thinking

My life as a traveler

I never finished my posts recapping my trip to Nepal. That trip, save for a bout of food poisoning that hit during my 30-plus hours on flights and in airports on the way back to Texas, was incredible. Seeing Everest from a plane was incredible. Becoming friends with the people I met on that trip was incredible. But then I just felt uninspired writing about it. Like writing about it somehow took the trip away from me.

I went to Nepal in December 2015. I went to Taiwan and the Philippines (Boracay, specifically) in October 2016. Then I was in Guanajuato, Mexico, in January; Medellín, Colombia, in February; and Antigua, Guatemala, in March of this year. Thanks to my location-independent job, my trips to Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala were for the full month each – I worked full-time during those jaunts abroad.

Even with all the travel and adventures, I still had no desire to write. I journaled a little. But no blogging. My domain renewal notice came up, and I let it expire. This blog just sat. Dormant.

I’m going to Peru in September for a much-needed vacation. I’ll share photos on Instagram, as I have with my previous trips; where words have refused to flow, my photos helped me tell the stories.

Everest, Nepal. December 2015

My search history would show you my efforts to figure out if I can work abroad again sometime soon. Paris. London, maybe. Berlin? Or Frankfurt? Tel Aviv looks incredible. As does Dahab, Egypt. And I found out about this place in Tanzania…

That’s when I push my computer away and tilt my head back, eyes closed. This always happens. I start with a potential location – for vacation, to work remotely, to live – and then zoom out of the map little by little to explore more options until entire continents fill the screen and I’m overwhelmed.

The world, and the possibilities within it, is overwhelming.

I tried to quell that feeling of being overwhelmed by places to go by moving to Taiwan in August 2010. This site was born not long after; I’d started a listserv called Mandy’s Pushpins to keep friends and family updated on my life abroad. When that listserv turned out to be a pain to maintain, I bit the bullet and signed up for WordPress. I wrote regularly about my life in Taiwan, the trips I took in the two years I lived abroad, and how I handled coming back two years later on September 1, 2012.

(Spoiler alert: I didn’t handle it well.)

Then this blog became my personal space for feelings, some of which should have stayed in my journal, I’m sure. When I settled in Dallas and tried to join the dating scene there, the name of this site should’ve changed from Mandy Travels to Mandy Dates. Instead it became “Mandy travels… and stuff”.

“Stuff” is a vague word. It’s the kind of word you throw around when you’re not sure what word you actually want. And that signified where I was at the time. I wasn’t sure want I wanted. I’m still not sure what I want.

“Hey, Mandy. What are you doing with your life?”

“Oh, stuff.”

Boracay, the Philippines. November 2016

In order to better shape what I meant by “stuff”, I did what I tend to do when I get antsy: I moved. Thanksgiving of 2015 found me on the road with a U-haul full of the belongings that survived the great cull of 2015. Northern San Diego County, I decided, was where I’d figure out my life. Dating, exploring – LIFE – was going to happen. I was finally going to feel like I had my act together.

The itch started again about six months ago. It’s inescapable, powerful, and not necessarily something I’m happy about. Even my mom, as we talked on the phone Sunday evening, asked if it was coming back. I told her I wasn’t ready to leave, which is true, but that I’d started thinking about it. And, for the first time, that I was torn about moving.

This past Wednesday night I had a very “hippie California” experience, and that’s when everything seemed to become clearer.

I went to see a friend who practices Eastern Medicine. As I rested on the table, we talked about my physical aches, and with my guidance she poked, pinched, and prodded before administering acupuncture needles. My right knee and foot were a mess, which I expected. When she moved to my head without my prompting, I lay quietly. She put one in my left ear.

“What’s that one for?” I asked.

“Anxiety,” she said.

Guanajuato, Mexico. January 2017

The needling itself hurt very little. But randomly I’d really feel a needle. My eyes were closed, but I knew exactly where each needle was, especially when a particular one kind of… pulsed. My body was relaxed, but every few minutes it felt like a charge of some sort coursed through it. Not electricity – more like my body was adjusting and resetting back to how it should be. It was a wave of energy that gently passed as I lay there with a dozen tiny needles sticking out of me.

Lindsey asked how I was, and I told her what I was feeling. It was normal, she assured me. She then stepped out so I could just be. I asked if I could fall asleep, but even with her permission it didn’t happen.

Two minutes after she stepped out, I teared up. No warning, no reason, just tears in my closed eyes that eventually made their way down my cheekbones. I wasn’t sad. At the time, my mind was fairly blank. She let me be there, alone and responsibility-free, for roughly 20 minutes.

When I left, I felt good. Tired. Since I was close and the sunset looked promising, I made my way to my favorite beach, where a wooden set of stairs takes people down to a local surf spot. The tide was up, so onlookers stayed on the stairs, and there were over a dozen people in the water catching the last waves of the day.

 

The sunset was beautiful, but I was fascinated watching the surfers. They would casually launch into a wave, none of which were larger than a few feet. At the end of their run, each surfer would fall into the water.

What brought me immense joy was how they fell. It wasn’t a graceful hop or dive. Legs splayed, most of the surfers crashed into the ocean on their backs or sides in a full surrender. They’d resurface, violently shake their hair out of their faces, pull themselves back onto their boards, and paddle out to the next wave.

One let out a gleeful, surprised yell as he crashed out. From 100 yards up, I watched and laughed.

Several surfers surfing at sunset. San Diego. July 2017

I realized at that moment that I’d love to be as in-tune with the ocean as those surfers were. But I’m not a surfer. As the night went on, I realized what causes my antsy moves and my near-constant wanderlust.

Most people describe themselves with an -er. Hiker, biker, entrepreneu(e)r, surfer, mother, father, homeowner, volunteer, shopper, skier. Even the non-ers, like wife or husband, still have a way they identify themselves. And where they live needs to fit them.

I struggle with feeling like I fit in. In Dallas I wasn’t a wife or mother, a shopper, or a proud Texan. In Southern California I’m not a surfer or hiker. All I know to use to identify myself is “traveler”. I don’t have many other -ers that feel right. And when a traveler cannot travel, they get antsy. Since I want a home base in the States, that complicated things a bit, too; otherwise I’d hop place to place and be a permanent digital nomad.

There are two key steps to take now. The first is that I need to adapt better. I’m in one of the vacation capitals of the country, and I need to take advantage of that and try everything it has to offer. I might find another -er here. In fact, it’s highly likely I will. But that takes more effort than I’m currently putting forth.

The second step is to be able to afford to travel. That means making hard decisions and committing to some major lifestyle changes. At least, I think it does.

Flying over Los Angeles

As far as this blog goes, I’m not ready to delete it. I considered it multiple times over the last year, but I don’t feel done with it. For a while I thought I wanted to become a travel blogger, and I was going to use this as my launching point. I even contacted Intrepid Travel, the company I used for my trip to Nepal, and let them know I was blogging about my trip. I’m now connected to a couple people from Intrepid on Twitter, but nothing else came of it.

It’s taken time, but I realized I don’t really want to be a travel blogger. Nomadic Matt does a fine job, but a lot of travel blogs are just content for the sake of content (and popularity) (and free, touristy trips). If I see one more faked photo or fluff piece about a place, I will do nothing of consequence, but I’ll be annoyed.

Really, the travel blog “industry” shouldn’t bother me. I think the frustration comes from thinking for years that it was my dream job. When a long-term dream fizzles out, you start to wonder if you’ll ever figure out what you want to do.

I still want to tell stories. Hopefully my stories help someone somehow. I don’t know. But I need to figure out a new name for this site, because “Mandy travels” isn’t my entire life, and “Mandy travels… and stuff” is such lazy copywriting.

I’ll figure it out.

(Now it’s “No time for regrets”. We’ll see if that stays. I kind of miss “Mandy travels” already. The tagline, “Figuring out life by running directly at it”, stays.)

For now, it feels good to have written again. I wasn’t sure I could still do it, to be honest. Cory Richards, a photographer who has worked extensively with National Geographic, puts it well.

I can go months without touching my camera. Most of what I make is garbage. I’m relentlessly hard on myself for not shooting more. I’m often paralyzed by the fear that if I make something, it will suck. I can sit for months in despair without ever making a single image. I’ve struggled the last two years with photography… but occasionally it rises new again in a moment of surrender and I remember why I love this so much. I don’t have to be prolific to be passionate. But I do have to show up.

I need to show up. Find my -ers, find out how I can travel more, find ways to tell more stories, and find the time to write. It’s up to me to make it happen.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s talk for a second about what I fear.

I fear I’ll always live paycheck to paycheck and will always feel tethered to my debt.

I fear I’ll be single forever. Just the other day my crush walked past me, and I stared so hard at the ceiling I almost levitated. For as extroverted as I can act, I’m shy around men I don’t know. People who are single have to take responsibility for their part in their singledom, and that’s a large part of mine. See man, hide face! He looked at me – gah! Abort, abort, abort!

I fear I’ll die with regrets. My passport will be too empty and my experiences exploring my own country will be too few. I won’t ever feel true fulfillment with my career. That if I do have a book inside of me, I’ll never write it. That I didn’t tell that one person that one thing because I was worried what they’d think of me.

I fear people (will) pity me for being single. “Such a great girl, but never found love. It’s just so sad.”

Okay. There’s the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure I have more fears, but I can’t think of them all right now. We all have plenty of them; any self-respecting overthinker has more than her fair share.

In the short-term, I’m scared of my move to San Diego. Of the trip I just booked. (Which, I’ll be honest, I’m 50/50 scared and excited every time I book a trip. Doesn’t matter where or how long or with whom.) Of my triathlon next month. Of being so active but uninsured.

So let’s get something straight: I have just as many fears as everyone else. Possibly more. I freak out. I’ve had anxiety attacks. Ever had one of those? Mine started when I was trying to figure out my move from Taiwan back to the States, but I had the most severe one of my life after my former boss fired me over the phone earlier this year. They pop up every now and again.

I hear all the time about how brave I am. People are proud of me for having the courage to do something. I inspire them to take risks in their own lives. And when they are actually inspired, and actually follow through on their big scary goals because they saw me do it, that’s awesome.

Most of the time, though, when someone calls me brave, I feel like a giant fraud. I feel like I’ve been put up on some kind of weird pedestal I don’t deserve.

There’s nothing special about me, my friends. I’m scared, too.

But my biggest fear of all is letting fear run my life. Fear can become an idol, a controlling god, and if you give it power and allow it to control you, it will take over. It will consume you. It will disable you. It will throw you into a depression and make you feel you’ve lost control over your own life.

Most people aren’t completely paralyzed by this demon of self-imposed weakness. That’s good.

What’s not good is how fear keeps people from doing what they know, in the depths of their soul, they need to do. Moving. Being comfortable in their singlehood. Finding a new job. Saying yes. Saying no. Saying stop it. Telling someone how they really feel. Going to therapy. Making that big decision that will change everything. All kinds of -ings.

I’m not belittling anyone facing any of that. Because I’m standing right beside you. You’ve got your fears, I’ve got mine. Let’s hold hands and figure this out.

I manage my fears in a number of ways. My faith helps, especially because I believe God has a sense of humor; I realize I’ll look back on my current fears and laugh at myself. My family and friends help, to, especially because they’ll let me act out my little monologue of despair and then, once I’ve gotten it out of my system, talk me off the stage.

What helps most, especially in long-term management of my fear, is realizing I’ve made whatever it is out to be much larger, much more life-altering, and far more impactful than how it will truly be. Sometimes fear is warranted, but most of the time it’s just self-doubt.

I am not brave. Bravery requires staring down death and acting despite it. I’ve never done that.

I’m just a realist. That fear about living paycheck to paycheck and always having debt – it’s probably true, but I’m not suffering for it. My debt was incurred by traveling or by doing things that bring me joy. My debt, though it seems I’ll be paying it down perpetually, has given me a better quality of life. I’m not drowning. I have control. So… yeah.

That bit about being afraid of being single, and of being a total failure at flirting: I’m doing fine as a single woman. I know what I want in a man, so I’m pushing to be that kind of woman, and the more I become that woman and get to know people in those circles, the happier I am. And for as long as I’m single, I’ll be selfish and do what I want. I’ll move to San Diego. I’ll take trips to places most people don’t want to go. I’ll focus on my career, my friends, my hobbies, my physique.

Do I get lonely? Don’t be an idiot. Of course I do. But the times I’m lonely are generally the times I’ve allowed myself to wallow. I was wallowing earlier this week, so I called my mom, had her help me give myself permission to spend money on a trip, and then booked a trip to Nepal that night.

As for the whole flirting thing, I’m just really hoping that someday I actually levitate.

The final two fears I have, of having regrets and of people pitying me, I take care of by trying to say Yes as often as possible. How else was I talked into doing triathlons, half marathons, moving abroad, eating chicken feet, trying speed dating, doing Whole30, taking last-minute trips, and getting tattoos? Either someone else asked me to, and I said yes, or my crazy brain came up with some harebrained idea and I decided to make it work.

All that keeps me busy enough that most people, at least to my face, don’t pity me for being alone. I think it’s because they realize I’m not alone. I’m just single.

So there’s my long-winded secret. I have just as many fears as the next person. I’m not brave, and that’s a rumor that needs to go away because it’s unfair to actual brave people. I just manage my fears.

After all, really and truly: What’s the worst that could happen?

The Art of Being Demoted

“You’re not being fired,” he said.

“We’re outsourcing marketing,” he said.

“We definitely want to keep you,” he said.

In January, after two years with the company and two promotions, I was promoted to Director of Marketing. I sat on the management team and advised on whatever marketing needs came up. In February I felt a shift happening, which quickly worsened, and I tried to find out what the problem was. On Monday, March 16, I was demoted and told they were getting rid of my department altogether.

“We’d like you to move into Account Management,” he said.

no

He was asking me to move from a writing-intensive, marketing-focused position I loved, one that was propelling my career forward, to a position that had nothing to do with my career path. I felt gutted.

Being demoted – or rather, having your department, of which you are the sole member, obliterated – makes you feel useless. All the time I spent studying industry magazines, doing research, compiling data, examining Excel files, organizing binders and files full of information. All the time I spent learning more about my work and figuring out ways to make it better. Everything I did as a member of the marketing department felt like it was unwanted, punched with a “YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp.

I’m good at what I do. When you can point out errors and explain why they’re objectively wrong, that must mean you know what you’re talking about, right? I do freelance work for two different agencies, and they both love me.

I think I’m good enough. Other people tell me I’m better than good enough. But my department, my job, the past two-point-three-three years of my career were going to be outsourced.

“You’re not good enough.” He didn’t, but might as well have said it.

After being demoted, your position outsourced, you want to angrily reach out to the world and proclaim your indignation to the masses. You want to write long Facebook posts, and update your LinkedIn profile, and tell anyone who will listen about the righteous wrong that’s punched you so hard in the gut you don’t know which way is up.

If you’re me, you get so angry and scared and confused you want to cry. And you do. And it’s the most frustrating thing possible, because no part of you wants to cry: every part wants to kick and scream and throw things.

I threw my business cards into the trash instead of against the wall. Didn’t help.

Blasting the company online won’t help. Talking trash won’t help. Anxiety attacks definitely didn’t help, although I got to have one of those, which was super fun.

no panic

From a business perspective, I understand. I don’t think it was the right decision, but it wasn’t mine to make. Sure, I wanted to march out the doors of the office with middle fingers high and all my files shredded. I didn’t, though.

My anger dissipated. I took that Wednesday off to get my mind right and spare my coworkers from my emotions. I’d accepted the offer to move into the other department, and as I stood over my stove cooking breakfast I felt better. The next day I was set to leave for a week-long trip to Scotland, one I’d been planning for months.

I answered my ringing phone. It was the owner. He was upset with how I’d handled the transition. “Mandy, I think it would be best if this was your last day.”

We hung up, and I stood there, stunned. I quickly called him back and apologized, but it was done. My worst fear – being let go – had come true, and anxiety erupted. Frantic breathing, crying, and shaking took over me, and I could barely stand.

Thankfully, over the course of the day I was able to calm down, go to the office and say goodbye to my coworkers. I apologized and hugged them goodbye. The support I received from family, friends, and colleagues was unbelievable, and by the end of the day I felt fine. A little nervous, but fine.

The anger came back, and I struggled with it for a few weeks. I don’t want anything to happen to the company, and I keep in touch with my former coworkers; they’re amazing people, and I’m grateful I was able to work with them.

After a month the anger finally went away again. This Saturday will mark my one-month Layoffaversary. I’m freelancing, interviewing, and feeling optimistic about the future.

Things are changing. Hopefully I won’t be unemployed for long. I am beyond good enough.

Stuart Smalley

Online dating, chapter 15: an eHarmony reject

In my match settings in eHarmony, I’ve selected California, Colorado, Oregon, Texas, and Washington as acceptable match locations. Since I was primarily getting ministers, I opened up my match preference to “Any Religion”, and set it as “Not at all important”, which meant religion shouldn’t be a factor at all. I have no ethnicity preference. Basically, I’m trying to cast the widest net possible, and in five states, there must be a few good men, right?

So I had zero matches on October 23rd?

So I had zero matches on October 23rd? And only three the following day? Sadness.

eHarmony sends me emails about specific men when we’re “highly compatible”.

Okay, cool. I'll check him out.

Okay, cool. I’ll check him out.

I take the bait.

Well then, nevermind.

Well then.

I’m at a loss. At this point my lack of matches, especially ones that are intriguing, can likely only be attributed either to the fact that I’d rather not date a man with kids, or to the fact that I’m an eHarmony Undateable.

Let’s be real. I’d have the same trouble on EquestrianSingles.com. Or FarmersOnly.com. Or OurTime.com. Or TrekPassions.com. Or VeggieDate.org. Or VampirePassions.com. All of which are legitimate dating websites you can visit right now if you want. eHarmony seems to appeal to a very specific market, and I’m not necessarily a member of that population.

asdlkf

Again, eHarmony’s design is beautiful, right down to their emails… except the pictures tend to be broken, even if the dudes’ profiles are full of pictures.

However. Google “eharmony stats”. The very top, numero uno spot on page one has a title of “eHarmony Ranks #1 for Most Online Marriages and Marital …”. (Marital what, eHarmony SEO consultant?) I can believe that a lot of people get married after meeting on eHarmony. Friends of mine have.

This then begs the question: what makes me different? Why, as a Christian, am I so wholly dissatisfied with eHarmony and its matches for me? I’d go back through and retake the personality quiz… if it let me. I’d go through and search profiles of available men and contact them… if it let me.

eHarmony asks hard-hitting questions like this one. I didn't actually answer it because really, what are those choices?

I deleted this question because really, what are those choices? This is not part of the infamous personality assessment – these are questions you answer and can compare how your match answered them, too.

On that note, since starting this post, I’ve received four messages from men on OkCupid, three of which I’m actually going to answer. Granted, I’ve had quite a few, uh, questionable messages from different men on OkCupid, but at least I’m having fun with it. At least I don’t feel undateable.

I’m glad other people are falling in love and getting married because of the service, but apparently I’m just not right for eHarmony. Too bad scientific matching and personality tests didn’t tell me to save my money and try something else.

Online dating, chapter 14: Rating the sites

As I worked on staff bios for our website redesign on Friday, I was answering questions over Gchat about my astrological sign and the age range of men I date. My three coworkers had created a profile for me on OkCupid, where one of them met her boyfriend.

I mean, why not?

Now that I’ve been around the online-dating block, I can give my opinions on Match, eHarmony, Christian Mingle, and OkCupid. I tried looking around for something like this when I was considering Match earlier this year, but I didn’t find a whole lot.

So here we go.

Match.com

How long I used it:
3 months earlier this year (roughly $64 of my life savings)

What it’s like:
It’s a bit like a laid-back cocktail party – structured, with everyone on good behavior.

Design and ease of use:
Eh. For one of the world’s most popular dating sites (and most expensive for me thus far), the website and app were pretty meh. I didn’t like the app much at all and rarely used it because it wasn’t entirely user-friendly. The website was a bit cluttered. Overall, its entire customer-facing platform could use some work.

And, as a content/copywriter, Match’s copywriting seemed to be written by someone with a severe lack of love for the AP Stylebook; there were punctuation errors and clichés everywhere. I even went onto their corporate website to see if they were hiring in the marketing department. They need me.

My thoughts on the menfolk:

Obviously it had its faults, but I enjoyed using Match. You do have to make sure you don’t contact anyone you’re not interested in, and that you’re brutal in your choices. I made the mistake of writing back to someone who wasn’t my type at all, just to thank him for a compliment, and Match started giving me matches more like him. Their algorithm is sensitive, apparently.

There was a great mix of men, some who deserved a little drool (like that fireman – hel-lo). I interacted a lot and had fun.

Would I do Match again? Probably, especially if I moved to another state. My most compatible match was a great guy who I emailed back and forth with, and I got legitimately excited every time I heard from him. And then he fell off the face of the earth. Bummer.

eHarmony

How long I’ve used it:
I used eHarmony for three months in Austin, and now I’m on it again here (for a scheduled three months). It broke the bank at $26.85 this time around. I don’t remember how much it cost way back when. Probably more around what Match cost.

What it’s like:
For me, it’s been like a black-tie affair held at a church, with everyone on holier-than-thou behavior.

Design and ease of use:
It’s beautiful. The profile pages emphasize photos, and all the information is laid out clearly. I’m a big fan. The app is also well done. You can tell eHarmony put money into their graphic design and user experience departments.

My thoughts on the menfolk:
I filled out the million-question personality test what… five years ago? And I can’t find a way to go through and make sure my answers are still the same. Even after redoing my match settings, I’m getting paired with men who are way, way not my type.

One guy, a hyper-conservative man who contradicts my views in his profile, was listed as a “highly compatible match”, and he emailed me five questions. Did he look at my profile? Did he see just how incredibly different we are? And not in a cute, potato/potahto way; in a we-won’t-be-on-speaking-terms-after-the-first-date way.

I may very well not be the right customer for eHarmony. Friends of mine have had wild success with eHarmony. Me? Nope. It’s been – dare I say it? – boring.

Christian Mingle

How long I used it:
One evening (“Browse for free!”) several months ago.

What it’s like:
If it’s a cocktail party, I never got out of the car – I looked in the window, then kept going.

Design and ease of use:
I remember thinking, “Oh, gosh. This is terrible.” I didn’t even try the app. The website is clunky and honestly feels kinda pointless when eHarmony is out there. I was on it for a few hours, then deleted my account and told it to forget I existed.

My thoughts on the menfolk:
Didn’t stay long enough to see.

Side note: I still hate that they use songs about loving God in their commercials. “Love Song for a Savior” by Jars of Clay is supposed to be about falling in love with God, not your newest match.

OkCupid

How long I’ve used it:
Since Friday night. And it’s free to look around and send messages – I haven’t ventured into the paid version (yet).

Lazy update: Last night I paid $20 (the most expensive plan, but I didn’t want to commit to any longer just yet) to use the paid version of the site for a month. More on that in a subsequent post.

What it’s like:
Where Match and eHarmony are the cocktail affairs, OkCupid is the bar where everyone’s just hanging out. Some are already drunk and absolute idiots, but there are quite a few cool people to talk to.

Design and ease of use:
OkCupid’s interface is no frills, but incredibly user friendly. Both the website and app are simple and laid out intuitively. Maybe my UX and graphic designer friends will disagree, but I’m a fan of OkCupid all around.

My thoughts on the menfolk:
People on OkCupid are far more active, and I’m having fun browsing, answering and sending messages. I’m having way more fun on OkCupid than I did on Match or so far with eHarmony. Yes, OkCupid has far more people looking for a one-night stand, but it’s easy to weed them out. Overall, I’m happy with OkCupid, and I’m shocked by that.

I’ve sent a number of messages to some guys who seem really great and have heard back from all of them. Just kidding: none of them have replied. Them’s the breaks, though, and if you don’t like rejection or being ignored, online dating definitely isn’t for you.

More on all my conversations in another post, including the 25-year-old who contacted me because he has “a thing for women that are older than me.” I never thought I’d feel like a cougar at 32.

My strange anniversary

One year ago, on June 20, 2013, my best friend Mel asked me to go to dinner. I was living in her spare bedroom, and she and her husband were taking care of me while I tried to find a job that paid better.

We went to a small Thai restaurant. She sat across from me, a worried look in her eyes, and finally, when I wouldn’t broach the subject, she let out a heavy sigh.

“Mandy, what are you doing?”

That was the night my best friend, in all her love, forced me to face my anxiety. My depression, which I was trying to ignore. My absolute question mark in terms of what to do with my life.

My heart was too heavy for my chest, and my face and eyes went blank because the surge of emotion overwhelmed my entire being. I felt that way for weeks. Months. I’d returned to the States from Taiwan in late August 2012, and as of June 2013, I was in a dark, anxiety-ridden place.

A week after Mel and I had dinner, on June 28, 2013, at 9:00am, I was in Nancy’s office. I sat on her couch and talked over my allotted hour. She didn’t quiet me until 10:30. I had a “perceived lostness” and needed to find my “anchor point”. On a half-sheet of paper titled “Transitional States” was a list of four tips to support oneself during a transitional time. I underlined “nebulous lack of clarity”.

On Tuesday, I have my monthly appointment with Nancy. She and I used to meet once every other week, but now I check in every five weeks or so. Every once and a while I consider stopping therapy, but I’m still going. Just last month she had to remind me that my life in Dallas is a transitional time. She’s helpful, my therapist.

Things turned around slowly, but surely, over the past year. They’re still on the upswing. I was even up for a job at Tesla Motors this past month, though I got cut before the final interview. That’s a crazy story for another post, though.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to volunteer with Mercy Ships. Maybe I’ll make tons of money and finally be able to pay Mel and Mikey $8,000 in back rent. We’ll see. If this year goes anything like the past year, June 22, 2015 is going to be even better than today.

What my expat community taught me about life

These are my truths. My expat community and my Taiwan family have made me a better person, and these are some of the lessons I learned from them. Obviously there are limits and standards to every single one, but I’m not going to go through them all. This is a blog post, not a piece of legislature.

You have gifts. Share them.

Talk to people you don’t know.

The world is smaller than you think.

Material possessions slow you down.

You have to accept yourself, flaws and all.

Get involved somehow with your community.

People know when you’re only in it for the money.

Don’t talk about people unkindly behind their backs.

Who cares who’s looking? Be yourself, and joyfully so.

It might be weird to you, but it’s normal to someone else.

It might be normal to you, but it’s weird to someone else.

Slavery and racism still exist, and neither are going away.

Experiences are important, but people are more important.

Politics suck no matter where you’re from or where you live.

Stay in touch with the people in your life. It takes effort. You have to try.

Gossip spreads more quickly in adulthood than it ever did in high school.

Everyone has a niche (or two). Don’t ignore others or treat them unequally.

Many Americans are incredibly blessed, but many of them don’t appreciate it.

Love comes in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, from unexpected places.

Take care of others simply because someone once took care of you. Pay it forward.

Holidays are about good company and sharing time with people around you. That’s it.

Language barriers are far less important than smiles, kind eyes, patience, and respect.

If someone cooks something for you, try it. Be grateful for it. If you can, learn to like it.

Try to say Yes as often as possible to activities and ideas that will make you a better you.

Respecting someone else’s beliefs is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give or receive.

Be ready for everything to go wrong or be more complicated than you expected. That’s life.

Words and actions mean different things to different people, and they should be respected.

Anyone who drains you, or takes without giving back, will make you unhealthy and unhappy.

If you love it, travel will change your life. Don’t fear it. Travel responsibly, and make the world a better place in your wake.

Teaching: not for the weak

(Originally written 28 March 2011)

Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, do something easier.

From a personal journal entry October 1, 2010:

“Teaching is hard. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong, though, because most of the other expats here scoff when I say that and tell me I’m worrying too much… Kids coloring on the walls and floors; parents calling to tell the principal that I gave difficult or too much homework; parents telling my principal that if their kid isn’t paying attention, I need to make it more interesting…

“Everyone tells me to stop taking it so seriously, so personally. It’s a business… (but) I want (the kids) to be confident with what I’ve taught them… Maybe I know what I’m doing and it’s everyone else who needs to leave me… alone. Sure, I’m in Taiwan for me and should ‘try to enjoy it more’, but I refuse to be a mediocre teacher just so I can be lazy.”

I remember how frustrated I was and all the Skype calls to my mom to find out what I was doing wrong. She would laugh and say, “Mandy, I have a Masters in this stuff and have been teaching for almost 20 years and I still don’t know all the answers.”

My first semester as a teacher was hard. I did everything wrong. I forgot how to spell. My handwriting on the board looked like I was possessed. Kids asked me questions and I don’t know the answers. I gave them the wrong answers. I realized that even though I’ve been speaking English for decades, I didn’t know a thing about teaching it.

It got easier the second semester. I found my rhythm and my voice. I figured out what I was willing to accept and not willing to put up with. I learned how to improvise and get through a difficult class. When I had structure to the class, but still allowed the kids to be kids, the hours started flying by, and my kids and I became friends.

The best teachers treat their students like the little humans they are. Now, if something isn’t working, I adapt. Sometimes the class is one massive failure from a lesson plan standpoint, but that’s okay. Kids don’t get the material? As my boss, Sunny, constantly tells me, “Repeat, and repeat, and repeat!” When I don’t have time to repeat, I don’t freak out; the kids will survive regardless of if they understand prefixes or not.

Sidenote: what blowhard decided first grade EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students needed to learn prefixes? Talk about linguistic rocket science.

Teaching is hard. You deal with delinquents, bullies, lazy kids who are geniunely dumb, lazy kids who are brilliant, know-it-alls; kids who don’t do their homework, kids who are terrible at taking tests, kids who forget their books or pencil or eraser or homework every single class; and you deal with adults that act like children.

You deal with a lot. The first semester through the first year is very nearly overwhelming. Once I figured out how to handle both myself as an educator and the kids I was standing in front of, it got a little easier. Once I return to the States, my teaching career is over; I’m glad I gave it a shot, though. I have far more respect for all my former teachers now.

Dear 2015 Me

Dear January 3, 2015 Me,

You turn 33 this year. That’s weird to say, since I’m only 31 now, but I am talking to one-year-in-the-future me, after all.

This is weird. I don’t know if I should tell you what I hope life is like in a year, or if I should remind you what it’s like right now. Maybe I’ll do both.

I’m in the midst of a challenge Jeff Goins is putting on – 500 words, every day, for the entire month of January. It’s only January 3, and I’m wondering how I’m going to manage throwing together a grand total of, at the minimum, 15,500 words. I had to use Google to find a prompt today. I took, “When you look back at your blog on January 2, 2015, what would you like to see?” from The Daily Post on WordPress and morphed it into today’s topic.

Yeah. Before editing, as of right now I’m at 135 words. Here we go.

Friday, January 3, 2014: you’re fat. I’m fat. I weigh, at my last weigh-in, 234.4 pounds. I have a belly – I’ve never had a belly before. I feel it in my ankles, in my back, in my lungs. My face looks like the Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters – wide, fleshy, and white. My underarms are constantly eating my shirts and staining them because I sweat a lot.

I keep saying “you” instead of “I”. I’m correcting them for clarity’s sake. This letter is awkward to write. I hope I like it in a year.

My current celebrity crush is Zachary Levi – whom I saw last month in First Date on Broadway when I visited Caitlin. Maybe Alex O’Loughlin, too, but that could be because I’m watching Hawaii 5-0 right now. I watched a marathon of The Game a couple weeks ago and had a short-lived crush on Jay Ellis. Then I read that he preferred women in stilettos.

Nope. Moving on.

I’m sitting in my apartment, on my bed. I moved in here on October 11. That weekend was rough. Maybe you remember that, maybe not. Two weekends later Mad got married. October was a stressful month, to say the least. I’m still trying to dig my way out of the little bit of credit card debt I accrued, which sucks, because I had no credit card debt for a while. Life has calmed down a lot, finally, and right now it feels good to have less on my plate; I’m sure I’ll be bored again soon, though.

I was in a “relationship”. Oh, yeah – that one. Thankfully, I officially moved on in June of 2013. It was a beautiful epiphany: I was sitting at a red light after work, talking to a guy on the phone, and realized I was flirting. The pang of guilt I usually felt when entertaining thoughts of dating someone other than X never materialized. I was over him. I was free. I was relieved.

X never read this blog. You’ve stopped being bitter about the nevers, right? I know I need to let go of the frustration, but I’m having trouble. Please tell me I’m not harping on the nevers anymore. It’s so not worth it.

I’m hoping to start dating again soon. Thanks to my weight socking my self-confidence in the gut, I shouldn’t get involved just yet. BUT. Within a year, I hope my love life isn’t a joke. Please say it’s not. It’s kind of pathetic. Laughably bad.

Maybe I’ll finally be dating some hot CrossFitter. Hel-LO.

(You’d better be in CrossFit. You’d better not be this fat.)

I want to go to Taiwan to visit. And Hawaii to see Marianne. I have to stop thinking about travel because every time I start thinking of all the places I want to go, it makes me panic that I’ll never be able to. Has that feeling gone away yet? Am I traveling more? That hot CrossFitting boyfriend you have better love travel.

In a year, especially now that I have a really good idea of which direction I want my career to go, I’d better be making more money. I don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck anymore.

Do I still live in Dallas? I’m torn right now. It’s great being so close to Mad and so many good friends, plus Mom and Dad (and Sawyer) right down the road. It sucks being surrounded by people you love, but not loving the city where you live. Are you in Colorado?

Holy cow, do you still get the, “Oh, you want to move to Colorado because they legalized pot!” question? I’m sick of it. I want to move to Colorado because mountains. Outside. Snow! Healthy lifestyle. Living in a vacation state. Nature! Cool weather!

Have you figured that out yet? The west coast or just west. Something. Maybe you met someone from Vancouver. A CrossFitter from Vancouver! If only God took requests like a DJ. I’d like living in Canada. All the jokes about how nice Canadians are make me want to live there.

I’m hoping for several big life changes in 2014. If you didn’t get them all done, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Get to it.

If I did have a very good 2014… what’s in store for 2015?

All done,
January 3, 2014 Me

(894)

Facing mortality

January 8, 2013. At 10:30am, a message popped up in my Facebook inbox. One of the guys I’d gone to the Dominican Republic with in the summer of 2005 had suddenly and tragically passed away. It was shocking, and it took a couple days for me to process his death.

January 11, 2013. I got the news that Pop Pop, my mom’s father, had passed away at roughly 5pm. After shutting the door to my office, I folded over in my chair and cried big tears that hurt as I tried to stifle them.

When I left the office. I alternated between fine and tearful. As I pulled out of the parking lot, a thought, as clear as if it were spoken to me, came into my mind: “Pay attention to the sounds.”

Note

It was an odd moment. I typed the note to myself in my phone, and then I paid attention. I turned off my music and rolled down my window. I listened to the sounds of the traffic, the wind in the trees, the hum of my car’s engine. When the ambient noise quieted, I tried to hear the more muted sounds. I don’t listen enough, I realized.

I watched the red light in front of me. The world felt emptier. Pop Pop was gone. Our link to that generation, at least in my family, was gone. All the stories and memories of life before my time, before my parents’ time, were now lost.

The clouds moved overhead, as they always did. Life continued on, as normal, for everyone around me. The world didn’t stop spinning when my friend died, and it didn’t stop spinning when Pop Pop died, either.

The light turned green.

A week later we drove north to Indiana for the funeral. Pop Pop was cremated, as Grandmom had been, so we didn’t have to rush to have a service. My sister, her fiance, my friend Chris and I stayed in a hotel. I felt stressed, like if I cracked or made a mistake, everything would go wrong.

Before the service, as I was getting ready, I stood in the hotel room, fixated on my suitcase. My thoughts were simple, but I was having a hard time processing them. Chris was on the other side of the room, going through his things, and mentioned that my former boss wished me well.

“Oh. I need to thank her. And I need to thank Della. I can’t forget -”

“Mandy, you don’t need to do anything.” He said it gently, and I halted, staring hard at my suitcase. I heard him walk over to me, and I threw my hands up, gave in, and broke down. I sobbed as he held me.

Visitation felt like it lasted forever. Finally, Chris sat to my left, Mom on my right, Mad next to her, then Steven at the end. Dad gave the eulogy. I struggled to pay attention, so I closed my eyes and bowed my head as tears rolled down my cheeks. I kept it together.

The service ended, and we stood. Then, without warning, I couldn’t stop the flood of emotion, and I sobbed again. Mom and Dad hugged me, and as I quieted, I turned and hugged Chris. My parents went to talk to relatives and friends milling around, and Steven went to the restroom. Chris, Mad and I sat on the pew.

Mad and I looked at each other. I realized she was crumbling. With a look of sudden, sad realization on her face, Mad said, “We have no more grandparents.” Her emotions forced the words out just before she lost her composure. To my relief, Dad was suddenly at her side, and he comforted her.

Later, after leaving the funeral home, then spending a few hours at my aunt and uncle’s house visiting with family, we were back at the hotel. I was emotionally lighter, but exhausted. Chris held me as I fell asleep, and twice he asked if I was okay. Apparently, as I was drifting to sleep, my body was jerking and twitching.

This past Friday, I went to see a counselor for the first time. Over the course of an hour and fifteen minutes, I spilled my thoughts on my life as it is now. She wanted to know my goal. Why was I in therapy? What did I want to achieve?

“I hold everything in. I haven’t been talking to anyone, really, about how I’m feeling. When I do talk about it, I can feel myself reacting physically to all the anxiety. My eye twitches, my stomach is a mess, my heart will start racing and pounding out of my chest.”

“Those are definitely signs of anxiety,” Nancy said. “So what’s your goal?”

“I need to get it out, I guess. I can’t hold it all in.”

The only time in those 75 minutes that I lost my composure and started to cry was when I talked about Pop Pop’s death. I stammered and fought the tears.

“He fought for so long. He was miserable! We were so grateful that he let go. I miss him, I do, but it’s more… he’s gone. That generation is gone. Life is going too fast. I’m only 30, but I feel like I’m losing time. There’s just not enough.”

Since returning from Taiwan, I’ve been handling a lot of stress. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to put a finger on the underlying thread of it all: I feel mortal. I feel as though I am running short on time, and that everything I want to do will take more time than what I have left, no matter if it’s 40 years or 100.

“We have no more grandparents.” When Mad said it, it didn’t affect me. Now, I think about it often. One generation’s length away from fighting life out on my own.

It’s a scary thing, to think that there’s not enough time. I have anxiety about it. I have to stop it from invading my life and taking away my joy. That’s the goal.

I need to live.

People Matter

Check Sevenly out. It’s a great organization. (http://www.sevenly.org)