Simply Speaking

 

Yes You Can

 

You should be a yes person. You should try things, repeatedly, and note down your reactions. Put yourself in sweaty, trying environments-soak in the sticky tub of discomfort-and struggle. Once you’ve successfully pushed your own boundaries, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Perhaps even shout, “Holy shit! Yes!” at the tippy top of your lungs, just because you can. Feel proud that your ordinary self (Mistress of Mediocre; Captain of Clumsy) survived the seemingly impossible.

 

Like So

 

I keep returning back to the Fijian proverb: “Life is like this: Sometimes sun, sometimes rain.” The saying is so true; it hurts. Power exists within succinct dichotomies, which suggest that the world’s blessed wonders and horrific hellholes can often be understood in astonishingly simple ways. One day might be terrific while the next day is terrible. The trick to tackling life is to stay afloat. Even if all you’ve got is a dollar store life raft. As they say, “Make the most of what you’ve got.”

Advertisement

Small Town Syndrome

 

The Everyone Knows Everything Syndrome is in full summer swing. Can’t go anywhere without someone mentioning a thing they heard, (word of mouth), or worse, a thing they saw, (Facebook post), and want to know if you have heard or seen the same. You have, of course, because even you- Tiny House Builder & Anti-Tech Advocate!- can’t avoid the social media garden your neighbors continuously choose to water.

 

So, you most regrettably find yourself in the uncomfortable position of saying, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re referring to,” which is precisely the response to further validate their concerns and perpetuate links on their gossip chain.

 

Of course, you don’t want to participate in such mentally draining dialogue, but what other choice do you have? Chances are, your neighbor is entirely uninterested in stoking your intellectual fires, and probably finds your ‘highbrow’ tastes largely hypocritical. After all, you, too, are a Facebook user and reality TV watcher. Nevertheless, it’s clear you would never take her opinion to heart. No way. Not a chance.

 

You indulge each other’s narratives in nearly identical ways. You wax lyrical about the town’s teen pregnancy problem- it’s a damn shame- and the brand new theater that’s coming soon-stadium seating and unlimited buttered popcorn!- knowing that each word exchanged is more excruciating than the next. The conversation is tough, yes, but it’s like an addiction; as you remain guarded behind polite, calm expressions, you keep coming back for more.

Volunteering Could Save Your Life. It Could Also Kill You.

My Near Death Experience With An Environmentalist.

The novelty is no longer. It now feels like old news.

The kangaroos, once affectionately nicknamed ’roos,’ are now strictly referred to as pests. And scoundrels.

The flies, having once sailed through the air like careful whispers, have since morphed into horrible and irritating insects. May the entire species of fly be eradicated at once!

I want to find joy in playing with barbed wire, but I simply can’t. I beg myself to look at the bright side-  appreciate the experience for experience sake– but my adult mind refuses to be tricked by child-like coercion. My task for the afternoon is two-fold: remove rusty staples from termite-infested posts, and then roll up sheets of barbed wire into something that resembles the world’s most treacherous sleeping bag. No matter how you spin it, today is going to suck.

I find that when I’m most eager for a day’s end, my eye keeps a close watch on the time. We’re given permission to break for lunch around 1:00 PM, but I couldn’t be less excited to eat. I’ve packed myself a fried egg and iceberg sandwich for lunch, along with a side of expired string cheese. I didn’t buy the groceries, but you can be sure I’m going to have a word with whomever did.

I’m surprised by the slight shift in my attitude post-lunch. I’m feeling mildly refreshed! The group and I head back to the worksite, and I begin free-styling about bush fires (a very real threat in Australia, to be clear). I’m mid-verse when I spot what appears to be a slithering black hose near my left foot.

My mind races back to outback orientation, to the time when I was taught the importance of staying clam in emergency situations. I think about this lesson, but when I open my  mouth to say ‘nobody move,’ I accidentally scream instead.

“Snake!!!” I yell, my voice piercing through the park.

The group looks over at me, startled. Suddenly, not one but seven girls are screaming and running for their lives.

Rick, our conservation leader (and resident wildlife expert) sees us frantically losing our shit, and pleads with us to calm down.

“Ladies!” Rick yells, “Please. Nobody move. Everybody keep your voices down. The snake is frightened of you, so you just need to keep still and he’ll go away.”

We calm down a bit, and tiptoe away for the cheeky bugger. I provide particularly helpful commentary by noting that the snake was ‘really huge’ and ‘seriously so close to my leg.’ Rick tells us that what we just spotted was a red-bellied black snake, one of Australia’s most poisonous.

“Hooray!” I shout, as I walk timidly back to the barbed wire. This day might actually be my last.

To Declare, Or Not To Declare: A Customs Conundrum

This is a true story about one girl’s heroic attempt to save a banana from the Australian government.

Herded like duty-free cattle through a queue, we await the frown-faced customs official who will decide our fate. Grant us permission to explore the beauty of the outback, dive the splendorous Great Barrier Reef, road trip along the west coast, or…send us back to where we came from.

As I weave my way through roped off corridors, the fear within me intensifies. I’m scared of the upcoming interrogation. I’m nervous for the questions I’ll be asked, and for those I’m unable to answer. I fear that they’ll search my bag’s contents, and discover the ripened truth that lies inside.  I’m terrified they’ll find my banana.

I cannot bear to face the consequences! What if after such a tiresome journey, I am turned back and sent away? I contemplate the conversation in my head. Consider just how I’ll choose to defend my potassium-rich produce. I want to promise that the fresh fruit will not taint Australia- that it remains untouched by chemicals and/or terrorist threats- but I’m uncertain that my words will truly be heard or trusted. After all, just look at me. I’m a backpacker, disheveled in appearance and overdue for a shower. I can’t be trusted.

Finally, it’s my turn. I approach the customs counter, trying my best to keep composed. Eyes darting between my passport photo and me, the official keeps a close watch- she’s desperate for discrepancies. For a moment, she stares silently at my photo, doubting that twenty-year-old “college” me could be the same girl who stands before her now. After a few minutes, she confirms the facts. She concludes that while I’m slightly less hippie than the days of yore, my eyes are still hazel, and I haven’t grown an inch. She believes that I’m me! Excellent. I might be safe after all.  

She begins scanning the back of my customs form. For each good that is listed, I’ve declared a bold and emphatic no. She reaches the bottom of the form, and a check in the wrong box catches her eye. Honestly and foolishly, I’ve declared a single good.

“What fruit are you declaring?” she asks, intrigued.

“One banana,” I stammer, “Just one.”

I don’t know why I’ve quantified the banana. In doing so, I appear all the more devious. She is concerned not with the amount of bananas I harbor, but with banana-harboring, itself.

“Anything else?” she asks, eyeing my tattered backpack.

I ponder this question. If I tell someone a partial truth, does that make me an honest person?

It’s true that I have a banana in my bag, but that’s not exactly the full story. Actually, I have an assortment of goodies, including (but not limited to): two granola bars, one bag of grapes, and half a kilo of dried fruits and nuts.

In everyday life, food items would not embarrass me. Ordinarily, such on-the-go healthy eats are commendable, but here- in this peculiar customs world-such items are criminal. Next time, should I consider chips?!

“Ma’am?” she asks, interrupting my train of thought, “Do you have anything else you’d like to declare?”

I take a deep breath and shriek, “I said just one banana!!”

She gives me a look that resembles that of a disappointed parent, and proceeds to stamp my form. I. Am. Cleared.

At this point, one might suspect that I’m celebrating. I should be high-fiving myself for not spending twenty bucks at the airport on “survival snacks,” but instead, I’m left feeling uneasy. My partial truth feels like a downright lie, and I contemplate my being a terrible person.

I spend the next ninety seconds sulking in a corner of cry. I shed some tears before remembering something that cheers me up- I have snacks! Oblivious to my place and proximity to the customs queue, I pull out my bag of undeclared deliciousness, and munch away furiously and excitedly. Mmm. That’s better.

 

How Many Beans Is Too Many To Spill?

I’m an over-sharer. Always missing my chance at becoming a Woman of Mystery, I introduce myself as, “Hi, please take a seat. Have I got a story for you!”  Carelessly unleashing mental mania onto someone you just met seems unwise. And yet, I continue.

I share every hop, skip and beat with strangers, giving them full access to the soundtrack that is my life. I’m undiscerning and descriptive, revealing sources of problem and pride with maximum vigor and minimal shame. Unsure whether such innocence will help or harm, I’ve chosen to not drain the glass half full. Instead, I’ve opted to embrace it with a reckless persistence that makes me smile and laugh.

Sometimes I wish I could be more illusive. Disregard the interest of others with a smoky eye and pouty lip. Think so high of sexy self that I need not care about the opinion of peers. Alas, I’m far too candid and hopelessly awkward to pull off anyone other than me.

I bumble furiously and excitedly through conversation. I accidentally use words to dig holes and unintentionally bury myself beneath them. I’m never looking for error or controversy, but inconsistency finds its way towards me and really, who am I to turn such away.

Protecting private truths might make me more mysterious, but I suppose I don’t much care. People must know that I’m foolish, and capable of mistakes. I’m also somewhat of a perfectionist, who prefers to not make any at all.

Of course, this reminds me of my fondness for contradiction. I love when the quiet allow themselves a voice. When the meek speak unexpectedly, or out of turn. I love when silence overpowers noise, and the vocal are overwhelmed by silent, introspective thought.

I devour dichotomy. I adore alliteration.

Learning to Fly

Twenty minutes into the flight, I look out the window and see the storm. We’re racing through puffs of sharply defined clouds and bolts of lightning so magnificent, I consider whether the next strike could bring us down.

The scene almost looks imaginary. It’s as if a larger-than-life teenage wizard is conducting a science experiment, and with each wave of his hands he’s able to generate a thunderous crash. A bass-heavy boom.

The plane shakes and babies a few rows ahead begin to cry. I sympathize with their scare. I also hope that once their fears are quelled, they sleep until we’ve reached the gate. The man seated next to me marks furiously at his crossword puzzle, and I wonder what else in life he’s passionate about.

The couple across the aisle banter back and forth, playfully. Their faces are old, and slightly tired, but their words carry with them an expression of youth. I consider asking their secret- how they’ve managed to stay in love- but I resist the naïve impulse to do so. The ability to joke is not all telling. This I well know.

Sandwiched between strangers, I wonder to whom I relate. Whose story most resembles mine? I could probe, of course, but I fear if my careful questioning were rejected, it’d make for an awfully long flight. Instead, I sit tight and keep my mouth shut. Speaking only when spoken to, I exist only in physical form.

For the remainder of the flight, I have no particular hopes. Having spent too much of my life in transit, I know that happiness comes from having low expectations exceeded. To further explain: I favor optimism and positive thinking in most aspects of life, but recognize that travel can be particularly trying. Ultimately, all one can ask for is a safe journey and available armrest. Anything else is an upgrade, and I can make do without.

The Airport Hipster

Initial pondering:

I’m positioned at a sort of standing desk in the middle of the terminal, looking straight out towards the masses. I can’t believe I didn’t have to put a token in to hang out here. I’ve stumbled upon the kind of real estate city-dwellers would beg for. Feeling lucky.

Some moments later, upon arriving at gate:

I feel let down by the individuals seated at Gate B18. I had anticipated the Portland, Oregon-bound crowd to be the physical manifestation of all things hipster, and that is simply not the case. Most disappointingly, I report that the ratio of flannel-wearing 20-something’s at B18 is proportional to flannel-wearing 20’s something’s found elsewhere in the airport. Have I been punk’d?

Not quite over it:

It’s possible that their inner hipster is bellowing through headphones, or tattooed carefully beneath long sleeves, but I can’t be entirely sure. The outward exterior is unremarkable and easily forgettable, much like me and no offense, you.

When Things Are As They Seem:

I respect the desire to go against the grain, but understand that predictability offers greater convenience. At the airport, I love stumbling upon patterns. I look for cities that embody particular attitudes. I smile at the southern accents that accompany a flight to Texas, and the expensive effort evidenced in the apparel of those bound for New York. It’s kind of comforting to know that each thing is in its right place, like a sock placed neatly in a drawer filled not with marshmallows, but other socks. Just go with it.

When Stereotypes Fail, and How This Relates to Life:

Of course, the world is not always predictable, and can often surprise. For example, just when you think you understand a particular person or place, an Indian woman wearing a sombrero takes a seat at gate B4, en route to Birmingham, Alabama. Wasn’t expecting that one.

A Tiny Tangent:

Which reminds me of this one time –I promise this will be quick, I also have things to do– when I was most surprised to learn that a fair-trade coffee shop in rural Vermont was planning to extend its hours from 7 PM to 3 AM, so as to host the state’s first ever Moonlight Pole Dancing classes. Upon hearing this, I decided that such an idea would never take off. Then, once reminded that Vermont prides itself on the support of local businesses, I reconsidered.

Conclusion, Because I’m done:

Unsurprisingly, ideas of What The World Is vs. What The World Could Be excite me greatly. In fact, I’m now so hyped up on the hypothetical that I’m forced to abandon my original point (for it’s since been forgotten) and am left hoping new material may form.

But until then, I leave you with a token of my affection, which is to say:

When in doubt, be different. If indifferent, just be you.

The Mental Meander

Questioning my commitment to anatomical parts. After several hours of half-assed studying, I conclude that my motivation is at an all-time low. Eagerly, I seek out distraction and immediately, my mind wanders. 

I grant myself permission to procrastinate. To put down the textbook for a quick minute or the remainder of the day because bigger, more complicated matters are on my mind. Desperate to escape the monotony of repetition and multiple-choice, I embark on a quest for the abstract.

I’m interested in the interconnectedness of things, but find greater appreciation in complete pictures over partial parts. I’m observant of detail, but altogether oblivious, on the occasion, about why the microscopic matters. Easily stimulated by the imaginative, and inhibited by the mundane, I’m always looking for a balance between the two. Perhaps this makes me just like you.

I’ve spent an entire summer with textbook material that’s so straightforward, so dry, I feel I now suffer from imagination dehydration. Even my dreams-ordinarily wacky and wild-have dried up, leaving me with a sleep void of imagery and saturated by white noise.   

As always, I’m curious how to motivate under monotony’s guise. How do we, as individuals-or part of an eccentric, collective whole-inspire and encourage more? How might we transcend the average, and why is doing so important? 

There’s nothing wrong with average, so long as mediocrity is what you strive for. The problem lies with expecting more out of yourself, but still settling for less. Striving for real, marked accomplishments, but continually falling short of these achievements. 

While I encourage going beyond the norm, I’m sympathetic to the average cause. If you detect a hint of ego, don’t be fooled, for I am nothing more than ordinary. I just want to make certain that with ample effort, thought, and commitment, life will excite more often than disappoint. And ensure, also, that no amount of professional pursuit or academic focus hinders that. 

The Power of Choice

When one is still, one may think.

 Not even on vacation do we allow our minds to sit still. To catch up with the current moment, and take in the now. With next steps and future plans lingering overhead, we dilute the quality of the present with anticipation over that which remains to be seen.

We live in a society whereby the legal system is designed to protect us from ourselves, and school teaches us to unlearn. We are uninspired by traditional curriculum, yet we remain sponges to/of the system. We remember to memorize, but forget to create.

As we get older, we shift nearer to the center. What feels like a gravitational pull is really just the status quo, graciously leaving its doors open for the predictable and bored to stroll right through, sit down, and stay awhile.

Like a 24/7 gas station, the convenience is quite something. The set-up is perfect, with brightly lit lights, an abundant supply of drinkable tap water, and every kind of snack you can imagine to power you through your decidedly dreary days.

Despite the gloominess, we continue to cement ourselves to this kind of life. We do what we’re told, and pursue careers that seem impressive (or make us sound smart), but are devoid of meaning. Our titles are significant, but our person is not.

It’s a cycle many of us are familiar with. We tell ourselves it could be worse, so we keep on pushing through. We’re entertained during miserable workdays by instant messaging with friends, or checking and refreshing news feeds. We live vicariously through the online other.

Our behavior is not scripted, although it often feels so. Depending on our actions, we’re able to liberate or confine. We make choices constantly, each minute of the day. The majority of these are negligible, and we worry not in considering whether that decision might impact our future.

The more serious choices require our undivided attention.  These big and bad ones have the power to determine the course of our lives. Or so we’d like to think. We sweat over these, and are kept awake at night by the unknowing.  We cling desperately to the illusion that such things are black and white, and consequently ask ourselves, “Which choice is the right one?”

Distrusting of our own selves, we refuse to face these decisions alone. We consult the help of others-friends, family, and the occasional stranger. Some of us may even seek guidance from a professional, a Certified Decision-Maker.

We must remember that as life is dynamic, so are we. Merely mortals, we’re intimately acquainted with both mistake and error. What seemed like a good idea at the time may prove horribly wrong. Plans can backfire, and your entire life’s road map could be forcibly rewritten. What then?

Pieces are amiss, but all is not lost. We must learn to discover our own resilience. Believe in individual successes as much as personal failings. If we allow ourselves to forgive one “wrong” road traveled, we might feel permitted to try again.  Perhaps this time down a road less conspicuous, and filled with greater reward.

The road is everything and anything. It’s a series of unsuccessful jobs, or a stable, life-long career. It’s a failed marriage, or a reunion with an old flame. It’s the question of to do, or not to do. To be, or not to be.

Our society discourages taking risks, and this is a grave mistake. Whether we choose to pursue a conventional life or not is irrelevant. What matters is the intention behind our choices, and whether or not our life carries meaning and purpose.

Be curious, intentional, forgiving and flawed. In doing so, life will pleasantly surprise.