“in order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”*

this post was written on sunday night, september 21. it’s now monday, september 22, and i’m sitting in a coffee shop across the street from chicago’s union station.

cloud gate, aka "the bean," chicago

cloud gate, aka “the bean,” in millennium park, chicago

tonight i walked the few blocks from the hotel i’m staying in with my boyfriend to a diner in a section of chicago called south loop. i’d assumed it’s called by this name because there’s a light rail sort of contraption that hugs the area, but upon doing the wikipedia thing, i found out that the origin of south loop is unknown. but, when i hear the name, i think of a neatly tied ribbon, which is downright pleasant, and it actually is pretty nice, complete with a trader joe’s and elevator-building apartments. it’s also not nearly as filled with homeless people as the other sections of the city we’ve been roaming for the past four days. chicago has so far made new york look, in comparison, positively free of the mentally ill and drug-addicted folks society has abandoned to the streets. ’merica.

at least, on this chicago trip, no one tried to choke me on the street outside of a bar. i don’t remember what i’d said to that girl to piss her off, but, boy, was she mad!

so i rolled up to the diner solo, as my boyfriend was at the time in a large hotel conference room showing and analyzing footage of his interactions with girls as a learning tool for other guys. at this point, i’ve eaten alone so many times, it never strikes me as strange, but when i stood at the please-wait-to-be-seated sign (fuck you, hyphens. why can’t i use small caps in wordpress?), the host (because he was a dude and not a hostess, though host makes it sound as if i were about to attend dinner theater) peeked around me. considering i’m not even 5’2”, the options for who might be hiding behind me were few.

“just you?” is what he said, to which i answered a neutral, unmodulated “yup.”

and then he puckered his lips and crinkled his brows in thought, nodded, grabbed one menu, and led me to a counter seat so my ass wouldn’t take up too much real estate in a booth or at a table. he wasn’t so much judgmental as observant, and i wasn’t offended—only surprised, i suppose.

it seems as if all i hear or read about anymore, especially when it comes to being a woman, is independence. having our own careers, traveling alone, raising a child alone, starting our own businesses from scratch, etc., etc. but every time i look at facebook (which, i’m happy to admit, has been pretty infrequent nowadays), someone has posted yet another fucking article or top five list on how to be happy, and there’s always something on there about being comfortable alone, learning to be alone, spending time by yourself. i wholly give my credence to these prescriptions and similar, but independence seems to be en vogue, something people say more than they practice.

i feel the same way about glorifying the benefits of kale. kale is great for you. kale is delicious, whether sautéed, in a salad, in chip or smoothie form—however you want. eat it with your bare hands out of the bag like i do.

amtrak train (nyc > chi)

this is the snapchat photo i sent to my friend in nj while i was working on the lake shore limited amtrak train to chicago.

i actually whipped out a ziplock of it on the train to chicago and ate it like popcorn (yes, everyone, i took a train not a plane to chicago, so please ask me again why i would do this and tell me why it sounds crazy), and the guy next to me gave me the same look as the host’s in the chicago diner. i guess maybe he’s more sophisticated and makes his pesto with kale (which is a thing i didn’t know you could do until i googled it a minute ago), so i understand his reservations about my low-class kale eating.

but everyone needs just to eat kale if they want to and shut the fuck up about it.

 

the eleven city diner, south loop, chicago

the diner in south loop

anyway, it’s still odd for a woman—maybe anyone, to be honest—to have a meal alone. you can grocery shop alone. you can mail letters and go to bookstores alone. you can pick up dry cleaning and get your nails done and hair cut and buy wine and go running, but eating a meal in a restaurant alone is another matter, especially if there doesn’t seem to be any tangible reason for doing so. i didn’t walk into the diner with a huge backpack to show that i was just passing through. i wasn’t wearing sunglasses indoors, earbuds jammed in my head to show i was either having an emotional breakdown and didn’t want to be seen crying but felt the need to have dinner in public, or i was massively hung over and looked like a hollowed-out avocado. i wasn’t carrying a laptop nor did i have a bluetooth in my ear to indicate that i had important business to attend to on a sunday night.

which i totally did. i had to talk to my friend in california on gchat and eat a huge omelet with spinach.

(they didn’t have any kale.)

almost two years ago to the day, i’d been sitting in a dusk-lit square in madrid, staring at a spanish menu and trying to figure out which item(s) could easily be made vegetarian, when i glanced over and saw a women eating alone. she had a book, a meal, and a glass of red wine, and she looked to be in her late forties or early fifties. madrid was the seventh, and last, country of my trip across europe, so by that point, i’d had at least one breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, coffee, dessert, elevensies, second breakfast, and alcohol session by myself, and the first time i’d consumed something alone—when i’d self-consciously sat in a café in rome and had espresso—seemed to have occurred eons, not weeks, ago.

madrid, spain

the restaurant in madrid where i ate my first madrid meal. the woman on the right may or may not have been the poor lady i was hard-core judging.

still, i found myself wondering about the woman, and why she was dining by herself. did she need to get away from her man/woman, did she even have a significant other, was she divorced or widowed, was she a spinster with one hundred gatos, did she have no friends . . .

i guess i could have hypothesized that she was eating alone because her pickup artist boyfriend was teaching the intricacies of game and dating, but the idea didn’t cross my mind for some reason.

then i thought, really? you’re eating alone and you can only wish you had one hundred cats!

in all seriousness, the thing is, that lady looked content. eighty-six that. more than content, actually: happy! happy in the i couldn’t give a fuck way, which, to me, is the height of happiness. i realized my curiosity was laden with judgment, and i thought instead about other things, like ordering patatas bravas and queso fresco and a tortilla española (no wonder i gained five pounds in europe), and what i would do for the last two days of my trip. i was getting closer to independence in that madrid tapas bar than i’d ever been before, and i see it now as the preparation i needed to do what i do now, which is to freelance alone and eat alone and not speak to another soul for sometimes an entire working day. today i’m closer still—though not close enough to ignore when a diner host “observes” my solo status—but i’m nearer to happy, for certain.

someday, may the supermarket shelves be bountiful with kale, stocked end-to-end with kale chips and kale pestos and kale salsas and kale cheerios, and i can gchat and eat omelets and take an hour to drink one cup of coffee sans spinster hypotheses and en paz.

 

*albert camus

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“a child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”*

this was written on november 2, and posted from the achilles tent, one hour before i started the 2013 ing nyc marathon on november 3.

i joked before i left for vegas on october 22 that what would happen there could end up in my blog. i was only half kidding about that at the time, but now i find myself wanting to write about the trip, though without baring the gritty details (you can ask me about those personally; and i might tell you).

but the trip, as a whole, allowed me a glimpse into what my life could be like all the time. it was a test for me to see if i could hack it as a club-going wingwoman by night and a glasses-wearing freelance copy editor for children’s books by day. somehow, i rocked both. either i have multiple personality disorder and my late-night alter ego katerina takes over once i hit up the club—i think she just made a brief appearance there—or i’m simply socially excellent and able to easily adapt to any situation. or maybe it’s a combination of both, plus the fact that the person i went to see in vegas, my boyfriend, makes me feel unreasonably (in a good way) capable of accomplishing anything i’ve envisioned. he also makes me feel comfortable with being completely myself, even those parts i never wanted to show or admit to. i was doing pretty well in this department when we met, but it never hurts to have someone in your corner; someone to go to bat for you; more sports clichés, etc., etc. right now he’s in tokyo, and virtually unreachable, and i’m set to start mile one of twenty-six tomorrow morning at 10:30. it’ll be 11:30 p.m. in japan. i told him weeks ago, however, that despite the lack of his physical presence, or even a technological one, just thinking about him gives me the energy and strength to run ten marathons.

okay, okay. sorry. i don’t usually romanticize like this (all right, maybe not so much, anyway), but right now i’m alone, sitting in the empty apartment of my friend in jersey city, my stomach absolutely jam-packed with what i’d estimate to be about a gallon of water and five pounds of food from carbo-loading, and feeling, to be honest, kind of down. when i think back to where i was a week ago, having woken up only two hours ago (it’s four p.m. in vegas), where i was going that night (marquee in the cosmopolitan), and who i was with (see above), it’s not that my life in new jersey is drab or unsatisfactory by comparison. it’s just not . . . me enough.

i watched a plane taking off from newark airport this afternoon while i was on the path. i stared up at the sky-bound vessel’s underbelly, then its tail, and finally what had become just a speck of its body, and i thought, take me with you. this from a girl who used to need practically a sedative to be on an airplane. i’d never realized, not until about two years ago, how much i hate not moving. it’s like that itch a person gets when he or she is inside on a beautiful day, the sunlight yanking on an arm like a persistent friend. come on! i feel that tug all the time now, an insatiable desire to be constantly doing, improving, to consistently be surprised, shocked, and awed. luckily, there is still a lot of world to see, still a seemingly infinite amount of people to meet and learn from, and, of course, more books than i could read in three lifetimes. but it makes me wonder: how in the shit did i ever endlessly loaf on a couch, watching tv and playing words with friends for hours and hours?

someone said to me recently, “you know, you don’t have to be so driven all the time.” ugh. wrong.

so yesterday i googled peter pan syndrome, not thinking it’s actually quite a serious thing (but if it’s on wikipedia, it has to be, right?). though it’s not formally in the dsm, some psychologists do refer to it, characterizing it as “an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level. . . . [who] leads a provisional life, due to the fear of being caught in a situation from which it might not be possible to escape. . . [who] covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.” there are books dedicated to peter pans, and other references on how to school women on avoiding and breaking their addictions to pp’s. well, too late for me with that one, but i thought then, what if i’m the female version? (is there a female version?) and what happens when you put the two of us together?

puella aeterna is a child-woman in jungian psychology, and the characteristics aren’t exactly positive. they aren’t much different from those of the male counterpart, but they include such descriptions as wanting “to be taken care of” and “led through life by the hand,” inciting the notion that there is a danger for a lady of being robbed “of every opportunity to fulfill her intellectual, creative, and professional capacity.” this must not apply to modern female peter pans from new jersey.

i hypothesize that a male and female both “suffering” (or, hello, thriving) from peter pan syndrome would make for an interesting pair. while i didn’t set foot on an airplane until i was twenty-two, i have a feeling any kid of mine will be one of the following: a). born on a plane, b). chilling on a plane as an infant, or c). conceived on a plane. the last one was just to make sure you’re paying attention. but i can see that kid, trailing behind me and toting his or her own backpack on some hike up a mountain somewhere faraway, or knowing his or her way around new york city, yammering on in more than one language, both a book of poetry and a popular mechanics magazine on his or her person. and if i have a kid who doesn’t like to move as much as i do? i’ll just have to develop extra-strong back muscles in order to carry him or her. the little one can jump off when he or she gets too big.

all these crazy thoughts are stemming from one thing that happened on my trip. for the entire week, i was thinking about—stewing over was more like it—the blog post i wrote when i was in costa rica, the one in which i gave myself a cutoff, a self-imposed ultimatum for happiness in which i’d high-tail it out of wherever i was if i wasn’t content. the post was written out of a supreme sadness, the kind stemming from feeling alone in a strange land, having just turned thirty and quit my job and wondering what the hell i was thinking. the kind in which i felt as though i needed to make a promise to myself never to let it happen again. realistically, however, i nor anyone else can make good on that promise, no matter the ultimatum, cutoff, or what have you.

so when i sat in the diner of a casino on my last day in vegas, i said something to the effect of, “i’m just not sure what i’ll do if one day i realize i can’t completely handle all this.”

the response was, not verbatim: “you say that you want to be with me forever, yet you are wondering if you’ll have to leave if you can’t completely handle everything?”

i didn’t have to think. i just answered. i said that i remembered, months ago, making a pros and cons list about the situation, only to have the items in each column cancel one another out. when it came down to it, there were two choices: you, or no you. and the choice, then, was easy. what had i meant in terms of what i’d do? i meant how will i deal with my emotions, my jealousy, however infrequent. what tools will i use to fight the tiny spots of cold dampness to realize how bright the rest of the day is. the question isn’t about being or not being with you, loving or not loving you. and it never will be.

that’s when i realized, as the words flowed out as comfortably as if i were simply saying hello to someone, that i not only love this person, but i love him unconditionally. and, well, shit. to take that one last barricade down? that’s scary. it’s also . . . perfect, however imperfect it might seem.

when i was leaving for the vegas trip, when my plane had been cleared for takeoff out of jfk, i decided to do something i’d never done before. despite having gotten very used to flying, i’ve continued to cling to the habit of shutting my eyes and not daring to look out the window until we’ve reached a comfortable cruising altitude after ascending. but last tuesday i made up my mind that i wanted to see the ground rush away from me, watch the world go from life-size to fun-size. what had used to feel like an agonizing five minutes, my eyelids scrunched shut, my palms sweating, suddenly felt like mere seconds. i watched happily—and, fine, maybe i cried a bit too—as the plane looped around the atlantic ocean, and the mid-morning sun sprinkled itself on the waves. i was still somewhat scared, but i was so glad that i hadn’t let myself miss out. so glad that, for once, like a kid, i had my eyes wide open.

*paul coelho

“when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”*

i wrote this post on october 10 while in la fortuna, costa rica. i am now in the san josé airport, waiting to board my flight back to the states.

i am currently perched on a stool in the internet room of my hostel in la fortuna, costa rica, trying to gain some clarity through writing. i haven’t penned much of anything while traveling, save a few paragraphs on my iphone notepad that summarize only days one and two of my trip. i’m now on day ten and in my second-to-last destination. three books lie in my satchel, and i’ve started all but finished none. my two travel companions, my friend leisa, who i met just more than a year ago in amsterdam, and billy, a twenty-year-old british guy who leisa befriended in the orosi valley and who has joined us from tamarindo to monteverde to now la fortuna, have each read two and are making this former book publishing professional look like a chump. but i realized today though that maybe i needed to take a break from literature, something that has utterly consumed my life for the past seven years. that i could stand to breathe and relax and think about anything but books—at least maybe those written by others.

when i woke up this morning, leisa and billy were still asleep and i decided to screw around on my phone, which usually leads to me stumbling upon things i don’t want to see. when you date someone who has a very nontraditional career combined with a very active presence on all forms of social media, it’s not hard to 1). be curious and follow said social media sites, and 2). be upset or offended by the things on them, even if they are things of which you’re already aware. i started the day feeling as though i had been punched in the ribs, unable to breathe normally and steady my heartbeat. normally, in this kind of situation, i would throw on my mizunos and go for a run, but the idea of leaving the cozy three-person tent i was sharing with billy and leisa in order to run and make a spectacle of myself as a gringa down the one main street in this little costa rican town did not appeal to me. so instead i folded my limbs into the fetal position and waited for my tent buddies to wake up.

leisa has joked throughout this trip that i always seem to make big life decisions when i travel. it isn’t hard to see why. even when you have traveling companions, there are those moments when you have alone time, such as on a small boat sputtering across a lake, a volcano within sight and clouds so low you are nearly able to touch them, the engine and wind loud enough to make conversation difficult. all you can do then is admire the rolling green mountains and wonder where all your worries fit into such a large, beautiful world. this self-reflection, coupled with often harrowing and annoying conditions (like eleven hours of traveling by bus—well, four buses, to be exact—across bumpy, wet back country) and meeting a ton of like-minded people who aren’t letting the man get them down, tends to be inspiring.

on the third night of my trip, which also happened to be my thirtieth birthday, leisa and i each threw back two margaritas on the beach in tamarindo and i sent an e-mail to the people at mount hood, asking to be notified when registration will be open for their fifty-mile race in oregon next july. and, no, i haven’t run the new york city marathon yet and, yes, i’ve already started to consider training for an ultramarathon. on november 4 and when the mount hood folks shoot me that automated e-mail, we will see how serious i am about punishing my body in that capacity. but for now it is on my to-do list and has already been on my “before i croak” list for quite some time.

i wonder, though, if on this trip that this is the decision i was supposed to arrive at, or if this time, i’m not meant to be making big life decisions at all. i have already quit my job and moved home with my parents, begun writing a novel and started my own freelance business, trained to run a marathon, been dating and fallen for a professional dating coach who lives across the country in america’s adult playground, and made up my mind to travel and write and write about traveling, so i don’t really know what else i should add to my pile, if anything. it all seems like more than enough at the moment, thank you.

right now i should be happy and feel grateful that not only am i in a very cool place, i am with one of my best friends. and, when i return home, i don’t have to head back to a nine-to-five lifestyle (this is both scary and exhilarating). but, as leisa, billy, and i discussed last night during dinner, there are low points when you travel, just as much as there are high ones. today, instead of doing a four-hour hike up the volcano that the hostel receptionist described as “hell,” we slept late, went for breakfast and coffee, and then did pretty much nothing but lie on lounge chairs next to the pool (yes, a hostel with a pool—this is an anomaly), and talk bullshit. we may also have listened to taylor swift’s “trouble” once. i was starting to feel bad about being incredibly lazy until leisa said that in just two days we will be wishing we had time to do nothing. i had to agree.

i took a break from writing this post a few hours ago to lie down on my thin tent mattress and stare at the peaked canvas ceiling of our current dwelling for a while. leisa came in and asked if i was okay, and at the time, i wasn’t. i felt crippled, as if i couldn’t move, and i just wanted to sleep so i didn’t have to be awake and keep my thoughts on shuffle and loop. and that familiar itch, the itch to run, run away from everything and everyone, was there. for a solid few minutes i considered looking at my flight cancelation options and heading south to panamá, perú, and beyond, delaying going home or anywhere else, skipping the marathon, and throwing my phone into a volcano. of course then i remembered my two (yes, two now) upcoming trips to vegas this month and next, the marathon and the miles i’ve run and my charity and all who have generously contributed to it, the freelance jobs i have due at the end of next week, the e-mails i have been neglecting and need to answer, my family and friends . . . and the responsibilities pulled me back to reality. but i thought then, mostly with leisa’s help, really, that mount hood, at the end of next july, may be the kind of cutoff i need in my mind about where my life, my career, and my relationship are going.

“if you’re not happy with your life by then,” she said, “then you can just go. then you get on a bus. work in hostels, teach english. just go.”

my mind flashed then to facebook. to the images of weddings and children i see constantly, and i felt badly, thinking that i may not ever have those things so therefore my parents may never have grandchildren, that they will continue to watch the offspring of their friends go through these milestones while i wander. i didn’t feel badly for myself though; i felt, for the first time, acceptance. acceptance that my life may be different and solitary, even more so than it already is. i’ve thought many times that my direction may turn this way, but i always hoped, deep down, that maybe i was wrong. now, if this is my life path, so be it. i am here, ready and willing to embrace whichever way i end up going.

late july is eight months from now. a lot can happen. but if i get into mount hood and i somehow manage to run the whole damn thing, i foresee those miles sharpening the kinetic thoughts in my head, clearing paths for me. if i go home (wherever that may be at the time) and i’m not happy, i just go. get on a bus, head south (or east or west), and go.

people generally give ultimatums to others, hoping to sway them to one side. today i give one to myself for a very different reason, and i make the decision to make a decision, to be firm and to slap myself on the knuckles, to choose happiness, one way or another.

*paulo coelho, the alchemist

“action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” *

the other day i was going through my e-mail drafts and deleting messages. the half-written e-mails were often ones i had never intended to send or had chickened out on sending, or they contained poems or snippets of dialogue i’d thought to include in some nonexistent novel or blog. but in one case, i found part of an unfinished post that i had entitled “timing is everything.” it had been buried under e-mails with no body (which, by the way, are now inundating my draft folder due to gmail’s new lightning-fast auto-save function—i find this to be both savvy and beyond irritating). anyway, it’s interesting to read your thoughts and then to go back to figure out when you wrote them, what was going on in your life, and what would soon follow. below is what i had started writing and then stashed in the gmail vacuum.

yesterday i went to lunch with a friend who is leaving early thursday morning to go on vacation for almost three weeks. i won’t see her until i get back from my trip on march 20. after ordering my edamame dumplings, the woman behind the counter gave me my order number—2283—and i had one of those illogical, childlike reactions, thinking that some good luck had to be coming my way. twenty-two is a lucky number not just for me, but for my family, both on my maternal and paternal sides, and i was born in 1983 (!).

a few hours later, after getting out of work on the tardy side, running an errand for my friend, and returning to my apartment around eight, hours of freelance work ahead of me, i ended up doing only half the work i’d planned to and went to sleep with my contacts in and full makeup on, my eyes puffy and swollen. my last thought before i drifted off was that i should have stepped in that dog shit on the way home to double-guarantee the luck i’d been hoping for was in transit to hoboken. if only a bird had pooped on my head as well, to make the luck trifecta. the lucky numbers weren’t cutting it.

when my coworker and i had sat down to eat, we’d started talking about timing. about taking a train later than your normal hour and meeting someone who never takes that particular train but happened to that day because the a, c, and e was x, y, and z. about a coincidence that can’t possibly be just that. about luck. my ten-year-old self would have called it magic.

and that’s where it stopped. i remember that lunch very well, but today i had trouble placing it on a timeline, so i used facebook (i knew my overuse of social media would come in handy) to pinpoint the date, which ended up being february 12 of this year. i had just gone to nashville with one of my best friends and was about to, that weekend, meet her and a few others in washington, dc. on the next day, february 13, the time of writing, i was nine days away from knowing my boyfriend even existed, eighteen days away from leaving for my trip to cambodia and thailand, and nearly thirty days away from making a huge life choice, which was ultimately to quit my job to focus on writing and freelancing. i wrote the post less than a day after telling a best friend, a guy who i had been dating then stopped dating but remained friends with despite still having feelings for him, that we had to stop speaking, stop hanging out.

whatever happened to me that day hours after lunch had caused me to arrive at place where i felt that luck, that timing, no longer mattered. because i’d seen a “sign,” because my friend had been talking about being on a train at the right time, because i was about to go on a life-changing trip, i’d expected the rest of my day to turn out gloriously. instead i got home late, didn’t finish my work, told my best friend i couldn’t speak to him anymore, and cried myself to sleep. i realized i wasn’t content with my life, and the worst part was that i was letting myself be that way. i was contributing zilch toward changing the view outside my window while hoping for what, i’m not sure. some dog shit to step in, i suppose.

i read a quote recently (and i cannot find it, which is fantastically pissing me off) about how, if you’re writing about your life, you need to be willing to embarrass yourself. otherwise, the product is going to reek and be ridden with an assortment of holes, and trying to sell it to your audience would be akin to selling someone a moth-chewed sweater you found in a very old, very neglected dumpster. no one wants it, and frankly, it stinks. keep this in mind for the next few paragraphs. please.

anyway . . . as i said, on february 13, i was nine days away from knowing that my boyfriend existed. if you’re not familiar with online dating, and in particular, if you’re not familiar with match.com, there are several methods of communicating with people you’re interested in. you can send them a match.com e-mail or instant message, like one of their photos, or wink at them (typing that makes me gag, but oh well). the splendid thing about match.com is even after you’ve let your subscription run out, if you’ve left your profile set to visible, charming bachelors can continue to send you messages and wink up a storm. the caveats of course are that you can view the profiles of said messengers and winkers, but 1). you can’t read the content of their messages, and 2). even if you could read them, you can’t respond in any way other than with . . . yup, a wink. the reason for this is that match.com hopes you’ll get enough batting eyes and sexy texts to make you want to renew your subscription and be able both to see what poetry was sent to you and to chat with these fine young poets.

so i got a wink from this gingery-looking guy, a self-proclaimed narcissist workaholic with commitment issues, who claimed he was 5’10” and whose headline read: “life is too short to dance with fat chicks.” he read—actual books!—had a degree in mechanical engineering, and strung words together much like i do, as if he believed, also like i do, that they matter (though maybe he could have used a thesaurus for that “fat chick” part to soften it up a bit). and then, toward the bottom of his profile, i came across a quote he had listed as one of his favorites, one by mark twain, and one that my sixth-grade english teacher had made us write as the first line in our journals: “the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” this was also the same teacher who had had us learn about the genocide in cambodia, my soon-to-be travel destination, and had assigned us cambodian pen pals shortly after the khmer rouge was overthrown. the quote has been, since that day, one of my favorites. as a writer, it only makes sense.

long story longer (it’s my way, i’m sorry), i winked back at this man and told myself that if he e-mailed me, i’d consider spending the money to rejoin match to be able to read his message and respond to it. i half-hoped he wouldn’t message me—i knew i’d be out at least the one-month subscription fee if i opted back in—but he did, and i spent a day wavering between letting the thing go and renewing my membership. ultimately, i renewed. i told myself that if i didn’t, i’d always regret it.

i told him this story on our first date (according to the rules, what a no-no, right?), but he didn’t see it as pathetic or loopy and he didn’t believe that my openness about telling him was too forward. i was really george constanza’ing it in reverse, embracing every natural impulse instead of going by the unwritten book of dating. my propensity is to overshare, overcompliment if i like someone, and overexpose bits of my personality and vulnerabilities upfront, and this, not shockingly, scares the shit out of guys, if not most people. we continued to talk after i left for asia, four days after our first date, and when he suggested that we meet in the airport the night i returned to new york (his flight from la happened to be landing a mere forty-five minutes before mine), i thought that the sensible thing to do, after traveling for a day straight and sitting in a cramped airplane seat for sixteen hours, would be to say no and figure out a better time (as if any other time when you’re not exhausted, jet-lagged, smelly, and dehydrated wouldn’t be better) to hang out. but i said okay, and there i was staring at a guy with whom i’d had one date and whose face i’d struggled to re-create from memory during three weeks of eating ganja pizza in siem reap, trying to ride a motorbike in koh lanta, and peeing, drunk, in the andaman sea off phi phi island, my dress hiked up to my hips, my phone and bag dangerously close to plummeting toward saltwater death. my friend and travel companion told me i was nuts for not ditching the guy to go home and head straight to bed, but i knew i’d regret it if i didn’t see him again and, not only that, i’d regret it if i didn’t see him that very night.

timing isn’t everything, but it is something, if only we capitalize on it. ultimately, we have choices, and we have the power to make the most of our luck. we aren’t helpless bystanders in the coincidences in which we find ourselves. i used to believe that the good things in life came to you if you were good, if you waited patiently for them to find you. and maybe, for some, they do arrive in that way. but the most satisfying good, for me, has come out of action, not passivity, from seeking out, not waiting for.

our airport “date” was six months ago, and i got off the phone with him around eight this morning, he in a cab in las vegas en route to eat steak and eggs, i in my room, packing for my trip to costa rica. the person i love is 2,500 miles away, but i am happy he is in my life to love this much (i’m currently stretching my arms out to my sides as far as they will go—that’s how much). tonight in san josé i’m meeting my friend, a girl i met a year ago at a hostel in amsterdam, another example of timing capitalized on, the result being a best, lifelong friend who i’m spending my birthday and eleven days with on another continent. a part of me continues to believe in luck, and in magic, but above all, i believe in the present progressive, in those -ing verbs: moving, going, and most important, doing.

*william james

“worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”*

this post was written on june 14, while i was traveling to boston, and has been tweaked many times since. i’ve only recently felt like posting it.

the last time i was on a two-level bus, i was traveling from bangkok to phuket. this thought just occurred to me as i’m now sitting on a bus from new york to boston, a trip i haven’t made since november. the megabus “wifi” is put in quotes because it is, in fact, an illusion, so as of now i’m forced to think of this bus as if it’s its distant cousin in thailand, on which i’m unable to have contact with the outside world. okay, so i still have use of the 3g on my phone, but let’s keep going with this little experiment. i also haven’t used facebook in twenty-four hours, and i’m going to own this pathetic feat and see if i can do without the king of social media for an entire weekend.

i think i’m a pretty unique, superior being, but i know that one trait i share with you subhumans is that i have trouble focusing on the present. i’ll often compare current situations to past ones (both my own and the pasts of my friends or family, because that doesn’t further complicate things) or imagine what shape the future will mutate into. all this causes: worry! worrying if it’ll be the same as last time or worrying that it’ll be different but in a terrible way—of course, why picture anything fantastic? but even imagining a fantastic future, daydreamers, is dangerous. while envisioning achieving your goals is a common tactic for reaching success, i’m going to go ahead and say fuck that and fuck it this instant. i’ll often compare life to running, and i’m not planning to divert from that tactic here. i haven’t run a marathon—yet—but i think that to imagine yourself finishing your twenty-sixth mile is not nearly as important as getting through the mile you’re currently on, employing quick, measured footfalls that conserve your air and energy, empower your psyche, and protect that poor body you’re beating up.

anyway, i was talking to one of my coworkers yesterday about a situation i’m in that i cannot find a soul to talk to about because i don’t know anyone who can relate in any way to what has been launched at me. i have a pretty extensive circle of friends (you know, because i’m a unique, superior being), and normally i have at least one friend who can say, hey, i’ve been there, but this time . . . nope. i’m on my own. but i did confide in my coworker (by the way, to call her that is half correct, because she’s both my colleague and close friend), and while she sat in my shut office as i cried onto my lap, she told me this:

kaitlin, i love you, but you need to stop. you aren’t enjoying what’s going on now and in the process you are aging yourself. you are making yourself old.

i don’t know what it was it was about that word or the emphasis she put on it—old—but it stopped the crying. she went on to say that this behavior is going to keep me from doing the things i need to do that are in my survival kit. (she always has the best way of phrasing things.) the worrying will carve out the parts of my life that should be reserved for doing what keeps me at my peak and for making me the person who someone is attracted to initially. when she asked me what’s in my survival kit, i said:

  1. running
  2. writing
  3. traveling

and she added, rightfully so: family, and a few good friends who you can call anytime and say, “can we get a cup of a coffee? or take a walk? i need to talk.”

then i added: love. and she said that if i don’t stop how i’m behaving, i’m not going to make myself good for this boy. that i’m going to ruin it now because i’m worried about ruining it later on or not doing anything wrong at all and having it fall apart anyway, just because. worrying, or giving in to your fears, is a great way to set yourself up to fail and to guarantee that your greatest fears will most certainly come true.

just the other day, i was talking to that same coworker regarding my concerns about the plans i have lined up for the next few months, and about what i will do if things don’t work out. she asked me, yet again exasperated (i must do this to people often), what i would do if i were running a relay, and if one of my teammates didn’t show up to pass me the baton.

what would you do? she asked. stand there like a dumbass?

i thought briefly and didn’t say anything for a while. and then i answered, “i’d run anyway.”

and then she clapped. and said:

so when you get to the next girl, you say, “that bitch didn’t show up and give me that stick, but what up? i’m here!

what up? i’m here. hm.

so i’ve decided that while my situation isn’t ideal, at least not on the surface and to outsiders, i’m starting to think that most things in life worth holding on to with a death grip aren’t perfect. it took me years to land myself in the children’s book division of a major publisher and in the department of my choice. it’s easy for me now to look at those “before” years as a hazy clump of time, but during that epoch of kaitlin, i was beside myself, wondering when i was going to get there, get my dream job. now that i have it, i can savor it all the more because i worked my tail off to get it. and i’m pretty sure that traveling by myself, nonstop, through europe, when i hadn’t traveled anywhere, did a lot more for building myself as a person than sitting in a resort and sipping a cocktail would have. adversity creates character and gives you life experiences, and sometimes it can draw you toward just what you need, even if it’s not what you were looking for.

anyway . . . i’d imagine that for me, the right person and the right life are going to be far from boring and far from easy. i don’t want to coast. i want to drive fast sometimes, slow others, and maybe take dirt roads, back roads, and hairpin turns on occasion. i’d like to toss aside google maps and maybe, and this might be shocking, not know where i’m going. one of my frustrations in the past was the level of monotony and comfort that can form in a union or while on a life path, and incongruously, i was very uncomfortable with being comfortable.

so, as i said before, i’ve added love to my survival kit. but not just any kind. and while maybe this whole blog is a form of carrie-fying myself, quoting sex and the city isn’t something i usually like to do, even if i watched that show like a fiend (and wouldn’t ever turn off the movie if it were on tv). regardless, here:

i am someone who is looking for love. real love. ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.

if i want to keep what i’ve found—and i do, inconveniences and all—i know that i have to stop the comparisons to the past and cease worrying about a future i can’t control. not everyone’s story is the same, and my route may have a few potholes, and really, i’m okay with that. if given the choice between a root-gnarled trail and an even straightaway, i’d rather run on that perilous trail—it’s exciting, more scenic, and unleashes a feeling, deep down, of self-confidence, self-love, and pride, a sense of triumph over having conquered and taken exactly what it was that i wanted to grab—risks for rewards—even it means i might trip and fall on my face here and there, or even right at the end. it wouldn’t be the first time.

*corrie ten boom

“we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

the first part of this post was written on sunday, march 3.

i haven’t written in almost two weeks, and i had really wanted to write before i left for my trip, but here i am, tens of thousands of feet in the air, handwriting a post as i’m sandwiched between an orthodox jewish man who has been reading the torah for the past five hours and has asked me not once, but four times, how to operate his reading light, and a chinese man who keeps sneaking intrigued glances at the cat notebook i’m writing in (you would too if you saw an almost thirty-year-old woman writing in such a thing). anyway, i’m almost a third of the way through my sixteen-hour flight to hong kong.

i’m not exactly sure why i haven’t been writing, but i think part of the reason is that there used to be a person in particular who had always reacted, in written form, to my posts and whose reactions i continually looked forward to. i haven’t written maybe because i don’t know if this person will keep on reading my posts, given the circumstances, or maybe because i know that even if they do, i will no longer receive those responses. the second option might be worse. i’ve always thought that if i could find one person who was moved, either positively or negatively, by my writing, i’d see myself as successful. not to be dramatic, although that seems to be my shtick, it’s like i lost my muse. nevertheless, one must press on, and, as evidenced by the numerous books for sale on amazon about learning to write without a muse, i’m certainly not the first writer with this problem, nor will i be the last.

now that this trip is finally here and i am unable to turn back (unless i pull a kristin wiig and get my ass escorted off this flight, which would be both hilarious and terrible/mortifying), i’m nervous. i pursued this trip on a hunch—well, at least the first part—and that can either make me spontaneous or crazy or maybe a bit of both. when my friend, who i am meeting in thailand, approached me about this trip in conjunction with her work-related excursions, i figured that i should probably go somewhere else beforehand to make spending a day solely on travel worth it. japan was a country i thought of first, but after i did my research and found that not only is japan gigantic (really?), but it’s expensive to the point of comedy and it could be argued with conviction that i can’t afford this trip to begin with. also, and admitting this is somewhat embarrassing, japan didn’t . . . speak to me.

i then thought, what about vietnam, laos, and cambodia? but to travel for only a little more than a week in all three countries seemed insane; i’d probably spend more time getting from one city to the next than i’d spend in any one location. scratched.

just after christmas, on a completely random day, i had this feeling that while attempting to travel through vietnam, laos, and cambodia in about a week would be pointless, spending nine days in cambodia would be doable. and when i thought about going to cambodia, i got this warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach, and, like a thirteen-year-old with a crush, i took it as meant to be.

two days day later, one of my best friends told me that, after having read a previous rant of mine about being a humbug (maybe you loyal readers remember my charlie brown­­-themed post), she had sent me something in the mail, which i took to mean i should expect a christmas card from her and her husband. when she said, no, it was a gift, i couldn’t fathom what she might have sent me, and i told her i’d check later that night.

i had gone to a play with my friend earlier in the evening and as he was walking me up to my apartment, i went to search through the various packages in my lobby, looking for the gift from my other friend. i found a small box, and as i rode the elevator up to my apartment, my friend just as curious about this gift as i was, i opened something rather unexpected. there were two notes, both of which are at the moment tucked into my carry-on bag. one spoke of reading my post and being inspired to change my attitude about the holidays. my friend said that i’d “been nothing if not brave” in 2012 and she hoped this gift would give my spirits a lift. under the note was a bracelet, made of simple red rope, held together by a word in a foreign tongue. it was, the second card read, the khmer word for brave and the bracelet’s proceeds would go toward preventing human trafficking in cambodia. i started crying in the elevator as i told my friend of my very-recent decision to go to that exact country. i took it as a sign.

of course, when i told one of my coworkers this story, he said, “i hear human trafficking and i run in the opposite direction. you hear it and you run straight toward it.”

i’m superstitious. when i saw that my room number in my freshman dorm at college was 222, twenty-two being my (and my family on both side’s) lucky number, i took it as a sign of good things. once, one summer day years ago, $103.83 (my birthday) showed up on a cash register when i was buying beer for a party i was throwing at my parents’ house, and i told myself i had to play the lottery that day. i didn’t—but i still think if i had, i would have won the mega millions. and last night, when i walked down the street in brooklyn for the first time ever, heading toward my friend’s apartment to stay over the night before my flight out of jfk, i just happened to glance up at a building to see the number 222. i knew that, in combination with my friend’s note, the bracelet, as well as the gangam style socks i’m wearing (a birthday gift from two south korean girls i met in barcelona), i was going to have, as my parents have said, the trip of a lifetime.

this part was written on wednesday, march 13, in phuket, thailand.

right now i’m sitting in the lobby of my hotel, waiting for my friend to join me in thailand. i’ve been gone for a week and a half, and in those ten days, i’ve visited phnom penh, siem reap, bangkok, and now phuket.

yesterday morning when i woke up, around six a.m., i wanted to make my last day in bangkok about taking some time to think, to write. despite traveling alone, i haven’t been by myself for very long stretches of time at all, passing hours and hours with various people my age from brazil, south africa, holland, the us (la, minneapolis, and one person from the same county in new jersey as me, which is just weird), mexico, japan, the uk, switzerland, poland, and austria (no australians, to my dismay). what’s funny is that people hear you are traveling alone and they think you will be, in fact, alone. the opposite is true; you end up meeting more people than you would otherwise. anyway, i was walking toward rambuttri village to have breakfast, but apparently seven in a.m. in bangkok is an unheard of time to eat breakfast, what with most people, in a drug- or alcohol- or drug-and-alcohol-induced stupor, having shoved themselves into bed merely an hour or two beforehand. only one place was open, and after being told by several managers that the others wouldn’t be ready for breakfast until nine, i turned around abruptly, having lost my laid-back southeast-asian attitude and returning to my east-coast-american-style march, and stalked back to my last choice for food. i was face-to-face with a guy, who i later learned was from south africa, and who told me he had seen me and followed me because he wanted to talk to me (i tried to ignore the creepiness factor). i told him i was about to eat breakfast and he was welcome to join me, but i had “things to do.”

long story short, he basically told me he was in love with me and wanted to spend the whole day with me, then that he had no money on him because he had spontaneously decided to follow me and i had to pay for his breakfast (and his beer—who drinks a 20-ounce chang at 7:30 a.m.?), and then he said he would accompany me to book my bus ticket to phuket. this ended with me losing my shit and yelling at him on the street, italian hands flying, telling him to go away and leave me alone, then going to another restaurant to eat eggs on toast, which is what i had really wanted initially. as i sat in breakfast spot number two, grumbling and cursing under my breath as i watched two happy couples nearby enjoy what was probably only meal one of the day for them, i began, for the first time while on my trip, to feel agitated and angry and alone, and, worst of all, sorry for myself. i should say that, at the moment, i rehashed losing, and then frantically searching for to no avail, my brave bracelet on the plane (yes, the very thing that solidified my decision to go to cambodia at all), which indicated to me why i was in the situation i was in at that restaurant, breathing raggedly through my mouth and wondering why i let a stranger, and a crazy one at that, disrupt what was supposed to be my morning, my day of me. me! i wanted at that moment for a particular person to be sitting across from me, to make me laugh, make me feel like i hadn’t wasted my time, that i was still brave, even sans bracelet.

but that person wasn’t there and wouldn’t be, and i knew then that only i could get myself out of that funk. and maybe, that i just needed to realize that i was brave, and that i had only needed a great friend and a reminder to know it. and, after all, that day wasn’t my one day. the whole trip was that, and how ungrateful for me to think otherwise.

almost a week before this selfish spaz, i had gone via tuk tuk, with the minneapolis american, to the killing fields in phnom penh. if you don’t know what it is, it was the largest genocidal center in cambodia during the reign of the khmer rouge in the late 1970s. it is a gravesite for hundreds of thousands of between one and three million cambodian people, men, women, and yes, children, babies, who were, throughout the entire country, unnecessarily and unmercifully slaughtered with farm tools for crimes they did not commit and were forced, by torture, to admit to. as you walk through the fields, you listen, via headset, to a survivor of the cambodian genocide, and your heart . . . well, breaks. splinters.

i thought back, as i sat in that restaurant in bangkok, to what i had read in my lonely planet book about cambodia. that on the surface, the cambodian people appear to be shiny, happy, but underneath the bright smiles is a dark history they are desperately trying to come back from, to reclaim their title as the “pearl of asia,” as cambodia was once known. if i’m brave, i thought, the cambodian people must be braver than brave, perhaps a word that we haven’t even invented yet. i decided that i can handle anything, if only i remember this moment.

my friend, who is mostly likely as i type this on her way, by taxi, to our hotel, and i had planned to get tattoos a week or so after we return from this trip. she is going to get a quote (i’m going to keep it secret for her sake) and i was going to get a copyediting mark. i may still get that mark another time, but i decided that, for now, there is only one thing i’m supposed to get and it’s going to go

on my right hand,

and on my right wrist,

where there was once a bracelet, made of simple red rope, held together by a word in a foreign tongue.