Echoes of Summer

Happy late Summer Solstice (last Monday, June 20), and I find it very hard to believe that it’s already nearly July. My summer break actually started at the beginning of May, but so much seems to have happened since then—an international trip that touched three countries in nearly three weeks, my boyfriend’s younger sister’s high school graduation, the first three weeks of my internship with Arte Público Press—and I find myself wondering each day where my time has gone. Where my weekends go, especially; I haven’t been as productive during those days off as I’d like to be, theoretically, but, excuse or not, summer tends to have that effect on people, and even if I were more productive, the days would probably slip by just as quickly, if not even more so.

I hope your summer is just as…adventurous. I don’t want to say “busy.” This time of year is when time feels like it speeds up the most, but also the only time it really slows down…Growing up in south Texas, the summer heat is humid and oppressive, like a wet blanket weighing down, and I remember many afternoons drenched in sunlight, lazy, hot days… My grandparents have an acre and a half of land as their backyard, and when I stayed with them as a kid was the only time I ever spent more time outside than in. I’d romp across the yard with the two Corgis (R.I.P., Buddy and Sasha, my companions), fighting my way through tall squishy grass, underneath the blanket of heat that made me want to lie down in the clover and flowers and take a nap.

At 22 now, the reality of adulthood has set in more firmly, and the magic of summer exists now as little more than an echo in my memory. Melancholy, n’est-ce pas? The difference I notice most clearly lately is that I notice the heat and humidity a lot more than I remember as a child—and it doesn’t make me want to spend any more time outside than necessary, really. Adulthood also makes me realize how much more tired I feel more often, and funnily enough, I read somewhere recently that it’s not that adults have lost the energy they had as kids. It’s that as the kids grow up, they view all of that energy from before as wasted on things that aren’t important in the world of adulthood, like games, and that that energy must now be spent on tasks that are considered important, like laundry and making money. I would say that’s even more melancholy than the lost magic of summer. Even right now, at this very moment, I sit inside typing a blog post, while I could be running around the dark backyard, catching fireflies—if we even had them here, which we don’t. But…like I said, I’m 22, and as an adult…what would be the point now of catching fireflies? “To relive the magic?”

No. Because you can’t relive magical moments, whether you’re four years old, twelve, 22, or 62. But you can always make new ones. Maybe it’s time now to do that.

Time Well Wasted

Try to imagine a life without timekeeping.
“You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie.
“Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays.
“Man alone measures time.
“Man alone chimes the hour.
“And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures.
“A fear of time running out.”

— Unknown

Do you have a watch, and a smartphone, and a computer and/or tablet, and you’re constantly checking any or all of these to see what time it is? Then you have to check again, because you weren’t really paying attention the first time? I have a long commute to my internship this summer, though hardly longer than my usual commute to campus, and I’m constantly checking the clock on my car’s dashboard to see what time it is, how much time I have left to get there, how much time has passed since I left. This last one is even easier to figure up, because my Camry Hybrid XLE will automatically tell me the “Elapsed Time” from the moment that I start the car.

I see everybody around me do the same thing, several times a day, so it’s safe to assume that I’m not the only person with a preoccupation with time. Especially in this millennium, in this country, which largely advocates working as much as possible to make as much money as possible in as few years as possible. If you’re not a billionaire by the age of 25, perhaps even 30, you’re not really all that successful, are you? Such seems to be the mindset of the modern American—and I’d like to say that I don’t see it this way, but sometimes it’s hard not to. Simply because I am 22, with no job, no Bachelor’s degree, no place of my own to live or car in my own name, not married, etc. If you look at me from that perspective, I am doomed to be a failure.

But it’s not true. I’m 22, and I don’t have a job because I’m in college working on that Bachelor’s degree, and my parents are generous enough to let me live at home and not work while I focus on my education. I’m not married, but I’m in a committed, healthy relationship. As for the car…my hope is that my parents will sign ownership over to me as my college graduation present.

My preoccupation with time has likely only worsened over the course of my lifetime. When you’re a kid, you don’t really notice things like whether or not you’re late, and then you only care if you’re late to something you really don’t want to miss a minute of, like your best friend’s birthday party. The only real waste of time there is to a kid is nap time, and if you spend an entire afternoon just lying outside, looking for shapes in the clouds, it’s time well spent. Nowadays, if I were to spend an afternoon doing just that, a part of me would berate myself later for all of the time that I’d’ve wasted. While another part of me may argue, well, it was time well wasted.

Ever hear that saying about how love makes the world go ‘round? Well, it doesn’t. Pay closer attention; love is all well and good, but what really makes the world go ‘round is money, and plenty of it. It’s really all that most people want, because when you have money in your pocket, you have the world at your feet. You can own anything you want to, go anywhere via any form of transportation you please, and, to an extent, you can even say what you want to and get away with it. Piss off a lot of people in the process, but hey, it’s been working for Donald Trump, right? But no matter how valuable or in demand money always has been, and always will be, there is something far more valuable and hard to come by—time.

Some people believe that, from the moment you’re born, you’re only allotted so much time until you die. Others believe that there are ways to accumulate more time; there’s even a Biblical story about a man named … who was told by the Lord to set his affairs in order for he would very soon die, but when Hezekiah wept and prayed to God, another fifteen years was added to his life. I don’t know what I believe. I don’t think we’re given just this much time, but I don’t know that you can earn more time by some supernatural force; the trouble is, none of it is anything that can be proven, and therefore must be believed by faith, or not at all. What I do think, however, is that there is no commodity more valuable, or more wasted, than time itself.

What’s also changed for me lately is what it means to waste time. In this world that I’ve been raised in, it’s a waste of time for me to watch six episodes of reality TV in one afternoon, or to leave the dishes in the sink or the towels in the dryer, when there are clearly things that need to be attended to. I waste valuable time when I read Harry Potter instead of my French books, and it would be a waste of time and money to see The Secret Life of Pets, which comes out next month and which I’m very excited about.

Well, so what if it would be!?

“I don’t care if you have 3 hours of homework left. If your friend is crying, you need to go comfort her. If your boyfriend is upset, you need to go give him a hug. If your mother wants to talk, talk to her. If your brothers are jumping in leaf piles, go join them. If your family wants to go out to eat, go with them. You can’t miss your life because of the demands of school. You can always finish homework later or get one bad grade; but life…you can’t push that off for later. You only get that one chance. And no homework assignment is more important than actually living your life.”

— Unknown

I’ve been learning the above the hard way as I’ve been in college. Even when I was a senior in high school; one of my biggest regrets is not going to the funeral of a favorite aunt of mine, because it was in another state, and I had a project for AP Environmental Science that I didn’t think I’d be able to finish in time. I let the homework assignment be more important than living my life. In a way, I used my time wisely, but in another way, I wasted that time far more than I would have, and it wasn’t even worth it.

I suppose I’m wasting my time, and yours, with my rambling. But more people should slow down and realize that, allotted or not, time isn’t something that can be counted on. Nobody can possibly know how much longer he or she has to make memories, to set affairs in order, to use time well, or to waste it—and so they should start treating it as something more valuable and rare. Take the time to consider how you’ve been spending your days, and make adjustments. Adopt the puppy you’ve always wanted, and spend time with it outside in the park on a sunny day. Quit your job and take that backpacking trip to Machu Picchu and the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower. Have a Popsicle with your toddler son, and sit down on the floor to play Barbies and tea party with your daughter. Take the time to let your loved ones know how special they are to you, while you still have the time to do it. Before your time runs out—because let’s face it, man will never live without timekeeping, and will never be released from the fear of time running out. So don’t be afraid of that, but make the most of what you have now, in this moment. Stop reading. Shut the laptop, and hotfoot it home to have dinner with your spouse. Go, go, go!

Somebody smart once said, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted.” I’ll just leave that here for now.

Why are you still reading?

The Reality of Perfection

“We are all pure perfection, desperately trying to be something we already are.”

— Anita Krizzan

I spend a lot of time chasing after perfection, at least in my mind, and let me tell you, it does little more than waste time and make me feel tired. I’d go so far as to say that it’s even stifled my ability to write freely and creatively, because I’ve become so obsessed with grammatical and mechanical perfection. Which probably isn’t a bad thing when I’m writing papers, but definitely gets in the way when I’m trying to write just about anything else. I’ve even developed this odd obsession with not using the letter g, because I don’t like the way the little curly tail looks with most serif fonts. I know what you’re thinking: “She’s crazy.” Maybe, but it speaks to a compulsive obsession with perfection, or at least the appearance of perfection.

Obsessed with appearances. Aren’t there enough people in this world who are obsessed with appearances? Celebrities? Insecure adolescents? Aging men and women? We all want to look younger, more beautiful, more put together, so that the world will envy us. We want to be those things, but because maybe we can’t, we settle for just looking that way. We settle for projecting an image to the world.

I’ve done this for years, I think. In junior high school, I adopted an attitude that I thought would make me fit in with the girls in my class, even adopting the kind of “cool stutter” that one of them had. Don’t ask me to explain that—it doesn’t make sense even to me, but for the fact that I remember being there. In high school, I left this group of friends in search of another, and I found a group that I fit in with well, without having to try. We had classes and interests in common, and they liked me for me, and I could be myself. Be more genuine. Until I was in my first real relationship, one that wasn’t always the healthiest, and this is when I perfected my image projection. I remember many nights when I would come home around 9:00 or 10:30, and my parents would be awake in the living room, watching TV, when I would walk in the door; I remember, often, whatever I had felt on the way home, however upset I was over a fight we had had, I would make it disappear as soon as I stepped in the door. An automatic shift in my attitude, in my temperament, that allowed me to project that there was no problem. It was easy, and even now I don’t regret doing that because, and this was my thought process at the time, it allowed me the freedom to make my own decisions about my relationship, the good and the bad, without input from everybody else. Even my closest friends never knew the extent, and while I love them and respect their opinion, I hid for a reason. Eventually, I arrived at my own conclusion, and that had to be best for me. My decision, my terms.

It doesn’t strike me as new, either, this projection of images. Haven’t people been doing it for centuries? One of my favorite places on earth is Newport, Rhode Island, and a favorite attraction there are the “summer cottages” of the nation’s wealthiest families of the Gilded Age. “Cottage” is more than an understatement for these estates. Now, I can’t speak to the past, because I wasn’t there, but if the term “Gilded Age” is any indication, this was an age of the projection of images of wealth and privilege. As for today, while a lot about the world has changed, I don’t think this one thing has. Perhaps it’s narrow-minded of me to use these as examples, but watch a TV show like Gossip Girl or read a book like Pretty Little Liars, and in those stories, there is all kinds of evidence of people appearing as different than they truly are. Even in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, I believe there is evidence of this…

So, I’d like to ask, whatever happened to being genuine, but I wonder if maybe authenticity was always rare? Or perhaps it’s always been fairly common, but there isn’t as much evidence of it, because it’s not what people pay as much attention to? So many people are so obsessed with their own ideals of perfection, that so often, one fails to realize that perfection exists in the imperfections that make each person unique and authentic, and real. Maybe perfection exists in the imperfect ramblings of blog posts like this one, because those are real thoughts, true and uncensored. Checked for spelling and grammar, maybe, but not hidden away.

Secrets are okay. Everyone is entitled to at least one. It’s when those secrets become so many, so complicated, such a tangled web, that the authenticity of the person is lost underneath.

“Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!”

— Sir Walter Scott

Pay attention to whether you’re deceiving yourself, too. Pay attention to the person that you’ve made yourself out to be, and to what perfection means to you. Does it mean composedly flawless? Or does it mean heartwarmingly real?

You work out your perfection, while I work out mine.

Let me know what you come up with.

The Perks of Being a World Traveler

Now that I’m older, and the novelty has worn off, I’m not a huge fan of plane trips, particularly international ones. I notice a lot more than I used to on the shorter, domestic flights—like how dry the air is, and how it irritates my nose and draws the moisture from my skin. How it’s pretty much impossible to get a decent nap in economy class, which is what I have to fly because I can’t afford business or first. Airplane bathrooms…

No worries—I’m actually not here to bash international airplane travel. What I think is, I was away from my home for a while—nearly three weeks—and I wasted plenty of time in dread of just having to make the overseas trip back, with a layover and souvenirs, etc. etc., while I should instead have been focusing on the positives, like the fact that I was even able to have this opportunity. That I have parents who want to spend that kind of time with me. The fact that my dad has the job he has to afford us these opportunities, and the fact that I’m even allowed into Saudi Arabia to visit—a privilege, regardless of whether or not I want to go. There’s a lot of silver that can so easily be overshadowed by the grayness of actually making the 16some-hour trip.

It’s odd to spend that much time on a plane. Not 16 hours on the same plane, of course, but even with a layover, I get this strange sense that a lot of time has passed and also that no time has really passed at all. Chalk it up to the lack of real sleep, maybe, but it’s weird to know that, really late a couple of nights ago, my mom and I said goodbye to my dad at the Dammam airport in Saudi Arabia. With all of this travel since then, and flying backward across time zones but at the same time the days moving forward, it’s all very distorted, and by the time we land in Houston around 2:00 p.m. local time on June 2, it will be nightfall in Saudi, after a day of work for my dad and with another day in front of him. It’s almost even confusing to describe, and I hope I haven’t lost you by now.

The point is…well, actually, I’m not totally sure, either, what the point is. But isn’t the not knowing the key to the (self-)discovery? Say yes; humor me.

When I think about the kind of person I want to be and the kind of life I want to live, ideally, it would be a life full of adventures that I would be able to tell people about when I’m old, between trips out of my house for new adventures. As much as I may not want to admit it at the moment, or even at all, I don’t know, I can only imagine that plenty of international travel and opportunities to visit new countries and experience new cultures must factor into such a life. As much as I love cats and do want one, I don’t want to end up the crazy old lady, alone, with no one but her cat and who never sets foot further than her mailbox. As much as I love books and to travel and live lives through their pages, from the comfort of my bedroom, that will not always be satisfying enough, and they won’t always be able to teach me everything I should know.

One thing I’m currently learning through traveling is the importance of keeping an open mind about cultures and people that are different than what I know. The first time I visited Saudi Arabia was in 2014, and I wasn’t very open-minded about the culture, nor did I care to be. I didn’t want to be completely covered in public, while the men are allowed to walk around in pretty much whatever they want. I didn’t particularly care for the view of sandy hills outside my bedroom window, and scornfully commented to my boyfriend via email about the trash that is allowed to pile up in the desert and why. I wasn’t pleased about how the women are treated differently from the men, and sometimes, I still feel the resentment bubble up inside of me—but that is there culture, not mine, and I must respect it. However I might feel about it doesn’t matter.

I think Saudi Arabia treated me no worse this past week than it did in 2014, and I hope I was kinder to it this time. I really tried to keep more of an open mind, and to see their laws from their perspective rather than my own. For instance, the fact that I have to wear an abaya whenever I step outside of one of the expat compounds? That law applies to their women, too, and isn’t it to protect them? Of, if not, it can still be viewed as a way to—and therefore, it can be viewed as a measure taken for my protection, too.

The last meal we had as a family before my mother and I left (…on a jet plane…🎵) was at a castle-shaped place in Dammam called Heritage Village, and I think this may have been my most authentic Arabian experience to date. Inside the restaurant are small rooms off of a large main room, and it was inside one of these small rooms that I dined with my parents. We were made to remove our shoes just outside the doorway, and inside, the floor was covered with colorful carpets, and the walls were lined with simple cushions for us to sit and recline upon. A prayer rug sat on a shelf, but the rest of the room was fairly bare; a couple of the men who waited on us brought a small table in with the food, and I can only assume that after we left, the table was removed. My dad and I shared a traditional platter of cooked lamb and rice, while my mom ate fried shrimp and French fries, and we all partook in the delicious bread that you can watch them bake in another small room in house. We had water to drink, and after, I decided that I wanted to try some of their coffee—which did not strike me as any sort of coffee and didn’t even seem to be caffeinated. This they brought in a silver pitcher, with tiny cups, and a bowl of dates that, my dad told me, were meant to be put in the mouth with a sip of the coffee. I honestly was not a fan of the coffee, and apparently am not a huge fan of lamb, either, but it was a neat experience that I was happy to have. (Although, next time, I’ll forgo food in favor of a nap before the airport.)

Until next time…

Bella Journey

I want to promise that this is the last time I’ll ever do this… and my intent is that it will be. But the truth is, I just don’t know.

I can’t say that I’ve always entertained the idea of blogging, but for the past two or three years, it has often crossed my mind, and I have tried it. But the problem was always, what to write about? What would people care about, be interested in? And once I have a theme or topic in mind, how to present it? After all this time…maybe none of that ever mattered.

If I’m being honest—which I’m trying to be—this is attempt number…let’s estimate 12, at blogging. At writing for the public. At this moment, as I type the first entry into the Day One journaling app on my iPad while my plane to Houston from Frankfurt takes off, the idea was inspired by this new magazine I’ve just barely begun reading called Bella Grace. The tag line on the cover declares that “Life’s a Beautiful Journey” and, carefully reading to savor the first few pages, they yank me into that realization. Life is meant to be absolutely beautiful as an entire picture, and too frequently it is a lack of view of this entire picture that forces us to think that life couldn’t be any worse, and to treat it that way. I’m one of the guilty ones—too frequently pessimistic and narrow-minded. I’m here to change that.

Even though perhaps I should, to my friends and family who have seen it again and again, I won’t apologize for my many different attempts at blogs and my failure to stick with one, and for the eventual disappearance of every one of those before. Why am I not sorry? Because to me, those unlasting attempts were a way to help me figure myself out at the time, and for this moment. To learn about me. Who I want to be. What I want to say.

In this Spring 2016 issue of Bella Grace, one of the stories is called “Before I Die” by Rachel Paukett. Inspired by words stenciled on an outdoor wall, she asks herself two very specific questions:

“What do I want to do more than anything else before I die?”

“If you were free to be yourself, who would you be?”

To the first, I would have originally answered, “Write and publish a novel” which has been my biggest dream since childhood, and the only one I’ve really held onto over the years. But suddenly, my answer would be “Follow a dream” because it holds so much more possibility and promise, without disregarding my dream.

The second question, for me, brings up another that I have often asked myself lately: “Who do you want to be? What kind of person?” and I continue to explore that, as I have over the course of my entire life. I’ve been popular and friendly, and unpopular and unfriendly. I’ve been honest, and I’ve been a liar. I’ve been optimistic and adventurous, pessimistic and reclusive. I’ve been the realist, the idealist, and the cynic. I’ve been my friend, and I’ve also been my enemy. Basically, since childhood, I’ve tried on all different personalities, and played with all different attitudes, and every day I still have to ask my mirrored reflection, “Who are you, and who do you want to be?” …Right now, as usual, I don’t have a complete answer. But I’m only 22.

My friends seem to know who they are, and they all have graduated from college as of this Spring. At least one of them already has a job, and another is on her way there. Not me—and I’ve joked that I don’t know whether the fact that I’m still in college makes me feel like a slacker or an overachiever. (A: Double major : overachiever.) My boyfriend seems to know, best of all of them, who he is. I think I know who people want me to be. But what about me? My opinion matters, and right now, the jury is still out. Juries can take a while to deliberate—and trials are more akin to marathons than sprints. (Not that I’m athletic enough for either.) Life is a journey. The journey to know and to love yourself as you adventure to discover new surprises every day.

“Never let a day pass without looking for the good, feeling the good within you, praising, appreciating, blessing, and being grateful. Make it your life commitment, and you will stand in utter awe of what happens in your life.”

— Rhonda Byrne, Bella Grace issue 7, p. 19