Blogging, a question mark

What is the purpose of blogging?

The last several months I’ve noted that more and more of my Facebook friends have taken the proverbial pen in hand to broadcast their thoughts and lives to the world in the form of a blog. I am by no means a regular writer in my own, but take pleasure in reading from others.

I also am constantly searching for new blogs, seeking validation in the emotions and questions that I have – how do other people in my stage of life handle situations, make decisions, move from one day to the next? Although I suppose I qualify as a “digital native”, I am lost in the tangled world wide web, using rudimentary search functions to try find my far flung peers.

I was complaining about this to my roommate the other day. “I can’t find blogs about twentysomethings just trying to figure out what they’re doing with their lives! College students, young mothers, business professionals, sure! But what about those who DON’T know what they’re doing with their lives? Who have graduated, are not married, and are not working for a multi-million dollar corporation? Where are we represented? Why can’t I find their daily ponderings about how to survive?”

She looked at me, and bless her heart, said, “Why don’t you write it?”

Well, the reason is: I’m an external processor. I write when I have something to say. That’s usually when I’m processing something. It’s hardly professional to write about wrestling with the decision of whether to stay at my current job or move on, publishing my thoughts for the world to see before I’ve had that conversation with my boss. (For those of you keeping track: I’m staying.) Nor is it kosher to write about the frustrations and victories at work or in relationships.

I can’t write in an abstract way. I can’t discuss in real time what I’m learning, how I’m changing, what questions I’m trying to answer. It is only after the coals have cooled that I am able to speak with clarity, fairness, and quality.

But frankly, that doesn’t help the next person searching for answers. The thought process I think is just as important as the answers. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and no two people can ever follow the same road map. Viewing a situation through someone else’s lens, and understanding their reflections, can reveal more angles and ideas in ones own world, even if the final outcome is completely different. The journey is the destination, after all, isn’t that what has always been preached?

I do not have the ability to write about my journey. I can only stand on the plains and look around me, sometimes euphoric, sometimes just introspective. I can talk about where I have been, but I can’t talk about how I got there. Forgive me, but I can not write the blog I so desperately want to read.

Humans of New York
“What we see is affected by our memories, our feelings, and by what we’ve seen before.”

Six Months: A Photo Dump

Just over six months ago, I shook hands with Sally Mason and turned the tassel at my commencement ceremony. Here is an obviously classy picture of Michelle and I to show our excitement with our empty folders.Image

Just about three months ago, that empty folder finally was filled with my diploma and certificate.

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In between these two events, I used another very important document. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t go back to Europe until I saw either California or New York – it was a shame that I knew another continent better than my own country. I’ve kept that promise… I just went to New Zealand instead.

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In the four months since returning from a month wandering around Narnia, I’ve been doing a lot of coffee-things. Trying out the new position of manager at my coffee shop: admin work, fixing broken machinery, training staff and trying to learn more myself, geeking out at roasteries, writing a new menu, getting cafe crushes when I travel.Image

Oh, yeah, I’ve been traveling, too. Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin. I may not have made it to the coasts yet, but I’m finally learning my own Midwest through weekend excursions.

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And learning, lots of learning. Audiobooks when I’m in the car, print books when I’m in the library, even trying my hand at learning how to code when I’m on my computer. Note, I said trying. Regardless, I’m tickled to have the mental energy to learn about things just because.

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Life’s kinda cool, you know?

 

 

 

 

 

Just a cup of coffee

I’ve spent essentially the entirety of my working years in the service industry, and the last two years have been in a coffee shop.

I adore coffee. I adore working in a coffee shop. The smells, the customers, my shiny machines, the constant education and only sort of joking snobbery. Techniques and questions and critiques and striving for better, more elaborate, more wonderful. Working in a shop like this is the discovering of a craftsmanship.

But you know what?

Sometimes I just want a cup of coffee.

Sometimes I want to rise in the wee hours of the morning and instead of bustling about to open up the shop, I want to savor the sunrise with steam tendrils rising from my mug of coffee. One of my favorite memories took place about three years ago with such a moment.

Mariah was working at a camp out in Colorado for the summer, and some of my friends decided we should go visit her. Four vehicles, 24 twentysomethings, and a 14 hour drive later, we found ourselves breathing in the fresh mountain air, sipping from the streams, and marveling at the expanse around us. We only stayed for a day and a half before whirling back around for another 14 hour drive, but those days were precious to me.224446_10150330162786823_1066577_n

It was my last weekend with my Des Moines friends before moving to ‘enemy territory’, as my home town referred to the University of Iowa. My last hours with people I loved, and we were traveling together. We went swing dancing under the stars, big band music blasting from car speakers. We watched a meteor shower from the warmth of a hot tub. We climbed mountains.

But my favorite moment was early in the morning. I’d finally slept and rose before the sun. I made myself a cup of coffee and sat outside on the porch, watching the sky lighten and wrapped in a blanket against the cool air. Sipping that coffee, I was at peace. Uncertain of the future, but content in the moment with my friends spread out all over the house still dozing.

That is what I miss about life outside of the coffee shop: the ability to pause and drink a cup for pleasure and not critique every sip. I miss summer mornings, sitting with fellow early risers and quietly taking in the beauty of the world around us with a mug warming our hands. Basking in the fellowship and enjoying the aromatics rather than being distracted by them.

I don’t know how I’ve let myself get so distracted, so caught up in feeling antsy or the idea that something else is important to forget to savor the early mornings. The solitude, or partnership. I find my mind constantly racing, trying to solve puzzles for work or figure out the big What’s Next question, or do the math to see how soon I can pay off my debts. When I get bored, I get dangerous – when I get bored, I buy plane tickets.

I think I need to stay still. Not for boredom, but stillness. I think what I really need is just a cup of coffee and the great outdoors.

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And she lived happily ever after

My first marriage proposal took place in the wee hours of the morning on the streets of Florence in April 2012.

I was wandering around Europe after my semester in Germany ended and found myself tagging along with some near-strangers to a new city in Italy. On that first day, I was able to get a hostel but was warned that it was booked the following night. “No matter,” I thought to myself and began to sing, “Just a small town girl… living in a LONELY wooooorld. She took the midnight train going aaaaaanywheeeeeere.”

Eleven o’clock rolls around, and my mobile phone hasn’t been allowing me to make calls all day. We wander back to the hostel, exhausted, and I go to check if there are any rooms available. No. Well, my friends have a private room. Can I pay to stay there? No. Are there any other hostels in this area? You don’t know. Okaaaay…

I picked up my bright red suitcase and made my way on foot to the nearest train station, only to discover that the tickets to purchase machines were locked inside the building. With no smartphone and little sense of direction, I began an hour and a half trudge in the dark hours of a Saturday night towards the main train station, getting turned around, staring at bus maps, and starting again. I stopped at several hotels along the way, but everything was full. Finally, the main station came into sight and my relief quickly turned to horror when I realized that not only was I locked out of the building, but out of the tracks.

This is the magical suitcase that followed me around Europe
This is the magical suitcase that followed me around Europe

The homeless population was lined up along the side of the building, so I double checked that all my money and forms of ID were separated and hidden, and laid down to try sleep outside. A construction worker woke me up after a few minutes because he needed to work at my wall space, so I shuffled further down. By this point, I had been awake for about 20 hours, so I quickly passed out again. This also didn’t last long, as a woman woke up and started yelling at me in Italian. Bewildered, I stared at her and she shuffled off. I lay back down to sleep, and was once again awakened by a small, middle-aged man, also yelling. He, however, realized that I didn’t speak Italian.

“Oh, oh, uh, sprechen Sie Deutsch?” he pleaded.

“Ja!” I responded, ecstatic. German, I could get. Sort of.

The man, clearly homeless, went on to tell me that some young men had been trying to steal my suitcase. “But I told them, ‘no’! You leave her alone! I’ll call the police!” Sleep-deprived, when he told me that we needed to get away from the train station, I thought it was a good idea to follow him. After about two blocks, I finally realized what I was doing and that I was about to get lost.

“I’m going to find a hotel,” I told him, still mumbling in German, and knowing full well that all the hotels were booked. He argued with me, and kept offering to carry my suitcase or backpack. I shook my head and went to the nearest hotel, praying he wouldn’t follow me.

“It will be expensive!” he argued, and looked altogether too pleased when I was turned away.

“Look,” I told him. “I’ll be fine. Please don’t follow me.”

“Are you and your boyfriend fighting?” he changed tactics. “Is that why you’re traveling alone?”

At this point, I was single, but as many women in our culture often do, I quickly invented a fella who was stationed abroad – naturally, this is why I was traveling alone.

My Italian guide looked crestfallen. “Oh,” he sighed, and continued, “You see, my wife and I are divorced, and I was hoping you would be my frau!”

With this tempting offer under my belt, I quickly excused myself and found a rank, shadowed corner on a one-way street and huddled up until the train station opened a few hours later, whisking myself off to Venice and leaving the memories of my night on the street behind me.

Over the next 18 months, I also was proposed to by a man from Ghana wanting a green card, an American soldier jokingly wanting to get married so the government would give him more money while he was deployed, and a Brit who wanted an American passport. Apparently I just have one of those faces that looks gullible enough to get married for fraud. But in case it wasn’t obvious – I never said yes.

 

Growing pains

Today, I felt angry.

Today, I felt curious.

Today, I basked in the sun.

Today, I laughed.

Today, I missed someone.

Today, I got excited.

Today, I felt afraid.

Today, I felt emotions.

Not all of them were good. Not all of them were bad. The point is that I felt something.

Fall semester was rough as I learned that depression takes many forms. For me, rather than actively being sad or lonely or upset, I was… nothing. I felt nothing. I cared about nothing, no one. If I made plans, I hoped people would cancel. I discovered delivery, spending more money on Papa John’s than I think I’ve spent on fast food in my life. I became glued to my couch, apathetic. I shut down the supper club I had once cultivated with joy. I withdrew from friends. I thesised without passion. Wake, work, school, Netflix, sleep, repeat.

I became nothing.

The lack of emotions, lack of style, lack of interest, lack of anything… That was who I fell into.

It took flying half way around the world for my soul to finally revive, and as I stared at the stunning blue lakes of New Zealand, I felt the last wisps of depression slip away in the breeze.

To feel emotions today, even as cruel as they can be, is a beautiful thing. I feel alive, even if I am unhappy. I feel growth, even as I look at my immaturity and know that in two years I will look back and cringe at this moment in my life. (Literally, I think that I will recall this day and roll my eyes – it’s been one of THOSE.) But I’m learning. I know that as slow and painful as this is, I AM learning. I AM growing. It’s frustrating now, trying to sort out adulthood and learn how to take on this new position in life. But you know what? I can feel it. I’m alive. And that is a beautiful thing.

1274.7 miles

“I’m not trying to hit on you or convert you,” the rabbi assured us as he amiably gathered up his things. “Are you from around here?”
Mel grinned, her curly blond hair flouncing as she turned her hair to look at the gentleman who had been sitting at the next table over. “I am.” He glanced at me, then. “I’m from out of town.”
“Nice to meet you,” he responded. “I’m the rabbi at the synagogue right around the corner and my wife and I just came for a coffee. I just wanted to say hello!”
Nodding his head in a final farewell, we watched him disappear out of Zanzibar.
For half a beat, we tried to return to our conversation that had been interrupted.
“Nope,” I said. “Gotta talk about that.”
“I love everything that just happened there,” Mel agreed. “Absolutely everything about that.”

That’s one of the best things about travel, I’d say: simply the people you meet along the way.

In seventy-six hours, I traveled an absurd 1274 miles visiting with friends that I have known ranging from six months to seven years. I once couch surfed through the formal website, but this was my favorite style. A futon one night, a wooden floor the next, a proper couch the next. The temperature soared from the 60s to nearly 100, and my mind was happily engaged in audiobooks about science and history.

Three days, four states. Friends who love languages, friends who love nature, friends who love aviation, friends who love Des Moines, friends who love wanderlust. People with souls that are larger than life.

We sat outside new restaurants and watched the sun go down. We watched meteor showers from untouched observation decks and plotted the (un)likelihood of a tornado that day. We drank coffee. I chuckled at my Polish friend’s disgust at Americans’ use of ice in their drinks. I successfully navigated Kansas City, but hit a snag in Des Moines less than a mile from where I’d spent a summer (it’s okay, I forgive your directions!). We laughed, we were serious, we learned from each other and of each other.

It was a whirlwind, and even though I am utterly exhausted (and will not try to do such a long trip by myself in such a short time frame again), it was worth it. It makes me feel so alive.

travel always does.

 

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Snapshot (the beginning)

Stories are snapshots of time, capturing a moment and filtering it through the lens of the present. Adding a spin, connecting it to the conversation and the moment.

I rather like snapshots.

My friend Mo waited patiently for me while I used the ATM this evening. Two freshman boys walked up to wait for their turn, and one started lighting up a cigarette. Distracted by my own accounts, I paid them no mind until I heard Mo strike a deal.

“I’ll give you five bucks if you don’t smoke that one.”

The taller boy looked startled.

“Not even quit smoking, just don’t smoke that exact cigarette,” Mo clarified.

The tall boy grinned. “Hey, sure. I know smoking is bad for me,” he pushed the barely-lit end against the lamppost. “Look, I’ll even break it in half.”

“I’m a man of my word-” Mo started.

“Hey you don’t have to give me five bucks, really.”

“No, no, I keep my word.”

“No, a buck is fine,” the tall boy conceded.

“No, really, it’s fine! I have to pull it out of the machine anyway.”

The tall boy smiled in astonishment, and his friend looked on bemusedly. “Wish I could quit smoking,” the other muttered. Neither quite seemed to understand that this was really happening.

And Mo kept his promise, the tall boy introduced himself, and Mo happily handed over $5. Vince walked away, thanking Mo profusely with his friend still shaking his head in astonishment and murmuring about how he wished he could quit.

As we took our leave, Mo explained himself. “The tobacco industry has hurt so many people I care about. Any little f-you I can give to it is a great victory for me.”

A great victory indeed, for my friend and a few random strangers by an ATM. Something tells me I’m not the only one who will remember that interaction.

 

Rainy days

It’s a rainy, dreary day, much like the days before and the days to come.

Did you realize how many forms of “rainy days” there are?

I’ve spent the last decade or more running myself so ragged, I never had time to notice. Rainy or sunny, relatively cold or relatively hot. That was all I cared about as I threw on a weather-appropriate outfit and dashed out my front door.

There’s silence in my life now.

As a baccalaureate, one would think I’d be busier than ever or in the midst of applying to grad schools.

Instead, I’m slowly unveiling the gift of quiet.

There’s a joy in coming home after a full day and work and having nothing else to do. No thesis to research, phonology problems to solve, or mock business plans to write.

If I work at 6am, I know that I can occasionally stay out late the night before and take a nap after work. No classes to go to immediately afterwards or group projects to coordinate.

When I have two days off, I can go on an out-of-state adventure, or just go back home and visit my parents. I can teach myself a new recipe or take a new path around town.

There’s silence.

There’s quiet.

I can watch the skies.

Adjectives that used to be used only when people asked “is it raining out?” now I pay attention to in real time.

Is it misting? The moisture seeping from the sky? Is it slow and steady? A monsoon in the midwest? There’s hail – is it the size of a penny or the size of a golf ball?

It’s not that I’m gaining a new obsession.

I just see.

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I know that this a rare period in my life where I can slow down, where people aren’t dependent on me, my responsibilities are limited, and I am allowed to breathe.

I’ve always used my half-hour walk down town as a means of mentally processing, usually skipping songs on my iPod to provide a soundtrack for my emotions and in that manner blocking out the world around me.

With time to breathe, I take time to see. And now I take time to listen.

I take out my earbuds. I listen to the cars blasting their music as they pass me. I listen to the heavy breathing of the runners passing me as they master the hill. I listen to the chatter of the birds arguing across the street. I listen to the turning of the cranes at the construction sites, to the laughter of the freshmen as I pass by the dorms.

In the early mornings, though, there’s something special.

I listen to the silence of the morning.

I listen to the quiet gurgle of the river as it falls over the dam.

I listen to my footsteps on the bricklay of the ped mall.

I hear.

It’s a new experience for me to see the world in my own city, to allow myself to move slow enough.

I feel like this is the first step in a new stage of life.

For the first time, I am quiet.

Now it is time to allow both questions and answers to seep into that silence without distractions or a place to run and hide from them. I have no idea what I will find, what is around the next corner. But as I’m stepping into this adult world with all its changes, costs, and duties, it’s time to embrace it all and still hear the rain outside my window.

When I have two days off work, I can travel out of state. Or I can stay in my bedroom and paint for hours. Or I can drive twenty minutes out of town and find myself isolated with nature spreading her wings out before me.

It’s really, truly beautiful.

 

Burning Bridges

April 19, 2014

Liz and I became friends when I was about 19 years old. I’d briefly met her and to be perfectly honest was intimidated by her. She was a pastor’s daughter at the church I attended at the time and was, in my opinion, a bit of a celebrity. All of my friends talked about her: oh, Elizabeth might come to DMACC, Elizabeth is so great, Elizabeth this, Elizabeth that… How was I ever going to measure up and have this slightly younger all-star be a part of the world I was carving out for myself?

Well, easy. Because Elizabeth actually was great. She wound up in my small group and spent many evenings hanging out in our cat-dominated apartment. As she struggled with the transition between high school and college, and I struggled with feeling suffocated in Des Moines and wanting to flee without it actually looking like that, we formed a strange bond. It wasn’t difficult to soon call her “friend”.

A year or so passed. I moved to Iowa City, then on again to Berlin. Liz and I didn’t stay in super close contact, but she was always a delight to run into when I passed through home, and even once came to visit me at my parents’ farm.

It’s a funny thing, time. It’s a funny thing, growth. Over time, we grow and change. Generally, if we are with people – be it physically or just have strong, regular emotional bonds, we can grow together. But with distance, two people who were once very close will change differently. Not that its necessarily a bad thing, but they will never be able to meet at the same point again, never be able to connect on quite the same level. Maybe it’s better, maybe it’s worse, but never the same.

More time passed. The changes in my life put me at odds with many people who I loved deeply and missed dearly. I was terrified to move back to Des Moines for a summer, fearing being ostracized for how I’d changed. Conversation after conversation proved that these fears weren’t entirely unjustified. I made mistakes, putting up walls and daring my friends to break them down, blaming them when they avoided the walls altogether. Mistakes were also made on others’ behalf – the emotional turmoil of being ignored rather than embraced wrecked havoc on me.

Bridges were burned, friendships so sweet turned sour. Memories brought sorrow instead of joy, bitterness instead of nostalgia. It broke my heart to see friend after friend disappear from my life, even as I saw them across the street.

Fast forward about four months. I’m back to my home in Iowa City, happily graduated and coffee-shopping. I travel back to Des Moines for a wedding and find myself talking with Liz. Tired from the day, tired from a semester of battling depression, tired from the weight of unforgiveness, as we catch up, I confess that one of our conversations from summer had scarred me deeply. Liz, dear, sweet, gentle Liz, ponders this for a couple of months.

And then she begins to fight back.

Bridges had been burnt.

Trust had been lost.

Lives had been changed.

A few weeks ago, Facebook excitedly proclaimed with a red notification that I have a message. Liz asks me if she can come visit me in Iowa City. Not long after, I find myself strolling through downtown Des Moines and almost stumble over Liz. She again asks when would be a good time to come visit.

Do you want to know the funny thing about moving? Shifting friendships. The ones from Des Moines whom I consider friends are those who came and visited me. Laurie fought for my friendship from the day I moved – choosing to remain by my side despite changes in geography and purpose. Stephanie and Matt became my friends as they for one reason or another found themselves in my vicinity on repeated occasions. Mariah made it a point to stop in as she would pass through town on her way home.

When Liz offered to drive two hours out of her way just to hang out with me… Well, that meant a lot. When she met me in the city I call home, I was able to show her my life. We strolled around campus, and I pointed out buildings where I had wiled away the hours. We paced downtown, and I elaborated on funny stories and historical events. We people-watched on the ped mall, basked in the sun on the Old Capitol steps, and curled up in my apartment beneath my paintings.

And through it all, we talked. Frankly. We talked about burned bridges. We talked about growing up. We talked about questions and answers and being in our twenties. We talked about hurt and healing and acknowledged that we’d made mistakes. When time drew short and Liz climbed back in her car to drive off into the sunset, she asked what she could do to show that she cared about me. “This,” I said. “Come see me, or if six months down the road you think of me, text me. Show that you remember I’m alive. That’s all.”

Bridges may catch fire, after all. But not all rivers need one. Sometimes, all you need is to step in the water and wade across. Don’t worry, though, friend. I’ll meet you halfway.

Behind the counter, or blogging again

March 27, 2014

It’s been almost a year since I’ve touched this blog – ironic, since part of the reason I started it was to chronicle the changes and travel in my life. While there have been lots of both, particularly recently, that’s not my goal this round.

Instead, I’m going to use this as a story dump of sorts. Several friends have jokingly said I should write a book about my life, and with graduation bringing all sorts of unknowable free time, perhaps this is where I shall (re)begin instead.

If you have spent any time around me in the last two years, you know that I work in a coffee shop and am pretty much in heaven. Hence, many of my stories revolve around this place – especially now that I manage there and more or less live behind the counter.

I like people quite a bit, and the line between “regulars” and “friends” often blurs to the point where I can’t remember which is which. Today I watched that line blur – as I was walking downtown for my shift, a silver-haired ‘medium house’ reached an intersection at the same moment as me. We continued towards the law library together, sharing brief histories and parting amiably. I know that next time he comes into work, the interaction will be more than surface level. Something about being outside the box, you know?

I remember the first time I saw one of my regulars in the real world. A freshman decided that our coffee shop was his, simply because after a week we recognized him as a regular and figured out his name and order. While sitting in Old Capitol Mall one day, I looked up to see him striding past me. “Jarad!” I called. Startled, he looked at me. “What are you doing here?” he accused. Slightly insulted, I shot back, “I don’t LIVE in Capanna, you know.” “Well, yeah,” he agreed, “but you’re not supposed to exist outside the coffee shop!”

I suppose it is a bit like seeing a teacher outside of school, but still, just because I’m your barista doesn’t mean I never hang up my apron (yes – I used to wear one every day) and do things like, you know, be a full-time student!

The reverse situation has happened as well, though. I started spotting “large caramel latte” all over town, usually carrying a cup from a competing coffee shop. When she would notice me, she had the dignity to look slightly ashamed, and so began quips and jokes. One day I was early for work and spotted her sitting in our dining room. I, being my natural, awkward self, pulled up a chair and sat down. Nikki and I started chatting, and I found myself meeting several of her coworkers. A few weeks later, this regular came to my birthday party, and thus was the beginning of a beautiful friendship… And far longer conversations as I would make her latte every morning for the rest of the year!

The things I see and the people I meet behind the counter are kind of incredible. Brace yourselves 🙂