or perhaps clicking back to YouTube or textsfromlastnight where the real action is. And no, I won’t be offended if you click that link and do not read the rest of this post. It’s an addictive site.

The point is, the weather metaphor is as exhausted as I feel with so many impending decisions looming on the  horizon yet again. But no one is going to give me the answers, or even a little sympathy, and it’s time to change my attitude, stop worrying and start doing. As my mom always says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” And while I think that’s bull shit, and that some weather just sucks, I admit that it’s time to hitch up my big girl panties and take the next step, whatever it turns out to be.

I just hope I wear the right jacket.

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16
Aug
08

Fear of the Unknown

Well, here it goes: in exactly three weeks I will be on a plane to Amsterdam. Where I’m moving. Alone. For one year. To be thousands of miles from anyone I know. In a city with a lot of rain. I sound excited, don’t I?

Now the news is on the internet for public view and has become official. I keep thinking that new developments in the planning process make it more officially official – first it was the job offer in mid-July, then it was sharing the information with friends and family, then it was the flight reservation, and now it’s the debut on my blog. When the news hits Facebook, there’s really no turning back.

If I sound at all like I’m staring doomsday (or, as I like to call it, September 5th when I depart from SFO) in the face, I apologize and ask that you withhold judgement. Exactly one year ago as I was preparing for my semester in Italy, I felt and behaved in precisely this way – except worse. I was depressed and cried for several weeks, imagining a new possible catastrophe every day and assuming all the worst. People probably thought I was getting ready to jump into a fiery volcano rather than spend three and a half months in one of the most popular destinations in the world doing nothing but eating and learning and exploring. But this is simply how I am.

When I graduated and moved away from college (see post: “Coming Full Circle”), I told a few people that I felt like I’d been given a death sentence and was being forced to say my final farewells in the time I had left. I believed I’d never see most of the people there again and kept saying things like “have a nice life” and “nice knowin’ ya,” with only partial sarcasm. In other words, I’m a little bit crazy. But come on, who isn’t? It’s just that I am very nostalgic and get very attached (see post: “Hold for a few breaths”) and have an exceptionally difficult time leaving people and things behind.

But I know it’s what I’m supposed to do right now. And I know it will be great. Every rational molecule of my little-bit-crazy being says that this is the best thing for me, that nothing but good will come from it, and that I will change and grow in positive ways that I can only begin to imagine now. Despite this, I am sad and scared and irritable as my departure date approaches.

This is rooted in my intense love for the life I’ve had thus far, and for an almost debilitating fear of the unknown (though it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything yet). At the end of my time in Italy I thought I’d moved past this silly habit of freaking out every time I experience a positive transition in my life. In December I wrote this in the last post of my travel blog:

…when I’m reading a book, at the start of a new chapter I always flip to the end to see how many pages it is, to see just what exactly I’m getting myself into. But, while I still do that with every book I read, I no longer feel that I have to know how something in my life is going to happen, no longer submit to the anxious need of a clear picture and understanding of what I’m about to do.

Yet, here I am – sad to say goodbye to what I know, and afraid to say hello to what I don’t. My only comfort (and it is enormously comforting) is the knowledge that I am going to live with what I can already tell is a wonderful, loving and interesting family in a place with everything to offer and that I’ll have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their lives (and my own, of course) as an au pair. Just as my trip to Italy turned out to be pretty much nonstop bliss and allowed me to grow and mature unlike anything else had before, I know that this year will surprise and delight me in ways I can’t even predict, that it will certainly be my greatest adventure yet.

Plus, I’ll learn a few things, which is always solid incentive. The other night I went to Barnes and Noble in search of a phrase book to begin learning my Dutch. I couldn’t find anything on the shelves, so I approached the info desk to ask a helpful and knowledgeable employee. The conversation went like this:

“Hi. I’m looking for a Dutch phrase book.”

“OK. So…Danish?”

“No, Dutch. Ya know, the Netherlands?”

“Right, but in terms of the language, you want Danish?”

“Um, no. Dutch, like I said. Dutch is the language.”

They didn’t have anything; next time I’ll take my business to Borders. So, if I get absolutely nothing else out of this experience (which I know won’t be the case), at least I can be happy with the knowledge that I will never, ever be a stupid girl working in a bookstore who doesn’t know that Dutch is a language and that it is spoken by people who are Dutch.

And that will soon, with a little courage and a lot of practice, be spoken by me.

***

Check back often for posts on my adventures; I’m more than happy to help anyone live vicariously. Look under the Amsterdam category and by all means, leave me a comment.

04
Aug
08

Coming Full Circle… and then going

It’s unnatural to leave a circle, to disrupt the seamless connection of meeting ends, to break away in a crooked line shooting off in another direction. If this were natural, our most fundamentally important geometric shape would resemble something like a sun drawn by a 5-year-old in a rendering of a landscape: a squashed oval with jagged rays protruding in every which way. But a circle is a circle is a circle – perfect, whole, complete. Like the moon, our eyes, a wheel, a crown, wedding rings, even the click wheel on an iPod, or perhaps an orange. So many vital, core things in the human world are circular (or spherical, if we want to get technical), and they remain that way because it makes the most sense.

I believe this is the reason that many people struggle with the traffic circle in the quaint downtown where I attended college. Visitors navigating the roundabout for the first time often become confused and frustrated when trying to figure out how, when and where to turn off (though there are only four options). Once you push your car into the oncoming traffic swinging around the loop and speed up to join the rushing, honking drivers, all while watching for pedestrians, it’s difficult to take a sharp right and break from it. The momentum continues pushing you around and around until you lose vision of your turn-off, your destination.

I realized this is also the way I went through my time spent in college and Southern California. I got in and started cruising the loop at top speed, ignoring the reality that college is, in fact, a terminal arrangement until they were forcing the diploma into my tightly closed fist. I wanted to scream at them to keep it, that I was staying, that nobody could make me do the things I’m destined to do, to branch out in life and use all the things I learned to enrich my existence and even the world around me. No! The child in me wanted to hang around drawing jagged yellow suns in coloring books and pretend there was nothing else in life worth doing.

But I accepted the diploma, spent a couple extra months in town trying to say some goodbyes, and I left. I left the home I made for myself and all the people I have come to love. On the evening of my first day of college, I grabbed a person I had just met and we walked down the street to sit on the benches in the middle of this traffic circle (ironically called Plaza Square). We watched the colorful fountain and learned about each other. I have since spent many hours in that circle – with that same person, with others, and often alone – observing the quiet rushing movements of life around me and listening to the changes occurring within myself. It became a sort of nucleus for my time spent there, and it was the last place I sat (with the same person who I brought there the first time) in the town that was my home of the last four years. Then I got in my car and found my turn-off.

It’s difficult to remember when rushing through a circle that you can leave it just as easily as you entered it. Turning off is no more complicated or difficult than turning in, it just involves changing your speed in different ways. I drove away from my college life just as plainly as I drove up to it, with a bunch of crap piled in my trunk and a very familiar fear of the unknown weighing on my shoulders. Though the circle may look unchanged and the circumstances seem similar, I can be confident knowing that I took what I needed as I sped through that rotation, and because of that the next circle I come to will be even easier to enter.

31
Jul
08

D’il Mio Libro Piccolo: Tralfamadorian Novels

I finally read Slaughterhouse-Five. Anyone who has harassed me about it can now get off my back. I do see what all the fuss is about, though, and in retrospect I’m glad to have been pestered.

Billy Pilgrim learns a lot of great things from the aliens who abduct him, perhaps the greatest being the circular, seamless and holistic nature of time that we fatalistic humans will never understand (myself especially, though I wish to). This temporal reality in which they live is reflected in the many layered novels they enjoy – far more complex than our simple words-on-a-page storybooks; a Tralfamadorian novel is a thoughtful collection of messages.

There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.

I like to think of one of their novels as the collective of one person’s reading choices over a lifetime. Do we not, after all, read one book to see the marvelous moments crafted therein? An image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep? We may not be able to see all these moments at once, but instead maintain the patience and interest to see one moment at a time, one word, one page, one chapter, one book, until everything has been stored away in our mental catalog, waiting there to serve that relentless human need for meaning, purpose and connections. After a lifetime of reading, surviving and watching the world spin and tumble around us, we can look on the many marvelous moments that have become our consciousness and take a sigh of solemn gratitude because it is – it will be – beautiful and surprising and deep.

15
Jul
08

Small Fish in a Big Pond

I find that the beach is a good place to go when in need of what we like to call a reality check. I usually go for the obvious reasons, and leave with some fresh life reminders to go with my fresh sunburns. The beach is one of the few places that still clings to the simplicity, purity and romance that many recreational activities have lost in today’s over-stimulated and highly charged culture of technological entertainment. We take it for granted because it’s always been there, but it really is a wonder that people of all walks of life will gather in one place just because it’s where water meets sand. They all just go, lay around on their towels, and play.

Most of these people do this without much clothing on, and this is where some of my reminders come from. Some people remind me that I am actually in much better shape than I give myself credit for. Others, especially here in Orange County, remind me that just because it’s summer that doesn’t mean it’s OK to overindulge on frozen treats and forget I ever learned how to use a rowing machine.

Though I do enjoy studying the fascinating showcase of the human body to be found on a summer day in Newport, I like to think I spend more time pondering the meaning of life than the meaning of stretch marks and undersized swimsuits. It’s easy to do a lot of profound life-thinking, because another thing the beach reminds me is that silence is golden. Or perhaps a nice shade of sand. I remember that it’s OK – no, vital – to just be sometimes, with our without a friend, a book, an iPod.

So, while I’m at the beach just being, I can’t help but think about that giant thing called the ocean. I am drawn to it, in part, because it reminds me of how small I am, how insignificant. And I know it’s a tired metaphor, but it’s refreshingly humbling to compare oneself to a grain of sand. If this is accurate, it means that our overwhelming fears, anxieties and seemingly unsolvable or unending problems are actually nothing. Dust, specs, molecules, atoms. Minnows swimming around meaninglessly in the stormy, surging world we live in, leaving nothing but a few unlasting bubbles in our wake. This is a comforting thought.

Unfortunately, it also means that our accomplishments, loves, hopes and dreams are nothing. Minnows and tiny bubbles. I love to think that my problems are meaningless in the greater scheme of things, but I don’t so much enjoy diminishing everything that I live for to the relative importance of small fish.

Is it possible to have both? To maintain a healthy perspective on our problems while still seeing our proudest moments and greatest achievements as things that truly matter, that give meaning and beauty to the world? Isn’t it cheating to see the bad stuff as unimportant and the good stuff as momentous and great? Is it better to see everything we do and think and have and lose as trite and insignificant, or to see it all as seriously consequential? Which state of mind can better keep us going every day?

Here is when I leave the beach. I remind myself that while just being is an important thing to do from time to time, sometimes it’s better to get myself to the gym and spend time thinking about nothing but my score on the erg – however big or small the number is.

23
Jun
08

Undeclared Plans

It’s now been about a month since graduation; over the course of that month, I’ve gone through some disappointments in my shaky post-college plans, experienced some soaring successes in my summer goal of being more social and spontaneous, and turned twenty-two. I’ve discovered that it takes about this long after commencement for people to stop sympathizing with your flighty don’t-have-a-clue-in-life attitude toward the “real world,” and start asking questions; only, now they expect answers.

A part of me enjoys telling people I’ve recently graduated; they light up and treat me for a fleeting moment like it’s my birthday. The other part of me—the part that tends to dominate—dreads sharing the news; inevitably, people ask what I’m doing next year, and because I can’t bring myself to lie too often, I have to admit that I don’t know, that I’m trying to do certain things, that I’ll offer updates in a few months if they happen—and if they don’t happen, I’ll probably be in hiding, wallowing in my own shame and disappointment. Well, I don’t actually say that last part, but I think people still see straight through my forced optimism and excitement at what the future may hold. (I do feel optimistic and excited sometimes, though it’s generally only after a few drinks.)

Applying for summer jobs, for example, brings perhaps the harshest reminder that I am not yet grad school-bound, not zipping up a hot new pantsuit for a sweet new office job, and not yet booking tickets for any long-term, enviable travel. All I want, right now, just to keep me floating for a couple of months, is a casual summer job. But when I handed over my application at a small-town, family-owned restaurant today, the owner looked up at me and asked, “Why aren’t you looking for a real job?” I stammered, trying to explain the temporary in-between phase as she gave me a pitiful smile and a half-hearted promise to call.

Fortunately, people at least react differently now than they did upon hearing of my uncertain college plans. After high school, once I finally knew my higher education destination and finally felt prepared to face the inquiring urges of so many unwanted advice-filled adults, it occurred to me that they would also want to know what I would be studying, not simply where. I didn’t see the need to make such an important decision when the option “Undeclared” mercifully appeared on the drop-down menus of every application I filled out. What’s the rush? It seemed acceptable to me. No one is actually sure about everything or anything, so I thought it was fine for me, a clueless 17-year-old, to be unsure about this.

But when adults, and many students my own age, heard that I was undeclared they would all of a sudden start shifting on their feet, wringing their hands, and their faces would melt into the look you might give someone after they told you they’d just come in last in a big, very important, everything-depends-on-it race. “Oh, well,” they’d start to say, shaking their head, “you know, that’s OK.” Pursed lips managing a forced, uncomfortable smile below a creased brow. I should have worn a giant red “U” on my chest for the first two years of school. (Yes, I did ultimately major in English and now reference books like The Scarlet Letter.)

So you finally choose a major, end up doing pretty well in it, end up feeling like hey, you can do this. Then it’s over. Right when you figure it out and really get good at the whole college thing, it ends. You get your empty leather portfolio on a big stage in 100-degree heat, and then go…celebrate?

Many people seem to understand this inner struggle that I’m sure exists in most recent college grads, the bittersweet taste that hangs in our mouths after a toast of champagne and a big slice of sugary “ConGRADulations!” cake. For this reason, when I tell most people of my lofty hopes and rather unlikely plans for the following year, they clap me on the back and say, hey, good for you. Whatever it is, good for you. You have time.

I guess they only behave this way when you’re not asking them for a job. I now long for the days when I could answer questions with a simple “undeclared.” I don’t know why that’s not an acceptable term to use for future life plans. Sure, I have my goals, but what I am actually doing will, until further notice, remain undeclared.

25
May
08

Fly Away Home… or, somewhere.

Birds are unusual creatures; we envy them for their capacity for flight, we pity them for their tiny, blueberry-sized brains, and we often use them in various metaphors relating grand life lessons. Today I had two interesting encounters with birds, and each one got me thinking about the different directions in which we find ourselves moving, and the different places at which we stop.

I graduated from college about a week ago, and naturally it seems that all I can think about is how fast time flies, and where I’ll eventually end up – next month, next year, ten years after that. After school ended, I moved out of the dingy old campus apartment that became my safe haven during the last few turbulent months of college, dragged a few things across the street to a house in which I’ll be unofficially subleasing a bedroom for at least a month, and I went into hiding at my parents’ house for a week – hoping to get my bearings, take a few deep breaths, and get ready for whatever’s next.

College graduation is an uncomfortable transition to say the least, but this moving process was exceptionally awkward for me as I was leaving a place I’d lived in for three months, moving half my stuff into a place I’ll “live” in for maybe one month, and the rest of my stuff back into a place where I’ve lived in the (seemingly distant) past, and may find myself again someday in the future. In other words, I currently have no home. I use the word, but only because it’s much easier to say than “the place where some of my stuff is.” I’ve moved around (like most college students) somewhat like this for four years now, but this is the first time when I really don’t know what town I’ll be in once August rolls around – I know where I hope to be, but unfortunately the reality may be something entirely and painfully different.

From what I gather, though, this uprooted lifestyle is completely natural for birds. Today, I walked out onto my parents’ front porch and noticed something flutter off the top of the big wreath of red styrofoam berries that hangs on the outer wall of the house. My dad had been telling me a bird had nested up there, but he thought it had died or found a better spot. With a closer look, I saw that not only was the nest still there, but I could see five tiny eggs – four nestled snuggly among the branches, and one that had sadly fallen onto the brick below, cracked into a yellowy pink splatter. It seems an odd and unwise place to build a nest, especially because our vicious cat, Sally, will no doubt be camped out beneath it as soon as those babies start flying lessons.

A mere few hours later, I witnessed another bird do something far more strange than build a nest atop a fake berry wreath. My brother and I had driven to get burritos; I parked the car and got out, when all of a sudden he said with surprising calm, “Uh, there’s totally a bird in your car right now.” Apparently the thing had flown in Indiana Jones-style just as the door was about to close, and we could now see him flying around frantically inside, bashing into walls and windows at full force (it’s a small car so these bashes were in rapid succession). We opened the doors and moments later he was gone, leaving us on the curb staring dumbly at each other. I mean, what?!

I guess we can learn many things from these animals: don’t push your tiny eggs out of the nest onto the sharp bricks below, try to watch where you’re flying, and it probably isn’t a good idea to eat styrofoam berries, no matter how delicious they look. With the big scary world ahead of us, and with very little true guidance but our instincts, I think the most we can try to do is fly in what seems to be the best direction at the time, try to keep all our eggs in the nest, and if we accidentally charge at top speed into the wrong place, just bang our heads against the walls a few times before moving on to try somewhere, something, else.




"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
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