Posted in Changes, Lessons, Travel, Work, Working Holiday

A Checklist for a Working Holiday Visa

I’ve been on a mission to drag as many people along with me to beautiful New Zealand next year as possible. I’ve gotten plenty of the “Oh, I wish!” comments, but a surprising amount of my friends are eyeing me seriously and pondering joining me on this crazy ride.

It’s all fun and games until they start asking me what they need to do. Honestly? I don’t know. I’m making this all up as I go along. So in part because of that, and in part because I’ve been handing out so many business cards as people ask how I’m going to keep in touch, I thought I’d write a list of what I’ve been up to for the last six months in case you want to come as well.

 

Step 1: Passport

Do you have a passport? When does it expire?

Part of the reason why I’m going this year is my passport expires in April 2019. By starting my visa in December of 2017, that gives me the entirety of the up-to-fifteen-months without having to worry about renewing my favorite document. I’ll have to leave a smidge early of the full timeframe, but as the US has consular representation in New Zealand, I only have to have one month left on my passport rather than the full 3-6 usually required.

If you don’t have a passport, you’re looking at gathering proof of citizenship and ID, passport pictures, filling out a form, sending in some money… It can take a few weeks or a few months, and this is vital to do before beginning the visa application process.

 

Step 2: Visa

https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/united-states-of-america-working-holiday-visa

Are you under 30? Do you have no dependents? Okay, sweet, that’s about it. I was kind of surprised when filling out the visa application at some of their questions. For example, apparently being in prison for four years is fine, just not five. Thus far, no one has asked me to prove that I have the $4000 (~$2700USD) nor the health insurance mandated by the visa. For the record, I do have both (and I’ll let you know if they stop me at the border to demand this information!)

The process took maybe 20 minutes to complete, and I got my acceptance three days later. From the date of acceptance, I have a year to show up in the country. My 12-month visa begins then, and I can enter and leave the country as many times as I want for the next year. If I’m working on farms, I can have a three-month extension.

 

Step 3: Plane ticket

I got lucky. I had trackers going from Denver and LA to Queenstown and Auckland (both GoogleFlights and SkyScanner). When Glenna and I went to NZ in 2014, our flight took us via Denver and I wanted to get back to visit my old haunts anyway. All combinations of these flights have hovered around $800-900 for a one-way ticket for the timeframe I wanted. In July, a mere two weeks after getting my visa, prices dropped to $600 for mid-December. February has tickets in the $600-700 range again, but forget getting down south for less than $1000 one way over Christmas and right in the heart of their summer if you’re buying more than six weeks out.

 

Step 4: Forcing the bank to work for you

I knew I was going to be spending a lot of money relatively quickly. I also have a good credit score and knew I could afford to take a couple of hits. I first applied for Bank of America’s Travel Rewards card, and with their signup bonus I was able to knock another $200 off my plane ticket. That’s right: my one-way ticket to New Zealand now only cost $400. I’ve also gotten the CapitalOne Venture card and now have enough points saved up from their signup bonus that if all goes wrong, I can fly home on points alone. My only regret is these both are Visa cards rather than have one as a MasterCard, but I doubt I’ll run into issues with that. I attempted to signup for a Barclaycard Arrival Plus, but they refuse to do business in Iowa: if you’re from literally any other state, you’ll be just fine and this looks like a fantastic card.

My priority in getting cards was to have no international transaction fees, a signup bonus, and no fees the first year.

The second thing I did was apply for Aspiration banking and close down my Wells Fargo checking. I have mostly worked for small businesses who don’t do direct deposit, and you have to keep a $1500 daily minimum balance (which I don’t like having that attached to a debit card) in order to avoid a $10/mo service fee. So signing up for an online bank that doesn’t have the fees served my purpose. I will be getting a New Zealand bank account per the conditions of my visa, but that way I’m not hemorrhaging money in the meantime.

 

Step 5: Starter Pack

https://www.workingholidaystarter.com/

Oh, man, this is something I wrestled with like mad! Is it WORTH spending money to have someone help me do something I can easily do myself? At the end of the day, I decided that especially after coming out of a super vulnerable year of settling my dad’s estate, I did want to have at the very least an emergency contact in New Zealand. Plus, three nights in a hostel, someone else organizing my meeting with the bank and helping me fill out paperwork for getting a tax ID number and making sure my resume is organized in a way that their job board will like? Oh! And they give me a SIM card for my unlocked phone. Sometimes it’s nice to start a new life on “easy” mode.

 

Step 6: Phone Problems

I met two travelers this summer who both extolled the virtues of having an unlocked phone. Show up in a new country, pop in a SIM, and you’re good to go. The first one was telling me how she used an iPhone, and with the iPhone X due to drop in October, I figured I could get an SE for relatively cheap…. NOPE. Fortunately, the second had been using a Moto while literally globetrotting and Amazon had a deal running the week after that conversation on that exact phone.

I needed to cancel my US phone plan and decide what to do with my phone number: after all, it’s attached to everything these days. Grocery stores, two-factor authentication, e-receipts from Square… I think at this point the phone number I’ve had for a decade is almost as tied to my identity as my social security card. There’s a few options out there that let you port your number to park it for a while – take a look around and see which one is best for your situation.

 

Step 7: Health Insurance, at home and abroad

https://orbitprotect.com/

As a US citizen, your visa is too short to allow you to be on the national healthcare system, so you need to buy your own insurance for your stint in New Zealand. I kept things simple and bought mine through the company the Starter Pack recommended – their prices seemed on par with the research I was doing for other travel/medical insurance in the country.

Meanwhile, in the US, I called my insurance provider and let them know I was leaving the country for over a year. They took care of canceling my policy effective January 1, 2018.

 

Step 8: What to do with my car?!?

Do I sell it? Trade it with my sister? If it is in storage do I take the wheels off and disconnect the battery? Do I leave insurance on it? Fortunately, my insurance agent has always rolled with my insane ideas pretty well and we spent a good amount of time talking over options. The car has more value to me as a transportation mode for when I return than it does monetarily. So, as my legal address is my mom’s home as well, I added her to my title and when I leave my insurance will drop to comp only. It will sit in the garage for the next year or so, and she has kindly agreed to once a month run the engine and get the fluids moving, then pull it out from the stall and put it back in so the tires aren’t resting in the same spot.

 

Step 9: Embassy

Now, I feel like at this point there’s enough electronic pathways that it should be obvious to the US government that I’m hanging out in a different country for a while. But more for my piece of mind than anything else, I signed up with “STEP” (Smart Travelers Enrollment Program). This was a five-minute form that lets the embassy in Wellington know that I’ll be spending the year there. If there’s a disaster (think, an earthquake in Christchurch or an accident that leaves me unconscious), they have my contact info in the country and my emergency contact in the US.

I have the embassy saved as a contact in my phone (which is attached to Google so I can access it anywhere), which means should something happen, I have their numbers for standard and emergency contact and their address.

 

Step 10: International Driver’s License

Some people choose to get a driver’s license in country. I may do that, honestly haven’t decided yet. But in the meantime, I went to my local AAA office for an international driver’s license. New Zealand doesn’t actually require this as my native license is in English, but if I should be wandering to different countries, I’d rather have it than not for the interim. It’s kind of a bulky document, and you need to have your US license with it for it to be valid.

 

Step 11: Copies, copies, copies!

I’ve had my passport stolen overseas before. That is not a fun experience, but fortunately the embassy is extremely efficient at taking care of citizens abroad. To make it EASIER for everyone involved, I have so many copies of everything. Copies of my visa, passport, driver’s license, health insurance – all scattered throughout my bags so that if one thing gets stolen I still have the information in other bags.

 

Step 12: Absentee voting

Hey, hey, hey! Your civic duty doesn’t end just because you’re spending one year abroad. As a “civilian voter abroad”, different states have different requirements. Iowa currently has a postcard system for federal absentee ballots – I’ll let you know how the whole process works once I have it officially sorted. Since Iowa just passed a voter ID law effective January 1, 2018, there’s a possibility that things will get complicated.

 

Step 13: The Ugly Stuff

We like to pretend we’re invincible at this young age. But since the reason I’m home to begin with was the unexpected death of my dad, I’ve spent a LOT of time with the attorney this year. He was the one who actually suggested appointing a Power of Attorney. Since I have a simple life, getting a boilerplate fiduciary and medical POA (and in my case, also a will) allowed me to give authority to my mom that if something should happen to me, she can take care of my estate and make the call on my medical decisions if I’m incapacitated. This was cheap and easy – literally, just a notary for the documents.

I also have all of my banking information and online presence in a sealed envelope left with my mom – again, should anything happen, she at least knows where to start. I have a very good working relationship with my family and trust her with this information: if that’s not the case for you, I’ve heard of programmers writing a dead man switch to send important information and instructions to a trusted source should they not log in for a certain stretch of time.

 

Step 14: Packing

I’m not quite “one-bagging” it, but pretty close. During the REI Garage Sale this year, I picked up a Traverse 65 pack. It’s one with supports that you can carry over a distance but also opens from both the top and front of the pack for ease of access. I’m using a few packing cubes to sort my clothes and have a small mess kit and a microfiber towel in the bottom of the bag. All said and done, the backpack weighs 29 pounds fully packed and I still think I’m bringing too much stuff. I also have a bag that counts as a personal item where I can carry my computer and clothes for the five days I’ll be hanging out in Denver. (Shoutout to my friend for letting me store my backpack in his downtown office rather than me dragging it around the city!) Since I’m going to attempt to follow the summer in New Zealand, I’m just bringing a fleece lined jacked – definitely cutting down on the bulk!

 

 

 

That’s about it, folks. There will eventually be a part two of this list describing adventures in transportation, living quarters, job hunting, and getting my ID number to allow me to work in the country. But since I don’t think anyone will be following me to the other side of the planet until at least April, we’ve all got time to let me tread through the waters first 😊

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Changes, grief, Lessons, People, The Barista

living canvas

Bleary-eyed in the predawn darkness as I got ready for work, I caught sight of my new tattoo and shuddered into wakefulness. This piece, long anticipated, was now stuck on my body forever. The vivid ink taunted me, the black strokes glistening from my formerly unblemished skin. I was exposed, permanently opening myself up to lines of questioning I might not be willing to answer. I had tattooed my soul onto a living canvas and given permission to the world to ask probing questions.

 

Less than a year later, I got my second one.

 

Very few people have ever commented on my marked skin. Some look at the cyclic structure of the caffeine molecule on my arm and think I’m a scientist. Some wonder what the funny numbers on my leg are supposed to be. Most nod approvingly after hearing the elevator pitch and the conversation shifts, my small markings a mere aside in the greater world.

 

I sought after the ink, but watched it sit on my skin as though resting there. Absorbing it into part of me was a much longer, much more detached process. I know they are a part of me and I instantly rub sunscreen on them when I’m exposed, but nowadays I mostly let them be. I don’t stroke them absentmindedly during a movie, I don’t admire them in a mirror when I catch my reflection in a store. They simply are.

 

On rare occasions, someone will dig deeper. Probe just a bit further.

 

“Those coordinates – is that Denver?”

Surprised, I described how a little village in Europe which started my travels a decade prior was the actual location mapped on my calf.

“Ah, I was thinking west, not east…”

And then it moves on again, but this conversation is just a fraction more beautiful. Do you truly speak my language? Does this mean something to you, too?

 

I’m starting to realize grief is an awful lot like a tattoo.

MzQ1ODY2

Oh, yes, you know intellectually that you will lose someone important at some point in your life. But when it does happen, you wear it with anxiety and see your grief with every glance in the wrong direction. You feel as though it is the only thing others notice when they look your way: how can they not see this message written permanently in your eyes? Your shoulders must reflect the colors of loss, it must be impossible to ignore it!

 

But like the tattoo, it becomes a part of you. It never truly goes away. It just becomes a part of your reflection, as noticeable as the freckle by your eye or the bumps of your collar bone.

 

Oh, with time it will fade a bit. But you’ll still catch sight of it when you’re making dinner and the lump will gather in your throat. Some mornings it will seem so bright against your coffee that you can’t imagine how you didn’t notice it the day before. Sometimes weeks will pass before it pricks in your eyes and reminds you that it is still alive and well.

 

I wear my grief like my tattoos: easy to hide, but also easy to display. Not on purpose, like I did with the ink, but because that is where it chooses to lie. It chooses to wait for me to turn my wrist and remember how little sense it all makes. I am a living canvas, and I can’t hide from myself forever.

 

And oh, the conversations it generates. As with your tattoo, your grief will be reduced to pat answers. “Yes, he died. Thank you for your condolences, let’s move on, shall we?” 

 

Because you don’t know the stories. You’ve never heard of a riverbend in Poland, nor do you care. You don’t understand the marriage of art and science, nor do you care. You never knew the sparkle in his eyes of my renaissance man, nor do you care. You comment to fill the silence, and then it is over. There’s nothing wrong with that: they are my stories, after all.

 

But there are those rare moments where the conversation doesn’t stutter over my scars. Where instead you hear the message I’m trying to convey, and your eyes reflect the grief in my own. Your understanding helps me absorb it a little more into me: to accept it as something real rather than a nightmare someone else is living. 

 

You see my tattoos, both of ink and spirit. You understand me just a little bit more, in this permanent state of flux. You speak my language and understand me. And then we move on together.

 

Posted in Growing Up, Home, Lessons

i remember the seasons

Iowa has been kind to me this year.

She’s a vicious sort of state. She knows no moderation.

It’s not just cold come winter. The humidity clings to every cell that dares to not be covered. Bone-chilling is far from an exaggeration as the rain invariably falls and freezes overnight, ensuring heart-stopping slick ground for the next six months. The snow rushes in as though it will never again have a chance to fall. It piles and piles from November to April, the ice storms capturing each layer in a clear memorial.

Spring is hardly better. There’s no such thing as a gentle spring rain to refresh the earth. Three days of downpour in a week, with each interspersed with miserable gray clouds threatening to release in a heartbeat. The thunderstorms are long and fearsome, downing power lines to prove their strength. The few days that the sun breaks through she shines furiously trying to convince the grass to release its winter brown and return to the vivid greens.

Summer. Oh, dear summer. Around 2 o’clock in the morning the heat finally breaks enough to sleep, even with the air conditioner wheezing along trying desperately to cool more than just the three feet directly in front of it. Don’t you dare bother showering before stepping outside. The beads of sweat – or is that simply the moisture in the air? – will coat you by the time you burn your hand on the car you foolishly parked in the driveway while you emptied your garage for the sale.

Autumn tries so hard to slip by unnoticed. Summer heat is occasionally pushed back by the too-chilled rains, a reminder that winter is closer than desired. For two glorious weeks in October, she’s the perfect season. The leaves burst into deep shades of reds and yellows and orange, contrasted brilliantly against the still-green grass covered in the dust from the harvest. At noon, the high sky shimmers in its deep blue, a light sweater warding off the slight chill on the breeze. And just like that, it’s gone.

And every. damn. moment. The wind. There is so much wind. It’s a miracle cars aren’t blown off the interstate every day.

I remember it. I remember these seasons. I grew up with the snow days, being trapped on my farm and building snow forts, climbing on drifts as high as the young evergreens in the front yard. I remember the worms all over the sidewalk, trying to escape the saturated lawns. I grew up with the tornado drills, and my hair always a knotty mess as the wind teased it. I grew up with far more sunburns than my pale skin should have ever been subjected to.

But Iowa has been generous to me this year. She’s been gentle in my return. She gave me a winter much like Colorado – the blizzards interspersed with remarkably tolerable days. The ice melted and turned the gravel into a slushy path rather than a slick one. She’s given me quiet days with a gentle breeze. She’s forced the sun to peek through the gray.

This wild, full-throttle state is holding her breath. She’s easing me into her arms again. She’s waiting for me. I’m gathering seeds, gloves, and trowels, preparing the earth for a butterfly garden for my mother. Touching the earth to bring joy to my mother and to honor my father. And Iowa waits for me, holding back her energy as I gather mine.

She’s been compassionate with a fragile soul, as much as she can while not losing her fire.

The Iowa of my childhood was a vicious sort of state who knew no moderation.

But Iowa has been kind to me this year.

IMG_20170321_152610321.jpg

Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, Lessons, Love, Time, Wishes

simply

My blog is named “Simply Eliska”.

These days, it feels like nothing is quite so simple.

Several months ago, I told a friend Eliska represented my new identity after a very intense growing period, but that I felt like anything painful that I’d felt since I’d pushed beneath the surface to Allison. I then confided that it felt like Allison was becoming unburied, and I was going to have to deal with all that dolor at once.

Then my dad died.

Two weeks ago, I was moving away from Colorado. I called my dad to tell him I was at his sister’s place for the night. It was so brief, maybe 15 seconds. “Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

Two hours later, he was gone.

My dad lived for 22,725 days. I was alive for 9458 of them.

People keep telling me that we’re handling his death well.

I don’t really know why.

Sometimes I’m sitting still and realize that tears are slipping beneath my chin, unbidden. Sometimes I’m laughing. Sometimes I feel nothing but absence. Sometimes I swear I hear Dad walking up the stairs.

IMG_20161130_154324.jpg

My Dad slipped from this earth without warning.

I’m at the first place I called home. And suddenly, I’m not “simply Eliska” anymore. There’s no one in this county who calls me by that name.

I’m not even “simply Allison” these days.

I’m a grieving daughter. I’m a sister. I’m part of 130 years of history on this farmstead. I’m pulling my family into the world I had crafted independently for myself – here, Mom, let me add you to my AAA. Here, everyone, let me put you on my cellphone plan instead. I’m the answer to “Where are you these days?” and one of the rare times where people are 100% genuine in asking “How are you doing?”

I am not a barista. I am not a nomad.

Not these days.

These days I’m the scribbler.

I scribble thank you notes. I scribble the dates and notes from meetings as we take note of how to settle the estate. I scribble text messages to friends who have gone through similar situations, asking, “Did you feel… Did you do… Why?” I scribbled my Dad’s eulogy. And now I scribble here. I scribble because right now, it feels like the only thing I actually know how to do. It feels like the only place that still makes sense. I scribble because in my words I can begin to process this new version of normal that I wasn’t prepared to enter.

There’s very little simple in my life right now.

I got into the tractor a few days ago, and when I turned it on, I heard music playing softly in the background. I turned it up.

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

I wept, as I listened to a song that felt like my Dad was reaching across eternity to talk to me one more time. I wept for all the conversations I wanted to have while I was home. I wept for all the things my Dad will never be a part of as my life continues forward, and all the things I wanted him to be there for. I wept for my Mom, that her other half who looked at her with such adoration and cared for her so gently, was gone. I wept. I weep.

I was so lucky.

I had a father for almost 26 years who loved his family, and whose kindness and intelligence spread throughout the community.

Yes.

I’m selfish.

I want my Dad back.

I want my parents to continue to live the American Dream.

I want to be a whole, complete family.

So today I scribble.

Today I write, and remember those 9000 days with my dad, and the stories of the years before I was born.

Life isn’t simple right now.

But I’m going to be simply Allison, the farmer’s daughter.

“Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

 

 

Posted in Changes, Current Events, feminism, Growing Up, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, People, Time, Work

Activism: A Response

My original point in writing these blog posts was to stretch myself. I’ve learned a few things this week. The first and last three hundred words are the easiest, it’s the four hundred in between that have me dawdling and struggling. I don’t know how to not write from experience, even if that experience is second hand. And, to no surprise at all, writing is therapy for me.

I’ve always been an external processor. Whether it was talking to my mom at night before I went to bed, texting my best friend when something happened, writing in a diary, or ingesting far too much caffeine pondering the wonders of the universe during college, I need to say things out loud (or write them) to finally to put order to my thoughts.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing over the last thirty hours.

I sat in a coffee shop last night and found myself ugly crying in public as I wrote an email. The extent of the emotion was probably due to the fact I was running on three hours of sleep, but even this morning, well-rested, I welled up as I read the comments rampant across my social media.

It would probably be much healthier for me if I stepped away from the internet for a few days. But I can’t, because I feel like I have a job to do.

I feel like the next four years are going to be so much more on myself and my compatriots. Perhaps would should have realized the gravity of our individual influence long before this, but now we can take up our mantle.

I think about my Niblet. I think about my cousins. I think about the children starting elementary school.

I want you to grow up in a better world.

I want to teach you to not be afraid.

I want to teach you to be curious and full of wonder.

I want you to see someone who has a different skin color and to reach out and say, “Play with me?”

I want you to see two men or two women holding hands, and not think that it is shameful.

I want you to see a hijab or turban and want to ask questions, not alert security.

I want you to eat well and exercise, I want you to be healthy. But when you see someone who is skinnier than you or fatter than you, I want you to see their soul, not their body.

l want you to make eye contact with the homeless, and extend humanity to them.

I want you to listen to the words of the older generations and learn from them.

I want you to befriend the person who doesn’t speak your language, and use your actions to communicate. (Oh, dear Zuzka, even eight years later, I’m still grateful for your kindness when I arrived in a foreign country, lonely and afraid.)

I want you to not be afraid of different opinions, but to realize you can ask questions without changing your position.

I want you to open your eyes to the needs around you, to defend the defenseless. I want you to have your arms be a safe haven against abuse, against grief, against ignorance.

I want you to turn off your lights, to reuse your bags, to recycle your trash, to bike instead of drive.

I want you to donate your books, and to not shame those who cannot read.

As an adult, I want to do the same. I want to reach out to you in love. I want to donate my limited dollars to organizations in need. I want to 
be an advocate, a safe haven, a source of justice. I want to buy products from ethical, sustainable companies. I want to use my voice to reach out through the darkness, and my words to encourage and strengthen.

Do you remember that the Statue of Liberty is inscribed with a part of a poem?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Dear America, let us remember this. Let us remember that it is our responsibility to teach our children. It is our community. It is our planet.

Study constitutional law. Study business law. Study economics. Ask questions.

This world can be an ugly place. This world can also be a beautiful one. 

It’s time to be an activist. It’s time to use your voice… and your dollars.

Peace. Love. Coffee.

Posted in Current Events, feminism, Lessons, Love, NaNoWriMo

1000 words on 3 hours of sleep

I couldn’t write yesterday. I was running errands all morning, and then come my class ending, I was glued to the television.

As I sat watching the results roll in, someone handed me whiskey. I don’t often drink liquor, but I sipped on it and watched. I watched as my LGBTQ+ friends, my Muslim friends, my Latinx friends, my Black friends all reacted in horror, and I joined in with my disbelief.

I am so grateful for my Christian friends that have taken the time to share their views, who they voted for and why. I respect you, because you have thought out what you are saying. But I have seen so many who voted “for the babies” and for no other reason, and for that I grieve. I grieve because so many blame imported dark skin for terrorism, and I think of a Mexican friend who once confided that he never grows his beard out because he gets called a terrorist when he does. I grieve because you forget that Dylan Roof, Robert Lewis Dear Jr, and Adam Lanza were white. Micah Xavier Johnso, Rizwan Farook, and Omar Mateen were American citizens.

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

I did not vote for you.

For over a year, I have been reassuring friends from each and every minority group you have callously insulted that I believed in the American people, that no man who started an international incident the day he announced he candidacy could ever be the President.

I was wrong.

Dear President-Elect, in a time where our nation is divided, you won. Your party won a sweep of the entire legislative body. Congratulations: you’ll be able to squeak through legislation for two years at least. And while I disagree wholeheartedly with the vast majority of what you say, I pray to a God I don’t believe in that Congress will listen to the people. And I pray that the many, many white people who turned out to vote remember that it is only from a position of privilege that equality looks like oppression.

I pray that you create a panel of advisors who can speak frankly to you, and that you listen before you speak. I pray that we are able to hold you to a higher standard than “he didn’t screw up too badly on that one” – forget political correctness, I want a President who speaks with human decency and is humble enough to seek wisdom from experts in other fields.

Mr. President-Elect, I still believe in the American people.

I still believe that we will stand up with our brothers and sisters. I believe that We the People will fight for equality, justice, and for people who look and think differently to not fear for their lives as they walk through the streets.

America is not a middle class white man.

Dear President-Elect, I pray you see the great and beautiful thing we call this country and realize that we can be “great”. But that greatness comes from within. Invest in math and science. Invest in exchange programs. Invest in encouraging your people to think outside the box.

I did not vote for you.

But I still believe that the people of this nation will turn to their neighbor and say, “Brother, I am with you.”

You’ve lost the popular vote to one of the most unpopular establishment politicians, and yet won the electoral college. So listen to your citizens. Listen to our cries for equality, for love, for a fair shake. Listen to your advisors, listen to your people. You wear a heavy burden now, and without middle ground this country will only grow more and more divided.

The sun is up, and the world still spins. As I sit here, sipping coffee in a cafe, I look at the variety of people around me. This is my country. These are my neighbors.

“But see, America is the best country in the world!”

That superlative is dangerous. It lets us be lax.

You think we’re the best?

There’s 123 countries that classify themselves as democracies. There’s 21 countries that believe the ability to criticize the government is a fundamental democratic principle. There’s 61 countries that have a GDP per capita of $30,000 or more. There have been 70 countries with a female head of state. The WHO, while admitting their research is flawed, still ranks 36 countries ahead of the US in healthcare. In math and science, our education system has 28 countries ahead of it at the high school level. We don’t even crack the top 30 for nominal commitment to human rights – frankly, the stats on this link are maddening.

Our country is far from the worst it could be. But tread carefully when you tell me we’re the best.

Who knows, President-Elect Trump. Perhaps you can make American great. But you’ve got an uphill battle.

And here’s what I get to do.

I get to call my legislatures. I get to talk to the people that have been elected by We the People. I get to say, hey, this thing matters to me. I get to love my neighbor, giving the coat off my back if you need it more than me. I get to provide safe haven in my home if I see someone who is scared. I get to be a voice for the voiceless. I get to donate my limited dollars to organizations I believe in. I get to vote in the midterm elections. I get to teach children how to treat people with respect. I get to meet people from all across the board, to ask them questions, and to understand their mantle and stand with them in solidarity.

This is our America. These are our people. Hey, friends, standing in a place of privilege: it’s time to reach down, and pull others up. Let’s not tear each other down. Let us make each other better at the grassroots level, and knock on your neighbor’s door to say hello.

Because like it or not, we actually are Stronger Together.

 

Posted in Home, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, Travel, Wishes

you let go

I didn’t think I owned much. After I’d left my apartment in Iowa, giving away my table and chairs, my dresser and couch, I’d moved to Denver by myself in a minivan. That was my standard: I can’t have much if that’s how I started, can I?

I’m falling into a point of my life where I want own nothing but what I can fit in my Sentra. A few changes of clothes, a few dishes, a book or two. As I’ve started pushing my earthly possessions into the storage closet in my parent’s basement (sorry, Mom) I’ve realized how even with moving frequently and often from one bedroom into another basement room, I’ve managed to accumulate quite the collection of useless items.

There’s so much stuff. A pair of pants I never wear because they fit me funny. Mismatched socks, some with holes in them I keep meaning to throw out. Mugs with chips in them because I’m too sentimental about where they came from to throw them out. A mini ironing board that I use once a year when I’m in a hurry and forgot to pull my shirt out of the dryer right away. An old college textbook that I thought might be useful someday. A stack of papers from a volunteer program I did three years ago.

Somehow I keep carting them around, address to address, state to state.

I now have in my possession less than a dozen outfits, a few blankets, and my computer. That’s about it.

I now have the ability to pack up my life in a heartbeat. Ten minutes, and I can be on the road with no trace that I even existed. I don’t own pets, merely adopting my roommates’ or friends’ animals for the brief moments we share space.

I think I expected owning next to nothing to be more freeing than it actually feels.

I’m a nomad, so my heart has always been ready to go. While I had more of a physical attachment than I was aware of, the emotional connection has always been held with loose fingers. It’s something I’ve encountered with many travelers: we’re quick to befriend, but just as quick to move on. People will ask you how long you’ve been traveling together, and you’ll admit that you just met twelve hours before when you joined in the same walking tour.

You become accustomed to living out of a suitcase for a few weeks or months at a time. Your four shirts are quickly melded to the exact contours of your body, no matter how often you’re able to find a washing machine and soap. But it doesn’t matter, because those four shirts see so many sights and absorb so many smells of so many cultures. The more you absorb, the less rigid you become.

You learn that you’re not always right. You hear how other countries, other religions, other families operate. You adopt some of their world, and they adopt some of yours. Or you toast each other and your differences, knowing some things won’t change. But it doesn’t matter, because you realize on the other side of the table is a human being, not the enemy.

You start holding on to less.

You hold on to fewer strict opinions, more open to discussion and ability to change.

You hold on to fewer languages, realizing the fluidity body language and how your brain won’t recall the right word at the right time.

You loosen your grip on time, allowing for change and fluctuation, last minute ideas and new companions.

You let go of the determination that something you know is the best or the worst, as you come to appreciate the nuances of home and away.

You start demanding that others speak with respect and facts before making blanket statements.

You let go of the concept of home, because there are people and places that hold your heart all across the globe, scattered like dust in the wind.

I own so little. I hold on to so little.

Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is it just fine in this precise moment?

It is so easy to accumulate. It is so easy to continue to carry things around that have no worth, whether it’s a broken lamp (I just need to find a new pull string!) or a relationship (we’re not that bad for each other), a job (but what would I do if I left?), an apartment (yeah, everything’s gross and it’s really expensive, but it takes so much work!).

I’m so young, but I’m learning the weight of value. Who do I value? What do I value? When I live in a six foot by four foot space, what is worth so much that I am willing to sacrifice those inches? When friends are a dime a dozen, which relationships do I value enough to fight to maintain when I’m “out of sight, out of mind” and have to make an intentional effort?

My external environment now matches my inner self. Perhaps now my inner self will do some spring cleaning as well. Perhaps I can let go of the past, both the good parts and bad. Perhaps I can begin each day in peace and fresh beginnings. Perhaps I can empty myself and go in to each morning in each city with eyes wide open. Perhaps the past can remain there, and only the lessons follow me into the future.

I have no possessions.

I have nothing holding me down.

Defying gravity.

It’s time to find color in the earth instead of my wardrobe, vibrancy in real relationships instead of the fleeting. Hold on to what has value, release what holds you back, create beauty in each moment.

I didn’t think I owned much. But now I want to own even less.

Now I just want to own myself, to take accountability for my words and actions, and then to move on in freedom.

Live simply.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Current Events, Growing Up, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, People, Wishes

Beauty and the Ballot

“That’s it!” I’ve seen friend after friend exclaim. “I’m not going to vote in this election. I can’t support either candidate!”

I get it, I do. Two of the most unpopular candidates in history are running for the highest office in the land. I understand your resentment, your confusion, the distaste and distrust. Heck, I unfollowed half a dozen of my Facebook friends because their incessant posting about both candidates had me riled up every time I was online. (I wish I would have done that ages ago – my stress level has dropped drastically in the last two weeks.)

This cycle has nearly doubled the amount of negative voters than were in the 2008 election – that is, voting against one candidate rather than for another. Everyone is angry and tired and in disbelief at the circus we’ve been dragged into. Both sides of the aisle are astounded that the other candidate is even vaguely considered viable. “She’s a liar! A security risk! The emails!” “He’s got paper-thin skin! A racist/sexist/every-ist! Tax returns!” “She’s too embedded in the system!” “He’s been bankrupt four times!”

So far, we’re on the same page, right?

I’m still going to vote. And you need to, too.

If you want to leave the presidential part of the ballot empty, feel free. I genuinely won’t fault you.

But…

You are given a big ballot. A ballot that includes Representatives, Senators, amendments, propositions, and local issues. It’s difficult to believe in such a heated election cycle with all the media attention focused on the top ticket level, but those down-ballot choices will make more of a difference in your every day life than the President.

The President will most definitely matter on an international stage, but unless s/he has the same party as the majority in Congress, doing anything domestically is going to be like pulling teeth. (A member of Congress has to introduce a bill, so whatever your candidate is promising, s/he still has to have allies in Congress that can push through opposition in both houses. Hence the desperate need for bipartisanship… and a realization that you can socially be on one side and fiscally on another, so even having a majority party doesn’t mean they’ll always support you.)

So it’s back to you, dear citizen. It’s time to remember to look local.

Vote down-ballot.

In Colorado, one of the issues that is near and dear to me is Prop 107 and 108. I’m an unaffiliated voter, which means that unless I change my party affiliation sixty days before the caucus, I am not allowed to participate. Millennials are more and more falling into this category: one that doesn’t identify completely with one party or another. In the state I’ve called home for two years, this means that unless I know which side I’m leaning more towards a full two months in advance, I’m not allowed to participate in selecting who will go on to the general election.

This year of all years should prove why that’s a headache to a humanist. Also, I’m from Iowa, where you can walk in the night of, register to vote at the door, and participate in the caucus. I was more than a little bitter that I didn’t realize this rule was different in Colorado until 7 weeks before the caucus here… a week too late to do anything.

Oh, and the other part is voting to change the Colorado caucus into a primary. Just FYI.

See what I mean, though? This is something that matters. To me. On the ground level. You know what else is on the Colorado ballot? A right-to-die amendment, like in Oregon. Renewing a tax that funds everything from the Denver Arts Museum to local theater troops. An adjustment to the requirements for amendments to the Colorado constitution. Introducing a first-in-the-nation single-payer healthcare system. Raising the minimum wage.

Oh, look. The state is attempting to put some pretty hot-button issues to the vote. Did you know about that? Are you really that upset at the political madness going on at the national level that you don’t want your voice to matter at the state level, which is going to affect you more immediately and intimately?

And there’s another thing:

You can be anti-Hillary. You can be anti-Trump. You can be pro-democracy.

Did you know that after only 5% of the popular vote, third parties are eligible for funds from the Federal Election Commission? Take a peek at these other parties, see if there’s one that you actually do agree with. Your vote could bring funds for 2020, and bring more parties into lower positions (even the mayor of your own town!) simply by bringing attention to the fact that they are there.

Now, I’m of the personal opinion that we need two drastic changes to our election process. I think we need to tweak the electoral college, and I would adore introducing ranked voting.

Ranked voting would allow for voters to escape the “lesser of two evil” conundrum we find ourselves in every election. Yes, it would cost more money to implement ballot counters to read these results, but in the end, you can vote in good conscience for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein and not feel that a vote for someone you like is actually a vote for the Republican or Democrat that you hate. It would make it more likely that someday a third party could take the position of Commander-in-Chief.

Since that isn’t likely to be implemented anytime in the near future, my other plea is for the Electoral College to have one slight adjustment. Again, I’m from Iowa: a state with a relatively small population. The Electoral College is something that makes sense to me, because it forces presidential candidates to care about my state after they’ve won our first-in-the-nation caucus. What I hate about it is the “winner-take-all” requirement of all but two states. Remember how Al Gore won the popular vote and lost the election in 2000? That’s why. Maine and Nebraska are much closer to accuracy, although allocating by congressional district still allows for gerrymandering. Proportional allocation though? To both have the winner of the election accurately reflect the will of the people and give the smaller states a voice? What a wild concept! (Forgive the sarcasm… it’s been a draining year.)

I’m not going to deny that this is by far my most involved election cycle, watching every debate and actively seeking out economists and political scientists and people smarter than me to give me their viewpoints.

But as I look around at my compatriots, I think the reason why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders soared to the forefront of media attention is exactly what the rumors stated: we’re tired of the same-ole, same-ole. We’re a generation of communication, of the internet, of the ability to have answers at our fingertips while still choosing to remain locked into Facebook’s algorithms of feeding us more of the same until we live in an echo chamber. We’re bored of being told that how it has always been is how it must always be.

We’re tired of the establishment. So let’s make a change, even if that means that we vote for a future a bit further away than January, and a result a bit closer to home than Washington.

 

Posted in Changes, Lessons, Love, Snapshot, The Barista, Time, Travel, Wishes, Work

Life out of season

I loved Denver – she was just my type.

In appearances, the mountains glistened, the city sprawled, the old became new. In personality, there were a thousand places to go, craft scenes to explore, people to meet. In soul, she was vibrant and alive and six hours from everywhere.

No wonder it was so easy to fall in love – Denver was just my type.

But something was never quite right. Long timers warned me. She’s changed, they said. I didn’t care.

But Denver didn’t love me back. Oh, we were friends, certainly. She took me along for the ride. But the lust was never reciprocated. I was one of many to court her, but in the end she chose another.

She was the heartbeat of Europe with the familiar shoes of Iowa and an exotic note all her own.

She fought me. Threw housing problems, ill-fitting jobs, broken relationships, car theft and exorbitant prices my way. I ignored these signs. I had friends! I had adventures! Surely, we were meant to be, Denver and me.

I loved Denver. She was just my type.

But then, one day, as dreams began to form again, I looked at the dart I’d thrown on a map. I looked at Denver. And I realized with sadness that she didn’t love me back. She’d never given herself to me as I had to her.

The suffocation of the unrequited love affair began. I felt our connection crumbling. I was a barnacle clinging to her rather than a lobster paired for life with this beloved city. Trapped, I felt the urge to flee. What now? Where do I go from here?

I loved Denver. She was just my type.

Posted in Dating, Growing Up, Lessons, Love, People, Wishes

To the girl who will replace me

I wish that I could say that I was above the pettiness of social media stalking.

But I’m not.

I casually spotted, then intentionally searched. And I had a few thoughts.

I don’t know if you even know it yet.

But I think you will be The One.

The One for Him.

I see the same characteristics, how you’re a blend of features of myself and his other serious ex.

You’re his type.

I see what you study, what your few public pictures show. And I can tell that your interests align with his even more closely than mine did. That conversation with him won’t be a teaching moment, but something of excitement as you weave through a world you both adore.

A part of me wants to hate you. Selfishly wants him to always love me from afar, even though we should never be together again. I want him to always ache for the fact that he screwed up, to feel guilty because it was his fault that our relationship ended.

But mostly, I’m just watching.

I want to tell you how to understand his mood swings. I want to compare stories with you about his quirks and favorites. I want to gush over his son with you.

Even more, though…

I want to know that he’ll take care of you. That he learned from his mistakes. That you will have a partnership. That he’ll love you, and for once, he’ll move you up on the priority list. I want you to be cherished, to be treated with dignity.

I don’t know you from Eve. But, dear girl who will replace me, my fingers are crossed for you. That the boy I loved will turn into the man who loves you.

You’re beautiful. He’ll tell you that.

But always remember – you’re worth it, too.