Posted in Backyard Tourism, People, Vagabonding, Wishes, Work, Working Holiday

Get Amongst It

This afternoon, I had lunch with my mother’s banker’s husband’s parents. Yesterday I had coffee with my pen pal’s pen pal. Last week I explored with a gal I lived near my freshman year of college and in different countries ever since. Last month I parked in my former coworker’s cousin’s friend’s partner’s driveway.

Travel gets complicated quickly, but once again, solo travel you are only alone if you want to be. Anymore, I shrug at the six degrees of separation: each of these strange connections is now my own first degree again and the world spins tighter and connections weave more intimately.

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Nina, who after we crisscrossed 21 countries, finally met me outside of the same coffee shop in Des Moines we always went to when we were back home.

Winter is creeping up the islands, and I’ve migrated into the latest phase of my working holiday. Get amongst it, the Kiwi’s call. But the mountains are a bit foreboding in the back of a van, so instead, I’ve gotten amongst them. I signed up for a housesitting website and have started flitting across the north island, staying snug next to the fire with dogs and cats and chickens, sipping on local wine and trying to sort out what I’ll be doing when the other half (!?!) of this year is finished. Every few weeks, I find myself sitting at a new table, talking with families who are leaving their homes in my care. In Auckland, I worked almost exclusively with Kiwis instead of backpackers and explored how they lived their lives and what their concerns were about their own country and their place in the world. I had to make an intentional effort to be okay to be still: my time in New Zealand is so short and there’s so many places to see that I struggled with not going out an exploring much. After all, it’s a bit like Neverland here:

Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.

-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

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Cathedral Cove at sunrise. It was worth waiting for a clear day in order to make the quick hike in the cold early morning. There was definitely a yoga-grammer who had camped overnight at the beach and was getting perfect shots on this perfect morning.

Months ago, I met a hitchhiker with a tattoo that ingrained itself into my memory. We talked about it for several hours as we traversed in the same direction and discussed the philosophy behind it. It read simply, “I can’t wait for right now.” To be so close to so many adventures and not be able to go on them while I saved up cash, I had to reframe my thought process. Right now is just as beautiful and good and surprising as Tomorrow in That Other Place. Surrounded by real people living real lives and having to crawl into the nooks and crannies where the locals find their culture instead of where Lonely Planet tells tourists to go was a challenge and a gift. That mantra allows for the excitement of adventure to bubble up in the mundane. It allows all the hopes of the future and warmth of the past to be held in this moment, a gem in time to be cherished and loved and to overflow. It allows the good and the bad to hold its place, the past and the future to hold their time. It allows for this moment to be wonderful and terrible and all piled up into itself.

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Oh, and one of my housesits was on a dairy farm. These calves are 6-10 weeks old. 

In this space, I feel strange. Housesitting is one of the rare occurrences that is incredibly mutually beneficial: the perfect barter where no money changes hands. Nobody loses, both parties win. I am given shelter, wifi, laundry, and hot showers. They, in turn, have someone keeping an eye on their home and don’t have to put up the cost of boarding their pets. It sounds so simple, but I can’t get over how much the homeowners thank me. In a country where weekly rent is easily monthly rent in Denver, it is they who give me a free roof over my head, but they thank me profusely for cuddling their dogs while they’re away?! I mean, I adore Goldie, but she is just a thin shell against the winter rains and near-freezing temperatures and I’m not a fan of cooking in the wind. So it is I who feel like the winner, being trusted with a near-stranger’s home as my base in each region. Each time I fall asleep in a new house, I’m grateful and the excitement wells up in me. I can’t wait for right now.

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You’d never realize this picture of serenity had cars drag racing on the other side of the gully and a busy park just behind me.

I’m loving traveling in the offseason, to boot. I’ve become acutely aware of the Instagrammer, and know that I’m guilty of it myself. In so many places I’ve wandered, I’ve been surrounded by dozens of people, each scrambling to the tiny plot of space where their friend can snap a picture that makes it look like she alone is on top of the mountain, and he just happened to be doing yoga on the beach at sunrise, and their contemplation wasn’t interrupted by the shutter click in that ‘candid’ shot or the jostling busload of tourists who just arrived. We all pretend we’re here alone when the reality is much busier and much louder than we care to admit. So these few, precious months when the weather is lousy and school is in session and normal people are at work, I am able to slip away and feel like I can breathe. Instead of seventy people surrounding me, there’s fewer than a dozen braving the wind and rain. We shiver together in solidarity as we admire the rocks that carry a stark beauty even though they aren’t bathed in golden light.

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Piha Beach. I’ve seen breathtaking photos from my friends at sunset, but the day I went was like many Auckland days: rain.

It is strange, it is beautiful. New Zealand holds me tighter as together we spin around on this crazy globe, picking up the pieces of stories that tie them together. This year is already half gone, yet it’s only just begun.

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Huka Falls, where the water flows fast enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools every minute. The air was as chilly as the water looks.

 

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Posted in Lessons, People, Stories, Vagabonding, Working Holiday

The Life of Lettuce

I’ve been in New Zealand for three months already. It’s just about the same amount of time that it takes lettuce to grow from clay-covered seed to the packaged form you see in the supermarket. By the time my seasonal work ends at Easter, I will be just a few days shy of seeing the seeds I planted my first day on the job be harvested.

During this life cycle of lettuce, I’ve come to appreciate a lot of little things on the rare days when I’m not living in a van.

  1. Floors! Duvets are common here, but mine isn’t 100% square. I haven’t quite figured out which direction the lines on my cover should be going, nor which direction makes the duvet fit in said lines. Do you know how lovely it is to have a floor where it can drape on the ground when freshly washed so I can figure it out instead of trying desperately to keep something longer than I am tall off the mud?
  2. If I get to have both soap AND running water to wash my hands, I’m practically dancing with giddiness.
  3. A proper sink where I can wash my dishes and feel more than vaguely optimistic that they are actually clean.
  4. A bed that is parallel to the ground. It seems like no matter how carefully I park, as soon as I lie down blood is rushing to my head, or I’m sliding to the bottom of the bed, or I wake up practically squashed against the side of my van.
  5. Speaking of lying down – it is really nice to be able to stand up when I’m getting dressed instead of writhing on my back trying not to lay on curtains or decapitate myself with the fairy lights strung across the ceiling.
  6. A shower with hot water that lasts more than seven minutes. It is an absolute luxury to linger after a long day!
  7. Walls! I’m doing physical therapy for my knees and need walls to sit against and know that my knees are in the right position.

Okay, that was fun, but I’m really here to talk about something a little more serious: the practicalities of doing a working holiday in New Zealand. I just got word that a dear friend from college will be arriving in May to start her own visa, and I’ve befriended a Redditor who just got to Christchurch to start his. So for them, and for the curiosity of other readers, here’s some important things to know when you get to this country.

The DON’Ts:

Two things I recommend you skip would be any sort of starter pack if you’re a reasonably competent human being (the address is nice, but that’s the only useful thing I’ve had from it), and an international driver’s license (you don’t need one if your license is in English).

 

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New Zealand Rail has some beautiful history

 

Phones:

You can walk into any phone store or hostel and get a travel SIM or generic prepaid SIM. Make sure that you have an unlocked phone though, if you bring your own from home! Spark and Vodafone are the two biggest networks. Word on the street is Vodafone has the better plans, but Spark has the better coverage. You can also go to the Warehouse and get a cheap phone/plan from there.

Money Money Money:

In order to work in New Zealand, you need an IRD. In order to get an IRD, you need a New Zealand bank account. In order to get a NZ bank account, you need an address.

No worries, dear friends! You can get an address from your hostel. Simply walk up to the front desk and ask for a letter for the bank. They’ll print off a piece on their letterhead that says you’ve been staying there which will be copied at the bank. If you can, set up an appointment in advance so that you don’t have to wander all over town finding a bank that can see you that day.

Now all you have to do is hop online and send off your IRD application. It takes about ten days, and you can opt to have them text you the number when it’s completed.

If you choose to start working before you have this number, you have two options. You can either have your pay withheld until the IRD has been completed, or you can still get money withheld at a higher rate. Most Working Holiday Visa-makers (hereinafter known as WHV) make under $48,000 and are taxed at 17.5%. If you don’t have an IRD or make too much money, you’ll be taxed at the highest rate of 33%.

 

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Dunedin, one of the oldest cities in New Zealand, and quickly becoming one of my favorites

 

But, bills?:

If you’re paying for things using your US credit card, TransferWise is your best friend. You have to make sure your Kiwi bank has verified your account (I literally walked in and asked instead of waiting the 30 days to prove I’m a real person), but after that the set up is pretty straight forward. Just make sure that you do a bank transfer instead of the default debit transfer to save yourself a few dollars!

Take note, though, my US cards struggle in New Zealand. I can get crazy discounts from shopping at PAK’nSAVE, but the petrol station won’t take either of my Visas, my Amex, or my Diner’s Club. If I use the Diner’s Club card at the supermarket, I have to swipe it and put in a PIN. Most places won’t take that though, so I have to use Visa chip and sign for it. New Zealand is all paywave, where you tap your card in front of the reader and the transaction is done… it becomes obvious I’m foreign when my card takes so long! Kiwis are astounded that the US just got chips a few years ago and that it isn’t even common to have a PIN on your credit card chip yet – they’ve moved miles beyond that technology by now.

Finding Work:

I really wish that I were a construction worker. They make bank here, especially in Queenstown and Christchurch. But it’s all good. I got connected with a staffing agency as soon as I got my IRD. We text back and forth throughout the week for various jobs – I call it the sampler plate of life. I’ve done a lot of housekeeping for a few businesses, a lot of waitressing for weddings, and a dishwashing gig. I know someone who got a job at the airport through them, working on the steamship, and they connected me with my lettuce job.

As I’m wrapping up this time in Queenstown, I’m not concerned. I’ll either find another staffing agency or hop into the kiwi/apple picking on the north island for a while. If you’re not looking for a permanent, full-time job, it’s super easy to find a job.

 

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I think this hostel is what backpacking was like 30 years ago: on your way to Stewart Island to find work, make sure to stay here the night before.

 

Living:

I’m actually the wrong person to ask about this as I’ve been contentedly hiding out at Twelve Mile Delta campground since I got here. New Zealand does rent by the week, so I fork over $65 every Sunday to the Warden for the privilege of a long drop toilet and not getting a $200 fine for freedom camping. I get a little cranky when Kiwis moan and complain about freedom campers, because they don’t realize that most of their complaints apply to all tourists living in hotels or vandwellers staffing their businesses. My coworkers tell me “Oh, but you’re not like them! You’re just living frugally!” I pay more for this spot of ground than I did for my first college apartment and I still pay for a gym membership so I can shower instead of jumping in the lake because there’s no public showers or sinks that you complain about. But I digress…

Queenstown is kind of astronomical. It’s a small town that literally doesn’t have room to grow with mountains on three sides and a lake on the fourth. But since everyone wants to live here (and Frankton is a decent hike away), I’ve known people that spend $175/week to share a bedroom with a complete stranger. The utter lack of privacy and skyhigh rent are enough to make me shudder away from trying to stay here over winter, but also most places demand multiple references from Kiwi landlords. Yeah, you can eventually get around that, but with a large bed in the back of my van and the freedom to roam, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that’.

Van Life:

I love living in a van, I really do. And I’m madly in love with Goldie, but she’s not self-contained. Seriously, buy a self-contained (SC) van if you plan on living in it while working. Do it. If you’re just going to go on random weekend adventures and live in an apartment, you can get away with a nonSC vehicle and park in the middle of nowhere. But New Zealand is cracking down on backpackers parking anywhere outside of a DOC site where you pay $5-13 per person per night anywhere near a town.

As for stuff? Stop stop stop stop stop! Your backpack is full enough! Bring ONLY the bare necessities! If you’re buying a van, 99% of them come fully, fully, fully stocked with every bit of camping gear and cutlery and stoves and solar showers you could need. New Zealand is a first world country. The Warehouse is an even lower quality Walmart where you can get anything you need for dirt cheap. But there’s normal malls and stores, too. For online shopping, people use TradeMe (a bit like ebay) and Alibaba (Amazon doesn’t work very well here). You will be FINE, don’t bring so much stuff!

 

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Make sure and invest in some spices, and you can create delicious van meals to share with your new mates

 

Last thoughts:

  • Get WhatsApp. Seriously. Port your US number to Google voice, and then download WhatsApp using it. It is so much more efficient as a way to stay in touch with backpackers. Vodafone freaks out when sending pictures, group messages, or locations. But WhatsApp is clear and simple, and you’ll be able to stay in touch with the Germans, French, Argentinians, South Africans, Uruguayans, Brits, Pakistanis and Canadians you meet along the way. Everyone has their home number, so it won’t disappear at the end of the visa and you can stay in touch as they disappear to Thailand and Bali and Australia for a few weeks.
  • The Salvation Army (The Sally’s, as it’s called around here) is going to be your best friend. That and PAK’nSAVE for your cheap groceries.
  • Facebook groups are super useful for backpackers and local communities. Even if you have deactivated your facebook, make a new useless account just to be able to utilize those resources.
  • Be prepared for the politics talk. I’ve been traveling for over ten years and three presidents: you will be talked to in a drastically different way than you have in the past. During the ’08 election, people asked “Obama or McCain?” and then moved on from the conversation. In June 2016, nobody said a word to me about politics. They do here, they do now. You do not get to escape it here, and even if you try to stay below the radar, you will have Kiwis (and every other continent’s nations) ask you questions about the days news or current events in general. If you want to avoid that conversation, prepare ways to deflect in advance. Otherwise, just go in knowing that for the first time, people will want to know more about your country than which state you’re from and telling you where they’ve been/want to visit there.
  • Seasons – and daylight saving time! – are flipped. I started out 17 hours ahead of my mom. When we “fall back” next week (after y’all already sprung forward), it’ll be 19 hours difference. Momma, Skyping with you is getting difficult!
  • Solo travel: you’re only alone if you want to be. Social butterfly me is getting worn out from being around people so much. I’m taking a few days to wander by myself and recharge. Make sure you take care of yourself!

 

Whew! All three of you that read this massive list, well done! I’ve been having a hard time writing lately – I usually write best when I’m processing something, but life has been so even-keeled that I haven’t needed the outlet of late. So, sorry for the word dump rather than stories. Maybe Easter will change things 😊

 

Always,

Eliska

 

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Posted in Backyard Tourism, Lessons, People, The Barista, Vagabonding, Working Holiday

Both Ways Twice

“Just look both ways, twice,” Kahn quipped with a smirk as we discussed the practicalities of my entire driving career and most of my walking career being on the right side of the road and suddenly transporting myself to the left.

 

It’s not bad advice. Sometimes, no matter where you are, you have to look both ways twice to avoid being gobsmacked by a truck… or your own mind.

 
I’ve been living at a place called Twelve Mile Delta. New Zealand, as a Commonwealth country, is mostly fiercely metric but there’s some holdovers from the hodgepodge of imperial measurements that still plague the UK. (A hitchhiker with a posh British accent was complaining about this recently: “Speed is kilometers but distance is miles, height is in feet and inches, but weight is in stones for no reason at all!”) I think if I were to sketch the most beautiful place in the world for me to live, it would look an awful lot like this Department of Conservation campground. The mountains rise drastically from the glacially-fed and forever chilly lake, and I can see the Remarkables in the distance living up to their name and shielding the population center from my sight.

 

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Twelve Mile is about a ten-minute drive from Queenstown, and then depending on the time of day, it can take another ten minutes to get through the ten blocks that make up the CBD. (Oh, can someone tell me if this is an Oceania phrase? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to downtown as the Central Business District in Europe.) With mountains on three sides and Lake Wakatipu on the fourth, there is nowhere for the city to sprawl, so the people pile on top of each other in a place that – not so very long ago – sent its citizens to Alexandra for shopping and groceries. This small town has no place to grow: it makes perfect sense to me why they hate freedom campers and tourists.

 
It can get a little suffocating with only one road through the city. Being away from the busyness is like a breath of fresh air every night, staring up at a million stars and waking to fog rolling over the lake as the mountains slowly allow the sun downward to burn it off. But even with a much smaller DOC population, I’ve managed to find myself a bit of community. Probably 70% of the backpackers in a country teeming with them are traveling either in pairs or posses. Those of us traveling solo are much more likely to be male. I managed to find myself two other gals living in vans at my campground, and we park next to each other and invited other solo wanderers into our circle each evening. We share meals (leftovers are an impossibility without a fridge), and drink whatever free beers were handed out at work while discussing our various countries and travels in all their glories and impossibilities. They call me Grandma – the two regular girls are 19 and 20, and even though most of our adopted friends are 26-30, I’m the old soul who turns in when it’s too dark to see and drinks tea while reading books.

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It’s been delightful the last few weeks, but yesterday, I looked both ways twice.
I keep forgetting that I’m not trapped here, and I don’t have to live anyone else’s life. I don’t have to be Grandma and make pleasant conversation every evening. I don’t have to have coordinated plans about which direction to go next. I don’t have to go on long hikes or deep yoga stretches or jump in a freezing cold lake.

 
So after work, instead of going south to camp, I turned north.

 
I picked up a hitchhiker and brought him along the Cardona mountains to Wanaka, slowing my speech and enunciating my words so that this Frenchman could understand me. He offered to cook me dinner as thanks for the lift, but I needed solitude. I dropped him off and spent the next 24 hours without saying a word. I drove up a highway and a long gravel road past sheep and cows and a gray-blue river and shattered mountains until I came to a ford. The sky was darkening, so I settled in to watch the evening come. When morning broke, the dawn showed off just how brilliant Mount Aspiring National Park actually is as glacier feeding my stream reflected the golden light.

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I had a long, slow, lazy morning. I made coffee just for me, I did a little yoga while twitching away from the sandflies, I read The Little Prince. I was hidden from the road, so I watched dozens of vehicles cross the ford and go on into the parkland. Eventually, I joined them. I drove until I ran out of road, crossing half a dozen fords and reminding myself to be patient that not everyone is comfortable on gravel roads. I saw a sheep with a long tail and spent the next ten minutes trying to remember the nursery rhyme about that. And then I got to the parking lot and felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people.

 
“I should hike this trail.” I told myself.

 
“Why?” my inner voice replied.

 
“Well… because Glenna would! Because Young Adventuress would! Because it’s a place you’ve never been before, so that’s what you always do! Because it’s Mount Aspiring and that’s a cool name!”

 
“But neither of them are you. And you don’t want to be around people right now. There’s always going to be something you’ve never done, and there’s always going to be cool names.”

 
It’s a very strange thing, having to give myself permission to not do something. This wasn’t because of the physical limitations of hurting my knee. This was a mental limitation of too much time around people, too much time around noise, too much time around the beaten track. I still needed silence, I needed more time to be alone.

 
I looked both ways twice, and I turned around.

 

 

Posted in Changes, Growing Up, People, Working Holiday

Alis Volat Propriis

There’s very little that I counted important enough to tuck into the backpack I’m living out of this year. One such item was a small silver bracelet from my grief counselor that reads in Latin “she flies with her own wings”.

It’s a mantra of encouragement: moving to another country alone with no plan, no job, and no vehicle. I can do this. I can live this madness, absorbing the sunshine and processing the grief lingering beneath the surface. I can fall in love with adrenaline, I can find my place in my altered world.

The only thing is, that’s not the entire story. I may be living a life I’ve dreamed of, but it is hardly only my volition that allows me to soar.

It may be my wings that lift me, but it is the winds of others that give me the space to let go and glide.

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This was the safest “narrow”part of the trail I felt I could take a picture… I swear, the drop off is steeper than it looks!

This afternoon, I hiked the Tiki Trail. It’s a relatively short but very steep hike from Queenstown to the first really good overlook of the city. Four years ago, I was dying: huffing, red-faced, and embarrassed I was holding back Glenna and the rest of our guided group. Today, my legs were giving out before my lungs and I played hopscotch with a group of construction workers. One of them wryly commented that I made the trek look easy. EASY! That simple sentence was like a breath of fresh air for me to fly on up the hill.

I continued hiking, and a gentle older woman was working her way down the trail. We nodded to each other and sidestepped. Ten seconds later, I pull out my music thinking I’m hearing a voice. She’s calling to me, offering me her gondola pass to get back to town after my upward trek. These things are about $35, so a generous gift!

By themselves, these two interactions would have been enough. But that wouldn’t be a very Eliska-like story, now, would it?

Oh no.

Those construction workers were hauling beer up the hill and handed one off to me to drink. I passed them and managed to lose them, only to find them again at the Skyline. They offered me another beer and I struggled to understand what they were asking me with their accents (I have been in the States for WAY too long! I used to be able to distinguish between London, Northern, Irish, Scottish, and almost Kiwi and Australian. Nowadays, I can’t even understand someone speaking non-midwestern English, let alone know where they’re from 😦 )

Halfway through the second beer, this group of Kiwi’s and Brits with a token Frenchman started commenting they needed to get going to go on the Luge and started urging me to come along. No, no, it’s nice to meet you, and I’ll giggle at you from above, but I’m not going to have a job for at least two weeks, I don’t want to spend the money on… Next thing I know, we’re all shoving our bags into one locker and I feel as though I’ve been properly adopted by these men as the foreman happily adds one more 2-run ticket to his purchase and starts passing out helmets for everyone.

The Luge, for lack of a better description, is gravity-fueled go-karts? The first round, you are required to go down the scenic route – going one at a time and a little bit slower. Round two? Utter chaos, turning into more of a bumper car escapade.

And what do Brits do best after self-declared carnage? Pass out another round of beer, of course.

“You. You said words,” I said to one of them in response to sounds pointed in my direction. He laughed, and repeated it, and I shuffled away in embarrassment that I still couldn’t understand his accent and slang.

I may have flown on my own wings to get to the top of the mountain, but I coasted into Queenstown on the winds of absurdity.

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American Gothic: in jelly beans
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.

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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 Dating, Love, Wishes

Permission

Within hours today, I got a text message, a Snapchat, and a letter from three different women with the same question. It’s a question that’s been coming up from many directions recently. I think the universe may be trying to say something.

“So, I went out with this guy. It’s… not happening. Is it okay that I hate this all?”

Yes, you beautiful women, yes.

You do not have to date.

You do not have to continue seeing someone just because it wasn’t awful.

You are allowed to prefer spending time with your dog, your whiskey, or yourself in the mountains.

You are allowed to have Tinder purely as a way to pass the time. You are under no obligation to talk to any of your matches, under no obligation to go on a date, under no obligation to start a relationship.

You are allowed to enjoy being single.

You are allowed to change that label.

No, you don’t have to be “single”. You don’t have to describe yourself as “unattached”. You don’t have to defend that you’re still “waiting for Mr. Right”.

Goodness.

You are students. You are scientists. You are problem solvers. You are hikers. You are beer geeks. You start grilling chicken and suddenly you’re three chocolate chip cookies into the batch. You’re transplants. You’re natives. You’re sisters. You’re daughters. You’re best friends. You like to be alone. You binge Netflix. You have no fear of trying a new restaurant without company. You are willing to be dragged along by a coworker to meet strangers. You sleep in hammocks or tents. You hop on a plane because someone needs you. You stroke your cat to sleep. You hold your roommates’ baby. You play your guitar. You roam through thrift stores. You save up for that kayak. You work hard. You dream big.

There is absolutely nothing deficient about you! You are allowed to not need a partner. You are allowed to go on dates for fun, and then to say, “This is exhausting and expensive. I’m going to take a nap today.” You are allowed to drink wine on your porch alone, or call up an old friend while going on a walk. You are allowed to go see that new movie alone, and to pick up some flowers from the farmers market because you think they’d brighten up your room.

My dears, my beautiful women. Look at you.

You are allowed to delete the app.

You are allowed to log out of your profile.

You are allowed to cancel that date.

Just as you are allowed to go back out there and try again, you do not have to.

If you want to be alone, enjoy it.

If you want to take six months to be intentionally single, to find yourself and what you like and who you are without using a partner as a measuring stick, do it! Those six months may turn into two years, and that is okay if you are okay.

You are allowed to be happy.

You are allowed to be happy alone.

You are allowed to throw rice at your friends’ wedding and then drive through the night to a national park to explore alone.

You are allowed to swap phones and swipe on someone else’s profile, but then ignore the buzzes as you tell stories to each other of the lives you’re busy living.

You are allowed to go to bed early and sleep in late because you’re working yourself to the bone and just need to recover alone.

Oh my ladies…

Do you need permission to be yourself?

You have it.

If you ever want it, the complicated, deep and shallow wells of dating will be back there.

But you don’t have to be there now.

You have the permission to step back and discover yourself.

Oh dear friends.

You are allowed to hate the fifty first dates and only three second ones.

You are allowed to be so tired of trying to get to know someone, but feeling like you’re going in circles.

You are allowed to want to step away from emotional ups and downs of wanting to click or wanting to love, but something is just not right.

You are allowed to enjoy being single.

You are allowed to enjoy being you.

You went out with that guy. And that’s okay. You can go out with yourself, too.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, People, Stories

back in a small town

I was crossing the street to go into the office and a car beeped its horn at me. Instead of cringing from a catcall, I waved back at my childhood neighbor.

I never thought I’d be back in a small town.

I thrive on adventure. I want to eat sushi, try Ethiopian again, satisfy my curry craving. I want to leave work and be on an airplane two hours later, the wind carrying me halfway across the country to spend a weekend with a friend. I want a half hour drive to bring me to a cultural center for a festival or a theatrical performance. I want to disappear into a national park for days at a time or wake up at a trailhead hours before dawn in hopes of summitting a peak for the sunrise.

Instead, a half hour drive gets me to the closest McDonalds. I need to drive yet another 15 minutes to get to a town where there’s a Walmart. It’s a two hour drive to the nearest airport that will get me out of the midwest, at least three to get to one that has a breath’s chance of a direct flight abroad. I now live in a town where checks are accepted and often Visa is not. The library doesn’t allow you to renew or reserve books online. I may not have been catcalled, but there’s already been a marriage proposal.

And on Sunday morning? I walk down main street and hear my footsteps ricochet back at me. Not a store is open, even the coffee shop. A pizza joint will open for lunch, a gas station has a few tables out for the farmers to sip their dark roast. But surrounding the main square, there’s silence.

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It’s the same world I left when I was 17. It’s the same world I was born into. And while so much has allowed time to pass it by, time has a way of catching up.

Mom used to read to my sister and me. I’d strain to listen in the car as she turned to the back seat to transport our minds into the world of Little Women or the Castle In The Attic.

Now it’s my turn.

As the day winds down and we tuck away check books and tax forms, it’s my time to pull my mother’s mind away from the mounds of estate paperwork. It’s my turn to read The Princess Bride and Jacob, Have I Loved. Sometimes she falls asleep, and I later recap what she missed. Sometimes I only finish a few pages, as we interrupt the world in the chapter to discuss the world in which we live. We talk about Dad. We talk about our relationships with our sisters. We talk about the Cramer clan, and how much I take after that side of the family.

Mom used to take care of me when I got sick. She’d tuck me in and bring me sprite and toast.

Now it’s my turn.

I bring her bowls and water, I rummage through the cupboards to find the appropriate medicine. I worry over her and beg her to rearrange her doctor’s appointment so I can accompany her.

Mom homeschooled me for a few years, teaching me that early foundation of reading ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. She and my dad explained the way the world works.

Now it’s my turn.

I sit with her in estate meetings and phone calls with businesses, taking notes, interrupting when needed and afterward explain to her any concepts she didn’t understand.

My world of adventure came grinding to a halt on November 19. My fast-paced city life of stories and people and passport stamps intertwined with high end coffee has been put on a backshelf while I try to help my family rebuild. In this time, I fiercely defend my mother, my sister, living life in a small town and tracking the sun around our big red barn.

Here is where I grew up, here is where I fled in search of my tribe, the people who spoke my language. My heart wants to vagabond, to explore the world with fervor. But I have a deeper purpose these days.

My first tribe was here. My parents always took care of me, my community always cheered me on.

Now it’s my turn.

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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, Musing, NaNoWriMo, People, Wishes

another political rant

I can’t help it. I have to keep talking about politics. I’ve spent the last year and a half semi- to fully-immersed in a scene that I’d only vaguely cared about previously. Now that we’re at the climax, I’m almost bubbling over with the

I was two months too shy to vote absentee in the 2008 election while living as an exchange student on the other side of the world. So in 2010, I voted in the midterm election based mostly on what my parents talked about. For those of you who aren’t aware, that was the vote which ousted the Iowa judges who had legalized gay marriage in my state. By the 2012 general election, I had started to question the status quo and was going through a personal crisis. I was aware of the Republican candidates that came tromping through my university, but was out of the country during the caucuses and didn’t pay much attention until the general election.

Then things all went downhill. I changed my voter registration to unaffiliated and started glowering at the nonsense people were saying, wondering if anyone had ever taken a civics course. Mr. Olsen, my high school government teacher, would have never allowed anyone to pass his class with the amount of misinformation being propagated.

I was deleted on social media this election cycle.

I did not delete anyone.

I was furious sometimes at the things I would see show up on my timeline. I would shake my fist and go find one of my usual debate partners and vent about the inaccuracies and assumptions. I would see an article posted and delve into the sources, trying to decipher to conclusions drawn. Sometimes I would agree, sometimes I would roll my eyes at the bias. I would wander around the aisle, asking questions and demanding answers.

I am an unaffiliated voter. I did not delete you.

I’ve complained about the echo chamber before, of the dangers of being too tightly wound in a circle of like-minded people. I’ve complained about Facebook’s algorithm before of showing me more and more of the same things I’ve been clicking on until I believe that everyone must think exactly as I do because I never see articles that contradict me.

And so I keep you. I keep you even though I disagree with every argument you make, every meme you share, every article you post.

I keep you because I can be wrong.

I keep you because I want to see what you think.

I keep you because I want to see what you say, and see if I can challenge my own point of few.

I want to be able to understand where you’re coming from.

I want to be able to listen to someone who thinks differently than I do, and restrain myself from trying to bring you over to my side.

Call it a lesson in patience, and one that I don’t always succeed in.

But here’s the other thing.

January 20, 2017. We’re going to have a new President.

We’re going to have new members of Congress.

The world is going to keep spinning.

I’m going to keep being noisy. I’m going to keep advocating for the things I believe in. I’m going to keep voting, keep donating, keep volunteering. I’m going to do everything I can to make the world a better place.

And part of that? Well part of that means keeping you as part of my world.

Maybe on Facebook we’ll post contrasting debates, but sit down for coffee and talk about the illness your daughter is facing, how you’re applying for a program, or the trip you have coming up. We’re going to live in the same world, occupy the same space.

I may disagree with everything you say.

But we live in this country together.

I want to know what you’re going to say.

I want to know what you believe to be true.

I want to know where you get your information.

I want to know why you think one way or another.

What about you? Are you going to listen to me? Are you going to be able to sit down and have a reasonable, intelligent conversation?

Or will you delete me, because I say something you don’t like?

Will you insulate yourself, so that the only propaganda (because don’t fool yourself: that’s what we fill our minds with, no matter how much we claim to “research”) that you ingest is the propaganda from your favorite sources?

Will you allow the anger that you feel rise up in you when you read my contradictory posts to become so vehement that you sever our connection completely?

I’ve hidden the most frequent political posters, don’t get me wrong. But that was because they were cluttering up my feed to the point where I couldn’t see my friend’s wedding pictures, or recipes, or the less active friend’s thoughts on public affairs. I’ve hidden no one specifically for their beliefs.

Would you defend my right to disagree with you? Would you defend my freedom of speech? Would you acknowledge that I’ve done research too and drawn a different conclusion? Would you believe that I can be on the opposite side of the spectrum and still love you?

Like I said, I’ve been deleted this election cycle. I’ve tried to maintain a middle ground, reaching out to both sides to understand where they’re coming from. And with some, I’ve had phenomenal conversations. With others, the instant I bring my opinion onto their post, I disappear from their connections.

It is what it is.

I’m tired of trying not to get deleted you when I disagree with everything you say, because I’m the one you accuse of being too concerned about political correctness, without ever finding out what I think is actually important. So here I stand, and I hold my breath for one more day.

Because at the end of it?

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” -Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Happy Election, everybody.

 

 

 

Posted in Changes, Current Events, Dating, Lessons from the Church, NaNoWriMo, People, Stories, Time

play the game (for “Rochelle”)

How am I supposed to live without you
How am I supposed to carry on
When all that I’ve been livin’ for is gone

Rochelle angrily pounded the space bar, forcing the YouTube clip to stop Michael Bolton’s crooning. Finding the music popular from when she was born was supposed to be a distraction, not something to force her back into melancholy.

She let her head fall back on the lovesac and watched the fan blades spin lazily. One glow in the dark star that had held on defiantly to a wobbly blade for over a year traced a white streak in her vision. She wondered what had brought her to this moment.

You need everyone’s eyes just to feel seen behind your make up. Nobody knows who you even are. Who do you think that you are?

She pursed her lips ironically and bounced her head in time to Mike Posner’s slightly more modern tune. She thought back to her early college years, dancing with her roommate around their apartment with cats darting between their feet and candles glowing all around the kitchen. “It’s probably because you think you’re COOLER THAN ME!” They’d sing at the top of their lungs.

I’m gonna drop some cash, only got twenty dollas in my pocket

Macklemore’s boom resonated through her chest. Was that the time when things started to change? Was that when she started to get angry at everyone she had called friend for the last four years?

Hellooooooo, it’s me…

She couldn’t do it. She slammed her laptop closed on Adele’s sepia gas stovetop.

The boy. So brief, so wild, so beautiful. He was the one that got too close when she was about to shatter. He was the one that found her right as all the years of hiding who she was, what she really believed, came bubbling to the surface. He was the one who stepped into her world right at the wrong moment.

She hated him.

She loved him.

He wasn’t enough for her, she was too much for him. These opposites pulled each other into a circle of gravity, whirling around each other, the attraction becoming too much until they collided with cosmic power.

And now all she had left was a black hole.

She was cold.

The new men who filled her bed were placeholders. She pushed them out her door at three a.m. and collapsed in a drunken stupor. When morning came, she would brew herself a full pot of Folgers and debate pouring Bailey’s in each cup. She would sit at her table, slouching over the steam and inhale the scent of coffee while she waited for it to cool. She would delete the texts from the night before, praying that by deleting the electronic record she could delete the memories.

She’d drag herself to class, hair clipped back, make up on point, a tasteful scarf wrapped to cover the hickey her latest lover had left. She’d make small talk with coworkers, and beg forgiveness for not joining them after shift for a drink. Rochelle would return home, pulling her cat into her lap.

“Love me,” she’d tell it, stroking it’s soft fur. The cat would glower and struggle away from her grasp, finding a ball of paper on the floor to bat around. She’d pull out her phone and find the app, the orange flame tempting her. Left, left, left, right, left, left, left, right, MATCH. Keep swiping. Left, left, right, left, James has sent you a message. James it was.

Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
‘Cause you know I love the players
And you love the game

Taylor, Taylor, Rochelle sighed to herself. I’m dying to see how this one ends, too.

She wondered where it had all gone wrong – or had it always been wrong? She thought of her sister. The one who had always come into her room, stolen her things, touched her… Rochelle shuddered at the memory of her sister. Their mother had never believed Rochelle, and even now couldn’t understand why she refused to be in the same room, why she refused to forgive her sister.

She thought of the church she’d found herself a part of. She thought of how she’d changed for them, dying her hair back to it’s natural color after the black started to grow out instead of keeping it rebellious. She thought of how she moved in with them, reading her bible and striving to learn the lingo, to say all the right things and volunteer with them and be at the church every time the doors were open. She thought about how when she tried to open up, to share what was really going on, how Emily would shift uncomfortably and offer to pray for Rochelle, or how Miranda would go off on some Christianese rant. One day she called her out on that. “What does that even MEAN, Miranda? Do you even know what that MEANS?”

She’d run away, moving into an apartment in another city with Emily’s sister. Rochelle learned very quickly that Amy was even worse, and when they tried to have conversations about current events, it would quickly devolve into nonsense, and Rochelle would storm away trying desperately not to scream about how stupid she found her roommate.

All her friends were getting married. The three-three-nine method, Rochelle thought wryly. Single for 23 years, then “court” for three months, engaged for three months, and nine months later… hello family. Was there no such thing as a healthy friendship one-on-one with boys? Apparently not, she muttered. It’s marriage or running away and doing exactly what I’m doing. That’s it.

She lived alone now. After an entire lease of fighting and anger, and oh that stupid election, how could Amy actually believe that godawful candidate was genuinely a good human being? She’d finally escaped. She was alone. Was it better? Was she going to be free?

They say I’ll never be the poster type, but they don’t make posters of my kind of life.

She picked back up her phone, Elle King demanding freedom in the background, and kept swiping, pushing the thoughts of That Boy further and further into the abyss.


“Write a story for me?” My friend texted me. “I don’t care if it’s real or fictional.”

This is for you, love.