April 21, 2013 § 1 Comment
I took a brief break last December in order to prepare for my move out west. Now I’m ready to take another break, but this time I’m not sure when I’ll return.
As much as I enjoy sharing stories and images with you, there are more important things in my life that need my attention at the moment. I need to simplify.
No, I’m not ready to give up this space. Though I am asking myself a lot of questions.
April 8, 2013 Comments Off on Look Back
I tried to be present while traveling in Europe. I was, for the most part, but I could never shake the future from my mind. I have a valid excuse for this. I came to Europe not to delay real-world responsibilities but to confront them. I came to Europe looking for clarity and found it, two months and four work exchanges later.
Now, here in Portland, I’m preoccupied with the past. I admit that I hold myself to lofty, unattainable standards. Even if I recognize the absurdity of the standards I set for myself, I’m never satisfied with my accomplishments. I look at my resume as I send duplicate after duplicate to prospective employers, thinking about how much more I should have done in college, about all of the programs and platforms I’ve yet to learn, and the skills I should have acquired by now.
I seldom ever question the worth of my English degree. I take pride in my uncanny abilities to memorize Chaucer, discuss the merits of postconsonantal literature, and explain to people how to use a semicolon. Yet, a few days ago I wondered aloud, “Why wasn’t I ever any good with numbers?!” By this I mean, why did I have to be a wordsmith? Why couldn’t I have been a mathematician, engineer or computer scientist? Then companies would beg me to come work for them.
Don’t worry, I’ve calmed down.
I reflect upon these last three-ish months, and, at the risk of upsetting my loved ones, I’m frustrated. There’s so much more I think I should have accomplished by now. I didn’t think I’d set expectations of any sort for myself. It turns out that I did, but I wouldn’t admit it until now.
The question remains: how do I emerge from the past and bring myself into the present?
(Questions. I ask so many questions because they’re all I have. I have no answers. I hope I never run out of questions to ask. If you’re not asking questions, then what are you doing?)
We’re often advised, be it in song, literature, or contemporary philosophy, never to look back or to live in the past. Otherwise, we’ll never move forward in our lives. I want vouch for looking back. Not so much for living in the past. There’s a difference between “looking back” and “living in the past.” I find that these phrases are used interchangeably, their meanings convoluted. I’d like to make an attempt to distinguish between the two.
Looking back can be beneficial, when done judiciously, that is. If we never looked back, we’d make the same mistakes over and over again. There’s be no reflection, and with reflections come some of the richest opportunities for growth I can think of. There would be few thoughts, and most action would be senseless. I’ve been able to grow considerably as an individual just by looking back. It’s made me a better, more conscientious participant in the present.
Living in the past is to inhabit a distant space. One withdraws from and rewrites reality. They close themselves off from people and opportunities that may enrich their lives. I tend to look back, but I don’t live in the past. I can say that much.
I’ll continue to look back. Though I admit that I need to figure out how to look back less often.
I want to close with these wise words from Roger Ebert (via Buzzfeed). I couldn’t decide which of these two quotes I liked best, so I included both:
“We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds.”
“Life’s missed opportunities, at the end, may seem more poignant to us than those we embraced–because in our imagination they have a perfection that reality can never rival.”
March 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
I witnessed a panel discussion featuring a select group of highly accomplished Smith College alumnae three months before I graduated. Back when I agonized over my future even more than I do now. When I did everything I could to convince myself that traveling alone was a terrible idea.
One of the alumnae, an Academy Award-winning documentarian, told the audience about her first post-graduate job: taking the temperatures of ham sandwiches at a children’s summer camp. (Why? The local health department required that food served to the children not exceed X temperature.)
“I would think to myself, ‘I have a Smith degree,’ and in would go the thermometer.”
Sure, I laughed when she said that. But I never forgot what she said next.
“Random is good.”
I think about my own post-graduate path often. I learned how to milk a cow, and later a goat. Then I worked in retail. Then I moved to Portland. I can’t say what’s to follow, for obvious reasons. I’m grateful for all of the stories I have (and will have) to tell.
I almost had no stories to tell at all. I was terrified at the thought of making a mistake and getting trapped in a career I hated. So for a while I did nothing.
Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize about about careers. They can change. You can change. Thanks largely in part to the current economic climate, the era of staying with a company or organization for several years is over.
One of my cousins, a fellow Midwest transplant, put it best: shouldn’t your first job suck anyway? It will encourage you to seek out something even better. To push yourself to try new things.
She also told me, “It doesn’t matter how you get there.” Now I’m finally starting to believe her.
March 25, 2013 Comments Off on Last Few Months
It’s been nearly a year since I graduated from Smith College. I took these images in the final months of my senior year. There’s a somber, melancholy tone manifested in these images. When you’re a senior in college, you reach a certain point when you want nothing more than to get your diploma and leave, even if you don’t know what your next step will be.
As eager as I was to get on with my life, I knew that I would miss Smith. The four years I spent at Smith were among the most exciting and challenging of my life.
March 25, 2013 § 2 Comments
I discussed passion previously in this post. I’m still thinking about it.
Take a look at this piece, from a great local website I consult often as I search for employment.
It makes sense to me. We spend the bulk of our waking hours at our jobs. We might as well utilize our passions to find satisfying work. But that’s not what interests me this time. I want to examine passion in broader terms. Passion is more than an intense love for someone or something. It’s energy. Energy that can be harnessed.
The aforementioned article cites Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring strategies. Zuckerberg looks for passionate individuals to work for Facebook. He could care less what their passions are. He knows that these people will bring boundless energy to his company, and he knows how to redirect that energy.
The most fascinating people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting were passionate individuals. I didn’t always share their passions, but the sheer joy and energy that they radiated drew me to them. These are people who have motivated me to cultivate my own passions.
There could even be a direct correlation between passion and happiness. If you perceive happiness to be fleeting and sporadic, rather than a permanent fixture in life, then knowing one’s passions might ensure that happiness intersects their life with some frequency. Recognizing your passions will incline you to seek out relevant, worthwhile opportunities to grow them, resulting in many happy instances.
I certainly felt happier when I discovered each one of my passions. Then again, “complete” describes how I felt more adequately. I remember when I realized how much food meant to me, I felt as though I’d found some missing piece of myself that I’d never realized had been missing in the first place.
That’s just one example. I look forward to discovering more passions.
You don’t have to make your passion pay. Just be passionate. Be passionate about something. Anything.
March 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
Last week I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I hadn’t accomplished since I arrived in Portland. Here I was, still unemployed, living under another person’s roof, friendless, and losing money with each passing day.
I hit a wall. Or as my mother likes to say a “two-month wall.”
I hit a “two-month wall” in Europe. That’s when I realized I wasn’t happy with how my volunteer posts were working out. I was exhausted from the demands of farm work and fed up with living a nomadic existence. Then I decided it was time to come home. To really start living.
I thought about leaving Portland for a short period of time, but I fear that to return to the Midwest, even briefly, would reverse the progress I’ve made since relocating. Portland is where I need to be.
I’m feeling better now, though I’m still working through some difficult emotions. I know that I’ll probably hit another wall later on, and perhaps another one after that.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be one of those people who only writes when they’re confused or depressed (or both). I don’t want to offer a narrow view of my life. Resettling hasn’t been easy for me, but I love it here. I’ve thought long and hard about how to convey Portland’s simple, unfussy beauty and lovable quirkiness. How exactly does one evoke the sights, sounds, smells, and, especially in Portland’s case, tastes, of a place?
I’m going to try to make you see why I want to stay.
It rains constantly in Portland, right up until summer arrives. But I’ve experienced a few unbroken stretches of perfect weather. These are the days when I’m absolutely grateful to be here. When I wake up the sunlight that filters in through the drawn blinds is enough to brighten my entire bedroom. I step outside outside and squint. The sky is a piercing shade of blue. I take long walks on these sorts of days, if for no other reason to get a coffee. I pass camellia and bushes and trees teeming with fragrant cherry blossoms everywhere I go. Now I’m beginning to see dandelions and rhododendrons.
I often walk by houses with small vegetable gardens out front. I’ve also seen swings; little shrine-like displays of plastic toys; Christmas lights; ornately decorated vintage VW buses parked in the street; and little window boxes offering poems or affirmations. It’s also not unusual to spot a chicken or two. Some chickens are free to roam wherever they please.
People love their dogs in Portland. I know this because I see at least one person at any given time taking their adorable dog out for a walk. I see dogs tied up outside of cafes and coffee shops, eagerly awaiting the return of their owners. I once spotted a giant Bernese Mountain Dog sprawled out on the pavement outside of an Alberta Avenue restaurant, looking as though there was no where else he’d rather be at that moment.
My estimate is that nine out of every ten coffee shops in Portland are converted, refurbished auto garages. On good days, some of these places will open up the garage doors that were left behind. One of my favorite coffee places shares a space with a bamboo workshop.
While walking in Southeast Portland one day, I came upon goats playing in a giant vacant lot closed off by chain link fence. This was the “urban goat project.” It was on the way to the “vegan strip mall.”
When I walk to the nearest transit center, I pass two hypnosis clinics and an aquarium shop that never seems to be open…or closed for that matter.
If I’m lucky, I can see Mt. Hood from the overpass along Sandy Boulevard or, better yet, from a window on the MAX.
Some of these anecdotes are easy to write off as Portlandia fodder. To be perfectly honest, at times I feel as though I’m living in an ongoing Portlandia sketch. I don’t care. I take Portland as it is.