at the end of the day

(Note: For this post to make any sense, you’ll first need to read my last one.)

I’m here, I’m here, I’m here, I’m HERE, I’M HERE.

But but but but but . . .

You didn’t get it. I wasn’t clear. It’s not just home I’m talking about; it’s an awareness: I’m HERE. 

“Here not only in location, but in body, mind, and spirit. Here in loyalty. Here in love.” Here is also a presence of mind, a recognition of where we stand and what we stand for and what we (really) want and what has made us who we are.

In the ever-increasing madness of today’s world, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to consider these questions. But these queries are important because answering them (or not) is what shapes the course of our lives… Because the other side of the coin is that we really do change. How we change and what we accomplish is up to us and requires self-awareness and honesty with ourselves.

While I was home in California in July, I skimmed through a journal I wrote in Italy half my lifetime ago. I was shocked to see some of the things I’d written. Who IS this person?! I marveled. The fanciful view I had of the world at 17 does not match the world I’ve experienced as an adult. And yet going back in time helped me better understand the decisions I made at 17 (or 25, or 33) that have shaped the person I’ve become. It helped me be kinder to my younger and older self.

How do I mean? Living in Asia gave me a greater cultural perspective of the world. Talking to people has given me greater empathy. Holding various jobs has given me greater insight into others’ lives. Going back to school has made me realize just how quickly time goes . . .

Not all people are as reflective as I am. And that’s okay. You do your weird and I’ll do mine. But as for me, I want my years on this planet to MEAN something. And not just for me.

 

home again

Muddy. Like the murky shallows of Trinity Lake when the waters have drop-drop-dropped and sucked the shoreline muck into red clay pools swirled with yesterday’s bath water. Like the ash falling from nearby fires, engulfing an entire state in smoke and soot, a sickly yellow fog no place should ever see (let alone breathe). My thoughts were hazy.

Who am I? And why am I here?

I needed distance. Distance from the he-said-she-said. Distance from the rush-rush-rush of hurryupandwaiting. Distance from the clammy humid-cloud that enveloped me the moment I opened my front door.

In all of my years in Tennessee and abroad, I have never been so homesick.

I flew West on July 12 and cried when I landed at the San Francisco International Airport. I laughed when I heard a passenger complaining about California’s gun laws. I smiled when I shivered as I walked to my rental car. I was home.

Home with all of its myriads of problems is still home.

I spent three weeks visiting friends and family. I played with my 15-month-old nephew. I sorted through childhood memory boxes and read old letters and journal entries. I relived my twenties like a movie watched in reverse—this is who I am; this is why I’m here . . . Here not only in location, but in body, mind, and spirit. Here in loyalty. Here in love. I’m here I’m here I’m-here I’m-here-I’m-HERE.

It’s raining today in Knoxville, pouring buckets in a fashion California rarely sees (and sorely needs). I’m not home anymore. But this is home for now, for reasons I must cling to, no matter life’s sea.

After all, those reasons are ME.

 

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nobody knows

I didn’t mean to let this sit so long. There’s a story here that hasn’t been told.

It’s the story of a 14-year-old girl walking her dog under the shade of oak trees in the California sun. She wondered why she had to feel this way. She was scared of her feelings. Her crush had written her a letter. He liked her, too.

Why, if she had food to eat and air to breathe, why did she have to have emotions, too? Even at 14, she was scared of rejection.

Fast forward a thousand years. Her heart’s been broken many times. He loved her—and still does—but he had a higher calling to attend to.

She will always love him.

At 1,034, she’s a million years old. The world is her oyster, but even that is not enough. She’s one in a billion, and her story is the same. How can she matter? How can this mean . . . anything?

She’s seen a lot in a million years. Most recently it’s been adults acting like children. At our cores we all want the same things—love and acceptance. Why is this so hard to admit?

. . . and where are all the dreamers? The ones who think beyond the here and now? They are few and far between, it seems. And she doesn’t understand.

And so she fights for her life as she rides out life’s storm, and she fights for her life on the train. And she goes . . . nobody knows . . . Except for the dreamers. They’re one in the same.

P.S. Happy Independence Day, America.

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*Featured image: Mine. Taken in Knoxville on a bike ride two days ago!!

why i do this

I ran a trail race today. I’ve never run a trail race before. It’s been raining a lot in Knoxville. The trail was slick as hell.

This morning when my alarm went off before sunrise, I groaned: Why am I doing this again? After the race, when I was discussing the course with friends, I realized I would have only just gotten up if I’d slept in. This is why I do this . . .

img_3421During the run, I saw a guy wearing a shirt advertising the La Jolla Half Marathon. He was talking to a buddy about trail races in San Diego. “You from California?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Nah,” he said. “Went out there for college; just moved back.” Still running, he raised his hands to the canopy of leaves above us. “I missed this . . .” He seemed to forget me for a moment, then resurfaced. “And you? You from Cali?” “Yes, I’m from Cali—born and raised. I miss it, but I like Knoxville, too.”

Both were true.

Last weekend, I did a sprint triathlon. The scenario was the same. Why am I doing this? . . . Oh yeah, this is why I’m doing this. I commented to a friend afterward that I still find warm Tennessee mornings strange. In California it’s always cold at night and in the early morning. I miss that about home, but the warmer weather here does help during triathlons.

After another event a man said to me: “I lived in Cali for eight months, in Oakland. I never really could get used to it—didn’t understand what all the hype was about.” “Oh yeah?” I said. “Yeah. It‘s so expensive, and the traffic is awful, and . . . ” “But what about the beaches?” I pressed. “Places like Mendocino or the Bay—they’re so pretty!” “But the water is so cold!” he said.

The water is cold, I’ll give him that. But also, you find what you look for.

 

I have friends, so many friends, who have never left their hometown. People stay where they’re comfortable—most stay in the same place their whole lives. It’s easier to do this, certainly. I’ve moved around a lot, and moving is HARD. It’s hard to make friends in places and then leave them; it’s hard to never have roots. But after the initial adjustment period in a new town—after you no longer have to ask Siri for directions to get home, and when you’re finally making friends, and when you’re getting involved in things around town—suddenly, it makes sense. This is why I do this.

I do this to grow and to see and to experience different places in the world. I do this to push myself and to relate better to others, no matter where they’re from. I do this to better understand myself and to challenge my beliefs about the world. I do this because what I learned in Taiwan is true: There is no “better,” there is no “best.” All that exists among the world’s various regions and climates is “different,” and it is these differences that make that make our world interesting and beautiful. It is these differences that make our lives worth living.

So please, dear readers, stop fearing change. Stop taking the easy route. Move if you feel stagnant. Move even if you don’t feel stagnant. Growth cannot happen without change. Happiness cannot happen without growth.

Trust me. After almost a year, I can finally say: Knoxville is starting to feel a little bit like “home.”

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

the devil’s advocate

Whenever I write, I play devil’s advocate. Writing makes me think. Hard. I say this, I think. But what if it comes out like this? What if I were approaching this from this?

Will Smith’s message about fault and responsibility is true. But what if, through no fault of our own, we are rendered incapable of dealing with the trauma we’ve been dealt?

It happens all the time. Take the THIRTEEN kids of the couple who were arrested for torture and child endangerment in Perris, California recently, for example. The children were chained to their beds, not allowed to use the restroom, starved, filthy. Authorities were finally notified when a 17-year-old escaped and called 9-1-1 for help. Thanks to malnourishment, she appeared about ten.

Now . . . How this could have gone on for 29 YEARS (the kids are ages 2 to 29) without someone noticing is beyond the scope of this post. (In truth, it appears many are at fault.) Instead, my question is, if we are to take Smith’s “fault vs. responsibility” concept at face value: How are these malnourished, psychologically-abused individuals supposed to take responsibility for turning their lives around? It took 17 years just for one of them to figure out how get away. Can they be held to the same standards as Joe Schmoe down the street?

Now, this is an extreme example. I wasn’t planning to go so extreme. In truth, I was planning to share a personal story related to self-esteem. I’ve hinted in years past at internal battles I’ve had with my appearance and feeling like I’m not “good enough.” It’s taken several years of counseling to understand where my emphasis on appearance came from and how this has translated into the way I treat myself. Yes, I’m “owning” my issues — recognizing the role others and (impossible) societal standards have played, but not blaming them for my struggle — but it’s taken me a LONG time, and I couldn’t have done it on my own.

And I guess my point is, before we judge others, we need to walk a mile (or twenty) in their shoes. And before we worry about others, we need to worry about ourselves. Sure, at some point, some people cross a line. There is NO excuse for certain behaviors (more on that soon), but even so, people’s lives are rarely improved by critical barbs or blame. Instead, they’re changed by compassion. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the video below. How many times have you walked past a homeless person and wondered, How did they get there?

I know I have.

let’s talk about the weather

(No, seriously!)

I was shocked when I moved to Tennessee as a freshman in college and my mom bought me an umbrella. “It’s summer, Mom,” I protested. California summers are hot and DRY. I did not need an umbrella.

It rained weekly in Chattanooga that summer and fall.

I needed an umbrella.

When winter came, though, I was sure I’d be prepared. I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. We skied in Tahoe when I was a kid; sometimes it snowed at home. I knew about winter.
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My hometown on a wintry day.

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I did not know about winter.

In an era of global warming, pictures like the above are becoming less and less common in my hometown. Most of California rarely sees a daytime high below 40°F (5.5℃); in Chattanooga, though, it’s common. I remember walking across campus that January and marveling that, at noon, I could still see my breath. I learned to wear gloves and scarves and hats in Chattanooga. I’d never really needed them before.
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Ice skating, anyone?

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This year, as a graduate student in Knoxville, I have again been struck by the weather. Although we haven’t had deep snows or sub-zero temperatures like other parts of the nation, we have had some really cold days — days in the low 20s that have frozen lakes and ponds . . . Days that chill you to the bone and require hot cocoa and cuddling by a fire (or, in my case, a heater) . . . Days when, to keep from going stir crazy, you put on six layers of clothing and go for a run to feel alive . . .

I remember really cold winters in Taiwan and Hong Kong, too. There’s something about humidity that penetrates the soul.
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How do you feel about winter? What has your winter looked like so far this year (that is, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere)? What does it typically look like? (Share a picture of your weather if you feel so inclined!)

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. William Shakespeare

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. Henry Adams

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Frozen solid.

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It was 22°F and felt like 12°F (-5.6℃, or -11℃) with a when I took these photos.

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Poor fishies!

(Ironically, while I was drafting this, it warmed up significantly here for a couple of days. I might even ride my bike tomorrow! . . . Of course, when I mentioned this to the lady at the dry cleaners today, she laughed. “Don’ be fooled! ‘Ees jes’ playin’ wid you. Winter ain’ over yet!”

random updates on life

Ahh! It’s been a crazy few weeks.

Since we last talked, I’ve:

  • Visited friends in California and seen the damage from the fires in Santa Rosa. The devastation is unreal. Although tragedies like this happen around the world every day, this one hits particularly close to home for me. It will take years for my old community to rebuild.

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Also, if you’re on facebook, check out this link of the overview of the damage of Coffey Park, a neighborhood I lived near that was completely destroyed by the fire.

  • Surprised my dad by showing up in Sacramento for a fund-raising ride for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which my family was doing in honor of my nephew, Oliver.

(Don’t think I’ve mentioned it on my blog, but my six-month old nephew has cystic fibrosis. This was a surprise to the whole family — no one in our family history on either side has ever had the disease. It’s quite rare and requires both parents to be carriers. It’s really unfortunate and shocking for us all. That said, Oliver has stolen our hearts and is doing well so far!)

Since returning to Tennessee, I’ve:

  • Completed my first ever academic book review (and probably bombed it).
  • Questioned my life decisions and choice of a masters program. (Prayers appreciated!)
  • Attempted to write more poetry and failed miserably. (Not giving up, though. Maybe I should get a masters in poetry so I have more time to work on it?)

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  • Seen my first concert in years (Blind Pilot) and discovered an amazing British guitarist/vocalist, Charlie Cunningham. (Check out his song “In One Out” below.)
  • Decided to move to the UK — lol . . . no, seriously.
  • Become completely fed up with American society as a whole — oh wait, that’s not new.
  • Found out that a college friend my age passed away yesterday at the age of 33. Life is too short, folks. Embrace it  — even the sucky parts.

(More soon!)

wherever you are

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What do you do? What do you want to do?

If you’d have asked me that question in college, I’d have given you a blank stare. I loved to write and read; Dr. Haluska’s were my favorite classes. I was decent at editing, I knew, and okay at writing. There is always room to improve, though, and how many people actually make it as authors?

In short: I had no idea.

I got lucky, though, and landed a copy-writing internship straight out of college. It was at a publishing company, and it was here that my first job was born. I was good at what I did, and my editors loved me. But that didn’t mean I wanted to be a copy writer forever . . .

After a year and a half, I returned home to California where I worked as an ophthalmology tech, a job I hated but desperately needed. Shortly thereafter, I received the opportunity to teach in Asia — first in Taiwan and then in Hong Kong. Those experiences changed my world, and most days I long to go back. It’s been freelance writing and teaching and tech writing since then, however, and I must say: I’m grateful for each one. My “career” thus far has given me insight into far more walks of life than many can claim — and that’s a good thing.

ladder5Why? you might ask, to which I’d reply, Why not? How could it possibly be bad to be able to relate to more people around you?

Not only that, good can be done everywhere. I still think of little *Lacy, in whose classroom I was an assistant last year. She’s a big second grader now, and I wonder, Does she remember me? I miss her little-girl giggle and grin. Working with people who’ve only been around just a very few years is one of the best things I ever did. These days, at the Water Agency, I help facilitate public projects aimed at helping the greater good. Pictured in this post are before and after photos of a dam the water agency built last summer to protect fish in the Russian River. People aren’t the only ones being affected by California’s historic drought.

And it all leads me to believe that whoever you are, and wherever you are, you can make a difference. You don’t have to be in a service job to help others. You don’t have to give all of your time and money to charity (although doing so never a bad thing). You don’t have to be a pastor or a teacher or have ten titles behind your name to make a difference. Life starts now, not at some distant day in the future when you’ve got everything “all figured out.” And every day counts. Sometimes all it takes is a smile or an encouraging word to turn someone’s day around — including your own.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be a rainbow is somebody else’s cloud. — Maya Angelou

*Name changed

fishladder

A fishladder!

to help a stranger

Broken-down-car-drawing-in-inkShe came at me from across the busy street. I was sitting in my car with the door open, enjoying the breeze, listening to the rustling of the trees, preparing for my upcoming tutoring session. I watched her cross — alone and carrying nothing — and thought it odd, but I looked away. I didn’t expect her to stop.

“E-excuse me? Miss?”

I looked over. The girl appeared to be about my age and was wearing faded jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. Her reddish hair was pulled into an oily ponytail at the nape of her neck. “Uh, hi,” I said.

“Can you give me a ride?”

Umm . . . I looked at the clock in my dashboard. 5:45. “Where do you need to go? I have to be somewhere in 15 minutes.”

“My car broke down,” the girl hurried to explain. “It’s not far. My friend’s house. It’s about 5 minutes from here, off Rheem Boulevard.” She looked near tears.

Umm . . . “Uh, sure,” I said. What else could I say? “Yeah, I can do that.” I looked down at the textbooks and papers strewn across my lap and passenger seat beside me. My half eaten salad from Whole Foods sat atop the dash. “Hang on just a sec.” I grabbed the textbooks and salad container and tossed them in the back seat. The papers I gathered into a pile on my lap. “Come on in.”

The girl climbed in. As she did, I noticed — she had a faint odor, like stale sweat and body odor. I had to fight not to wrinkle my nose.

“Okay, so I’m not actually from around here,” I told her. Which was true. I travel nearly 160 miles round-trip once a week to tutor *Sophie right now. “Where are we going again?”

“Rheem Boulevard. It’s that way.” She pointed to a road on our left.

“Okay.” I turned on the car and began driving in the direction of her finger. She didn’t say anything else as we went, and the silence felt awkward; I used it as an opportunity to introduce myself. “I’m Jessica,” I said.

“I’m Stacy.”

“Nice to meet you, Stacy. I’m sorry about your car. So . . . You just left it there?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you not have a cell phone or anything?”

“No. I mean, yes, but my cell phone is dead, and I don’t have any money.”

“Oh . . .” I was at a loss. Stacy seemed prone to lapse into silence between my attempts at conversation. But then she surprised me.

“You’d think people in Moraga would be nice, but they’re really not,” she said. I assumed she was talking about her car. I waited for her to say more, but . . . nothing. I understood what she meant, though. Upon my first visit in Moraga, as I’d watched Mercedes Benzs and BMWs drive through its hilly terrain, I’d felt a strong impression that these people were, if not selfish, very self-absorbed. No one made eye contact, and there was an intense “keeping up with the Joneses” type feel throughout the town. Thankfully Sophie’s family was an exception.

“I know what you mean,” I said after a moment. I looked at the clock. 5:50. Were we close? I didn’t want to be late . . . Then it occurred to me: Had I been foolish? After all, I knew nothing about this girl. Could I trust her? I glanced at her through the corner of my eye, but her face was blank; I could detect nothing. “Are we getting close?” I asked finally.

“Yes, it’s coming up soon. It’s going to be up here on the left. It’s . . . right there.” She pointed to a cul-de-sac twenty yards ahead.

“Gotcha.” I turned on my blinker and turned left at the street. “Now where?”

“Umm . . . It’s right there.” I did a U-turn and parked in front of the house she’d indicated. “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks so much,” she told me as she got out the car.

“Hey, no problem,” I told her. “Good luck with your c–,” but she was already shutting the door and walking towards the front door.

Well, that was interesting.

As I drove away — I now had five minutes to get to Sophie’s — I thought about my concerns on the drive over, and how sad it was that I even had to worry about whether or not helping a stranger was the right thing. I knew for certain I wouldn’t have helped Stacy if she’d been a man. Was that because it really wasn’t safe to help a man, or . . .? Or was it something else?

It’s a strange world we live in, but I, for one, want to be kind, helpful, and generous whenever possible, no matter what the risk or ultimate return.

*name changed
Image credit: Leah Whisenant

it’s not about the flag

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It’s not about the flag. It never has been.

A few weeks ago (a month now, maybe?), Jon and I were lucky enough to receive free passes to a Nascar race at Sonoma Raceway. I say “lucky” because Jon grew up twelve miles from Talladega, in Alabama. Nascar is, at heart, a Southern thing.

It was my first race.

The weather was sunshine; the cars were flash. We didn’t even hit traffic. It was a good day. As we were leaving, though, we saw something . . . unremarkable. Well, it would have been if not for the commotion of the past few weeks.

The United States wants to do away with the Confederate flag. It represents racism and black oppression and all that is wrong with the world. So they say. Many Southerners — rebels, if you will — resent this. The Confederate flag is, to them, a part of their heritage, a piece of their past. It also does not represent racism. It represents their fight to preserve the states’ rights. They also “just like it.” So they say.

Since its beginning, Nascar has been associated with rebellion. The sport originated in the Appalachia with moonshiners and bootleggers during America’s Prohibition. Bootleggers needed fast cars to evade the police and deliver their “shine.” They modified their own for this purpose, and then, suddenly, one day, Daytona was a race as much as a place.

And Confederate flags were everywhere.

I am not a Southerner. I have never flown a Confederate flag. But even out in California (or should I say, especially out in California), I’ve seen them around. And when I’ve seen them, I’ve thought, “Ohhh, boy,” but I’ve never thought their owners were bringing our nation down.

Because, really . . .

Where have all the thinkers gone? What happened to A leads to B leads to C? The Confederate flag didn’t create racism, folks. People created racism. People in their narrow-mindedness created attitudes and perceptions and biases. People who lacked education or misused their education, who lacked love or embraced hate, who could not or would not see the humanity of their fellow man . . .

Yep, folks, racism is about people. The Confederate flag is merely a scapegoat. As such, you can do away with the “Stars and Bars” all you want — nothing is going to change. In fact, things are only going to get worse. In fact, they already have. Did anyone see the story about the former university cop in Cincinnati in the news today?

The only solution to racism is the opposite — acceptance. And love.

What happened to the love?
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The Confederate flag Jon and I saw at Sonoma Raceway.

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little by little

jon

Chasing seagulls at nearby Bodega Bay

I’m supposed to be applying for a job right now. The open tab on my computer — “Children’s Fiction/Non-Fiction Writer” — is just to my right. I think I might actually have a shot at this one. I’ve been a teacher, and I love to write. The position is freelance, so . . . What more could they need?

Well, they’d need my application first.

I guess I forgot to mention that we moved. In all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and of packing and unpacking, and of apartment hunting and job searching, there was no time to blog. Continue reading

my prayer

San Ramon, California

San Ramon, California, where I work

Sitting in my darkened apartment, listening to the hum of traffic on University Avenue. It’s Saturday evening and my weekend has (finally) officially started. I’ve had thoughts all week about what to write right here. And yet, now, when I finally have the time . . .

the words,

the topics,

seem . . .

Misplaced.

Like me. Continue reading

on the road to a new life

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Already tired but ready to get this show on the road.

When I was 18, when most of my friends went just two hours away from home, I drove 2,500 miles for college. It was a scary time, and an exciting one. I’d lived in the same small town in Northern California my entire life. I was ready to see something new.

In many ways, that decision was a turning point and a defining moment in my life. This small town girl was exposed to a whole new world — Chattanooga, Tennessee was nothing like Placerville! You see . . . Where I came from, a “hog race” would indicate a pig race not a Harley race. Thunderstorms happened only rarely (and only during winter) at home. “Y’all” and “you’uns” were not in the dictionary. And grits? Fried okra? Sweet tea? Huh?

In many ways, it was like being in a new country, with the only difference being that English (albeit Southern English) was the written and spoken language, and I didn’t stick out everywhere I went — that is, until I opened my mouth.

In embarking on our recent journey from Tennessee to California, Jon and I created something of a reverse culture shock for him — and taken it to a whole new level. If Placerville was nothing like Chattanooga, Chattanooga is on a different planet from Berkeley! From rural Signal Mountain where Jon could recognize friends by the sounds of their cars passing on a two-lane highway, we’ve moved to busy University Avenue, where traffic never stops and our closest friends live several hours away!

The best example I can think of regarding the difference between living in a small town versus a big one, however, occurred while waiting in line at Comcast the other day. Jon and I were waiting to pick up our Internet modem when a large African American woman began a loud telephone conversation in line behind us. “. . . Hey, yeah. Yeah, I’m jes’ out payin’ bills. Yeah, I know. Jes’ remember we can’t affor- no f***-ups. I . . . Yeah, I’d like to see you, too, but I’ve jes’ been so bi-sy . . . Nobody gives me no respect. You hear that? No-body. Everybody is always disrespectin’ me and the way I raise my keeds and trying to tell me what to do. And so you know what? I’m gon’ re-move myself from the situation. I’m jes’ gon’ go away so there ain’t no one can find me no more. If they don’t respect me, I’m jes’ gon’ go away . . .”

Oh, boy.

Below are pictures from our road trip across the country. We drove the northern route, through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. It was a beautiful drive, but man am I glad that it’s over. I cannot stand sitting in a car for hours on end!

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At Jon’s before we left — that’s a scooter and three bikes on the back of that truck!

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Hello Illinois!

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Can’t forget the St. Louis Arch.

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Because my friend Jeff lives in Nebraska, I’ll go ahead and say it’s an awesome place. Otherwise, I’d just say it’s flat!

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Old barn somewhere along the way.

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Jon contemplating our truck’s sagging hind end at a gas station. That scooter was heavy!

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Hello, Wyoming.

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Light at the end of the tunnel.

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I heart clouds.

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Electricity.

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Somewhere in Wyoming.

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Snow-swept.

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Boulders in Wyoming.

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Snow!

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Salt Lake City area.

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Salt Lakes, Utah

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Wind-blown and worn out

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She’s still holding up!

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Sky meets salt.

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Jon was excited about this.

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Getting closer.

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Driving, driving, driving.

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Almost home.

 

 

listen to your heart

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What is yours telling you?

I’ve been starting blog posts in my head all week.

“Looking back, I should have stormed out of his office.”

“I got a job offer. I didn’t take it.”

“What does ‘meaning’ mean to you?”

“Does everything have to be a lesson?”

Instead of finishing them, though, I’ve been writing things like this:

“Hi!

My name is Jessica. I am contacting you regarding your ad for a one-bedroom apartment listed on Craigslist. Currently I live in the Sacramento area, but I need to move to the Bay Area very soon . . .”

I’ve then been driving to and from Berkeley (about two hours each way) every day looking at places and realizing that finding housing in the Bay Area is IMPOSSIBLE. Even if you have money (I don’t), the housing demand is so great that no sooner does a person put up an ad on Craigslist than twenty business professionals/students/etc. are banging down their door.

It is a cut-throat fight to find anything around here.

And so days have passed since my eventful “working interview,” which turned out to be a total sham, and which proved to me once again that any time someone is rushing you about something important, it’s time to RUN.

The company was a “direct marketing” firm for big names like the Oakland A’s, supposedly, but what they really were were door-to-door salesman who’d been fooled into thinking they were on a fast-track to management. While they were working tirelessly in a field they hated, another man was reaping their rewards and getting rich. I could go on, but when the CEO tried to make me feel bad for asking questions and indicated that money should be my biggest motivating factor, I knew something wasn’t right.

I left the interview exhausted and upset. I knew I needed a job, and needed it soon, but could I compromise who I am and what I believe in to do a job I hated, not to mention didn’t feel right about?

My answer came that night when I got home. I checked my email for the first time in more than 48 hours, and what did I find? A response from a job I’d applied for weeks earlier and given up on. I won’t say too much more about it right now, but I will say that my first interview went well. In fact, I’ve had three exciting interviews since the marketing interview disaster . . .

And so it really is true: We should always listen to our hearts.

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Image: Pinterest

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here’s to adventures

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Drove two and a half hours to Walnut Creek today to look at apartments and interview for a job. Planned for a one-day outing (I wasn’t even sure what I was interviewing for, honestly — it ‘s a marketing firm; I’m not in marketing!), but then, towards the end, the lady said, “I’m doing short interviews of thirty people today. I can only invite five of them back for working interviews. Why should I invite you?”

Umm . . .

“I’m the hardest worker you’ll ever meet. Right after college, I took an internship that turned into a job, and when I left, they begged me not to go . . . Uhh (I was really fumbling here), I’m a great writer and have experience writing marketing materials. I could convince people that the bottom of their shoes taste good (okay, not really, but) . . . I’ve worked in customer service and like dealing with people (I really have — I’ve been a server and worked in retail). Umm . . . I adapt well to new situations and am a fast learner. In Asia I managed large classrooms of 9- to 14-year-old students, and I didn’t even speak their language!”

While I was talking, the lady wrote a large “B” in red ink on the top of my resume. B? Gulp. Was that my grade? This was not looking good.

Imagine my surprise, then, when a few minutes later she said, “So does tomorrow 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. sound good?”

Say whaaattt?!

“Umm, sure. Yeah, great. Thanks so much!” Meanwhile, my mind was racing. 8 a.m.? Tomorrow? How am I going to pull that off?!

So here I am, several hours and several more apartments crossed off my list later ($900 a month for a ROOM? Are you kidding me?), in a hotel room at Motel 6. I have my disposable toothbrush and travel-size shampoo and conditioner, a new shirt (so I won’t be wearing the same clothes two days in a row), I’m writing this post on my iPhone, and here we go!

Life really is an adventure. Like my friend John said, “Hands on the wheel at all times!”

Wish me luck!

if i could go anywhere

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If I could go anywhere, I would go to Carmel, on the coast of California, in the year 1990. My family would be staying at a small condo by the beach. It would be foggy and misty. I would be six years old, and my mom would be turning 32. We would be there to celebrate her birthday, and I would be laughing and twirling and calling her an old lady.

I would then take my six-year-old self on a trip around the world. I’d stop in Delhi, Dhaka, Beijing, Tokyo . . . Manila, Sydney, Cape Town, Istanbul . . . Bucharest, Athens, Rome, Lisbon . . . Moscow, Santiago, Pell City, Montreal . . . Continue reading

the last piece (or, i lied)

Part seven is the last piece of my rock-climbing story. Here, I talk about how my accident still affects me today. Yes, I recovered. But eleven years later, there are still things that remind me of my injury every day.

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There are things you learn to live with. Things that never cross your mind—until “that time.”

That time when you’re ordering at Starbucks and the barista says: “What was that?” “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” “Are you sick?”

That time when you’re chatting with a friend, and your voice cuts out and cracks, then dies.

That time when you’re calling across a street, and no one hears.

That time when you’re in a noisy restaurant, and you might as well just look into each other’s eyes.

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how to not die: the road to recovery

In “The Road to Recovery,” I talk about just that: recovery. This is where I found my passion for cycling and scared my mom to death by water-skiing only a few months out after my injury . . . Ha!

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Ten years ago (on January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is the last part of my story. (To start at the beginning, click here.)

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

8 a.m. Wednesday, March 12

*”Rise and shine, it’s butt-whoopin’ time!”

I opened one eye and squinted at my brother in the light. A goofy grin engulfed his face. With my good arm, I threw a pillow at him. “Where’s my lucky egg?” He ran from the room, laughing.

Moments later, my mom appeared. “Awake?” I nodded. Cradling my right arm with my left, I slipped out from under the covers…

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cling to hope

Some of you have wondered where I’ve been. I’ve been posting less often, commenting the same . . . Have I given up blogging? Have I given up loving? Am I heartless? Do I not care?

Hardly, friends! Anything but! I do care, and care all the more! It’s just . . . my life has been shifting. To give you a review:

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In December, 2009, I moved to Taiwan. My viewpoints were challenged. My perspectives, changed.

I shifted.

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At Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan

Continue reading

this blood will bleed us dry

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Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe on January 3. This place should be BURIED in snow.

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There’s a story often told about the Eskimos. In the dead of winter, when out hunting caribou, hunters plant blood-covered knives blade up in the snow around their camp at night. The blood on the knives attracts wolves who, rather than attack the camp as they would have, lick the blades excitedly, thus cutting their tongues. The wolves are so excited about the blood, however, that they ignore their pain and go on licking, not realizing that they’re drinking their own blood . . .

The truth is, this story isn’t true (Google it if you don’t believe me), but there’s a lot of truth in it — at least in parallel. I am thinking particularly of the drought in California. Continue reading

it’s a hard knock life

eldo-raleysI’m walking to my car in a Raley’s parking lot. It’s about 6 p.m., dark, and cold. I shiver as an icy breeze picks up. Why oh why did I forget my jacket?

Suddenly, I notice a woman off to the left. Her car is parked across a grassy divide facing mine. She’s at her car, like I am now, only . . . What on earth is she doing? The woman isn’t getting into her car but, rather, is pacing beside it. From trunk to passenger’s side, to trunk to — Nope! Nope! she looks at the driver’s side — passenger’s side. She looks angry. Safely inside my car now, I realize what’s going on, and, I’ll be honest, start laughing. The lady has parked her car a little to the left in her parking space. The truck beside her is parked a little to its right. The lady is about 100 pounds overweight . . . She can’t get into her own car! Continue reading

a simple life

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A home overlooking Lake Folsom in El Dorado Hills

It’s a simple life, an easy life,
in El Dorado Hills.
Where cookie-cutter houses sit,
on cookie-cutter hills.
Where all the people drive to work
in fancy, shiny cars.
And all the children laugh and play
and look up to the “stars.”*

It’s a simple life, a quiet life,
in heaven’s spot on earth.
With all the fences whitely washed,
and mothers giving birth
To little ones who’ll laugh and play
and look up to the “stars,”
and grow up doing just the same,
in fancy, shiny cars.

It’s a simple life, a little life,
the one we’ve bought and sold.
Where all that matters is our health,
our riches when we’re old.
Where nothing’s to be thought, of course,
about the world outside,
for all that matters is our own,
America’s our pride.

*Stars as in celebrities

For an audio recording of this poem, click here:

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Image: Google

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the truth behind travel

While on my trip a dear friend from high school posted this photo on my facebook page:

fernweh3“I think you’ve been satisfying this need for a couple of weeks now,” he said.

And I wondered: Was it true?

I’ve been a seeker all my life. From the time I was ten, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. Six more years! How would I make it? In high school, my Catholic boyfriend challenged me to examine my Protestant beliefs, and when it came time for college, I chose a school 3,000 miles from home — Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At Southern, I uncovered a whole new world, one in which umbrellas were a necessity year-round (a strange phenomenon for a California girl) and the correct way to address a group of friends was not “Hey, guys,” but “Ya’ll”! It was the start of what has made me me and a part of what eased my transition to life in Asia  — I already knew about this cicada and humidity thing!

But, I guess my question is: What is travel? And why is it — is it? — important? Continue reading

where does the thunder go?

Rainy Day on Folsom Lake

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We’re on our boat and it’s Labor Day. No one’s out because it’s stormy, and we like it this way. The lake is ours.

With the wind in my face, and the rain to my back, I pretend I’m alone. I am alone. My thoughts fly with the wind rushing past me — over mountains, hills, and plains; forward, backward, now. And I realize:

I am not alone. Earth is ours.
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“Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw?

Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?”

― Ray Bradbury

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Image: Folsom Lake, California (by me)

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