Heading South, Looking Up


I haven't been south of North Carolina since I was 22. Florida doesn't count as it's a world if it's own. I've never been to South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi or Arkansas. I saw Tennessee in Memphis, March 2007. The last time I was in Louisiana was in 2004, before Katrina, as if it is vitally important to distinguish if we were there "before" or "after". My last visit to this particular corner of the country was June 2006, to Birmingham where I am headed back to today. (Actually there's a good chance I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Birmingham; I can't quite remember.) I'm physically and emotionally exhausted from a solid month of nonstop activity - personally, professionally and fraternally. This past weekend was a crash - outside of the time I saw a few friends, watched the first Penn State game of the season or was cooking and canning, I felt physically incapable of doing much more than crying into space. No photo editing, no writing, no packing. I tend to hit a point where I've been going at it so hard that the end is hitting a concrete barrier and I don't know what to do other than wait for the stunned feeling to slowly subside. 

The first time I was in Alabama, I couldn't get over how far away Pennsylvania felt, how NORTH. It made all the claims of Maryland and Virginia being part of the south seem silly. Typically I get all life reflective flying 10,000 feet over mountains already 10,000 feet high, but here I am over probably central North Carolina feeling the same way. I can look at my life from a different direction. Alabama Round 1 occurred within a month of my return to the United States from 4+ months in Italy and traveling through Europe. I couldn't handle the vast choices at Target and forgot to take my ID to bars because it was never necessary in Rome. Now on Round 2 I have to wonder in what ways I've changed. There's the obvious- graduated from college (and grad school), on my third (and favorite) job, married with a house, calling Maryland and not Pennsylvania home. Other things are the same - the same 3 people first on my list to call/text/email about what odd or unexpected thing happens. The same doubts about where I want my life to go from here. This post could easily morph into all the conflicting life feelings I've been having of late, but if I do address them in this medium they deserve their own space. Another obvious change is that this time I'm heading here in the capacity as a national board member in the fraternity, something I never could have dreamed 11 years ago as an active member, considering severing ties. Back then, 2 people begged me to stay. Today I have my 6 fellow board members who have my back. To talk about how grateful I am for Phil, Risa, AJ, Vicki, Hao and Christina would also take an entirely separate post. 

So having finished Americanah on the plane, I'm waiting for this flight to land, for once having no idea of arrival time, so I can re explore and rekindle that odd love I found for Birmingham 11 years and 2 months ago. I'm looking forward to meeting people I've only known through email and others I've never met while spending 3 days at the Professional Fraternity Association conference. I'm worried about the projects I have at work that won't stop despite me being 4 states and a time zone away. I'm apprehensive about finding an ATM so I can get cash for the bus and a tip for the shuttle. I'm worried that some people will judge me for ANOTHER trip away from home and that it will deepen some divides that have been slowly forming over the past couple years. I'm excited to visit the Botanical Gardens and see a newly found band on Thursday night. I'm nervous about completing several kinds of work while being present at the conference and fully exploring the city. I'm hopeful to sleep and stretch and blog and photograph and learn. 

Thoughts and Observations: PNW Edition

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work.

And when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.”

-          Wendell Berry

Thoughts and Observations: Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA

Journal Writings: March 22, 2017

Not many people use umbrellas here.  Karen said you get accustomed to the weather and generally don’t end up spending a lot of time in the rain.  After I left Mississippi Studios last night, the air smelled like camellias.  Wet, but not raining.  Cold, but invigorating. 

There is so much amazing art and craft makers here.  I can see how being in a maker space yields more makers.  I wouldn’t even know where to go in Baltimore.  There is so much pride in their place in this country.  Nothing like the way I feel for Maryland.  I think I could see having that pride for another place; I love how friends around the country have adopted their new states and cities into their homes and all ways of living.  I don’t really care about Maryland the same way.  I never have and have always hoped I would.  The art here inspires me – even the postcards I could turn into tattoos.  The more I throw myself into art and culture, the more I want to.  Plays and movies and music and art and writing and hiking and museums.  I can feel torn between saving money to pay things off and the well-spent money that is worth it for our creative growth. 

Things feel like they are changing, even if I don’t really know what exactly that is.  It’s like seeing the tips of bulbs emerge and not quite knowing if they are daffodil, crocus, grape hyacinth or tulip.  But there’s that anticipation of beauty and growth. Maybe a late cold snap will stunt them, or maybe a spring rain and warm day will surprise us by a sudden upward surge.  Something is happening, evening if we don’t know precisely what or when.  Or the migration of birds back north to breed.  Why should our lives be any different?  We’ve been resting all winter and we can stretch ourselves in newly imagined – and yet to be imagined – ways. 

I feel fortunate to travel this time of year.  I would travel any time of year, but this season of growth provides a good opportunity to reflect and dream and to see and explore and soak in.

I feel like the PNW rains are greening me as well.  The dull dust of a dry east winter is washing away, revealing the colors underneath.  My body stretches towards the impending warmth of the summer.  I found a yoga studio in Vancouver and stretched my body and my resilience, working out the sticky bits, finding room to move and to be.  I found a coffee shop where I could simply continue to exist for a while.  Phone off, pen out, staring out the window at a faded, peeling fresco of an Italian restaurant, and I’m reminded of other seasons of rain and growth, in other years, in other countries. 

How amazing is it when I allow myself to simply be, with no agenda, that the words begin to flow?  That all it took was a little space, a little removal from the constant buzz of technology.  Rather than look up the ideas popping in my mind on my phone, I write them on a napkin and allow this stream of words to continue to flow.  The words are writing themselves, like a Harry Potter wand in the sky of my mind.  I feel no control over what comes next.  The dregs of my latte are a rich cinnamon in the orange and white cup next to me. The white counter makes all I do a bright background – more curated than a typical tablescape.  I think of clean lines and silver and handmade objects, soft sheets and blankets; signs of a well-lived life. Some things go on gut and some need a little push.  Some need to marinade. 

These words resonated with me this week:

“I am made up of stitched-together parts and worn-out pieces and small, bright things and memories that bring happiness and sadness, and tiny patches that I picked up along the way and forgot where they came from.

“I am made from rips and tears and gentle stitching from myself and loved ones and strangers.

“I am a patchwork quilt.  Comforting and surprisingly warm.  Beautiful from a distance. A pattern of myself.  The unconscious ode of me.”

- Jenny Lawson   

Postcards from the Future

I am both excited for and anxious about this coming season of travel.  After a full month soundly within state lines, Saturday kicked of 4 months of pretty consistent travel and adverturing with a visit to family in New Jersey.  I mean, I LOVE travel and am pretty damn lucky to be able to do a lot of its, but it's exhausting as well.  To get back late Sunday night and have to hit the ground running (sometimes crawling) at work the next day, catch up with Todd and parental phone calls and housework  from the weekend, chasing laundry and cooking sleeping all week....never feeling like I can get into a rhythm.  Sometimes it sucks.  

There are a lot of people who comment on my life and tell me how "busy" I am.  I fucking hate that word.  My life is full and I do have to make decisions about what I do and who I see.  Business is  direct result of my anxiety and I work hard to manage both.  Very often I will have an idea of what I want to do during the week and realize I just need that time at home.  None of these decisions is ever easy.  It's hard to choose between self care and seeing my family, or taking a photography gig in town or seeing a close friend this one time a year.  That's why a decision to do one thing is also a decision not to do something else.  I make a decision to be on the board of the fraternity in addition to my full time job.  I make a decision to see friends across the country.  I do regret not seeing local friends enough.  I miss my cat like crazy every time I leave and usually have a good cry. I am grateful that I have the ability to decide that I will travel and it is not dictated to me by my job. My parents gifted me with the ability to travel from a young-ish age and the confidence to make explorations on my own.

So yes, I am very excited for these next months and also working hard with my therapist to ensure I take into account self-care and transition time and, oh yea, getting my paying job done and prioritized.  I make sure I have items of comfort with me like warm clothes, plenty of water, snacks and ear plugs, Harry Potter.  I'm learning that I have to go to bed before most other people.  That there is nothing wrong with showing up to the airport 2 hours before my flight to avoid the unavoidable panic that ensues otherwise.  (One run across the airport and asthma attack was all it took to make sure THAT never happened again.)  I'm criss-crossing the country to see friends, network with professionals, work with students and dream about my future.  I am excited to photograph and write and laugh and read.  To send postcards.  To talk to Todd and look at pictures of Trish when I get tired of the road (or the sky).

I'm bouncing from Ohio to Utah to Alabama to New York to Louisiana to California to Vermont, bookending with family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  I'm planning to send postcards and to make my own.  

And since I feel like I learn how to travel better with each trip, please let me know if you have any tips that work well for you.  Just know that I will ALWAYS get to the airport with 2 hours to spare.  

Things I Loved About Paris


One year ago this week I was in that magical city, Paris.  I had made the decision nearly a year before that to attend a writing retreat with the fabulous Kimberly Wilson, of Tranquility du Jour, something that seemed like a life decision that needed to be made, even though I had no idea at the time just how appropriate it would be.  It became a time to finish healing my soul, which had been badly battered over the previous year.  I didn't visit all the tourist sites or go to the well known museums, rather I spent my time recording the small moments and elements that have stuck with me a year later.  Here are some of the things I loved about the city and my time there.

  • Dark pink/fuchsia begonias at the Luxembourg Gardens
  • The cathedral of leaves from lacy buckeyes against the sky
  • Feeling connected to the world and the earth doing yoga outside
  • Fat, fat pigeons - especially when they joined us for pigeon pose
  • Peonies - their fanciful fluff and delicate pink and cream color
  • Champagne - making an ordinary day something to celebrate
  • Macaroons - an array of colors, their delicacy giving way to a burst of flavor (my favorite was rose from Laduree)
  • Mint tea - after dinner at Kimberly's, while writing in the shade at a park cafe, in the hammam after an intense steam and rubdown
  • Fresh strawberries
  • Ripe cherry tomatoes
  • The sun on my skin in the Luxembourg Gardens
  • Drinking mini bottles of wine in the Tullieries - no glass required
  • Having a Marilyn Monroe moment with my new friend Alisha in the middle of Boulevard Sant-Germain
  • The idea of a festival of people doing yoga to Pink Floyd (and getting in hysterics with another new friend, Hilary)
  • Photos of men in doorways (inspired by Shannon)
  • Two hour lunches over glasses of wine
  • Goats in the haha at the Tulleries
  • Reminders: "It's a meditation practice, not a meditation perfect."
  • Afternoon naps
  • The smell of roses
  • Tiny jazz clubs
  • Candid portraits in the gardens
  • Cheese - fromageries, for breakfast, for appetizers, for dessert
  • Heated towel racks
  • Women in black stockings
  • Men in scarves
  • The smell of basil
  • Arbors of roses, framing Notre Dame
  • Cafes every 20 feet
  • Metro
  • The smell of lavender
  • Neighborhood squares with dense trees and playgrounds
  • Living with the city, as a part of it
  • The sparkling Eiffel Tower at night
  • Giant doors
  • The Shakespeare and Co stamp in their books
  • Warm apple pastries

What are the things you love?