On turning 30. . .



We all knew this was coming.

My rant on turning thirty. The big three-zero. The end of my figuring-out-my-life twenties and the beginning-of-my-career-and-settling-down-to-a-family thirties. . . . what?


I don’t know what 30 holds and I’m not going to pretend that I do. Whenever I play the “Five years from now I see myself. . .” game it nearly always leads to being wrong.

So rather than write on all the hopes and dreams I feel 30 may bring, I will write on what I know.


And that is 29.



1.    I started wearing rouge. I always thoughts that red lipstick was either for old people or hookers. I was wrong. It is for awesome people. All people. There is something about sporting bright red lips that makes you feel on top of the world—even if you can’t wear heels. It is like an automatic, instant beautifier/sex appeal the moment it goes on. I highly recommend it.

2.    I conquered dating anxiety.  I am what one may term a “serial monogamous.” I date one man at a time, for a very long time. What I don’t do—is go on dates. All my serious, long-term relationships have begun with a friendship and bloomed into a relationship and then and only then would I go on one-on-one dates. As for going out on a date with a man whom I am not yet dating or have just met, it does not happen. Ever. . . Not until 29. I successfully went on four actual dates, with actual men, whom I actually had just met. And yes, I had anxiety attacks prior to most of them. But I went. And on the last of the four the anxiety was severely less than usual and in fact—it was fun.

3.    I cut fringe bangs.  I haven’t had bangs in years. And when I did they were thin and wispy. To cut bangs, as all women know too well, is a dangerous and sometimes fatal risk. Some people can pull them off, and some people can’t. And once you take the plunge, you are stuck with them for a very, very long time. But I watched “New Girl” just enough times that I was convinced, as  substitute teacher, that it only made sense I should look as much like Zooey Deschanel as possible.
#Iwoulddoitagain #fringebangswin

4.    I got my moxie back.  There is something deep inside every woman that crumbles when a breakup happens.  We lose our moxie. We lose our power. We feel weak. We feel vulnerable. We feel broken. Most times. . . we feel infuriated. But we lose a part of ourselves. The brave part. The courageous part. The part that knows we are something without someone. But then? Then we get it back. It may take a while, but we almost always do. This time around, I wasn’t sure I would. The crumble was brutal. But when I did? Mmmmmmm when I did it was good. So much better than ever before. Because you see—the most brutal of heartbreaks means the most powerful of healings and produces the most tenacious of single women J

5.    I discovered Netflix. This meant “180 degrees South.” And “Black Fish.” And “Happy.” And “Prince Avalanche.” And endless other documentaries and indie films that I highly recommend.

6.    I took a class through Harvard.  My brother convinced me to do it. And at the time, it seemed like a good idea. We were guaranteed to secure jobs at $50,000 starting salary if we completed the course successfully. Me? A Harvard student!?!? Yes. Done.

7.    I quit my Harvard class.  The class was pure insanity. I am not cut out to be a computer programmer. I’ll take my $12,000/year conservation corps job any day over that load of crock.

8.    I became friends with my brother.  Although our classmate status lasted only about three weeks, it was a time during which we were guaranteed a weekly hangout, which led to me realizing how much I enjoy his company and appreciate our siblinghood. My brother and I were BFFs when we were younger—I being the tomboy of the family and all—somewhere along the line, that BFF status died out. But it was nice to get a chance to re-kindle that during my year in St. Louis and I hope to continue the trend.

9.    I made my bed.  Let me be more specific: I made my bed every single day, for an entire YEAR. This, for me, is huge. I don’t make my bed. I am the type that says, “It’s going to be unmade again anyway in a matter of hours, so why make it?” But—it was that time in life when it became vital to start to habits. To make an effort. To be slightly organized in my everyday life in hopes that my long-term life have a bit of ebb and flow. 

10.  I made a website.  It was a $12.99/year .com site and it is far from fantastic—but it I did it. It was something I had wanted to do for years and hadn’t made the time to do. www.artybyamyrose.com

11.  I puked into my purse.  It was exactly as bad and as literal as it sounds. I had a purse, and I puked into it. I was headed out on a date (this was before conquering date anxiety) and had been fighting some sort of flu virus for a week. I had just chugged a bottle of vita-c water and the combination of vitamin chugging and anxiety resulted in immediate vomit . . . into my purse.  I laughed. I had no choice.


12.  I survived on a $7,500 annual income.  Granted, I was living with my parents and mostly eating large amounts of their food, but still. Seven thousand dollars?!?!  Until I filed my taxes and punched the numbers I had no idea surviving on an income so low was even possible. Welcome to returning from Korea to work part-time jobs for minimum wage.

13.  I got a job at Starbucks.  I could tell you of the incredible ways in which I justified this decision. But I am attempting (poorly) to keep this post shortish and concisish. So I will keep it simple: desperate, unemployed, uninsured = Starbucks.

14.  I quit my job at Starbucks.  Up at three o’ clock in the morning to work for minimum wage and feeling as though I was selling my soul to the corporate monster every waking moment?  Not. Worth it.

15.  I pretended to be 22 again. This is what happens when you move back to your hometown to wait tables downtown and your besties are also waitresses who happen to be fresh out of college. Endless grape bombs.  ENDLESS.

16.  I realized (yet again) that I don’t want to be a teacher.  I went to Korea to learn that I don’t want to be a teacher. I actually enjoy teaching, just not in a traditional classroom setting. But somehow, even after an entire year of teaching overseas, I convinced myself that just maybe I would actually enjoy teaching in the States. Then substitute teaching all over metropolitan St. Louis happened. Turns out—I don’t want to be a teacher.

17.  I pretended to want to go to grad school.  This happens once every couple of years. Mostly when I get tired of everyone asking me, “So when are you going to go back to school?”  So, I pretend. I think about it. I get pamphlets and send emails to admissions counselors setting up appointments. And then I cancel them and get real.

18.  I accepted that I will probably not ever go to grad school.  

19.  I moved back to St. Louis, and in with my parents. This was on my list of “things I’ll NEVER do.” Note to self: Never make a list of things you’ll never do.

20.  I discovered Roo Panes.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCkzG0sr7qM

21.  I ran a 5k. By “ran” I mean jogged . . . slowly jogged. In fact at one point I specifically and regretfully remember a young mom zipping by me while pushing a stroller with a small child in it. Nevertheless, I completed a 5k without giving in to walking even for a second. This was a life goal. #winning

22.  I produced an indie-film in Chicago with A-list actors. It was probably the most random thing I’ve ever done. A road trip to Chicago with a fellow wandering soul  and a connection with a film student led me to be a Production Assistant for the upcoming feature film, Killing Poe. #killingpoe

23.  I helped to rebuild Moore, Oklahoma.  It was a couple weeks of humidity, heat, rummaging through ruins, collecting and writing project reports, living on black coffee and gluten free crackers, data entry, finding a $10,000 safe, and learning how to build a house. Oh—and best of all—staying in a mega-church and being serenaded by a Mennonite acapella mens’ choir every night.

24.  I rediscovered a best friend in my sister.  I am usually not homesick. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I crave being back in St. Louis. But I do miss not being around family. And for the first time in eleven years, my sister was just a car ride away. Downton Dinners 4LIFE!!!

25.  I watched an ungodly amount of International House Hunters.  What happens when you haven’t owned a TV or had access to cable in seven years? Endless International Househunter, that’s what.

26.  I healed.

27.  I shot still photography for a documentary in exchange for free live music and endless sazeracs.  Shooting for a independent documentary film on America’s Blues music meant going to shows every weekend for free, meeting the artists, hanging at Moonshine Blues Bar (the bartenders are by far the best I’ve ever seen), and finally getting back in touch with my camera.

28.  I gave up on the idea of a career. And guess what? It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 152 failed resumes later, I realized that perhaps working for the development sector of a nonprofit organization was in fact not for me. Nor was an office. A 9 to 5 job. A 401K. A house on the edge of town. . .  Maybe one day a house on the edge of town . . . The point is I quit trying to be something that I’m not. And that’s a career woman, in a big city, with a lease. Not yet.

29.  I moved to Vermont.  I got in my car and I drove for twenty-two hours to New England. To the north. To a place I swore I’d never move. The bitter-cold north. And what I found was the most wonderful place I’ve ever lived. Two-lane highways and zero billboards and Green Mountain coffee and maple syrup and Cabot cheese and pines and paper birch and maple as far as the eye can see. Contra dancing and trail building and fire circle chatting and Burlington people-watching. I found community and I found a subculture that I never knew existed. And even though the entirety of my 30th birthday was spent in a twelve-passenger van pulling a trailer to North Carolina with my co-lead whom at the time I barely knew—it was worth it. To come to Vermont. To turn thirty in a beautiful place I felt at home. To learn that outside is where I need to be.




I am not a Victim


I am not a victim.


I said this aloud today, in my car. While driving home from a day of substitute teaching at Epstein Hebrew Academy. Other than having to cover myself from collarbone to wrist-bone to anklebone in layers of shirts and skirts, it’s a pretty good gig. I get to play with insanely adorable two to four year old Jewish children for seven hours a day, learn some Hebrew, and on a good day like today—sit in the sun. The teachers are some of the best I’ve worked with yet and the added bonus of learning about traditions of a culture/religion I actually came from (German-Jew roots) is pretty fantastic.

Of course, there are days like today when it is more apparent that I am the non-Jew. Days like today when Morah (Hebrew for “teacher”) Bobbi spent an hour teaching the children about which animals are kosher and which are not—as my very UN-kosher ham sandwich sat on the counter in my lunch bag only feet away.

I chose instead to eat a school lunch today.

And then there was the handshake. Or non-handshake, rather. When Rabbi Moran introduced himself and I eagerly reached forward to shake his hand—as he proceeded to hold his own firmly behind his back, explaining that he does not  “do that.” 

Live and learn.

I am afforded these unique learning opportunities because I am a substitute teacher. Not only do I substitute for Epstein Hebrew Academy, but also for New City, Orchard Farm School District, Living Word Christian Schools and Hazelwood School District. For those of you who may not be entirely familiar with the St. Louis Metro region, what this means is that I get to sub the East-side children of the hood; the northwest side low-income children of the corn; the very typical, middle-class, close-minded children of suburbia; the west county wealthy; and the cultured, privileged-or-scholarshipped, open-minded quazi-hippy children of the Delmar Divide. (NOT listed respectively)

Please note I said “sub” and not “teach” these children because there is a very big difference. I taught English in Korea. Kind of. . . I taught elementary math and writing and social studies and art and science in English so, the children being forced to learn and speak in English—learned. But sub-teaching? I am essentially babysitting. I am filling in. I am passing out packets upon packets of busy-work or tests and sitting in for the teachers’ absence. There have been a few times I’ve legitimately taught. I taught a senior Psychology class and a freshman literature class successfully—like actually taught. It was nice. I felt effective. Twice.

But such is the life of a substitute teacher. Which is what I am right now.

A substitute teacher.
At least for now I am. In the past year, since returning from my year abroad in Korea, I have held a variety of job titles . . .



*Production Assistant- “Killing Poe” indie film
*Disaster Relief Volunteer
*Server
*Barista
*Nanny
*House-cleaner
*Aspiring Writer
*Work-for-trade photographer


My mainstream friends call me a hippie and my hippie friends call me mainstream. To the conservative Christians I’m a tattooed sinner and to the atheists and anti-religious I am a prude a saint. The world travelers tell me I’ve “been a few places” and the suburbanites say I’ve seen the world. My country-girl college roommate and her in-laws call me a ‘city girl’ and the city girls call me a country girl. To the yogis I will “get better with practice” and to the non-yogis I am “crazy flexible.”  To the musicians I “used to play” and to the musically challenged I am a gifted pianist. To the true educators of America I am “just a sub” and to those outside of the educational system I am “aweee wow, a teacher!”

I am a woman who wears many hats.

I am a chameleon.
I am a Gemini.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am an aunt.
I was a granddaughter. (love you, Grandma)
I am a teacher.
I am a writer.
I am a photographer.
I am a ridiculously undisciplined pianist who will one day play again.
I am a dreamer.
I am an optimist.
I am a visionary.
I am a procrastinator.
I am a wanderer.
I am a friend.
I am a reckless lover of all people—most especially the broken and forgotten ones.
I am a wonderer.
I am a skeptic.
I am a doubter.
I am a believer.
I am an outdoor enthusiast.
I am an honorary big sister to a handful of beautiful souls.
I am a romantic.
I am a poet.
I am an adventurer.
I am a humanitarian.
I am a world changer.
I am forever young.

I am not a victim.

I was a victim. Since last April I was a victim. I was a failure. I was the girl who didn’t see it coming. I did all the things I swore I’d never do again in all my life—move back to St. Louis, move in with my parents, and wait tables.

I was a victim because I chose to be. I was a victim because I allowed it to define me. I was a victim because the pain blinded me from seeing all the beautiful things I actually was—am.

He didn’t love me back.

And that’s okay. That’s life. It happens to everyone and I am no exception. It’s no one’s fault. Not mine nor his. The only true fault lies in the decisions made after the devastation. I chose to be a victim. I chose to say “Poor me. Everyone look how I have been wronged. Look at how I have a degree and can’t get a job. Feel bad for me. Feel sorry for me. Help me. I am in a bad place for a bad reason and I feel I will stay here forever. He wronged me. In the worst of ways he wronged me. . . “

I am not a victim. Not anymore.


There is a difference between being a victim and allowing true grief. I think true grief is one of the most beautiful things, but also one of the most rarely practiced. I cannot recall how many times this past year I was asked, “How are you?” and my response was both shocking and most times oddly unwelcomed.

I made a point to never say “Good,” because I wasn’t. I wasn’t good at all. I was working a minimum wage job with a four-year degree. I was lonely and heartbroken and disappointed in myself and my current state of being. I wasn’t okay at all. And I wasn’t about to pretend I was. So most times I said, “I’m decent,” or “I’m going to be okay,” or “I’m surviving,” or “I’m making it,” or—on some occasions—“I’m pretty awful actually.” Because I was. I was pretty awful actually. It was the hardest year of my life.

The other night I was talking with my little brother about sadness. I had one of those crazy moments where you realize a grand Truth just as it leaves you mouth—a Truth you didn’t even know was hidden inside your mind until you said it aloud—a Truth so empowering you have to stop for a moment to and sit in awe at the words you didn’t know were there. . .

Lucas. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re going to be “okay.” You’re not going to be okay. You’re going to survive. And that’s sometimes all you can do when you’re in the darkest of places. Sometimes all you can do is survive. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay. Because one day you’ll wake up and you won’t be just surviving anymore. You’ll be living—really living. But only because you allowed yourself to first fully grieve—to first simply survive, even when everyone around you just wanted you to be okay—to be better. And you’ll be better for it. I promise you will be. You’ll be fantastic. Not just okay. Grief is vital, you know. It is vital for life. It is important to embrace your grief so that you can really live after you survive it.



I am ready.

I am ready to really live.




Silver Spoon. Plastic Bowl.





The other morning I sat at the kitchen counter forcing cereal down my throat. Sipping K-cup coffee. Staring into the dark oblivion.


3:30a.m.


That is what time I woke up, fell out of bed, wrapped myself tightly inside my baby blue bathrobe, and stumbled down the stairs to eat breakfast before going to my first day of training at Starbucks.

As I stared into the darkness through the kitchen window and wondered how I had come to this place in life—getting up at 3:30a.m. to work a minimum wage job—I realized something quite significant.

I was eating from a silver spoon.

Not just a silver spoon, but a silver spoon and a fine china bowl. I was sitting in a two-story home, in white, middle class suburbia, eating organic granola out of a fine china bowl. . . from a silver spoon.

Not only was I displeased—I was horrified.

What. Is my life.

I wondered aloud.

What is my life and where is my blue, plastic bowl full of posho and beans and where is my Desire (orphan boy) with whom to share my posho and beans??? Where is my African sun and my red-dirt stained pants and my $0.25 fresh pineapple????

Where is my plastic bowl.

Later that evening I shared red wine and Baby Mama (a Tina Fey classic) with my two St. Louis girlfriends, the three of us crammed onto a love seat, stuffing our faces with cold pizza and discussing life.

“I had a very enlightening moment this morning,” I said. “I realized that I need to get out. I am antsy and tired of living in America. St. Louis is soul-crushing. I don’t like suburbia. I miss being a foreigner. I miss having foreign friends. I can never stay here for too long. In America—much less St. Louis! Eight months is too long. Way too long.”

I told them about my plastic bowl epiphany.

At this point, my dear friend Carrie, in her let-me-tell-it-to-you-straight Carrie sort of way, offered me a morsel of Truth:

“AmyRose. You need to find your plastic bowl in St. Louis. You need to quit putting living abroad in foreign countries on a pedestal and find your plastic bowl right here. You haven’t found it yet. But you need to. And you will.”


I didn’t respond.

I’m pretty sure I just took a swig of Merlot and gave her my usual “I hate that you’re right, Carrie!!!” glare.

When I lived in Korea while teaching ESL, I remember the day I realized that most of us were there avoiding life. I don’t think I met a single foreign teacher who was legitimately passionate about teaching English as a second language. We were all there in order to travel. We were there for adventure. We were there because we couldn’t find jobs back in the United States. We were there for a decent paycheck, a pension, free rent and cheap Soju (Korean vodka). We were there for all kinds of reasons—not necessarily negative reasons—but the point is none of us were there because teaching was our passion. We were there for every other reason, and teaching afforded us the opportunity to live abroad.

I also remember turning to my boyfriend one day and saying, “I feel like coming here was, in a sense, putting my life on hold. I’m glad I came. So glad. But I don’t want to do this forever. I want to do so much more. I want something so different. I thought I would come to Korea and realize I wanted to be a teacher. Instead I came to Korea and realized that I don’t. Now what?”

Now?

Now I am a teacher.

I spent the last several months getting background checks, filing for a substitute teaching certificate, and applying for various school districts, private schools, and most recently, Teach for America.

A couple weeks ago, after quitting my job at the winery, I applied for an ESL teaching job in Brazil.

Why?

Because I can’t find a job doing what I want to do here. Because the economy is horrid. Because I work for minimum wage. Because I’m restless. Because I want to travel again. Because I want to be a foreigner again.

But mostly because I can.

Because I don’t know that I can get a job in nonprofit development. Because I am surrounded by people that look and walk and talk and eat like me and it is appalling.  
Notice, I did not say I want to move to Brazil because I want to be a teacher. I want to go to Brazil because it's not the United States. 



Christine asked me last night what I know I would be good at. She asked me, of the two (nonprofit humanitarian aid/teaching) which do I know for certain I would be really great at and really enjoy.

Nonprofit work. I said.  Hands down, nonprofit development. Humanitarian aid. I am a good teacher. I know that. But I don’t think being in a traditional classroom for eight hours a day for the rest of my life is for me. Fundraising and raising awareness for something I believe in is.

“Then do that. There’s your answer. It’s that simple. Do that. Why haven’t you done it already?”


Because what if I fail.


I very well may. I may fail. Already I have ‘failed’ twenty-six times. That is the number of development resumes I have turned in during the last eight months. And because I have not yet acquired a job in the career field of my choice—I have decided to be a teacher. I have decided to move to Brazil.

Because I’m tired of eating from a silver spoon. Because I haven’t found my plastic bowl. Because I haven’t tried.

Not here. Not in America.

When I lived in Uganda for six months, almost everyone that knew me believed me to be some sort of saint. They imagined me in a straw hut in the Sahara surrounded by lions and cockroaches and living on rations. The only reality to any of that was the surrounded by cockroaches part.

Africa was easy. It was safe. I don’t mean physically safe—we were robbed in broad daylight in the middle of the city. I mean that when I lived there I was automatically doing something right. I was in Africa. I was a world traveler. I was a humanitarian. I was an adventurer. In reality I didn’t have to do much at all while there—my mere presence in Africa and absence from America meant that I was something special. I was “really living.”

The same was true of my time in Korea. Although it was far less ‘easy.’ It was not easy at all, in fact. I was sick more than 50% of the time. I hated city life.  And because I was there with my boyfriend I was an entirely anti-social version of myself. But again, being there meant I was a traveler. A teacher. A go-getter. Even. . . “brave.”

Traveling, to me, is safe. It is like the go-to answer for when I don’t know what I am doing with my life. I don’t regret living in either place. They were both life-changing experiences to say the least. And at the time, it was a good choice to go.

But now? Now it is a cop out. Now it is a safety. It is what I want to do because life doesn’t make sense here. It is what I want to do because I haven’t found my plastic bowl.

My brother, while sharing his philosophy of life the other week, said to me,

“Amy, there is no such thing as safety.”



He is right.

There is not. 

Dumpster Dinners


The other night I went dumpster diving. I had done this in college at the end of the year when the new graduates threw out trashcans, blow driers, lamps, furniture and toiletries galore.

I specifically remember a time when my non-dumpster-diving friends drove into their apartment complex parking lot late one evening only to find Whitney and I entirely inside their apartment dumpster, with flashlight and headlamp, wallowing in filth . . . or treasures, rather. 

We froze in the glare of their headlights, of their stares, for a moment ashamed--and then quickly soared beyond shame upon remembering what lie below and continued rummaging. Whitney and I were the poorest of our clique. She grew up on government cheese and discount food items from the nearby Native American reservation and I grew up on expired food and 100% garage sale attire. We were the ones working through college. If free goods were to be had, Whitney and I wanted in. So—dumpster-diving.

That was seven years ago. I was twenty-one years old and in college shopping for free furniture and half-used name brand shampoo. Maybe a full-length mirror if I was really lucky. 

This time was different. This time I was twenty-nine years old and rummaging through the cockroach-infested dumpster of an organic food store, in search of groceries for my best friend. 

We were looking for food. In a dumpster.

And while Jade felt right at home and practically dove in headfirst—tearing open bags and slowly becoming covered in grime—I did not. 

When I hit the dumpster in college I was shopping for accessories, for whatever was free and looked neat. Most of the good stuff was actually set neatly outside the dumpster and anything else was piled in heaps—not hidden beneath the stench of rotting strawberries and greasy mayo. I realized, while in the dumpster, watching the cockroaches, that some people don't do this for fun.

They do it to live. 

I don't mind dirt. In fact, one of my favorite past times in all the world is running and playing in the rain and mud. I wait tables. I am covered in sweat and food particles the majority of my shift. I have slept with cockroaches that were literally as big as my hand, crawling the walls of my home in the African heat. I have worked disaster relief jobs that required me to suck raw sewage from carpets with a wet vac. Again, I don’t mind dirt.

But this? This was repulsive. The stench. The cockroaches crawling on the food we were picking at. The cockroaches with which we were trapped inside a six by six foot metal box. The filth on my hands—my face—my clothes—my car. It was truly disgusting.

For some reason I thought dumpster diving would be fun. Maybe that’s because in college, it was. We didn’t need the items we were looking for to survive. We simply wanted them. And they were free.

Dumpster diving this time wasn’t about free lamps and apartment accessories. It was about getting free food to be taken home, rinsed off, eaten and stored because food stamp money was running low. And that made me uncomfortable. It made dumpster diving not so fun after all.

Jade, however, seemed to be having a blast. As I said, she dove right in. We went home with two watermelons, a carton of strawberries, a bag of lemons, a box of mushrooms, two eggs, three blueberry scones, several tomatoes, a box of cereal, a zucchini, and three or four not-so-frozen-anymore stir-fry dinners. 

She could eat for days.

Really, she had food at home. It may not have lasted long, but it was there. Jade dumpster-diving for her dinner didn’t make me uncomfortable. The thoughts the situation provoked did. I thought about all of Jade’s California friends, her homeless friends, her wandering friends—who do this not once a month for extra food, but every day for all their food. I thought about all the starving people in all the world who don’t do this for a ‘late night adventure’ but rather, simply to survive.

Honestly, this wasn’t one of those life-changing moments for me where I realized I needed to ‘quit my day job’ (that I don’t have) and go feed the hungry.

I realized I’m glad I have friends like Jade.

There was a time in my life (age 0-24 years) when almost every person I knew was white, middle-class and conservative Christian. I am entirely grateful for my upbringing and my education and I would not change anything at all given the chance. But sometimes, when I look back and see that, I want to vomit.

I am overwhelmed when I look at my life now, and back at the last five years, and see conversations with bearded homeless men; car rides with hitchhikers and their dogs; art parties in Korea with Americans, Canadians, Christians, Jews; sharing coffee with abortion rights activists; accidentally attending a lesbian beach bonfire (which for the record was maybe the most entertaining/fun bonfire of my life).

I am thankful for these interactions. I am thankful for the ‘Nons.’ The non-believers. The non-whites. The non-middle-class. The non-'normal'. The dumpster divers.




Because they make me see.




Why Being Single is Awesome


Happy Belated Valentines Day, everyone!!! In leu of surviving the only holiday specifically created for couples, I have written a list of fourteen reasons why being a single woman is awesome. This post is dedicated to Lydia, Christine and Rachel . . . and also everyone else who is single. Enjoy :) 

1.     We understand what “moving home for family” really means.
Exhibit A:

Brand New Friend Christine whom I found online and met at a bar: So, what brought you to St. Louis?
Me: Well, I just moved back from Korea. Before that, I was in Arkansas. Before that, Africa.  Basically I haven’t lived here in eleven years and I just kind of figured it was time to be near family again.
Christine: (long pause, pensive stare) Oh. So you had a really bad break up and had to come home? Me too.

2.     Extreme heartache/pain breeds creativity.
Everyone knows the best songs, poetry, and stories are written when the artist is severely depressed and alone. Going through a horrific breakup followed by months of singleness may not be fun, but it absolutely helps to create some incredible art.
Example: Noah and the Whale- The First Days of Spring album

3.     Being single forces one to embrace independence.
When with a significant other, things are paid for. Decisions are made together. Emotional, psychological and other support is provided almost always. When single, we are on are own pretty much 100% of the time. Does my neck and upper back hurt like hell? Do I have a million knots that seem to never go away? Do I have some nice, strong man-hands to help alleviate the pain and provide exhorbitant amounts of oxytocin? NO. I do not. I rub out the pain myself. I use essential oils that don’t actually work but make me feel all-natural. I POWER THROUGH. If my break pads fall out of my car in the middle of the road and I go careening down the hill and into traffic, do I have someone to call and assist me in fixing my car? No. I do it myself. . . with the help of a neighbor named Zeus.

4.     Options are endless.
I read a blog recently (www.waitbywhy.com) about singleness. He basically explained that those of us who are single are actually in a much better place then those that are in a relationship that is doomed to fail because we are one step closer to success! While those in a relationship that will soon end still have to struggle through trying to make it work, it not working, devastation, and months of healing—those of us who have been single for a while now are already on the mend, don’t have to worry about making something last that shouldn’t, and can date anyone we choose! I mean, we can literally go out on the town, to the post office, or really anywhere and look at every single male we want to look at without an ounce of guilt. Then we quickly glance to the ring finger. If occupied—look away and get over it. If not? Who knows . . .

5.     We get to redefine ourselves.
      We’ve all been there. We’ve been that super independent woman that once in a relationship somehow almost instantly becomes a clingy, needy and slightly crazy person that we barely recognize. We sometimes find ourselves growing our hair out, or chopping it all off, or dying it, or letting it go natural, or getting manicures, or whatever else that is entirely not our idea but seems to please the man. Maybe we even cease listening to country music—or start listening to country music (gasp!) There’s nothing wrong with these decisions, but sometimes it is easy to get carried away and in the process lose our identity entirely. Being single for a season (or forever) allows us to redefine who we are. To find whom we once were but seem to have forgotten existed at all.

6.     We can dance like no one’s watching.
In reality—everyone is watching. But you know that saying, “Love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like no one’s watching . . .” Something like that. Anyway there’s something about being a single woman that makes it okay to actually do that in public. My dear friend Christine and I have been known to break out into interpretive dances to hit pop songs like “Clarity” by Zedd. I mean—those dancing around us just stop and stare in awestruck (or horrified) wonder. It is really fantastic. There was also the time we were so tired of dancing alone during slow songs that we invited the entire bar/club to dance with us . . . it pretty much turned into a group hug/slow dance of thirty complete strangers J

7.     We can walk at whatever pace we want to.
You know what I’m talking about. That guy you dated that walked suuuuuuuper fast . . . or painfully  slow!? Awful. When you are single you can walk however fast or slow you want to according to your current mood (which we all know varies greatly). In fact, you can even choose whichever pattern you would like to walk in!
Fact: I sometimes walk in zigzag patterns on my way back to my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot . . . just because I can.

8.     We can get up and go.
Anywhere. Any time. For any reason. No questions asked. This may mean a trip to Italy. Or? It may mean an impulsive road trip to Iowa to see your college besties. No matter. You are single. There is no one else to invite or coordinate schedules with. GO.

9.     We can find great joy in flirting with random old men.
Sometimes we can get a bit down about our singleness and have self esteem issues. Thoughts like, “Am I too old? Do I even have any eggs left? Do they assume I’m taken so they don’t even try to approach me? Do I smell? Do I have something in my teeth? Do I come off as desperate!?!?” cross our minds. It is then we may take the opportunity to hit on a random sixty-five year old man at the local indie art store. Nothing dirty or inappropriate. Simply dropping a sale pamphlet next to him and then giving a smile as he responds,

Old Man: I just got out of the hospital for back surgery so I can’t pick that up for you, pretty lady!
Me: Dammit! I was trying to hit on you.
Old Man: I figured (winky face).
Old Man’s Old Friend: HAHA! You wish, Earl!
Old Man: Maybe you should try that trick on the next good-looking man your age that walks by.
Me: Good idea.
(I ACCIDENTALLY drop an Xacto knife minutes later)
Old Man: Shoot! He missed his cue, honey. Next time.
Old Man: (In line behind old men waiting to check out)
You followin’ us, sweetie?
Me: Always
Old Man’s Friend: Wellll now. Any girl that can get away with sportin’ cowboy boots in the middle of St. Louis city in the Loop is fine enough to stand by me!

10.  We can use our nephews as man-bait.
It’s kind of the same idea as a guy walking a dog to get girls. Except nephews are WAY cuter and they also allow us to show off our nurturing, maternal abilities.

11.  We can watch endless chick flicks, indie films, The Bachelor, etc. and not be judged for it.
While I’m at it. . . we can even watch ANTP. There is no need to stand at the Redbox in the frigid cold for hours or browse Netflix for days trying to agree upon a movie you would both enjoy. It is our decision and our decision only.

12.  We can secretly grin ear-to-ear when we see unhappy, bickering couples because thank God that’s not us.
Is it terrible? Yes. Will we go to hell for this? Maybe. But there is absolutely no denying that we all, at least at some point in our single lives, have secretly rejoiced over witnessing an incredibly unhappy couple argue over whether they should go see a movie tonight or stay in, order take out or eat out, hire a sitter or stay home, purchase a bottle of wine or simply a couple of glasses. We witness couples engaging in all kinds of lovey-dovey activity all day every day. Couples surround us. We are the absolute minority (if over twenty-five years old and living in the Midwest). Therefore, when we see a couple that clearly can't stand each other, although admittedly horrible, we inwardly rejoice. Because that could have been us.

13.  We can be pegged as lesbians and not care.
There was a time in life when this would have been offensive. Now? Not so much. I feel that once over twenty-five years, women tend to develop a sense of moxie that prior to turning twenty-five was simply unobtainable. The first twenty-five years of life (especially the first eighteen) are so full of insecurity and traumatic adolescence and first love and heartbreak that once twenty-five comes along we just sort of get it. Finally. Not entirely, but to an extent. We know who we are much more so than we did back then. Our self-esteem is probably at its peak because we survived middle school, powered through high school, partied through college, and finally—are finding ourselves in the real world. Or are we? Ha! We are trying. The point is that sometimes we may go to a bar with a girlfriend/friendgirl and be sitting quite close. And hugging. Or have our arms around one another while sharing a gin and tonic. And people may stare in wonder, or they may straight up ask if we are together. But because we are strong and confident single women, we do not react defensively; “No I’m not a lesbian! I have a boyfriend!” and then proceed to freak out and move ten feet away from said friend. Instead, we simply throw our heads back and laugh while continuing to confidently sip our cocktail, not giving a care in the world that perhaps the reason no good-looking men are approaching us is because it is assumed we are ‘together.’ Because we are single women. And we simply do not care.

14.  We can do what we want. Every. SINGLE. Day.
Enough said.

Kayak Korner & Homeless Him


I signed up for an online Harvard class.

It’s an introduction to computer sciences course called “CS50.”  Apparently, if I successfully pass the course, I will be guaranteed job placement with one of one hundred businesses in the St. Louis area that are partnered with LaunchCode—who is sort of ‘teaching’ the course via public viewings of the lectures at the St. Louis public library and a whole lot of online courseware.

I am failing.

I am an incredibly right-brained, creative minded, ADD, procrastinating type of person. To give you a little insight as to how well I did in school prior to attempting to take a HARVARD course. . . I failed college Algebra and only passed the second time around because I was tutored every single day. I passed, eventually, with a ‘D’. I lost my Sociology double major (got a phone call from the registrar two weeks after graduation) because I passed elementary statistics with a ‘D’. I needed at least a ‘C’ to maintain my major. In high school I failed chemistry and barely passed every math course I took. . . with ‘D’s.

I changed my major five times.

I was supposed to graduate in 3.5 years. Instead, due to withdrawing, failing, withdraw-failing, and re-taking a plethora of courses—I graduated in four, lost my double major, took Jan-term and summer classes and to top it all off. . .

I finished off my senior year of college with a GPA of:

1.94 

And now? Now I am enrolled in a Harvard computer science class.

Of course I am.

When I told my mother about this grand venture she laughed out loud. And so naturally, I decided rather than listen to her advice on how “You would hate that. You would be horrible at that. You hate numbers. And computers. What are you thinking?”—I instead decided to take and pass the class just to prove her wrong.

So now I sit at Kayaks. Drinking St. Louis local Kaldi’s coffee. I count the minutes passing as I watch video after video and attempt to take notes. My page is full of curse words. . . variables, binaries, loops, integers, loops, source code?!!?

But the view is fantastic.

Kind of?

I sit directly in front of a six-by-fifteen foot window facing Forest Park—which by the way—is the biggest city park system in the United States. I see pines. And grass. And to my right are old brick buildings. Beautiful architecture. Surrounding me in the coffee shop are international Washington University students and upper-class white yuppies.

Directly across from me is not just Forest Park. There is something not blocking, but distracting my view.

Homeless Him.

He does not have a name yet, but he will.

He is African-American. He is elderly. And it is 28 degrees outside.

I am staring because I can’t help it. Because as I forced myself to watch endless videos on how to write source code all I could think of was how much I would rather continue to be completely broke if it meant I got to hang out with Homeless Him instead of studying.

There is a Subaru stopped at the light. I see a white, female teenager in the passenger seat. Mom is driving. My immediately judgmental thoughts are as follows,

Of course she won’t even look at him. Of course she won’t give anything. Not money. Not food. Nothing. Not even a glance. Better to ignore the stare. Better to pretend he isn’t there. Damn yuppies.

Homeless Him disappears for a moment. I wonder where he’s gone.

There he is. . . running. . . no—limping—to the Subaru.

And I break.

The Subaru.

Rolls the window down and passes a few dollars. The man thanks the women. Homeless Him. Homeless, Elderly Him. Homeless, Elderly, Disabled Him.

I see another man. Also flying a sign. Also asking for money or food. I am angry with him. Why is he on Homeless Him’s corner? He is competition, you know. So selfish.


Minutes pass.


Homeless Him takes a seat—and Another Man joins him. They pile up there loot. Together. A bag of take-out. A half-empty bag of clementines. A few dollars.



They are in this together. I see that now.






New Year UNresolution


That is probably not the right terminology. What I mean is. . .


This year, rather than make an illogical list of things that I will begin doing for the year 2014 (because we all know all that leads to is disappointment and guilt by mid-February) I have instead decided to make a list of things I will stop doing.

I am dedicating this post to Dr. Richard Brewer. My Psychology professor, academic advisor, life counselor, and dear friend—who told me almost weekly throughout my four years at university that I was “shooting [myself] in the foot.” Thank you, Dr. Brewer, for helping me to realize that I am, in fact, my own worst enemy.


1. I am going to stop pretending I belong in the corporate world, or can sleep at night knowing I work (though at the bottom of the totem pole) for a corporate company.

I don’t. Not even as a barista. One of my co-workers told me I told belong there.

He was right.


2. I am going to stop pretending that online dating is a good idea.

It isn’t. Not now and not ever. What started out as a joke and endless entertainment between a couple girlfriends and I has turned into: ‘Karen’ finding a serious boyfriend, ‘Jane’ finding endless idiots and resolving to move back to the east coast. . . and me, swearing off dating entirely. Forever.


3. I am going to stop making excuses.

I am reallllllly good at it. I have an excuse for everything under the sun. I’m not sure where I learned this talent, but it is quite a horrible one to have. I don’t play piano anymore because I have stage fright. I haven’t written in some time because my computer broke. I haven’t made art because I need my own space to be inspired. I haven’t gone running because it’s cold outside. I haven’t done yoga because I don’t have time. I haven’t pursued photography because I don’t know how to use my camera (that I’ve owned for five years). The list goes on. . .


4. I am going to cancel my gym membership.

Yes, I realize this is entirely the opposite of what most normal people’s new year resolution consists of. But I have spent $20 a month the last eight months to not show up to the gym. I have set my alarm dozens of times in order to make it successfully to my Pi-Yoga class only to hit snooze repetitively while screaming “NOOOOO!!!!” in anger at 4:30a.m.

Enough is enough.


5. I am going to stop being an idiot with my money.

I am a spender. Fact. I’m not sure why, because I did not grow up with money and have worked hard for every penny I have. You would think I would be frugal.

No.


6. I am going to stop being self-deprecating.

I am good at loving others. I am not so good at loving myself. Self-deprecation stops now. Today.


7. I am going to stop sharing dreams with realists.

Realists are dream-killers, let's be honest. I love them, but they are dream killers.
8. I am going to stop writing now. . .
because for some reason this all (ironically) seems a bit negative. It was not intended to be… maybe it is day #7 of the flu + cabin fever + winter blues + stuckinthesuburbs setting in. . .


HAPPY 2014!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Happy Fall. . . on being Alone

Tonight I am alone.

I am house sitting. And dog and bird sitting. I just watched the movie Elizabethtown and cried on the couch. With the dogs at my feet.

Alone.

It's been six months now--since the great debacle of 2013. It's been six months of making sure I am surrounded by people. By my parents. By my co-workers. By complete strangers. By college kids. By foreigners. By my sisters.

I have gone out of town almost every other weekend for six months straight. Really. Only twice have I stayed in town two weekends in a row. This has resulted in not only an entirely depleted bank account, but also an uneasy, discontent inner struggle with simply being. . . still.

I love being single. I love being single. I love not having to answer to anyone. I love living for myself and not having to worry about someone else. I love the feeling of boldness, moxy, sex appeal, regained independence--the pure courage that comes from looking life in the face and doing it on my own.  I love being FREE.

I do not love being alone.

I do not love not having a person to share life with. To share delicious food and independent films and road trips and future world travels with. I do not love not having a person to people watch with, and to hop into a car with two total strangers and rideshare from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Los Angeles, California. And I absolutely do not love not having a person to share the holidays with. The ugly Christmas sweaters with. The stocking stuffing with.


I do not love waiting tables either. Not even kind of.

But I do love my Little Hills family. I love that half the staff I work with is in high school. It makes me feel 16 again. . . ish.  I love that my food is everyone else's food and everyone else's food is mine. I love that all food and drink is shared, almost 100% of the time (Lexi--thanks for NOT sharing your sweet potato fries last night as I starved the night away). I love that we sing in the bev-room and rake up piles of leaves as if we're going to jump in them just to pass the time and give ourselves something to look forward to (even though in reality we know none of us will be jumping into a concrete pile of leaves). I love that I am working under some of the kindest, most caring managers I have ever had. I love that I work on a historic cobblestone street. And I love that the majority of customers are not only from out of town, but often from out of country.


I love that I am listening to "Montana" by Youth Lagoon right now.

Phenomenal.

I love that I was able to go on a hike today with my entire immediate family. All here in the U.S. All here in St. Louis, MO. For the first time in ten years. And although there are a lot of things I don't love about life right now, apparently there are also a lot of things I do.

More than being alone means physically not being with another person, it means being alone with my thoughts--which, quite honestly--is what terrifies me most of all. But it is during those times I am forced to face my fears. To analyze my current state of being. To dig deep into myself and find what it is that steals my Peace. What makes me feel alive. What breaks me down. Who has hurt me. Whom I have hurt. How I have lived well and how I have fallen short. And how to live better. . .



I don't love being alone. I don't think I ever will. But I hope to learn at least-- to be still.



Give a Farm


When I traveled to Uganda for the first time in 2009, I was blind to many harsh truths concerning the humanitarian aid being poured into the continent. In my mind, anything I could give to the people of Uganda was a gift that would better their lives for years to come. I loved seeing the smiles on children’s faces when I handed them candy, shillings, clothes, food, shoes and school supplies. I was helping the less fortunate Africans. I was changing the world! Or so I thought. . .

What I didn’t realize, but would come to learn a year later when I returned to Uganda to drill a well, was that my handouts were not helping the locals. My handouts were enabling them. There is a reason that an American cannot successfully walk the red dirt roads of Africa without hearing constant screams of “Mzungu(white person), you give me money!”

It is because we do.

We do give them money. When they ask for money, we give them money. When they ask for clothes, we give them clothes. When they ask for food, we give them food. And what does it teach them? It teaches them that if they need something they need not attempt to acquire it for themselves, but rather, can rely on humanitarian efforts to fulfill their needs.

We have created a continent of dependence.

Back in high school, I went to Mexico every year around Christmas time to build homes for the homeless. And since then, I have partaken in numerous humanitarian efforts. My intention was always good—I wanted to help people. What I didn’t realize back then was that for the most part, I was learning how to give temporary relief rather than lifelong sustenance.

I want to change that, and I want you to help.

What we can do together is change the world, one life at a time. We can give the power back to the people. We can provide them with a means of sustainability, rather than give them temporary aid that not only enables them, but hurts their local economy.

I want to give the Abba House orphanage and the fourty-two children therein a farm. I want to hire the locals and the boys from the orphanage who have aged out of the system to work the farm, thus creating opportunity for employment. I want to give them goats to fertilize the land and create additional income through breeding and selling. I want to give them the opportunity to provide for themselves. To feed themselves. To sell the surplus at a profit. They need a tractor. They need money to clear the land, farm the crops and hire work so that eventually, it will be self-sustaining.

Will you join me?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk3844r6e_I

www.firstgiving.com (Kewl Farm Project)

25 Things




Many moons ago “25 Things” was going around Facebook. Someone made a list of 25 random facts about himself and then passed it on to others who were to read and do the same. I don’t remember if I ever did it. . . but due to the fact that my blogs have been quite heavy in nature the past—always—I figured it may do us all some good to make a ridiculously random list of facts:


1.     I am obsessed with plaid flannel shirts. If you are ever unsure what to get me for any birthday, holiday, peace offering, etc., you absolutely cannot go wrong with a plaid flannel shirt. My friend Carrie says this is disturbing, and also believes it is my deep rooted longing to wed a ‘country boy.’

2.     I am incapable of passing up a pile of leaves, no matter how small, with out running through them or jumping in them. This often times makes for awkward moments—especially when I am walking down Main Street with two nearly strangers having casual conversation and suddenly veer off the beaten path to crunch the leaves.

3.     I have never broken a bone in my body. Knock on wood, of course. I think Tomlinsons must just have incredibly strong bones, because now that I think about it I don’t think any of my siblings have broken a single bone in their body either.

4.     The coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life is swim alongside a 100-year-old sea turtle in the coral reefs of Malaysia. I felt like I was on the set of Finding Nemo during my entire snorkeling excursion. IN-credible.

5.     I have seen the movie ELF over 100 times. By over 100, I mean I have very likely seen it a thousand times, but that sounds slightly unbelievable, so I go with 100. When I was in college, I would stay up until 3 or 4a.m. almost every night ‘studying.’ I hated being the only one awake  in the apartment as it got lonely, so to provide background noise I played ELF on repeat throughout the night. . . every night. . . from October 1- January 1. These three months have affectionately become known as “Elf Season” by all who partook in such college madness.

6.     Every year, I cut down a small ‘Christmas’ tree on the side of the highway, or anywhere I can find one. I’m not entirely sure this is legal, but nonetheless it is a tradition. One year we accidentally cut down an entirely dead spruce tree. We got it home and upon realizing it was brown, I purchased a can of ‘pine’ colored spray paint and proceeded to paint my Christmas tree. It looked marvelous, in the end. We also had insanely painful spruce splinters for the remainder of the year as they became ingrained in our apartment carpet permanately.

7.     I once ate a fish eyeball while in Uganda, East Africa. It was really awful. I also ate roasted grasshoppers but those were actually quite tasty.  The most disgusting thing I have eaten in my entire life was cow intestine. I do not recommend it. Ever.

8.     The most beautiful place I’ve ever seen is the farmlands and surrounding mountains of Lewisburg & Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania. I have been more than a few places in my lifetime. Some exotic, some mountainous, some beach, some jungle, some forest. . . But I think what made PA so beautiful was that it was unexpected. I was there for a funeral and I was all kinds of broken. Not only that, but after recently returning from Thailand and India I just didn’t expect anything to be as beautiful. But it is. It is right here in my America. And I am grateful for that.

9.     I hate scary movies with a firey passion. ALL scary movies. Even barely scary movies. HATE them.

10.  My freshman year of college I play intramural football on a team called the ‘Nosepickers.’ We were not very good. The following three years I played on a team called the ‘Wonderwomen.’ We were WONDERful.

11.  I love country music. And yes, I am ashamed.

12.   I have a severe phobia of moths. Snakes? No problem. Spiders? Piece of cake. Cocroaches!?!? Fine with me. Moths? No-please. Not ever. Not even tiny ones.  I could tell you a really ridiculous story involving myself, an ATM, a moth the size of a sparrow, shrill screaming, forgetting my car was in drive, smashing my car door on the ATM poll, dollar bills flying everywhere, and my car coasting through the parking lot while I flail violently trying to get the bird-moth out of my car. . . But I won’t bore you with the details. . .  Also, I once did not shower for three days because there was a moth the size of my thumbnail in the shower curtain and I was too terrified to get it out and knew it would attack me while I showered.

13.  Stargazing is my absolute favorite thing to do in life.

14.  I cannot avoid puddles. Whether in my car, on a bike, or most especially on foot, if I see a puddle I absolutely must go through it. This causes a great deal of anxiety for my friends who happen to be mothers. They are not pleased with me at all when their children decide to follow my lead.

15.  If I could play any instrument perfectly, I would play the violin. I think stringed instruments are fantastic. I sometimes wish my dear mother would have forced violin upon us rather than piano. But, I am grateful for the piano talent/knowledge she did give me.

16.  When I was young, I used to pretend my bicycle was a horse. Really. I went as far as to tie a rope around it’s ‘neck.’ And name it. And feed it. And lead it along. And of course I wore cowboy boots and cowboy hat while I did all of this. I was an odd child. (Weren’t we all. . . ) And also one that wanted, since five years of age, to live in the country, but instead was raised in the suffocating suburbs of St. Louis.

17.  My brother shot me with a BB gun in the leg when I was ten.  His immediate response, as any protective older brother’s would be, was, “Don’t tell Dad.”

18.  I believe in Santa Claus. I’m not kidding. I leave cookies and milk.

19.  From kindergarten thru twelfth grade I was the Teacher’s Pet every single year.  Then college happened. And so did a 2.4 GPA. Go figure.

20.  I am INSANELY good on a pogo stick. I can do it with no hands, holding a plate, eating dinner, for minutes and minutes on end. I sometimes brag about this but no one believes me and there’s no way to prove it because let’s be honest, who has owned a pogo stick since. . . never.

21.  I can ride my bike with no handlebars.

22.  My sisters are my very best friends.

23.  The first time I ever got pulled over, I was sixteen and, according to the cop, was doing not one but six illegal things. Expired plates. Lack of brake lights. No seatbelt. No blinker. Speeding. Rolled a stop sign. I have been pulled over more than 25 times since then. Way more. I just quit counting after 25 because it became really depressing.

24.  My three favorite birthdays of all time were my 10th, my sixteenth, and my 25th. My tenth birthday was a surprise party. My sweet sixteen was just freaking awesome. (Thanks, Mom & Dad) and my 25th was spent in Uganda, East Africa with my travel partner in action Stacie and the 42 orphans of Abba Home orphanage.

25.  Ask away. . .