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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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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enough

Inadequate. That’s how I feel every time I sit down at the page.

Every time I put on running shoes.

Every time I open an email.

I’m not enough, ‘nough, ‘nough, but I’ll be damned if I give in. Every day is a fight against the great unknown, the land within.

There are people for that, they say . . . you whisper . . . They can help. They can help.

I knowww . . .

But I’m doing fine on my own. I’ve got my boxing gloves and heart of steel, my line of defense, my reason. I don’t need Zoloft.

But how did you get here? Your peers are fine. They’ve got kids of their own now. Careers. Homes. You never wanted that, anyway. You were a woman with purpose, not a “Mom!!!”

That doesn’t mean I wanted to be alone.

But you’ve got it so good. Remember Taiwan when it was 100 million degrees and you didn’t have air-conditioning? When you didn’t have a place to wash your clothes? When you didn’t have an oven? You have SO MUCH to be thankful for.

And I am. I am . . .

. . . But if I have all of these things, and if I’m still struggling, is it my fault? Is it yours? Is it society’s?

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

True enough, but try again. That’s others’ problem, not mine. I think often of the Syrian and Rohingyan refugees, the Bangladeshis, the Cambodians. I’ve seen them. Seen their lives. Felt them. I have so much to be thankful for, and I’d give it up in an insta—

—So easy to say. Would you? Would you, really?

YES.

And?

And yet.

Thankful is not enough. Purpose. Life is about purpose. What is the mother when her children leave the nest? What is the rich man on his dying day? What is the triathlete when the race is over? What REALLY matters?

Granted, I AM alone. I’m NOT a mom. I have TIME to think these thoughts, on my bed in my apartment in Tennessee — where the birds “sing pretty” and the rebel flag flies high. (Who knew the North-South controversy was still so strong? Not this California girl.) Why can’t we look for our similarities instead of our differences? Why does white privilege have to exist? Why must women be forced fight for their rights? If you really stop to think about it, it’s all SO DUMB.

But it IS real, and it IS relevant — just like the mother in rags living in a cardboard box in India. She’s only 23 but she looks 35. Her children will always be beggars. This is the caste they’ve been given, the lot they have won — just by being BORN.

The 16-year-old in Southern California whose grandma got liposuction, permanent makeup, and a boob job is real, too. LOOK like the stars, kiddo. That’s the real reason you’re here.

It’s a big world out there, they say. Shoot for the stars. Follow your heart.

But what happens when the stars forget to shine, and your heart breaks before you begin?

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I’m gonna go for my run now. Wish me luck!

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I went to a “Poetry Slam” last night — basically an open mic session for people to share their poems, which also included a performance by the American poet Buddy Wakefield. I’d never heard of Buddy before, but apparently he’s a pretty big deal. He’s performed on BBC, HBO, ABC and won Individual World Poetry Slams in recent years. His work is powerful; much of it is dark. I like the powerful part — not so much the darkness. I’m not sure I agree with his worldview, but I bought his book and liked how he signed it. He hit a nerve close to home, as you can see.

i am . . .

It’s a quiet night on the home front. Bike is put away; swim gear is drying. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow — had to get in as much today as I could . . . in honor of my birthday.

I’m calmer this year facing my birthday than I’ve been in years past. I don’t have any plans, and I don’t mind. It’s just . . . The days drag and the years fly on. Where does time go?

I must be the oldest almost 34-year-old on the planet.

I’m learning to accept myself this year. Calling myself beautiful instead of calling myself names. It’s not easy to change the way you see yourself, but it’s worth it. It sets the course for the rest of your life — and, in some cases, for others.

I saw this video recently and really liked it. Please, let me know what you think. :)

The most powerful force in the human psyche is how we describe ourselves to ourselves. Who’s giving you labels?

34 is going to be my best year yet.

the “in between”

Lights, camera, action. The theater darkens; actors appear on screen. And then, reality sweeps away. For the next few hours, we become a part of the film. We are encapsulated in the artwork of storytelling.

In those moments, we are the heroes; we are the everyday Joes; we are the young professionals trying to find our way. There’s a reason we choose the films that we do. In some form or fashion, we connect with them.

And later, when they’re all over, we long for them not to be done. We sit in the darkness, waiting—holding our breath—reliving vicariously the scenes we’ve just seen. I’ve never felt prettier than I have walking out of a movie theater . . .

That is until I get to the car and see that big zit on my nose. Ugh!

ladybI went to my first movie since moving to Knoxville last night. Ironically (or, not surprisingly?), I picked a movie about a girl who grew up in my hometown. She’s a high school senior who dreams of experiencing life outside her city. She hasn’t traveled much yet, but she wants to.

Throughout the film, I saw a few parallels to my own life. “Lady Bird” graduated in 2003 and went to a school in New York; I graduated in 2002 and went to a school in Tennessee. She and her mother both had strong personalities; I and my own mom are quite similar.

But what stood out to me most was a theme we often overlook in life: waiting. In the film, Lady Bird was eagerly anticipating the next phase of her life. She couldn’t wait for college; she couldn’t wait for the school year to be over.  But what the story was really about was what she was doing now. Often the “in-between-changes” parts of our lives are just as important as “what comes next.” I myself often worry about the future, but the movie reminded me that today—and every day—is an important opportunity to work on myself.

Shortly before seeing “Lady Bird,” I watched a video on facebook that talked about happiness. The video claimed that we often look outwards to find happiness and life’s purpose when it should be the other way around: “You are what you love, not what loves you.” This concept came to mind on my drive home last night, and I couldn’t shake it as I contemplated this newly-highlighted idea of waiting. Although I didn’t agree fully with the video’s message (my qualms are written below), I thought the narrator made some really good points. Please check it out (and read my comments, too)!

The narrator’s thoughts / My thoughts:

We’ve been conditioned to move to a place of “what loves us,” and almost every decision we make now is based on what other people think about us.
It depends on the person.
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If you’re under the impression that things outside of you complete you, you will always be a victim because everything has to change to make you happy . . . You’re moving from “out to in.”
True.
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When you were a kid, you weren’t working on managing customers or fake lists, etc., you were working on you. And that same mentality exists in people who are the greatest at what they do. They weren’t looking at their lists and how many people they got; they were working on themselves and excelling at that.
The narrator’s parallel to childhood is a bit simplistic. Kids play to learn skills they will need as adults. That’s part of life. At surface level, though, his analogy makes sense.
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There’s a level of effortlessness that shows up when you enjoy the process of working on yourself. That’s the goal of life, and when you do that, the results will show up when they’re supposed to.
The goal of life is more than just working on ourselves. I feel the goal is to look at what we can do to help others. In so doing, we become the best possible versions of ourselves. That said, I really like the idea of worrying less about what others think and knowing that things will happen when they’re supposed to.