in case you’re wondering what I’m doing here.

I’m going to remove the rose-colored glasses that social media wears for a minute and try to paint a real picture of what it is like for me here in Portland, an Ohioan living it up on the West coast on an AmeriCorps budget.

So what do I do at my job? What does a day in my life look like? Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and exploring as showcased on social media, but I do have a job too!

Let me tell you.

I walk out of my apartment to catch the 7:26 am 56 bus toward downtown. I live in the southwest hills of Portland, about a 15 drive toward downtown without traffic. I ride for several stops making note of the occasionally visible Mount Hood or the layers of fog in between the evergreens before getting off downtown to transfer to another bus where I’ll cross the Hawthorne bridge and head to work. I genuinely enjoy my commute, even though most people on the morning bus have a lifeless and tired look on their face. I like the time to listen to music, look out the window, and mentally prepare for the day without having the stress and tension that driving in Portland morning traffic brings. I also like being a part of the morning energy. When I transfer buses downtown, everyone seems to be rushing by, in their own little worlds, going to wherever it is that they work. It’s not glamorous in any way. It’s sometimes inconvenient. Sometimes the bus is crowded and people invade your personal space, but it’s part of living in a city, and it’s better than sitting on a congested I-5 when gas costs as high as almost four dollars a gallon.

This morning I’m headed to northeast Portland where my office is located. My office is a repurposed firehouse nestled in the residential Irvington neighborhood surrounded by large, historic houses and beautiful trees, especially in the fall. Inside, the pale yellow walls and smell of brewing coffee create a welcoming environment and I make my way to my desk where my amazing co-workers are already busy at work. They always kindly greet me even if it’s just a quick hello between their many phone calls.  Every day looks different for me but, in general, I’ll check my email, feed the squirrels outside our office window some sunflower seeds, and check my calendar for the day.

On Mondays, I usually ride along on our Project Linkage bus with one of our drivers, Paul, where we take older adults to places such as shopping centers, farmers markets, movie theaters, and make a stop for lunch. Project Linkage also takes older adults to medical appointments and to grocery stores, but Monday’s trips are generally more recreational. For many of our riders, this is their social network. This is their only opportunity to leave the house for the week and interact with others. They know the others that we’ll be picking up on the way and although it’s a long ride for the first one’s we pick up, they love looking out the large windows and seeing the other neighborhoods in Portland. This trip specifically services the mid-county area of Portland, many who live here have lived their whole lives in Portland, watching as it has rapidly changed and gentrified, pushing them out East where housing is minimally more affordable. One the most common topics of conversations on these rides starts out with “This used to be…” as everyone makes comments on their changing community. As a new Portlander from the Midwest and also a millennial, I initially found this very annoying. Change is growth and growth is good, how can these people not see that? They are so stuck in the past and it’s depressing, I thought. But the more I’ve learned about Portland’s history and also as I try to become more empathetic towards a client population that differs from myself in many ways, I thought about the feeling I experience when I drive past the remains of the house I grew up in, in Jeffersonville, Ohio. We moved when I was 17 and it is now a Medflight office, with a helicopter pad in what was once the front yard. Honestly, I try to avoid driving past it when I’m home; it’s a sad feeling. I realized that they aren’t just stubborn and that many of them have memories tied to places that no longer exist, which is sad. Plus, hearing their stories of Portland’s past makes me more educated on just how much the city that I now live in has changed and that when I look out the window, I’m seeing things that may not have been there just a few years back.

When we arrive at our destination for that day with all of our passengers, I assist in getting everyone out of the bus, operating the lift when necessary and then I join them at wherever we are that day. Sometimes this means walking around the zoo with a small group or helping someone with their grocery bags. However, most important is that I’m there for people to talk to. Some of our riders are genuinely amazing people and I love learning about their adventurous pasts and they love learning about how exactly I got here and what I “what to do when I grow up”. I’ve just gotten to the point where I know almost everyone we pick up on our route, although it differs as there’s always more that want to go than we have seats. On the ride back, I connect my phone to the bluetooth system and play some classic 1930’s swing music that everyone loves. Some people clap, some people sing, and overall it’s such a cool thing to witness. One couple that rides frequently has been married for 62 years! I can’t even fathom that. Sometimes people get to talking and they realize that they went to high school together, in the ’50s! I love being able to see these connections being made.

That is just an example of one thing I do at my job. Other days look different. I created a professional blog for Project Linkage from scratch with all original content. I then had a meeting with my supervisor and our communication and marketing team to discuss the correct use of our branding and what they thought of it overall. I got positive feedback, so I’m currently working on expanding the content and adding more features. I also do quite a bit of volunteer recruitment for our other older adults programs. On Thursdays, I help out at one of our organization’s many food pantries. Thousands of food gets delivered and I help unload and organize it to be ready for shoppers. It’s an amazing process to witness.

I also meet with a small caseload of older adult clients that live alone on a biweekly basis. These visits are mostly just talking to them, making sure they are safe in their homes, ensuring they have network of support, and letting them show me countless pictures of their grandchildren. One of my clients always brings a thermos of coffee and an atlas and we talk about the places we’ve both travelled. “Now show me where that is on the map.” She’ll say. Spending the first few hours of my day having coffee, slowing down, and just talking with someone who doesn’t have anyone to talk to is a very humbling experience. It challenges me to connect with someone very different than I and makes me realize the power in simple conversation.

 

on the road.

“And there are moments, moments of true awe, for that is the only word I can think of that begins to explain the awareness and gratitude I felt of the world around me, as is was just me and the unknown.” – excerpt from my journal

Traveling through cities, plains, mountains, and deserts, I became more aware of the impact that my environment had on my mental state, when there was not any other person affecting my mindset. I had new thoughts, thoughts brought on solely by my own previous thoughts. I still maintained my appreciation and gratitude for the perspectives of others, but for this week it was only mine; how I saw what’s around me and the thoughts that came about from my environment. As I continued on my trip for five days, my perspective shifted greatly. I remember being in Utah felt completely different than being in Colorado and even more different than being in Iowa, not just the physical surroundings changing but also my mind shifting making it seem like weeks had passed when it had been just days. Let me explain.

I had a lot of expectations going into this trip because some of my closest friends have gone on solo trips across the US and had told me many magical stories about their own personal growth in the process. It was also the first segment of a very huge change in my life. I see what they are saying now, but what I wasn’t considering before is that growth is the product of struggle and mental challenge. Growth also doesn’t just come to you, you have to seek it out sometimes and really challenge yourself to see growth even during temporary negative emotions.

When I was on the road, I experienced moments of intense anxiety at times. There were moments, sometimes hours where I worried about putting so many miles on my car and all the trust that I was required to put into something that I had no control of and very little knowledge of how to fix if something did go wrong. Desolation scared me. I would drive for hundreds of miles without a single exit or even a gas station. Through deserts and mountains, sometimes my cell phone service would disappear and the thought of being stranded often crossed my mind and terrified me. Loneliness on the road was not something I experienced much to my surprise, however, sometimes when I would see the first glimpse of a distant mountain range after miles of driving through the plains, I would be hit with a wave of rejuvenation and light. This was something that I craved to share with someone else. When I had the privilege of hiking through the Rocky Mountains and seeing an emerald lake in the clearing, I felt so much joy and gratitude and I wanted to share that with someone else because it was almost too much for one person, I was bursting with awe at my surroundings. As I look back at those moments in reflection, I think that I was beginning to gain an understanding of our psychological and human need for others in our lives. Combining this understanding with the fact that solitude can be a transformational activity that is beneficial in truly understanding one’s sense of self.  This idea was one of my biggest take-aways from the trip, teaching myself how to create and use my own power while also loving the parts of myself that truly loved taking on this human experience with other humans. It is a balance and I think solitude teaches you about how to show up in the presence of others without becoming dependent.

I truly had to work on self-reflection, being kind to myself, and listening to my needs. Gaining an understanding of what was uncomfortable for me and learning how to validate myself instead of depending on someone else for reassurance when things were difficult. Telling myself that it was okay to be scared. Expressing gratitude towards myself for being brave. Understanding that I felt better in the mornings, under the morning sky I was most content, and making adjustments to my schedule so that I maximized my time during the sunrise. Analyzing what had a negative impact on my mindset. Allowing myself to experience longing for people back home. In a world where instant gratification is an easy path to fall into, understanding that identifying negative emotions won’t make them disappear but instead to think about all they are, what led up to them, and feeling them fully. I am still working on all of these things but being alone on the road initiated a new mindset for me that was incredibly valuable for moving across the country where everything was changing.

To end, I will elaborate on all of the amazing moments on my trip because they definitely outnumbered the negative ones. All in all, planning and carrying out a solo road trip of 2,676 miles from start to finish, is incredibly EMPOWERING. It took awhile for me to realize this but I remember the exact moment where it hit me that I had come so far and I did it all myself. I had just entered Utah and the sky was a brilliant shade of light blue without a single cloud, the sun beat down on my skin through open windows and the mountain air poured into my lungs. I had my music up loudly, hair blowing around in every direction, and that’s where I found it: my power. I threw my hands out the window and waved them in the wind, a huge smile on my face because I was doing it. I think about this moment often, when I know I have to do something difficult. I remember that power and my ability to take on challenging tasks and suddenly it’s not so hard, the world isn’t as intimidating as I’ve made it out to be.

why I have to go.

Growth. Let’s talk about it.

What does growth look like? What form does is take?

Growth is gradual. Growth happens slowly. Growth is nonlinear. Growth feels uncomfortable at times. Growth is an experience subjective to the individual, often misunderstood by others. Growth requires courage.

Growth is essential for whole-hearted living. 

I am getting ready for a big change. I have decided to pack up my things and drive my 2007 Toyota Corolla across the country, over 2,000 miles to Portland, Oregon and live for a year in a new place, in a new job, and with new people. I have been in love with the idea of living in Portland since I first visited over a year ago and I considered many different options for my move. I considered going to graduate school at Portland State, applied to all kinds of jobs in Portland, spent hours searching for housing options, and I felt intimidated by the process. There is a lot to think about when planning a cross-country move by yourself.

I started thinking about the root of this dream in the first place. I wasn’t in love with the idea of going to grad school, I was in love with the idea of moving to Portland: a weird, lovable city in the Pacific Northwest with mountain views, urban forests, and quirky people. I was in love with the idea of challenging myself by being alone for awhile, outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to lose my inspiration that I had gained from studying social work and I was ready to begin working in my field. I wanted an opportunity to experience living outside of the midwest. My four years in college taught me that I thrive in a challenging environment. I thrive in change.

I’ve decided to serve a year with AmeriCorps where I will be working for Metropolitan Family Services. I will be part of a team of inspiring individuals with the following vision:

“A world where children never go hungry, young people are always educated, families are financially stable, older adults remain connected and all humans are healthy, happy and cared for.” 

I am excited to be living in a new place where my explorative and mountain-loving personality will never be bored. I am also excited for the opportunity to live this vision everyday.

I am beyond excited for this new start. But it was also hard. It took hours of planning, phone interviews, and perfecting my road trip route. Leaving home is also hard. As excited and ready as I am to go, I love home and it makes me sad to leave behind those closest to me.

My life has taught me so far that growth requires courage so I’m taking off — scared but ready.

 

This is something I have been in love with for a few years now. ❤️✨

 

visualizing our power.

I find myself struggling with conflict surrounding the power differential that is present in many aspects of my life. First, let me explain what I mean by power differential. Sometimes this power differential is clear, visible and takes the form of a hierarchical structure in the workplace. A manager has more power than their employees; this is a fact. However, sometimes this power differential is assumed by me, made up, and incorrect. I assume to have less power than my peers, strangers I meet on the street whom I know nothing about, and almost anyone I interact with. I start with the idea that I am less than this person I am interacting with. This causes interactions to be artificial because as I converse with this individual, I cater my words towards what I think they want to hear, what would help me gain power. This situation creates a new conflict in my mind because I know that I personally value authenticity. Artificial interactions are not authentic. Whether this assumed lack of power comes from little experience, our appearance, our age, our financial situation, or just a general desire to please others, it is dangerous.

How can I create meaningful relationships when this power struggle takes over?

I cannot.

What I’ve noticed is that this power differential can begin to burrow deep down into my identity. It comes out in how I carry myself and how I identify with my sense of self. This can be very damaging. It can lead to unhealthy relationships and the acceptance of treatment that is harmful to us. It can prevent growth and true expression, both of which I value tremendously.

I have studied how to understand my perspective of my own power and have realized that I am not alone in these feelings. I know that I will have greater success if I approach situations with the mindset that I have power within me. I know that if I can validate my own power, I will be able to create more meaningful relationships and live a more authentic life which is something I know many people strive for, including myself.

In order to begin to visualize our own power, I think that having a positive sense of self is the first step. Spending time with ourselves and our thoughts can help us to analyze exactly what kinds of thoughts we’re having. We might notice that our thoughts are negative, that we rarely express gratitude towards that truly magnificent beings that we are, or that we have a cynical view of the world. A friend of mine informed me about this self-gratitude exercise that I think is very beneficial. All it is is simply taking a moment when you’re all alone to think about the many elements that make up who you are and draw attention to them. You can think about your physical attributes, such as your feet and legs. Think about their power to take you all over the world. Think about their power to climb the stairs everyday and pedal your bike and dance through your hallway. Maybe you’ve hated on them before because they are not long and tan and model-like but take a moment to think about their ability that is often taken for granted. You can do that with other non-physical attributes as well such as your ability to express empathy or your own ability to have emotions. Without that ability it would be impossible to build relationships or become close to other humans. Expressing emotions help us to become more self-aware of ourselves and our needs.  Now think about your eyes and all the joy they bring you from seeing all kinds of sites and colors. Think about your ears and the pleasure we get to experience from hearing sounds of nature and sounds of music. I am getting carried away here and this post is beginning to sound like a self-love/gratitude post but I firmly believe that they are all tied together. The more time we spend creating a positive sense of self, the more we will refer to that sense when interacting with others. They more positively we view ourselves when we are by ourselves, the more we create a more powerful image of ourself that shows up in conversation with others.

I am in no way an expert in this. Those closest to me know that I can be a powerless, people-pleaser. I know this; it is why I’ve chosen to focus this post on the idea. Even as I am writing this post, I am thinking about my questions of it’s validity. Will others like it? Will they be able to relate to it? Is it overly positive/ a cliché? Am I qualified to give out this “advice”? Does it make sense? Then I challenge myself to remember my brain and its multitude of abilities. I talk to myself in a positive manner. I validate my thoughts just as much as I question them. I have the power to express my ideas, thoughts, and opinions, regardless of what others think.

Visualizing our power is the first step to believing that we are powerful. It is a journey. We will struggle. We will have moments of powerlessness as well as moments when we feel powerful. I am working on visualizing my own power and improving my sense of self. I hope you do the same today. fullsizeoutput_e20

Much love,

Allison

human closeness.

The Texas heat left me glistening under the shallow ceilings of a concert venue created from the remnants of an old church in Austin. The place had been divided up inexplicably into several different rooms and it was easy to lose your bearings or get lost. The walls were covered in colorful artwork that was beautifully fascinating but made the space feel even smaller than it was.  A band was playing. The backdrop of the stage was a chromatic display of colored lights shining through oil and water which created a kaleidoscopic pattern that seemed to complement the bands obscure music. The music was mostly just background brain noise for me at this point in the day. I was distracted by conversation, people-watching, and the many sights of this unique place which I found myself in. It was near midnight on a March night where we had spent all day exploring several different music venues throughout Austin, listening to bands I had never heard of but quickly loved, dancing, talking, hugging, sweating, and dancing some more. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute; I wanted more than anything to just keep going but I could feel my body’s need for rest seeping into my body and moving my limbs felt a little more difficult. The days before were spent non-stop traveling and moving and going and it had left me feeling exhausted, but in a very satisfying way, like I had been living so fully that I had used up all of my bodies resources in the process. I could feel the activities of the day wearing on my body in the form of a subtle ache in my legs. I felt as though today was the length of three normal days; my memories of this morning seemed a week prior.

It suddenly all became too much. I looked around for an exit to take a breath of fresh air. After wandering through a myriad of hallways and coming up only to dead ends, I ran into my good friend, arguably the best of friends: Patrick. I was surprised to see him because our group had gotten split up in the convoluted space, with some people in one room talking to each other, some people starting conversations with new people they had just met, and some people outside in an eclectic looking garden area with a selection of random outdoor furniture painted all different colors. I looked up at him and said that I just needed a moment of quiet outside so that I could breathe. He had ran into me in passing and I expected him to continue walking the other direction, but he said “Yes. Me too. Let’s go outside.”

We walked to one of our group’s cars that we had made the long drive in. There was evidence that the car had been lived out of for the past few days, but the silence that I knew was awaiting inside was appealing to me. I sat in the driver’s seat and Patrick sat in the passenger seat next to me and both looked out into the dark night. We were both silent for the longest time, not in a painful way but in the way that suggested we had mentally communicated our simultaneous need for this time to simply process the events that had taken place earlier in the day. After a long period of silence, I was already feeling better. Leaving the sounds and sights of the venue and entering the dark and silent night was exactly what my overstimulated brain needed. More than that though was the comfort I found in the presence of another human in that moment, sitting in silence in a dirty car in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. This moment refueled me. It nourished my tired brain. I explained to Patrick that I hadn’t expected feeling so drained during this trip but as I compiled mentally the events that has ensued the past few days, I realized that it made complete sense to be tired right now but it disappointed me at the same time. I wanted to keep the energy that I had pulled from each show, each conversation with my friends, each new place I had seen.

It is impossible to sustain that level of energy. This small moment reminded me of an often underutilized resource that most everyone has access to: other humans. I realized how much I need other people,  people that are accepting of all you are as a person, someone whom you can be truly vulnerable with. This moment of human closeness had such an immense positive impact on my physical and mental wellbeing that it felt like a wave of calmness covered my anxious mind. I sifted through many of my best and worst moments in life. I brought to mind embracing my closest friends and family members in the light of my successes or defeats, dancing under the lights of new cities with my best friends, even running through my backyard as a child with my sisters. Although solitude is endlessly valuable, the experience of struggling in the presence of another human is essential, we are wired for this kind of inextricable human connection.

This moment grounded me. As I sat next to another living, breathing person, a person that I valued and loved, I held on to every detail of the moment as it was happening. I wanted to hold onto this moment so that I could refer to it later, when I was alone. My friend, Patrick remained a solid and grounding force throughout the rest of that trip and continues to be in my life, even in moments for me that are truly challenging and painful but also for the beautiful moments as well.

After returning home from that trip, I found myself feeling melancholy. The sadness of returning to school and work combined with the let down of ending an incredible and life-changing trip left me depressed. I was a social work intern for a hospice organization which even on a good day was emotionally challenging work. I was making a visit with one of my favorite patients, Naomi, a 101 year old woman with a low functioning memory due to dementia but a high level of sass. I approached Naomi and her wheelchair seemed to engulf her tiny, frail body. She was uncharacteristically quiet that day and wasn’t telling me outrageous stories like she normally did. I sat there with her and reflected back to my moment of silence in Austin. I will try this here, I thought. I held Naomi’s hand gently, so that she knew I was there. “We’ll just sit here,” I said. “I’m right here. You don’t have to say anything.” I hoped that Naomi was able to experience the comfort that I had felt with the presence of Patrick back in Austin. Although she didn’t say anything for the rest of our visit, I left with the feeling that somehow my presence had improved her day, even for just a moment. As I left the nursing home where she lived, I was hit with a negative thought that I had often while working for hospice, “Am I making a difference?” But then I remembered Naomi’s tiny, wrinkled hand in mine and walked out to my car knowing that a moment can make a difference, especially when your moments are numbered.

implications of observing.

I identify myself as an observer. I often find myself watching more than participating. I find enjoyment in analyzing human interactions and discovering subcultures. I think it’s why I spend a lot of time in public places, even if I don’t necessarily interact with anyone. If I have a few hours, I’m more likely to go to a coffee shop or the library or ride the bus downtown than to stay at home. There are probably multiple reasons for this. One could be that going somewhere subconsciously makes me feel as if I’m being productive with my time, a sense of accomplishment in a way. Whatever the hell your definition of productive is, sometimes to me it’s just doing something with my time that seems intentional. What I mean is that sometimes the effects of an action don’t matter as much as the act of doing something itself. I might go somewhere to write a paper and in two hours I leave with a little less than a page. By many people’s standards, arguably even my own, that time was not productive. However, because I left the house and packed my backpack up and got out my notebook and laptop and fucked around for two hours doing who the hell knows what, I deem this time as productive. I’m not saying this logic isn’t as fucked up as it sounds, but it seems to be how I work.

Another reason for this could be that there is some sort of social value on observing other humans. I don’t think I’m contributing to my social wellbeing simply by showing up in a place where other humans reside. However, I think that being in the presence of other humans who are having their own interactions or working on their own assignments, doing their own work, I seem to absorb their energy as my own. They inspire me to get off my phone and actually write that paper or send those emails.

I think it’ important to note that I mean productive loosely. I simply couldn’t find another word that meant what I was trying to convey but I struggle with the word productive greatly. I’ve written about the concept of productivity before and how our generation’s obsession with productivity has instilled a sense of inadequacy in many of us, including myself. In the context of this article, I mean productive as simply spending my time purposefully.

Back to the point of observation. As odd as it sounds, I love researching sociology. I’m not logically minded so statistics don’t hold a lot of value in my understanding of concepts. We as humans have a very difficult time applying statistics to the human condition. What I mean by this is that when we read statistics, whatever they may be referring to, we see them simply as numbers, not as the humans that those numbers represent. More on this concept in the video link below.

One of the coolest things about sociology research is that it starts seeping into other parts of my life. I find myself applying the social exchange theory to my everyday life. I think about different cultures and the way that they compare to my experiences. I become aware of the interactions between strangers. In my everyday life, as I’m observing the world around me through my personal, very limited lens, I absorb the energy of others and subconsciously add it to my collection of influences and is then later revealed in my own interactions. In this way, I find value in my tendency to leave the house and participate in seemingly meaningless activities. I consider myself, at least partially, an introvert and I find comfort in this idea, that even as I keep to myself, observing interactions of others, I’m somehow still growing.

what I learned about home after leaving home.

Having grown up in a town that is one-third the size of the student population of my university, I made it my aim to reject the small-town stereotype attached to my lifestyle as soon  as I moved to college in Columbus. Freshman year is filled with instances and activities in which one question always emerges: “Where are you from?” I used to debate bending the truth just a little when it came to that question just so I wouldn’t have to mutter the once-deemed longest town name of “Washington Court House” just so it could be instantly followed up by “Where is that?” It would simplify things immensely if I were from Dayton or even Cincinnati, places people know by name. But I never did. So in a sea of young adults all more interesting than I, uttering places such as Phoenix, Cleveland, Boston, Long Island, and Los Angeles, I prepared myself for the response of “It’s a really small town halfway between Columbus and Cincinnati on I-71.” This response opens the door for either further questions such as “How many people were in your graduating class?” or just the simple visual assumption of cornfields and county fairs. Okay, that assumption isn’t wrong. And as much as I enjoy the lights of the city and my access to endless entertainment at my fingertips, I can’t deny that part of me that looked forward to our county fair for months. I can’t forget that little girl who spent her summers outside in the barn telling her 9 year old problems to the cows. That little girl still lives inside of me.

I recently returned home from a 3 week trip to India. In case you’re wondering that’s 8,600 miles from my hometown.  When this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself to me, I, of course, said yes. However,  I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. In fact, my knowledge of Indian geography was at the level of me falsely identifying Dubai as part of the country of India, at the dinner table with my Indian host family, no less. Dubai is actually part of a country known as United Arab Emirates, just in case you may have made the same assumption as me. Anyway, my very limited expectations were shattered and identifying my experiences as “culture shock” would be an understatement. It was when I was in this beautiful, new country that I started thinking about my little home, 8,600 miles away. No, it wasn’t a case of homesickness. It was simply a case of my eyes being opened in a whole new way.

In case you haven’t experienced this feeling, I’ll describe it for you briefly. When you are surrounded by the unknown, and by unknown, I mean the culture couldn’t be more opposite, you acquire a sense of childlike observational abilities. I was able to leave my adult eyes at home, the eyes that see what I expect and grow accustomed to routine and familiarity. I was surprised and even challenged by the most ordinary of tasks and sights. I had to relearn how to take a shower, this time using only a bucket, pitcher, and stream of cold water. As locals hurried past the cows and dogs on the streets, I stopped to take photos, I simply couldn’t believe that cows just wandered around through the crazy traffic. The first time I was in a car in India, I thought it was a near-death experience, only to discover that it was just a day with surprisingly light traffic. Everything was new. Everything was different. And my eyes saw it all. I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. I would often envision in my mind the Earth as a whole and I would mentally zoom in and out, trying to wrap my brain around the distance I had traveled. It’s quite unfortunate that it takes a trip around the world to really see things. This is one of the many reasons that traveling is a priceless endeavor. I acknowledge that is an immense privilege to be able to do it and I consider it one of my biggest blessings.

My trip was quite unlike a typical tourist experience. I was traveling alongside my best friend, who calls Bangalore, India home. I was able to meet many of her family members in several different parts of the country, all of whom provided us with a traditional Indian meal. Each dish was a flashback to my best friend’s childhood. What was new to me, was a familiar home comfort for her. The customs, culture, and food were all part of her version of home, something which I never considered the past three years I have known her; I have only experienced her life in Ohio. This trip reaffirmed my recognition of her courage. I can’t imagine the courage it took to move to another country by yourself in which you know no one.

I began defining the aspects of my home. I came to the realization that home may be a geographical location, but it is mostly defined by a feeling. Home is a place to be comfortable. Home is the beginning of your story. No matter what page of your story you are on now, you must recognize that the first page started wherever it is you call home. And without the people at home, your family, you wouldn’t be where you are today or in the future. So as much as you disagree politically with your family or as much as you’ve grown since leaving home, I think that there is value in acknowledging its significance. It is a very important part of what makes you, you.

I thrive on new experiences and one of my greatest joys in life is discovering new places. I fear stagnancy. I love flying in airplanes. That feeling in your stomach when the plane hits the ground after being in the air for thousands of miles crossing over oceans and continents, gives me an adrenaline rush. I love adventures. But I also love home, and there is nothing wrong with that.

 

Stay curious, fellow blog readers 🙂

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime. -Mark Twain

what is content? 

Our society has instilled in us a certain value on productivity. It has reached a point where we feel shame when we aren’t stressed to the point of breaking down. If we’re not struggling, we’re not doing enough. It’s the reason I feel guilty for sleeping in. It is the reason that some majors are shamed for not being marketable or not leading to a job with a six figure salary. It is the reason that the majority of our population is sleep deprived. It is the reason that so many people start the year with a resolution to be better. This idea thrives in our world because comparison is so readily available. Mediums for comparison are at our finger tips. They are flashed in our face through marketing campaigns and advertisements. You can’t open your phone without comparing your life to those you follow on Instagram and Facebook. 

I was thinking the other day about what it means to be content. And I came to the conclusion that; we aren’t. We’re never content. It is such a rarity that it escapes many of our daily lives. In this world of “never enough”, we’ve lost sight of content. Maybe it’s because content seems so far away from most of us. We think that if we just get a better car or a nicer house or a promotion, that then we will be content. But in my self-reflection of defining content, I discovered that content can’t happen in the future. The very nature of content is present tense. Content is saying “There is no place I’d rather be than right here in this moment.” Content involves accepting exactly where you are and realizing that you are happy. When I really thought about content, I discovered that my version of content actually has nothing to do with money or material items, sometimes content can’t even be represented with tangible things. Content, to me, is taking in a view of a place I’ve never seen before. Content is walking down the streets of downtown Columbus. Content is spending time with quality friends, without having having to rush off anywhere. Content is a conversation in which nothing is held back, an expression of real, raw emotion. Content is fresh air or a walk outside. Content is perfection within the imperfection. Content is listening to your latest favorite song. Content is a really good hug. Content is, actually, not that far away. I think we can be content everyday. But maybe we have to try a little bit. I challenge you to find what it is that makes you content. What is it that you have right now that makes you content? Find it. It’s there. But our world can be overwhelmingly scary and dark. So instead of falling into its trap of hopelessness, find your content. 

when you’re 21.

When you’re 21 you can feel lost. You can feel like you don’t really know who you are or what you want to do. You can feel like you’ve come so far but are nowhere near where you want to be. You can feel so small. You can feel intimidated just by walking down the street. You can feel like you still have to prove your worth to the world. You can feel completely alone. 

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent contemplating these thoughts. And I always conclude with confusion. I never really come up with any answers. This is just a phase of my life, I guess. There will be a point in my life when I don’t feel these things. When I don’t get nervous sick going into a job interview. When I don’t live in an old, un-air conditioned house with four roommates and no front door. When I don’t get scared by adults. When I don’t feel like I have to justify all of my personal decisions.  When I don’t have to mentally debate every purchase I ever make. At least I think that time will come. But even if it does, I’m sure every age has its difficulties and I’m doing my best to enjoy the positives that 21 brings. 

And as overwhelming as these thoughts can be, I think I have more answers than I originally thought. Yes, defining myself is hard. It’s also unnecessary. But even if I don’t know exactly who I am, I know what I’m not. Have you ever noticed that that there are some, many even, types of people that we know we could never be? I’m not that confused. I know I am not going to a lawyer, law school would chew me up and spit me out. I know I would never survive in the corporate business world. I know I would never tolerate half of the relationships my friends are in, in which they claim to be ‘in love’. I know I could never reside in a place where there aren’t lots of people and lots of things happening all of the time. I know I don’t want to have the same job or live in the same place for my whole life. I know that I will never be able to perfectly parallel park. I know that I will never stop loving ice cream or cereal, even though I know they have lots of carbs. I know that I will never stop wanting to see as much of the world as I possibly can. I know that I don’t ever want to stop writing, even if I never publish the book I dream of writing. I know that I will never stop relating to my dog more than I relate to most people. I know that I will never stop requiring adequate amounts of alone time. I know that I’ll never have myself completely figured out. 

I do think I’ve gotten better though. I remember when I was a freshman in college and the pressure to define yourself in a way that other people liked and understood was at an all-time high. I was in a new place. People didn’t know my high school reputation or really anything about me. It was a clean slate. How did I want to be perceived? I remember struggling a lot with this. I pretended to be having fun when I really wasn’t. I had a lot of surface-level friends that didn’t stay in my life for long. I started imitating what I was surrounded by instead of figuring out myself. I had a turn-around the summer after I completed one year at Ohio State. After many conversations with my parents in which I explained that I was simply unhappy, I decided to change my major after contemplating options as drastic as taking a year off from college. My sophomore year, things changed. And sometimes it wasn’t easy, because when college is so expensive there is a lot of pressure to know exactly what you want to do. But for one semester, I had no fucking idea. And it was so great. I enjoyed learning again. I eventually figured it out and I am so thankful for this transitional period. 

And maybe 21 is just a transitional period. And I know that one day I will look back and, even if things are completely different, I will be thankful for this time. 

“Do your thing. Do it unapologetically. Don’t be discouraged by criticism. You probably already know what they are going to say. Pay no mind to the fear of failure. It’s far more valuable than success. Take ownership, take chances, and have fun. And no matter what, don’t ever stop doing your thing.” – Asher Roth

carrot sticks and cold brew coffee. 

“This has to be an interesting post with a name like that,” is what I know you’re thinking. Well, really, I just happen to be eating carrot sticks and drinking cold brew coffee at the time of writing this post, so I guess you could say they were the inspiration behind this forthcoming collection of thoughts. Please keep reading anyway. 

You know that period of time before you are about to do something you’ve never done? You start imagining what this new adventure is going to be like. You think of how it’s going to make you feel, what it’s going to look like, the setting, the atmosphere, and the vibes of this new place. You think about what you’ll wear and what you’ll do. We spend all of this time imagining but we’re always wrong. Maybe not about everything, but there is going to be something that happens on this new adventure that you weren’t expecting. And there’s no way to prepare. There is no possible way to imagine or predict correctly this human experience. Should you stop trying to imagine? I could tell you that but I know I couldn’t. My imagination never really slowed down from the time I was 5 to now. Maybe that’s just an Allison-ism but my mind could keep imagining endlessly. I try to imagine situations and places that are no where close to anything I could possibly predict. And I’m always surprised because reality shatters my dreams. This sounds so negative but I don’t mean it in that way. I mean that the more you imagine, the more you are surprised. This is why I love imagining and also adventuring. I love having my expectations shattered and I love seeing and feeling things that I could’ve never imagined.

Maybe I should clarify my definition of adventure. Adventure, to me, is something, anything, that is new to you. It could be as simple as taking a different route to class or walking through a city you’ve never been to. It can be starting a new job or ordering something new at a restaurant. And although some adventures aren’t life-changing, they’re essential to making your life interesting.  

My dad used to always tell me I lived in my own little world. And maybe that was because I spent more time in tee ball games picking flowers in the outfield or looking at the clouds. Or maybe it’s because during my ballet lessons as a child, my mom would sit outside and hear the instructor say “Allison! Pay attention!” countless times in every lesson. But he says this still, even after my attention span has improved beyond the limits of a five year old. Even now, as I sit in class as a college student, I’d be lying if I said that I sat in class for three hours and listened attentively and took notes the whole time. That’s not how I work. I almost have to be imagining the concepts I’m learning and their place in my life and the lives of others. I learn best when I can apply a concept to something specific and easy to remember, like a story, rather that a list of vocabulary or theories. This is helpful in most classes but in others I sometimes have to force my distracted imagination to stop for awhile, which is so hard to do. This is why I can’t tell you how to calculate enthalpy change using Hess’ Law or the valence electron configuration of any of the transitional elements. I somewhat understood these topics at some point during chemistry my freshman year, but they have long left my brain. I can’t even blame my imagination on this one, I’m just really bad at chemistry.

But going back to imagination, I think it’s place in my life makes me who I am. And maybe I spend too much time with it. But I definitely spend time in the real world too. I understand that there is hurting and suffering happening all around me. I understand, or at least am beginning to understand, the current state of our world and the need for change. And there is so much that I don’t understand still, and I recognize this. But even in my “daydreamer” life, I am far from a naive millennial that I’m often assumed to be. Using imagination can be a strength too. The real world is known for kicking your ass. And if you spend too much time there, you will get burnt out. Imagination is place to escape without actually leaving your house. So, keep dreaming, people. I mean it. Even if you think I’m crazy. 

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” – Lewis Carroll