Friday, May 29, 2015

Why I love being lonely

        I am sitting in a coffee shop by myself updating my blog. Listening to a business meeting in one corner, some friends effortlessly catching up in another, and what appears to be a first or second date directly beside me (poor guy is super nervous). And I sit all by myself sipping my chia tea. If you had asked me to do this three years ago I would have adamantly refused, I hated being alone. I thought that it was the simple fact that I got bored but then I realized it was a much deeper problem, it was because I didn't like me-actually three years ago I hated me. But, surprisingly, over the past few months and years my life has changed more drastically than I ever thought possible. My perception of myself, my future, and my world has taken on an entirely new frame.
        Until a few years ago I was constantly looking somewhere, anywhere, for acceptance and validation. I desperately wanted someone to tell me I was good enough, smart enough, pretty enough...just enough. I quickly discovered that is a VERY empty way of life. A life that is lived for the sole purpose of pleasing others and not myself. And, honestly, I just couldn't do it anymore. I do not know when it happened. I can't put my hand on one event and say "that, that is the morning I decided to live for me" but it happened. It wasn't one big event just a bunch of little setbacks, a few hard break ups, a few friends stabbing me in the back or simply fading out of my life-little things that on their own that weren't earth shattering but they added up to a heavy load that I just could not carry anymore. At first it was lonely as the people that I had always bent over backwards to please quickly vanished out of my life. I felt guilty when I enjoyed a pizza causing me to lose my size two figure. I felt incomplete when I looked at what everyone else was doing and where they were going and who they were becoming, but (strangely enough) slowly and surely I felt happier, more fulfilled, and more free. I was able to read things I was passionate about, my life became filled with people who were headed in the same direction as me and not simply people who I thought were cooler, smarter or prettier. And, more importantly my life began to soar to new depths and new directions that I never imagined. I learned to appreciate true beauty in nature, history, and myself. I learned to speak up for myself instead of simply being the cute little girl people could say or do anything to. I learned to love at levels I never even knew existed. But, to get here I had to be alone. I had to be lonely. I had to face myself-who I had become and who I truly was.
         If I ever go through an incredibly hard and lonely time again I hope that I come back to DC. This is the perfect city to come face to face with myself. Walking the same streets and halls as some of the greatest and most powerful men and women in history strikes a deep cord in my heart. Being in DC is empowering and yet humbling which is a dangerously powerful combination. Yesterday I had a whole day off when everyone else was working and I was so excited I couldn't stand it. As I was wandering around the city I stumbled upon the Supreme Court Building (I mean I knew it was there but I wasn't planning on going in). But that quickly changed as I realized I had nothing else to do and it was about a million degrees outside so inside I went. As I walked around I found myself face to face with an exhibit on Sandra Day O'Connor-the first woman to ever sit as a justice on the United States Supreme Court. As I looked at her life in pictures, mementos, and statues I couldn't help but wonder...was she lonely at times to? My favorite statue of her is one in which she is standing on glass shards representing how she shattered the glass ceiling. I can guarantee she did not get there by pleasing the crowds. She was a very controversial character-she wasn't the good housewifey woman that many in her era expected. Actually she was hated by many men for her outspoken spirit and quick wit and she was despised by women as unfeminine. But, by not being "the usual" she changed the course of history, not just for herself, but for every woman in America. And the best part? She didn't do that by being the most popular woman and pleasing the world. She did that by tenacity. She did that by living a life above and beyond what anyone ever dreamed possible. She did that by having periods of being lonely so that she could pass by those who did not want her for what she truly was. That is how I want to live. Full of tenacity and spirit and love and passion for whatever I pursue.
       Five months ago I was in a relationship with a man that I loved more than I ever thought possible. I poured every ounce of myself into that relationship (in hindsight not the healthiest decision). And then, one night, he literally looked at me and told me he didn't love me. After an intense screaming match-he won and I lost (bad). I drove home broken, not just in my heart but in my very spirit. I have never felt so worthless, used, disgusting, ugly, or incomplete. But, more importantly, I have never felt so alone. My friends and family went above and beyond-sleeping on my floor, taking me out, lots of hugs and phone calls, planning great weekend adventures. But it was no use. I looked around the world, my world, and felt like a completely useless outsider. I did not want to get out of bed but I didn't want to sleep..honestly I didn't want to exist. And then one morning the weirdest thing I happened. I went for a walk around campus BY MYSELF and felt satisfied. I felt complete with just me. I didn't need him to tell me I was enough because suddenly I WAS ENOUGH. Just me, without his approval and without someone telling me I was. I have been "lonely" for the past five months and I have learned so much about myself. I've reveled in history, I have laughed until I cried, I have danced in the streets of DC with strangers, I have met new people and more importantly I have flown way out of my comfort zone.
       He was not a bad guy...just to clarify. But, without him my life has taken on new direction and soared farther than the farthest reaches of my imagination could go. If I had been with him when I was offered this position in DC I wouldn't have accepted it. I would not be dreaming of jobs in far off cities. I would not have met half of the amazing people I have met. My life would be good but I can't help but wonder-would it be as great as it is right now? Would I have that feeling I get as I sit on the steps of the capitol every night watching the sunset-the feeling of being completely and deeply satisfied and like I am EXACTLY where I am supposed to be? Looking back now I realize that night in January was legitimately one of the biggest blessings that has ever been rained down on me. I am still lonely at times. Sometimes I still am like "what the heck am I doing?!"  (as I am sure most of the people who know and love me wonder at times) but I am learning to embrace these lonely moments as blessings. I am learning to look deep into these days that feel so isolated and to search for the hidden blessing because I KNOW it is there. I am learning to love being lonely. And that in and of itself is very tenacious...and being tenacious is the first step in living a life of tenacity.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

In These Hallowed Halls (17 Things I've Learned My First Week In D.C.)

 I walk into my first day of work and feel the breath leave my body. I am in absolute awe of the building that I will be calling home for the next few work weeks. The United States Capitol is the seat of freedom. It is the place where the crazy experiment of democracy was conducted (and continues to be), much to the shock of the entire world. George Washington is noted as saying "I give it twenty years" when referring to the idea of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And yet, here I stand 229 years later, walking past statues and portraits of the great men and women who changed the course of history forever. I assumed that the shock of where I am would quickly wear off (unfortunately it always does) but not this time. This time I feel a surge of pride every time I walk down the halls. I feel humbled to stand where men and women fought tooth and nail to shatter glass ceilings and create a whole new way of life. I feel grateful for the sacrifices made that I could never imagine. I feel awe as I look upon the rotunda. I feel small as I listen to the deep intellectual conversations and debates that happen up and down the hallowed halls and behind the tightly shut wooden doors. I feel...blessed.
      While DC has been an exciting experience I have also learned some pretty fun and important things the first week here are my top 12:

1. The Washington Monument and the Capitol Building are incredibly large buildings. Because of their immense size they look very close together and like a nice Sunday walk....this is a lie. They are actually 1.8 miles apart.

2. Georgetown cupcakes is absolutely worth waiting in line and paying $6 for one delicious bite. Honestly, it taste like a piece of heaven fell to earth.

3.  Taking one art appreciation class in college does not help you be an informed visitor to the national art gallery but it is still worth the visit. It makes you feel very sophisticated and you do not need a degree to appreciate beauty.

4. Until the Reagan administration inauguration always happened on the East terrace but Reagan insisted facing his home state of California. It has been on the west terrace ever since.

5. You can literally meet people on Sunday and feel like best friends by Monday if they are as amazing as my roommate/hallway mate. Kindred souls are all over the world if you are willing to open up and put yourself out there. You never know who you could meet and you will regret it your whole life if you do not try. There is literally nothing like connecting with someone you wouldn't have met if you didn't step way out of your comfort zone.

6. When you map quest the White House it will take you to the Department of not be deceived.

7.  DC will make you want to read every autobiography you can get your hands on about the founding fathers, supreme court, and president.

8. No one likes obnoxiously loud people on the metro...shut up boo-boo it is not cute.

9. Chinese take out is literally an interns best friend.

10. Who needs sleep when you have strong coffee?

11. According to a very reliable source if you lick the Washington Monument it taste salty.

12. Just because you made yourself a shopping list does not mean you will remember everything the first time, expect multiple metro rides and funny looks.

13. Most people you meet are willing to help if you are respectful and just ask. When you as a D.C. native about their city they love to show it off.

14. You cannot watch one news station and honestly believe you know the truth in any situation.

15. Do not be afraid to challenge what you think you know; even if you do not change your mind you end up strengthening your beliefs.

16. When you get lost in the city just look up....all roads (and some sketchy allies) lead to the Capitol.

17. There is nothing in the world like forcing yourself to move to a new city where you know no one, get a new job you have never done, and be a strong person you've never truly had to be.

My D.C. adventure is just getting started but I literally would not trade this for anything in the entire world....stick with me and I promise to fill you in on fun stories, great eats, and fun adventures.

"To make living itself an art, that is the goal"

Friday, May 8, 2015

So the adventure begins

       My mind wandered as I looked out the window on the way to DC today. Trees and highway were all I saw for six hours. Nervous? Not all seemed so surreal in the car. I am an adult (according to the law I have been for 4 years) there is no denying it now. But snuggled down in the backseat of the car and listening to my parents talk about summer plans I feel like a teenager again. As we pull up to the hotel my parents will be staying at for the evening I feel like someone hit me in the stomach...I am suddenly terrified. We get on the metro and head towards downtown looking for my new apartment, and home, for the next two months. Finally finding the building, we lug all three suitcases upstairs (since the elevator is out of course) and begin unpacking. When we finish it does look like I actually live here, kind of. My bowl made by my precious friend holds my make up, my pillows and blankets are on the bed, and that is the laptop I have written countless papers on but something feels off...different...foreign. This is completely different from any experience I have ever had. I am legitimately on my own for the first time in my entire life and I am so unprepared. Sure, I have spent the last four summers working at various places but I was accountable to someone, someone had my itinerary spelt out, but here I am literally on my own. I can already tell my mom is starting to get antsy about leaving me here. When she looks my way she sees the bouncing little girl with pig tails and skinned up knees; not the sassy adult who lives on her own and is entering the real world. Tears form in her eyes and I see them in the mirror of mine. Where did my childhood go? When did all of this (apartments, metros, and adult jobs) become my reality? Part of me wants to be little again but the bigger (and louder) part of me is so excited for this next adventure I cannot stand it!
     I have longed for this adventure for years. I am always scheming, pinning, reading, researching, hoping, saving, and longing to travel. I long to see the world, to taste new coffees in far off shops, to meet new people, learn new languages, eat exotic foods, walk down streets completely new to my senses and this is my chance! I throw some things into a drawer and see the look of confusion on my dads face (that would have been neatly folded if it were him) and then announce I am starving...honestly I just need to get out of this little box....and away from that refrigerator because it is making the worst sound I have ever heard (I did not break that it was already making weird sounds when I got here!).
      As soon as I walk out the door I can see the Supreme Court building which is an absolute dream come true. I walk out of the anxiety that surrounded me in my apartment and into a surreal realm where the modern world collides with precious history. DC is like a world all of its own. As I walk towards the Capital the countless men and women who have walked this path before me, who have paved the way, shattered the glass ceilings and laid the stones of the history that I cherish all comes to life before my very eyes. We take a few pictures and then find a place to settle down and eat.
     SIDE NOTE: If you are ever in the DC area and need a good place to eat head down Pennsylvania avenue and stop by a restaurant called Bull Feathers... BEST GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWICH EVER! Decent prices for a great location right down the road (less than a block) from the capital. Delicious food, fun atmosphere and you never know who might walk in. A nice family sit down that I would give two thumbs up. Our waiter was incredibly friendly and offered awesome suggestions on running trails and places to get groceries for the weekend.
      The dinner is coming to a close and I look at the two people who have given me more than anyone else ever could. Love and support, of course, but I look at my mom and see my cheeks and eyes looking back. I hear my laughter coming out of her mouth. I look over at my dad and see the embodiment of my fierce determination, stubborn will, and quick wit. These two people make up the best parts of who I am and I am so blessed. Suddenly I feel myself relaxing because I know everything will be alright...I am their daughter, after all.
     Now I am back at my apartment. My parents are gone and my roommates have not moved in yet. It is eerily quite and I have the TV on for sheer noise. I am an adult, this is an amazing opportunity, I can do this! But, I will definitely be pulling my baby blankie a little closer tonight. But, there is no turning back now, the adventure has begun and I am along for the ride no matter what so: big girl pants on, head down and plunge ahead.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kids Will Be Kids

        Giggles reverberate off the creme walls decorated with bright posters advertising "Mr. Question Mark has lots of questions" and "RESPECT-give it." The smell of stale pizza and cafeteria milk lingers after a long lunch period in which thousands of children crammed food into their faces in the short amount of time given to eat. Little girls hold hands and skip down the hallway to their classes, little boys shove and laugh at the newest jokes. Kids are kids no matter where you are. But, this classroom, this school, it is different. These kids go to the lowest income school in the county. This school does not have adequate supplies or enough teachers. This school does not have new gadgets. This school has not had heating or air since January even though every other school in the country was checked to ensure comfortable conditions in the classroom. The day I visited it was easily 85 degrees in the classroom and since it sits on the third floor teachers cannot leave the window open for fear of an accident. The air was stifling, no movement or breeze...just thick, humid air. I sit down on a stool in the front of the room and begin to read. A simple children's book filled with bright colors, the theme "grateful to be alive." I hear giggles as I give the characters various voices, the kids enthralled in the random stranger sitting in the front of the room reading. They fire questions at me like little toy guns: "What is college like?" "Do you have homework?" "What's your favorite color?" I answer the questions laughing at the inquisitive nature and enjoying the pulling and shoving to give me a hug, hold my hand, play with my hair. I revel in the little faces that look at me with such beaming pride when I ask if they will be my new friends. They line up and go to recess, pulling me out the door with them and completely ruining my plans for the rest of the day and suddenly I do not care anymore.
      "Look around and tell me what you see" the teacher ask me. Puzzled I look around the play ground that resembles more of a beehive "Running?" as that seemed to be the dominate mode of transportation. "You see kids being kids" was her response. I smiled. Recess was the best time of the day when I was little. I remember running, laughing, sliding, climbing, playing tag, being a kid. It is still the best time of the day when I get to behave that way. "Unfortunately most of them will be high school drop outs, drug users, and teenager mothers." The thought made it feel as if someone had dropped a stone into my stomach, my knees felt weak, and my vision blurred. These kids are being forced into these roles by the very society that was supposed to protect them. They are pushed through a system without being able to read or spell their own name and by the time the system catches on they mock them, tell them they are stupid and incapable. These kids feel inadequate, not because they are, but because they have never been invested in, believed in, or told they were capable. THEY ARE CAPABLE. I saw quick wit, deep compassion, laughter, and optimism on that playground-but how long do we have? How long until that is doused?
      Children walk by and high five and hug their teacher. They show her their playground treasures of rocks, broken pencils, and sticks and then happily skip away. "I try" I look in her eyes and know she means it. This teacher has a special place in my heart because it is my older sister, and best friend. I hear the stories every night on the phone, I hear the tears when another child is hurts or slips through the system, I see the anger and frustration day in and day out. What the world doesn't know is that my sister stays after school hours, and hours, and hours every day. She works on lesson plans all weekend. She buys hundreds of dollars worth of supplies and books out of her own pocket (and not because teachers make bank either). I cannot tell you how many times she has recruited me to print, cut, or glue "one more project" for her. Teachers like this exist in every level of the school system but they are most needed at this low level-the level of the forgotten. She loves her job but it drains her, it drains all of them. When the last bus pulls out teachers faces wipe clean of the smile they have fought tooth and nail to maintain all day and they turn stoic, exhaustion seeping through in their gait, face, eyes. "I have one year." That is all these teachers have and then the kids are sent on to the next level (sometimes against the teachers recommendation) pushed into a system where they are a number not a face.
      Something has to change in this system that is sucking the souls of the students and teachers alike. Redistricting, better curriculum, more money for teachers, smaller classroom size, better supplies, something. Society turns on the news every single night and sees displays of power and rebellion. We see passion, anger, and frustration usually pent up after years of being unheard and forgotten. Many of these children's parents do not actively participate in their lives, and not because they do not care, because they work two and three jobs just to make ends meet. There is not PTA to step in the gap and make decisions, to call the school board when something isn't working properly, so it is time for voters to say something is not is time we stand in the gap. It is time for us who complain of injustice to stop running our mouths and actually take a stand and do something. These are not numbers: they are children. They laugh, they cry, the long to be hugged, to tell someone about their day who thinks they are smart and funny, they want to play. No matter where you go in the world; no matter the race, income, religion, they are children and that is a universal reality. Kids will be kids, and it is time for us to let them be.