lemonade, anyone?

There’s that saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Haha, we laugh. Sure. I don’t even like lemonade, but you got it.

Life has given me a lot of lemons over the past ten years.

Yeah, yeah. “Look for the positive — focus on the good!” Isn’t that the other phrase we hear? Easy to say, much easier said than done.

But still we try. Or at least we move on. Or at least we keep getting up every morning, putting two feet on the floor, and shuffling towards the door. We go through the motions without a clear picture of where we’re going — just knowing that this is what we’re supposed to do, this is how to escape the fog and move towards the light.

Someday things will make sense.

We hope.

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Stairway into the fog at Dalmaji Hill, Busan, South Korea, taken on my trip in 2011.

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A detail I never fully explained was why, as a California native, I chose to go to graduate school in Tennessee. Sure, I like Tennessee (I did go to college here), but . . . Move away from my family? Move back to the humidity? Why would any fine-haired new aunt choose to do that? (My hair is incorrigible here, and I miss my nephew so much!)

A simple reason: finances. When I was looking into graduate school, I knew I couldn’t afford to do it on my own. I didn’t want to go deep into student loan debt, so I looked into programs with assistantships that offered funding. UT was one of these, and when I was accepted, I was thrilled. But there was a catch. I’d been accepted to the program, but I hadn’t been offered funding.

Well, damn.

So last April I flew to Tennessee and met with the program’s director and, together, we hatched a crazy plan. I’d move to Tennessee, start school on my own, and reapply for funding in spring. If I got it, I’d be fully funded for the following two years. If I didn’t, well . . . I’d be back to square one.

Well — deep breath — go.

Fast-forward one year and here I am in Tennessee and for months I’ve been waiting to hear if I got funding. I wasn’t on the initial offer list (that was heartbreaking), but as everything shook out, I found out recently that I was, in fact, offered funding for next year.

There is a God, lol.

No, seriously. I’ve had my doubts.

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An optimistic view of Knoxville, looking west. Taken on a ride a couple days ago.

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It’s been all sunshine here in Knoxville for the past couple of days, and yesterday on my drive to class — in my beloved 18-year-old Jetta, sunroof open and windows rolled down — I couldn’t help feeling something I haven’t felt in a very long time: optimistic. I’m still scared sh*tless most days. The future is murky and there’s still sadness behind and a resistance to letting go and always the very real chance of being let down again (and again, and again and again and again). But somewhere in there I hope tenacity is rewarded. Grit is its own strength. And life experience — in all of its varieties — is what connects us.

It’s what’s connected me to you.

Lemonade? Anyone?

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*Lemonade image credit to Smirnoff.com

what i wanted to say

I’m struggling to write what I want to today. You see . . .

Some of you have said I’m a good writer. Sometimes I think I am. Some you have suggested I write a book. Sometimes I’ve thought about it. (My rock-climbing accident would make a good story.) Sadly, though, I struggle with descriptive writing. I can write personal pieces all day long, but story-telling? Honestly, I suck.

The fact is I need to read more, and read good authors — people like Dickens, and Tolkien, and Hemingway. I need to read authors who paint big pictures and create even bigger characters. I need to read writers who know what they’re doing.

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Can that be?

It was encouraging this past week, though, when I was admitted into a creative writing class despite not having taken the prereq. It’s the only graduate writing course being offered next semester, and while my program isn’t writing-specific, I can tailor it to my interests. This class required the prereq or approval from the instructor, so I contacted the teacher recently and sent her some writing samples. She took a few days but finally sent this response:

Jessica,

You are welcome to sign up, but with the warning that the other students in the class are graduate MFA and PhD students and are more advanced. Of course, that means you can learn more that way. I always choose musicians to play with who know more than I do.

You have my permission.

Professor —

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Life is about taking chances, and the world of graduate school has been one of the biggest and most intimidating chances I’ve taken so far. I applied four times before finally being accepted and talked recently with another classmate about her own graduate journey. She has an MFA in non-fiction creative writing (something I’d like to do) and participated in multiple writing workshops at UCLA just to create a writing sample for her applications . . . and even then she was only accepted to one of the schools to which she applied.

Oh. My. Word.

(Side note: So then how does most of the garbage in the literature sections of grocery stores and airports today get published? I don’t get it!)

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And so, yes . . . Anyway . . . My point is . . .

I’m a decent writer, but I’ve got a long way to go, and sometimes I can’t write what I want to, even when I try. I swear, though, that sometime I’ll get around to writing a description of Hanoi, and how I met my friend K- , and about the package my friend P- sent me, and about the real reason that Facebook is worth it to me . . . I’ve just got to get through a few other things — like the research paper I’m supposed to be working on or the sprint triathlon I was talked into doing tomorrow morning (when there’s a 100 percent chance of rain) — first. Aye aye aye!

Happy weekend, all!

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we’re just a little unwell

Gone are the days of face-to-face interaction, when being social actually meant talking to someone — in person.

I have this love-hate relationship with Facebook. Some of you know what I’m talking about. On the one hand, it allows me to stay in touch with friends I’ve made at various points in my life around the globe. I have friends from grade school, friends from abroad, friends I’ve made blogging. With some of Facebook’s newer features like the “Calendar,” I can discover local events I wouldn’t otherwise know about, including races to participate in and concerts to attend. It’s fun to watch my friends’ kids grow and neat to see what people are up to.

That said, Facebook can also be a terrible thing. It can be a time suck, a comparison trap, an excuse for and detractor from “real” relationships, and an overall waste of life. It’s “On this day” feature sucks at differentiating between good and painful memories, and sometimes it makes me feel plain old. It’s been EIGHT years since such-and-such? I swear that was just yesterday!

study breaksI haven’t ever delved into Instagram or Tumblr and haven’t spent much time on Twitter. At some point these platforms just seem like another thing to check, another waste of life. Sadly, I think I’m going to become one of those “out of touch” middle-aged people who’s still blasting Matchbox 20 like they’re cool when it’s actually Drake who’s popular now.

Oh, and of course there’s that whole discussion about how much of our personal information Facebook has — how nothing in our lives is private anymore . . .

Countless studies have been done showing the negative effects of social media on people and society, and yet it’s apparent social media isn’t going away any time soon. I have no idea how I’ll handle social media if I ever have kids. When I was in school, a boy had to call and talk to my DAD in order to get a hold of me after school. These days, I don’t even have a landline!

And so, am I nostalgic for the “olden days”? Maybe a little. My friend Sam posted this music video online the other day. Matchbox 20 released “Unwell” as a single fifteen years ago. Sheesh. The funny thing? The song’s message is just as relatable now as it was back then, if not more so. Some things never change.

These days I try to keep my time on facebook and other social media to a minimum.
What about you? What’s your relationship with social media?

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*Images Institute Al Islam and Study Breaks magazine

where i’m at

I’m surprised y’all are reading me, honestly. Lately it seems I only write crazy dialogues with myself, or I preach — to myself. I’ve always believed people are more alike than different (culture is extrinsic rather than intrinsic, at least initially), and so it is perhaps validating if you can relate to my absurdity. But . . . Really — I’m sorry.

That adult-child piece, though — the idea that when we were kids we thought adults had things all figured out . . .

Oh, honey.

As I have aged, life has (sadly) gotten more rather than less complex. This is of course inevitable as a person assumes self-reliance in adulthood, but I sometimes wonder if the modern world and its Internetopia hasn’t exaggerated this complexity. Now not only am I aware of what was once the “Great Unknown,” the Great Unknown is also available at the opening of an Internet browser. I can access the world with my fingertips.

And not only that, as an adult, I’ve become increasingly aware of the world within. We are emotional creatures with the capacity for both great love and great darkness. The things that make us “us” start when we are young, but it is as we grow and grapple with our genetic and cultural makeup that we can make decisions about who we will become. I myself have struggled with feelings of inadequacy. Why? Many reasons, but it is up to me to determine what to do with those feelings. I have one life to live. Why should I spend mine trying to meet others’ standards?

This is where that “why” I’ve mentioned comes in. If I am tuned into my own values — the morals I learned as a child and the passions that make me “me” — and if I listen to my gut on a daily basis, then I should have nothing to apologize for. I’m me, and I’m on a journey. If you’re not interested in joining the ride, then please, move along. (Easier for a “pleaser” like me to say than do!)

I didn’t make it to my trash clean-up this morning. I wanted to — both for humanitarian and social reasons — but I’m realizing that sometimes it’s okay to take a day off. I needed to write this post as much as I need to think. And to breathe. I hope that, wherever you are, you’re taking a day off and taking care of yourself this weekend, too.

 

 

friday night frenzy

If I were to open my heart I’d say a lot of things right now. Things like, “It’s Friday, folks. Hip hip hooray!”

Only it’s raining. And I volunteered to pick up trash tomorrow — in the rain. Ohhh, goodie.

Put your money where your mouth is.

No, really. It won’t be so bad. My friends will be there. I can sleep when we’re done. Really.

If you say so.

I say so. Except . . . When I was a kid, I thought my parents had it all figured out. I thought that when I grew up, I’d have it all figured out, too.

Oh, honey.

I know. I know.

Speaking of “honey,” people say funny things in the South. Like “Sweet Pea.” And “you’uns.” And “y’all.” And I realized tonight: I’m getting used to it. It will feel strange to visit California and not hear, “You’uns ain’t done nothin’ wrong, y’all ‘ear?” or “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” . . .

. . . It’s not so different from listening to Mandarin in Asia, actually. It was strange to return home and understand conversations around me then, too.

Is that so? Hmm . . .

Conversations are great, yes. But what about communication?

You would ask.

Communication is key — in everything. It’s why we can’t just all get along. We don’t seek to listen and understand before first being heard. This goes for everyone.

And me too. Me too.

But . . . “home.” What is home? Is it the bed upon which we lay our head? The person with whom we don’t hold back? The thing we’re really good at? People boast that their homes are the BEST EVER. But have they traveled the world? Have they seen everything it has to offer?

They don’t have to. Home is where they’re comfortable.

I see, I see. But not for me. Home is where my heart is, but it’s more than that, too.

SO much more.

SO.

I should really go to bed. But I have dishes to do and wars to fight first. (This poem inspired me the other night, though. Lord knows I need to lay off the Pledge®.)

dust if you must

 

 

 

 

 

 

walking my “why”

The truth is I lied in my last post. My trouble with blogging isn’t work. It’s time management.

Sure, sure — we all have this problem. Who ever does everything they’re supposed to exactly when they’re supposed to do it? Almost no one. That’s human nature — and life. But this flaw has perhaps been exaggerated in my case since moving to Knoxville. I work from home for a company on the west coast. I have class in the middle of the day. I’ve always been a night owl . . .

You see where I’m going with this.

It’s a fine thing to have flexibility and down time, but there comes a point where structure is good, too. Kids need routines and schedules, and so do adults. I like needing to be places and feeling productive. I like feeling like I’m a part of something in a meaningful way.

I’ve talked a lot about happiness on my blog — what it is compared to what we think it is. I’m come to see that happiness is multi-faceted. It’s not enough just to be thankful for what you have. Happiness is not about possessions or wealth. Happiness is much more than that, and part of it is “walking your why” and feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

Take, for example, the families who have been displaced in places like Syria or Rohingya. Many of these people have nothing except the clothes on their backs. Surely these people are suffering, but something that keeps them going — something that keeps all of us going — is the idea that a better future is within their grasp, that somehow they can create a better life for their children.

But why do I bring up refugees? Why not talk about the Yale graduate who left a prestigious law firm to help save women from human trafficking? Or the CEO who left the big business to start a program to help the homeless? Or myself who moved across country to start school to become a teacher? Those are the kinds of stories you were expecting, right?

Why? Because happiness isn’t limited to “first world” nations, folks. Take a look at that smiling Syrian baby above. Is he not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Indeed, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met were in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Imagine how much simpler your own life would be if you didn’t have all of those “things” to worry about and bills to pay? How much easier would it be to live in the moment? We underestimate the toll some of our privileges take on our overall well-being.

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In her talk on emotional agility, which I mentioned previously, psychologist Susan David talks about the importance of living our lives according to our values when it comes to our happiness. And I feel like that’s what’s really missing here. I say I want to get to bed earlier. But do I? I wake up much more satisfied with myself the next morning when I do! We say we want to help others. But do we? We’re much happier when we volunteer at that food kitchen, or reach out to that silent coworker, or take a leap of faith and make that career change — in other words, when we listen to our gut and think outside of ourselves — yes, when we follow through!

My challenge to myself this Easter weekend is to challenge my habits and actions that are not in line with my true values. I desperately want to be a better person and to “walk my why” on a daily basis. Don’t you?

Just food for thought on this beautiful Easter weekend. And . . . Speaking of “whys” . . . Now that I’ve got this blog post done ;) . . . I’ve got a five-page paper to write, so I guess I’d better get going on that, too!

the ragnar report

I should have written this post a few days ago. I tried. But this darn thing called “work” kept getting in the way.

Ragnar was amazing. I didn’t expect it to be. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the event, I was worried about sleep deprivation and missing work and school and wondered why I’d signed up.

What is Ragnar? you might ask. Up until a year ago, I had no idea, either. Ragnar is a multi-stage, point-to-point relay race in which teams of 12 runners (or fewer, if you’re crazy) cover 200ish miles in one straight shot. Teams typically split up between two vans and stagger shifts of runners. Van 1 has runners one through six; Van 2 has runners seven through twelve. When your van isn’t running, it’s either eating or sleeping — or trying to! Ragnar Tennessee goes from Chattanooga to Nashville and covers everything from mountain climbs to farmland to city scapes. It was an amazing way to see Tennessee, but even more, it was an opportunity to meet some incredible people.

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Outside the Blue Chair coffee shop after our first run

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I signed up for Ragnar last summer before I moved to Knoxville. Back then, an old college friend in Chattanooga was looking for teammates. I’d heard good things about the event from friends in Santa Rosa who’d done it and thought it’d be a good way to reconnect. I was right. Ragnar is a bonding experience like no other. Your van-mates quickly become close friends, and the more sleep-deprived you become, the funnier everything gets. You said whattt?! Ohhh. That’s not what I heard! (And so on.)

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You have a lot of down time between runs. The course typically takes about 30-36 hours to complete, in a team of 12, everyone runs three legs. My three totaled 18.5 miles. If that sounds like a lot, it’s really not, but it is when you space them so closely together! I always push myself during races, and in my first two runs (8.5 and 6.5 miles, respectively) I managed to maintain sub 8-minute miles. By the third leg, however, I was tight and sore and came in at an 8:03-minute mile pace. Thankfully this was also my shortest leg (3.5 miles). Not sure I could have run much more!

Below is the start of my second leg. It was 12:30 a.m.-ish.

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It’s the “people part” of Ragnar I’d like to focus on most, though. I ended up in a van with five other wonderful and wildly different people — some I’d known before, and some I was meeting for the first time. It was a group who probably wouldn’t have hung out under normal circumstances, but in those moments, we became the best of friends. This was greatly refreshing for someone who’s been incredibly lonely for months (me, lol), as it was companionship I relished and found I greatly needed. Because the truth is . . .

Whether we like it or not, we’re social creatures. Even introverts like me need companionship, and it’s been tough to readjust to my normal routine since Ragnar ended. I keep hoping that by getting out and doing things I’ll gradually create a strong friend network here in Knoxville. These connections get harder to make as you get older, though. People have busy lives and kids and careers. “Real life” isn’t the same as life in college — or in a van!

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11 p.m.-ish Friday night just before my group began our second leg.

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In all, my team came in 95th out of 231. There were other “ultra” groups (teams of 6 or 9) whose individual members ran greater distances, and there were incredible groups of runners who were amputees. But whether you were an ultra runner or a beginner, an amputee, or somewhere in between, something else I loved about Ragnar was the lack of competitiveness I felt between the teams. True, some groups were counting “kills” (the number of times their teammates had passed other runners) on the sides of their vans, but they were also counting “poos” (self-explanatory), and everyone was cheering everyone else on. It evident that people were there to have a good time. This was in stark contrast to most triathlons I’ve done — where it’s all about doing your personal best and “get out of my way” in transition and on the road, etc. — and if ever you have a chance to compete in a Ragnar event, I’d highly recommend it! You’ll make memories that will last a lifetime. (I hear it’s coming to Britain soon!)

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Troy showing off our Ragnar sticker symbol on our van.

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At transition 6/7, before my van’s first runs.

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The real heroes.

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Joe and his dad passing the baton for the LAST LEG!!

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Waiting for Joe a quarter mile from the finish line.

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