Monthly Archives: May 2015

Packing is the Easy Part

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 
Overview: Everyone always asks how I leave. How do I clear out my apartment and pack my whole life into a suitcase, knowing that it will essentially be my portable house for the next year. Well I’ll tell you: everything gets really weird the week before I leave, and packing is the least of my concerns.

 

You know in action movies when an explosion is triggered under water, and all the surrounding matter gets sucked in for a few seconds before being expelled outward in a burst of kinetic energy? That’s kind of what the week before traveling is like for me. When I opened my eyes this morning, I was gripped by an odd nostalgia and realized I felt the same way that I did two years ago when I realized I only had a week left in NYC—like everything was moving in reverse.

I now have one week to prepare for my second trip around the world. The next few days will be exhausting as I run around the city sealing up loose ends. Time seems abundant and scarce at the same time. I’ve already ordered all my gear and have everything I need in proximity. I’ve thrown the things I want to pack into the suitcase but I’ll probably just look at it in the middle of the living room floor this whole week, sprinkling items on top as I remember that I need them. I’ll do this until the last possible moment when the fact that my flight leaves tomorrow will hit me like an adrenaline injection to the heart. Maybe medically this is a panic attack, I don’t know, but it will power me through a 24 hour packing rampage that somehow reaches completion the minute before I need to leave for the airport.

But packing is the easy part.

It’s always in that last week that somehow I will stumble into an improbable love connection that could maybe practically work, even though the previous year has yielded nothing but boredom and heartbreak. My ideal house pet will fall into my lap (or literally, fly into my apartment like a budgie did last time), even though in months of searching pet adoption sites, nothing seemed to quite fit. The meeting I’d been requesting for 6 months will finally get scheduled—for the week after I leave. And, as history repeating itself would dictate, the inevitable weird job offer will come knocking, but I’m only eligible for if I stay. Last time it was something so lucrative but so out of left field that I asked the headhunter if she was sure she was talking with the right person. That’s another story.

Thanks but no thanks.

I shake it off and keep prepping.

Meanwhile, there is the ambush of invitations from the people who need to tell me one last thing, face-to-face: the apology, the confession, or the exploration of the possible “moment” we had that I was oblivious to but you purposely ignored because we were too good of friends to go there. The “I really need to see you before you go”s. The sentiment is appreciated, but at the same time it makes me feel like there’s a secret death pool going on behind my back, like I’m the final painting of an aging artist.

I plan a rooftop BBQ so everyone can feel good about me leaving.

I refuse to do anything that isn’t familiar, because nothing will be familiar to me for the next year.

I’m trying to find the best way to digitize all the notebooks I obsessively fill and constantly reference but won’t bring with me because every ounce of luggage matters.

Then there’s the hard part: the reassuring my friends that this isn’t goodbye forever. It’s squeezing in all the “last” late-night whiskey prowls we can manage, savoring the “last” laughs, holding on longer than necessary in the “last” hugs. It’s knowing that the next time I see them again we’ll all be different people, and hoping that whatever happens in the time between doesn’t drive a cultural wedge between us that would have us look upon each other as strangers at our next encounter. It’s reminding myself over and over again that it never happens that way, and that even 10 years apart isn’t enough to delete a true human connection. It’s convincing the ones who are always there for me that I’m not leaving because they’re not enough for me, but because I feel whole enough to do this now because of them. It’s crying like a fool because I hate goodbyes.

It’s trying not to be melodramatic because it’s not like I’m going to war or something. Unless someone wants to pay me to write about it. Then I would.

Proud to Be an American Mutt

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: I’ve never been able to identify with any one race or ethnic group. While it used to make me feel isolated, traveling has made me feel more globally connected than ever. I’m proud to be an American mutt.

I’ve always checked the “other” box in the race section of job applications and standardized tests. When I was a child, I couldn’t really relate to anybody on the basis of ethnicity—I didn’t have one, after all; I have several and it was too complicated to explain every time. When people ask, “what are you?” (and they do, everywhere I go), I usually won’t bother to rattle off list the eight or so countries that my immediate ancestors came from to pave the way for my existence. We’re all mixtures of something, but we don’t all identify as mutts.

This winter, I spent Christmas in Hawaii where I met a woman introduced to me by a friend of a friend back home in New York. We’d been following each other on Instagram for a while before we met and one day I noticed she posted a selfie with the hashtags #French and #Cherokee. We hung out at the beach one day and I told her I was both of those things, too. Not only, but they were in there. We bonded over that. “We’re from the same tribe,” she said and smiled.

Most countries in the world seem downright homogenous compared to the United States. “Diversity” is a word often spoken with urgency, or with air quotes and an eye roll because we are failing at it so hard in this country that’s supposed to be the great melting pot. We’re not failing, really. We are struggling, and that is different from failing. When you’re struggling, you are trying. And if you’re still trying, you haven’t failed. Obviously, things are far from a perfectly balanced utopia here, but we’re way better at diversity than most places. I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep trying, and that we shouldn’t be angry that so many people are systematically oppressed. But we can also take an outrage breather and feel a spot of pride every now and then.

I remember the first time I rode the subway after traveling around the world for a year. I cried because it was so beautiful. The subway is the global equalizer in NYC. No matter how wealthy a person is, if she needs to span Manhattan in 4:30 gridlock traffic, she’s going to be taking the subway. That morning, coming home, I was overwhelmed by the diversity of the cross-sectional sample that was my train car.

These days I like checking the other box. When I was younger, I was self-conscious that my racial ambiguity made me stand out. It wasn’t until I traveled around the world that I really appreciated being able to relate to each of the components that make me who I am, and the unique whole. These days, I love that my race allows me to blend in all over the world by being able to identify with almost every different ethic group. It’s my personality that makes me stand out.