On Focus. 

I had a professor that used to say “what you focus on you amplify”. He said it so many times I think of it often even all these years later. 

I think of it when I force myself to take a step back from whatever it is I’m dwelling on at the time and to realize that the thing I am giving power to is a negative thought, unfortunate circumstance, or am upsetting memory or emotion. 

I have to ask myself if focusing on this thing or idea (whatever it might be) could ever change it or be productive, or if the amount of time/effort I’m giving it is simply feeding the flames of self doubt and relinquishing power to past events… Past events that have no bearing on the here and now, or have no business in doing so.

It is an active process; changing your thought pattern and your focus. It is mental hard work that takes an effort physically akin to lifting railroad tracks and switching them to another line. 

The past cannot be changed. That even goes for something as near as yesterday. Ugly things have happened. Ugly things will happen. But the most important thing, when you feel yourself fall into that hole that those ugly moments create, is to use the power you have to remember the beautiful. 

Because life truly is beautiful. It is a thing that we can experience only once. One extremely limited life in an extremely constricted time frame but it is our only one. No matter what happens you owe it to whatever greater power took the time to make life possible for you and for you to breathe and think and make decisions and love and be and exist. 

The last five years have been a trial for me. I have learned what losing family is. I’ve learned of illness and grief and solitude and guilt and self-doubt and self-destruction. I have questioned myself and my decisions and my worth and my purpose. At times I find myself dwelling on these events. This is where the railroad tracks come in.

When I am drowning I have learned to make myself focus on the good… That also in these last five years I have done so much living; That I have train hopped in Europe, gave away everything I owned and learned so much from it, graduated college and then graduated again, started a new and meaningful career, moved 2000 miles, deepened even already deep friendships with my amazing friends, galloped on horseback in the Italian countryside, slept in a beach cave and swam with sea turtles, overcome fears of incompetency, read outlook-changing books, heard life changing stories of people I made friends with in hostels and on trains. 

And even without these experiences, at a basic level, there is so much to be thankful for. I have a healthy body. A healthy mind. I have family. I have a car. I have clean drinking water, books, a roof over my head, food. I do not struggle to survive and I don’t fear for my safety. 

Everything that I have just mentioned, from safety to train hopping, all of these things could so easily be taken for granted or overlooked in moments of despair. Most often overlooked is that you have the ability and power to focus on the good rather than the bad. We can focus on good moments and realizations and memories when the negative begins to raise its ugly head. You have this choice. 

Viktor Frankl, in his book that has forever changed my life, says that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – your attitude in any given set of circumstances,  to choose ones own way.” 

Frankl wrote this as a result of his time in Auschwitz. If meaning and beauty in the form of his novel can come of an experience such as this then what business do you have dwelling on the trivialities and trials and sad times of life today?

Someone in this world, no matter what you are going through, has it much worse than you do. Someone would give anything for the life you are cursing. Someone who is no longer living would love to trade places with you and live the life they were denied. The life you have right now. 

All is a matter of perspective. A perspective that you set for yourself because that is another gift we have been given – the gift of self-awareness and power of mind. 

I think all of us could use a reminder of this from time to time. It is within your control to feel grateful and to focus on feeling grateful. Because, remember, what you focus on you amplify. Amplify the good.  

Life and what’s become of it

It’s 11 a.m. and I’m sitting on the hood of my car watching a bison scratch its head on a broken tree branch. He stares at me with dull eyes. Everything feels surreal. I’m in Denver Colorado of all random places to be in this world. This is where I was sent to. You know I don’t like smoking or the way it makes me feel but I gave it a try because anything is preferable to being sober on a day like this. Drinking alone sounds absolutely horrible. Today is the day of your funeral. And while I tried to be there, circumstances out of my control have kept me out. I’ve spoken with your mother and your brother and your friends. Your mother told me she talked to you yesterday  and told you I would be there soon, but she would let you know now that I tried. This comforts me and in return I’ve told her that I would give anything to be there but the words ring cheap. I really did try my best. I can’t say that there’s any more that I could have done in order to say goodbye to you in person. But you’re thousands of miles away and I’m here at this Wildlife Refuge because I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.

Eventually I climb down off of my hood and I take a walk on a trail.  It is a perfect sunny day and it’s a 2-mile trail and it goes by some trees and a lake and I pretend that you’re there with me holding my hand and I talk to you. And I tell you the things that I have not said to you while you were in this life with me. And I hope and pray that you can hear them because I need you to hear them. But sometimes I’m too realistic for my own good and doubt gnaws at me from the darkest places. Doubt that tells me that since I didn’t take the chance to say these things to you while you breathe air now you’ll never know them because you can’t hear them and my talking is in vain. But I have to follow through with this anyway because the way that you left cuts a person to their core with guilt and questions and with sharp memories and even sharper scenarios that will never occur. Because they can’t occur. Because death is so very final and you can never go back and you can never try again.

On my walk I talk to you and I realize how stupid I have been and how selfish I am currently being in trying to tell you these things when I had all the chances in the world to tell you them before and this is what I’m thinking out on this walk instead of thinking of you and the Darkness that you were in and all the things that you will miss in life and never have. That you won’t ride your bike again, that you won’t be married , that you won’t have children, you’ll never get to see what new career path would have blossomed for you, you won’t watch your brother become the successful man he’s growing into, you can’t be there for your parents now when they are old and they need your care. But my selfish thoughts cycle back and I continue telling you what I have to tell you. That all these thoughts and feelings are sinking me and I miss you terribly.

In life you told me that I had motivated you. That you wouldn’t be where you were without me. You would say to me “it’s always been you Emily”. Your last message to me told me that the happiest moments in your life were with me and when I think of this it stabs me in the heart because I don’t deserve that from you. I don’t deserve that and I still don’t and I never will. Because it took this happening for me to realize what a beautiful gift I had in you.

And now that you are gone you have left me with an even greater gift. More than anything I could have ever done for you. You have shown me what love is. That it is choosing to see the positives in a person. There’s so much that we had been through but you made the choice to see only the good while I chose to see the negative. Your love was complete and it was selfless and all-encompassing. It was patient and calm and completely untainted by jealousy or insecurity. You have shown me what a man truly is and can be. You’ve shown me how very stupid I have been, mistaking less than this for real when real was what had been staring me in the face all these years.

Sometimes now in an instant, in the time it takes me to blink my eyes, I uncover a memory of you that I had previously forgotten. Laughing while we dip behind the trees in the night in Hyde Park and joke about vampires. Sitting in your car changing clothes so we could do more photos for your photography class. Painting your wall in your rented bedroom chocolate brown which I talked you into. Taking walks holding hands in our old neighborhood. That white and grey t-shirt you had on one time that I wrapped my arms around your waist. The way you smelled. Your voice. Your noises. Your laugh. They will forever haunt me and I welcome it. Because it will be a reminder to look at myself the way that you looked at me. And to love myself the way that you loved me. And to never accept less from anyone else.

You were a gift to me and until now I was too blind to know this. It’s always been you you used to say. Well love it will always be you now. And if I’m lucky I’ll meet you again in the next life. Keep my heart until then.

On All-Consuming Love

A coffee shop conversation turned into love and our history of it. That love can be simple or complicated or infuriating, all depending on the dynamic of you and the person that you love. Each of us had an fanatical love in our past. The kind in which the person you love can do no wrong. That, in your eyes, everything about them is the best that there is, from the color of their hair to the sound of their voice. I’m not talking possessive love. I’m talking obsessive, all-encompassing, all-consuming love.

I asked her if she would ever even want to love that way again, since I have been strongly of the mind that I would not want that again ever since it ended. And for both of us it ended badly. For both of us it was the type of love that rips you apart when it leaves you. I never wanted to feel that destroyed or that vulnerable again or that out of control. I’ve felt for many years now that that type of love is unsustainable and unhealthy and so, have not wished it upon myself.

I was surprised by her answer since her fanatical love had just ended. Not just because the answer was a concept I had never thought of but because I figured her wounds would be too fresh for a open minded response.

She said yes, that she would want to feel that way again. And her explanation made me change my mind.

Yes, she said. But only if it were reciprocated. The problem with both of our big past loves was that the love that we felt and gave was not returned to us. The relationships were extremely one-sided.

Had this conversation between the two of us occurred any sooner than it did it probably would not have had such an effect on me because I’ve been so sure that that type of love can only be one-sided. That that type of love is never reciprocated. From my life experience and from observing the experiences of those around me I must have, at some point, subconsciously come to the conclusion that someone always loves more… and the more that is is in direct correlation with less the other person cares. It seemed to me that maybe lukewarm mutual love had the best chance to become long-lasting.

How very jaded of me.

I will admit that the relationship I am currently in is still somewhat new. But it is in every way a difference experience than anything I’ve ever had before. The small thing I do to show that I care are reciprocated and appreciated. My feelings are taken into consideration. My needs are acknowledged and often put first. My hugs are returned, genuinely. Everything is different because everything is given back in a selfless and considerate way.

It is a strange feeling to no longer feel like I’m doing too much or being used or being generally under-appreciated. It’s a strange feeling to feel okay with being open and not holding back or playing the game. It’s akin to your very first love, the one you feel with no hesitation or expectation.

I had given up on all of this too early but it came to me when I stopped being fearful and resentful and jaded. It came from the most unexpected angle at the most unexpected time. I guess I do want all-consuming love. I’m ready for it. I want to give freely with no resentment. Not be taken advantage of.

What a novel idea… to care for someone madly, unselfishly, and have them actually care for you back in the same way.

 

 

 

Pressing Reset

Last July (2015) I quit my job, gave away everything I owned, and moved to England. The plan was to work in my friends sandwich shop and travel Europe as much as possible. I hadn’t been able to find a job using my degree, was stuck in the same industry I had worked in for the last 6 years throughout college, hated the city I lived in, and was just generally disenchanted. You know when you find yourself not wanting to go out and do anything… you’re too tired, overworked, not happy, bored with your surroundings, just not excited about the day. Well.. that was me. It wasn’t overnight. Just a kind of gradual slide. But either way, life is far, far too short for that.

I started this blog in 2014 specifically to write about those travels (I actually started it the year before when I left for the first time to travel in Europe, the entire month of August) and I’ve noticed that I haven’t really done that. It’s instead become an outlet for some thoughts and feelings. Traveling really is the best for solidifying thoughts and getting to know yourself. So this has become a study in openness, gathering my thoughts, and in writing publicly/online. Which is fantastic, but while looking through old journals the other night I realized there was a lot I had forgotten about in the day-to-day of my past traveling that I would have liked to write about or remember better. I even had to list out all the places I’d actually been to now, since many happened only in the last couple years. For remembrance sake, here goes:

  • England (Hull, Leeds, Manchester, London, York)
  • Netherlands (Amsterdam)
  • Belgium (Brussels)
  • France (Amiens, Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Marseilles, Montpelier)
  • Spain (Barcelona)
  • Italy (Rome, Lamezia, San Nicola Arcella, Praia a Mare, Civita, Calopezzati)
  • Greece (Corfu)
  • Scotland (Aberdeen, Edinburgh)
  • Haiti (Labadee)
  • Bahamas (Nassau)
  • Mexico (Tijuana, Nuevo Progreso)
  • Canada (Windsor)
  • Hawaii (Waimea Bay, yes still US but a world away..)

On Monday I leave for my last big trip before I get back to the daily grind. I’ll be in Iceland for ten days. It’s going to be an amazing trip and I’m going to do my best to write about all of it, the big stuff to the mundane. Maybe just a daily log. It’s so easy to forget the minor details, and for me those are the best parts. The discussion you had with a new friend over wine, the quick stop you made in between major places to take an amazing photo, the weather on the day you visited your favorite church/ruin/park.

To wrap this up, through a random series of events, I’m now living in Washington DC. It’s been an amazing journey. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I really want from this life. After Iceland, I’m ending the chapter on my six solid months of travels but beginning a new one in a new place with a new career. I made a choice all those months ago to be happy and let go of anything negative, anything weighing me down. And while I know that going to that type of extreme is not for everyone, I think that people do hold onto a lot just for the sake of comfort. Not just material things but toxic relationships, unrewarding jobs, unhealthy locations. You can let go. You need less than you think you do. And when you have less you make space for better… positive people, happy thoughts, a better job, a fantastic relationship. Press reset and see what happens.

On Perception II.

My previous post was one on the way that people perceive you and the power that has over your life. Perception is reality and the world we live in is one that lives and dies on preconceived notion and first impressions. I find it only fitting to be followed with a post on how I would like to be perceived, since my reaction to my past outside perspectives (those that people have had towards me in the past) was a somewhat negative one.

First and foremost, I want to be taken seriously. I want to be seen as capable and knowledgeable. Never would I complain about being seen as an attractive person but it can be a double-edged sword in a career or job. I have at many times found that if I slip up in the slightest, there are plenty of people to point it out and attempt to discredit my accomplishments; writing me off as a person who got where I am/got the job that I have due solely to looks. I’m resentful of this because I’ve worked my ass off. Not only in college through completing two degree programs while still working enough to support myself, but in any job that I’ve had. I worked 12 hour shifts regularly at my last job, and worked more at home to accomplish what I couldn’t get done there. I spent hours learning new skills and solving problems I didn’t even have to just to be able to be good at what I do and know the field from top to bottom. It was so very frustrating when I would hear anyone downplay that. And it’s why I spend so much time studying and learning more than anyone else – I don’t like giving anyone anything to say. I don’t like for them to be able to take cheap shots. Like I said previously, I hate more than anything to look incompetent.

Next, I’ve always had a problem being an open person. I’ve just been this way for as long as I can remember. I think it’s from learning early on that if you open up, sometimes people will use those things that you tell them against you. It was all the more frustrating because I have always prided myself on being a lockbox. If you tell me something in confidence, I’ll take it to the grave. It sucked when other people didn’t do this. This has become less of an issue as I have surrounded myself with with wonderful friends in my adult life, people that really care for me in a genuine way. True friends that I really can be honest with… That I can mess up around and they keep my secrets and love me anyway. So I’m working on being perceived as a more open person. I want to be one of those people that radiate warmth and welcoming and that people feel comfortable opening up to as well. I think it just takes time to let old habits die.

Lastly, I want to be perceived as successful. This somewhat ties in with my first desire I suppose, to be perceived as capable. I have had a couple conversations in the last six months or so in which something was said that undercut an accomplishment that I felt that I had achieved. I was surprised each time at just how much that bit into me. But I’ve worked to hard to reach the goals I have finally reached to have anyone belittle them for any reason. I suppose that it didn’t help that these conversations were ones had with men; as I’ve gotten older I think I’ve come into a more combative stance with men. I feel like I have something to prove. Again, I want to be taken seriously. And a lot of past not-being-taken-that-way has come from male coworkers, male bosses. I don’t even think it is a malicious thing, more of an ingrained societal thing. Maybe that’s a post in the making…

Again, I know that you need to be proud of yourself, not need that from others. But you should take into account just how you come off to people because their perception of you shades their reality and the way in which they interact with you. The impression you give others is important, especially in a career setting. It’s just a good thing to keep in mind. If for nothing else then just for self-improvement.

 

To my Younger Self

This post could also be titled “What I have Learned” and is really just an amalgamation of the life lessons I’ve discovered in the last ten years or so. I do wish I had known some of these things when I was younger, at least come to these conclusions a bit sooner, but I honestly do believe in learning things the hard way. I believe in trial and error and life experiences and drinking it all in. Regret is a waste of time and the way you frame the circumstances that life throws at you makes all the difference as to what you learn (or don’t learn). So that being said… Here’s are some truths I’ve recognized throughout the years:

  1. Being angry is an absolute waste of time and energy. Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to forget, but move on. Do not ruminate on how you’ve been hurt or who has caused it. It all just makes you stronger anyway.
  2. Young and pretty only gets you so far and it doesn’t last forever. So start building work ethic and making contacts. Take things seriously in whatever silly college side-job you are working. Always take pride in what you are doing and do your best no matter what it is. I don’t care if it’s mopping floors. Do it well.
  3. If someone treats you poorly and you’ve done nothing to them, let it be. It is a reflection of what is inside them and not of you. Do your best to not take it personally. In the same vein, be respectful even when others are disrespectful towards you. Let them make themselves look bad.
  4. Don’t trust everyone. Just because you are authentic and have good intentions does not mean that everyone else does.
  5. It is okay, in fact wonderful, to be different. It is a gift. Not a nightmare. Be proud of who you are and cut out the negative self talk. It will waste years of potential growth.
  6. You are and you become who you surround yourself with. Their standards of behavior become your own. Invite into your life only people you admire, respect, and aspire to be similar to.
  7. Get involved in something. In anything. Find your passion, find a group with the same passion. Run with it.
  8. Write more. Read more. This will be what saves you.
  9. There is a camaraderie and support that comes only from your girlfriends. Find good ones and hold onto them no matter what. Be a good friend and be a good listener. Be there for them and they will be there for you, in so many ways.
  10. Don’t act on impulse or emotion. Check your temper. Regret can come from 1 second of losing control. Dignity is absolutely everything.
  11. Treat people well. Accept them for who they are. Don’t judge, don’t criticize, and don’t harm. Actions and words have consequences. Each person is a product of a conglomerate of experiences and circumstances that are different from your own. Understanding this is the first step in your own personal path to tolerance, compassion, and understanding. To treat people badly is to harm your own personal development.

For the Moment.

I was asked once, a very long time ago, by a person special to me… What are you running from? I’ve thought about that question so many times in the years since and wondered if it was a valid one; if I was/have been running from something or if I have instead been just searching for something during all this haphazard travel and in all these spontaneous moments. All these times that I have finally gotten somewhat comfortable in life and then flung myself as far out of my comfort zone as possible… What if anything am I looking for? What is my cause for this innate drive to explore the new and unexplored?

I thought of this post and the things I wanted to write while driving down a rain-soaked highway in Maryland (yet another couple-month stopover in my constant journey). There has never been a time during a long distance drive, watching the white divider lines on the highway blink by, that I have felt anything but a sense of calm contentedness… of life, promise, and possibility. Watching those lines on that drive brought me to this.

I believe that the journey itself is what I live for. Those calming in-between moments of travel from point A to point B. There is an exciting “anything-could-happen” and “I-could-go-anywhere” ambiance to it all. I get the same feeling in wide open spaces, times when I am truly alone, when I have the ability to stop in the night warm desert and sleep under the stars, basking in the freedom of my own mobility. I can stay. I can go. I can do whatever I like.

I have a special love of the new destination but have come to realize that it is on the path itself when I feel the most content. I could drive across this beautiful country again and again. I could fly to every country, take every train, decipher every road map and bus system in the world and I would still want more. I can think when I travel. I find solace in the simplistic act of it. The single task at hand that it offers me. I feel close to my own God, my own thoughts, my own brand of sleepy existentialism.

There is so much beauty and meaning in the journey, so much promise, that when I am deprived of it I lose my inspiration and start to lose myself. Some people find their comfort in stability. I find it in the in-between. I cannot yet comment on why this is, I just know that it has always been this way for me for as long as I can remember. Call it the product of a chaotic background. Call it inborn curiosity. Call it an interminable optimism that just around the corner is something profound. Call it a result of all these things. I have even, in part, chalked this unstoppable drive to explore up to Sagittarian wanderlust. I have met others of the same sign that are much like me, and with each passing year I am less apt to believe in coincidence.

So it has taken me years to be able to answer the question that I was asked so many years ago… but I think at this point I can say, as confidently as I can in knowing myself at this point in my life, I’m not running from anything. I’m not running to anything. I’m just living the only way that feels right to me and the only way that I know: For the moment. For promise. For the journey.