Welcome To My ‘Office’

My ‘cubicle’ has a drink menu, my coworkers and bosses are on different continents, and today my office is furnished in hammocks, vintage furniture, and beanbag chairs.

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 …Allow me to elaborate. I don’t have a normal job- I have many jobs and they are all online. My main source of income is teaching English to students all over the world via Skype, but I also do freelance writing and editing, as well as running an online business of my own. My office… wherever I can find a decent WIFI connection. Today it’s in the bar of a large hostel in Cusco, Peru, munching on fresh bread and avocado. Later I will migrate my office to the courtyard, so I can sit in the sun while I work.

I’ve become whats known as a “digital nomad” partially on accident. By the way, digital nomad ….loosely translated, it’s just a fancy word for anyone who works entirely remotely/online, be it from coffee shops, shared work spaces, or in my case, a hostel in South America… usually one who uses that freedom to move around, travel, and explore. The internet is a beautiful thing, as far as the potential it offers for stepping outside of the traditional career box.

I personally realized that a ‘normal’ career in one place wasn’t what I wanted when I was traveling in South East Asia. But even as a kid, when we’d write essays in class about what we wanted to do ‘when we grew up’, I would rarely name a career, and instead dream of seeing the world. Dress pants, time clocks, and office walls have always made me cringe. I have the heart of a traveler, but equally important ‘the American dream’ of working a 50+ hour workweek so I could spend the weekend buying things… it felt like a trap, and never made much sense to me.

 In December of 2013, I started a business selling antiquarian books online. I had just returned to the states after teaching English in Thailand, and after stumbling upon a few valuable books in local thrift store, started as a means to support myself while I searched for my next job. I got to spend hours digging through dusty piles of my favorite thing- books!- and within a month, I ended up turning down two full time job offers because my accidental online business was already paying better… and because I was hooked on the freedom of being able to schedule my own life. If I wanted to take the afternoon off to go to the park and work later that evening, I could. If I wanted to sleep in one morning, work in my pajamas, or take a break to grab coffee with a friend, I could. Freedom AND income, what a concept….

it always seems impossible until its done

 Six months later, I decided that I wanted even more flexibility- up until that point I’d been able to schedule myself but was still tied to a location by my inventory. So I shipped my books to a warehouse where my customer orders would be shipped by a third party.  I spent the next two months road tripping across the US, camping in national parks, couch surfing, and visiting old friends. I used the travel experiences as an opportunity to start doing some freelance writing and expand my blog, started getting some of my work published, as well as getting small editing jobs.

I was hooked. I started exploring all my options- buying and selling was great, but realistically I could only do it from the US. Yet again, I wanted to expand my possibilities.

Two years later, I have rewarding work that I can do from anywhere. I teach English and various other subjects via Skype to students all over the world, helping tutor many of them towards gaining admission to American universities, as well as freelance writing and editing…while having free time to explore whatever location my happy heart decides to visit. Right now that place is Peru… my next destination is yet to be determined, but being completely open to possibility… feels amazing. 

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I’ll be honest, my lifestyle is not for someone who needs it all to be predictable, and like any job, working online has stressful moments. I’ve lost clients because of internet issues and I’ve taught English class from a hallway with my finger on the mute button in case a hotel guest wanders by speaking another language. Working on the road requires adaptability and a willingness to believe things will work out even when the going gets tough. Initially building enough online work to travel had its challenges, as did finding the resources to travel in a sustainable way. Getting to this point has been a trial and error process, and I am constantly learning. However, traveling and working can be as predictable as you choose, and the options for achieving a mobile life nearly infinite.

Along that vein, before leaving for my latest trip I decided I wanted to share those resources as well as utilize my own background in counseling to help others explore what their best life looks like, and how they can design a more adventurous and mobile existence, by launching a business, LifeCREATIVE… because I truly believe we all can create a life we love.

While I’m busy sharing my new project, my blog will feature guest contributions from friends and fellow travelers, artists, writers, and creative entrepreneurs who have discovered ways to live the life they love. BONUS- I’m also going to fill the new site with a ton of free resources for making travel sustainable, including links to many of the resources I’ve used to land online work, free and cheap accommodation, and work exchange opportunities. Feel free to share your own travel/freelance/life resources in the comments below.

If you are ready to leap, or just explore new possibility, visit LifeCreative.org.

(PS- Stay tuned, the next post will feature an excerpt from the absolutely wonderful and resource packed book, The Abundant Bohemian- Live An Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process, written by my friend Joe Downing, a Dayton, Ohio lawyer who is using his own life to shatter the illusion that we must either choose adventure or material success… Joe’s new book highlights how we can easily have both)

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Parachute Shopping

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Sure  I’ll take a leap…

After I’ve comparison shopped online for months

For the parachute that got the best reviews on Amazon.

I’m bold, I’m brave…

I’m just still in the planning stages.

I’m building the foundation.

If I leap, I need something to leap from right?

next year I’ll step off into my dreams,

But this year I’m building, and next year…

I’m laying tile. And buying furniture.

Installing closet organizers….

I need someplace to hang my parachute.

Wait, did you hear? They just came out with a new parachute.

Way better than the one I bought.

It’s got these rivets, and different stitching….

No, I’m not really sure what for, but I’m sure it’s better.

You need certain things to leap, right?

I’ll need to work at least six more months to save enough money for this one.

Plus, the tile is peeling from my foundation, and I’m thinking hardwood.

…The neighbors have hardwood.

Sure, I’ll take a leap. I’m just not ready yet.

Leaping is part of my ten year plan though, I swear.

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Almostopenbook.Com is the blog of Jennifer Monet’, writer, wild-eyed-wild-haired adventurer, and lover of life. She offers travel coaching, mobility solutions, and resources to earn a living while turning your passion for adventure into a reality at LifeCREATIVE.org.

Laughing at Myself and Trusting the Universe

Ah the joy of laughing at oneself…. This morning it started with reading my last journal entry before the new year, in preparation to write my first blog post of 2015.

December 31st The experiences of this year have been perfect, because they’ve brought me to my growing edge again and again, a place where I have to be fine not being in control and trust things will always go as they should. That all I ever need is to trust the universe in all its divine intelligence, and to let go.

I laughed, because yesterday after making my New Year’s resolution to trust things to unfold as they should, I sat down and balled my eyes out, because even after writing that, I was still stuck on the fact that I’m setting aside my plan of moving back to Asia to teach English and the trip to India I’d dreamed of for years, to stay help take care of my family. “But I knew what I was doing, I had a plan,” I told my friend, “now what am I supposed to do?”

I laughed when I read it, because just two days ago I knew that the only thing I’m really, really supposed to do is trust the universe enough to recognize the opportunities that exist right here, and be present, even if that means throwing out the 2015 I had meticulously crafted for myself, and just saying, “Alright universe, I get it. I’m not in charge of everything.” I’m supposed to trust, even if it means giving up the certainty I had that this was the perfect plan, and stepping into the big open space no longer having it leaves. I laughed because it didn’t even take me two days to forget what I knew, and get in my head, and totally panic at the idea that I don’t have a plan, or a clue, or a map. I laughed, and I smiled, because the universe was kind of enough to nudge me to write that down, so I could come back to it when I  forget.

I laughed because I just had a poem published where I talked about how I don’t live in my head anymore, and I realize I definitely, definitely hang out there a lot more often than I’m willing to admit. I laughed, because part of trusting the universe is trusting that I’m also exactly who I’m supposed to be right now, even if that is a person who forgets what she knows almost daily, and who really, really wants to live from a heart space, and be a person who deeply knows that all the plans that go awry are a part of some bigger plan, but who has a loud monkey mind that gets in the way.

I laughed at myself the hardest though, when I spent a solid hour meticulously composing the first version of my blog this morning, on how we have to embrace that despite our plans, the universe often has other ones, and then my computer crashed and did not save a single word of it. Because, after an hour of reflecting on adaptability, my immediate thought when I got that dreaded blue screen was still, “Oh great, now I have to start over. That thing I just wrote was really good, and now I have nothing.”

Ohhhh. Good one universe, message received. And then after a fit of uncontrollable laughter, I sat back down, and I started over. All was not lost, it never is, the end result just different than anticipated. I lost an hour of words, but I suppose that was exactly what was supposed to happen, because I wrote what you are reading instead.  And I suppose that’s always the way it goes- we make static plans, we forget that we live in a dynamic world. And, when the universe reminds us, we can either struggle or we trust the journey.

Here’s to knowing that I’ll probably do a little bit of both in 2015, because I’m a human, and being totally okay with it, and to knowing that every time I miss the mark, the universe gently guides me back.  All love, Jen

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Almostopenbook.Com is the blog of Jennifer Monet’, writer, wild-eyed-wild-haired adventurer, and lover of life. She offers travel coaching, mobility solutions, and resources to earn a living while turning your passion for adventure into a reality at LifeCREATIVE.org.

Letting Buddha Go

Yesterday I lost my antique Buddha amulet from Chiang Mai, that I’ve worn everyday for almost two years. The clasp broke while I was out running errands. I didn’t notice until I found the chain tangled around my purse strap, amulet long gone.

What I realized as I furiously searched my car, totally bummed to have lost this item that held so much personal sentiment, was that somewhere down the line, I’d become absurdly attached to a copper trinket, molded into Buddha… the figurehead of non-attachment.

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Even in this recognition, the cognitive understanding that there was a lesson to be learned, part of me still wanted… no, needed,  to find it. It was a beautifully solid copper, heavy, intricately carved, I could feel centuries of history when I touched it. It was also the item I reached to when I needed to feel centered, the reminder of an experience, of a time in my life when I felt at peace as I spent afternoons in quiet contemplation in the shadows of crumbling temples. I understood there was something meaningful about letting go of it, but still… I felt naked without it.

As I felt around under the car seat, feeling foolish, but still shaking out my jacket and scarf, digging through the change in my purse, I looked down. I have this tattoo on my wrist….

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Let go.

It too just a symbol, yet all that it represents a part of my experience. But one that brings me back to myself. So I did, reluctantly at first, but I let go. I stopped needing to find the Buddha and I stopped looking. I acknowledged that it was probably gone, laying in the snow and slush in some parking lot, and that I could be okay with that.

Today, as if the universe saw that I had learned what I needed to, as I stepped out the door for the first morning without my amulet around my neck, I looked down. Square in the middle of the rug that sits outside my front door, a place I’d already looked over several times, was my amulet. I still can’t figure out how it got there, but I suppose like many things, it’s not for me to know.

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On a personal note- It’s been an odd few months, really the whole last year a time in my life that has asked me over and over, are you letting go? REALLY letting go? Or are you holding to tightly- to plans, to people, to expectations of what life should look like? Each time I think I’ve begun to understand, to really internalize impermanence, the universe shakes things up again, and asks me to let go just a little bit more. Just when I’m sure if I let go of anything else the ground beneath me will disappear… life begs of me. Give it all away. Need nothing. Cling to nothing. 

 Maybe we are never fully free in the human experience, always clinging to something, if even attaching to the need to feel unattached, even our existence as a physical body mattering as we filter our experience through our senses.   Maybe if we didn’t learn letting go in stages, if we let go of everything at once, we wouldn’t experience the achingly beautiful experience that is learning to become lighter. If we never knew suffering, would we know what it felt like to not suffer?  

Know that every word I write here is me giving it away, or letting go.  I don’t want to hold onto these moments, but I do honor them enough to share them. So thank you- for reading, and for giving me the opportunity to share, connect, and set my heart free. 

 All love, Jen

Wild Roads, Vandalism, and Blue-Eyed Demons

If jealousy is a green eyed monster

Then self- pity is his blue eyed friend

The innocent-looking accomplice

Who will talk to the cops

If they get caught.

 

They run the streets together

Kicking over trash cans

And laughing mercilessly

As the wind scatters

Dirty heaps of garbage

Into an otherwise open road.

Guilt, Privilege, and Questions I Was Afraid To Ask

 

Last night fire swept through the streets

Climbed the walls,

The rugs racism has been swept under,

Heavy.  Burning.

I am white,

And I am guilty.

Of not being brave enough

To sit down with a black mother

Look her in the eye

And ask,

“What does it feel like?”

To be afraid for your babies

Your beautiful children, eyes full of love.

I am a coward,

Because I was afraid of the heaviness

Of letting that pain into my space.

My privilege is the freedom

To acknowledge oppression

Yet decide when I want to have the conversation.

Choosing whether to avoid the discomfort.

Choosing at all.

Maybe change begins

When suffering is so vast

It no longer fits inside human bodies.

When the ugly silence of fear

Is so loud, we can no longer deny it.

And when my heart aches as I look at you

Knowing that your truth will knock me down,

Will rattle my soul,

I will acknowledge all that I can never know,

And I will ask you.

“How does it feel?”

why “things you shouldn’t do after 30” articles are absurd

There has been a recent explosion of online articles with a focus on what is and isn’t appropriate beyond a certain age, and maybe because I now fall into the target demographic or because these have been blasted all over my Facebook newsfeed, I’ve begrudgingly read a few. There is of course the ubiquitous “things you shouldn’t wear past 30” slideshow, deeming animal prints and large sunglasses too racy for 30+ women, and shirts with words or brightly colored sneakers inappropriate for 30+ men.  There are articles about how the adult crowd should appropriately decorate their space (no framed music posters or unmade beds, but you must have bamboo blinds and stainless steel appliances), conveniently followed by links to buy all the things you need to be a proper” adult. And if you thought, okay, I know how to dress and furnish my home, but how should I act, there are plenty of lists of what behaviors you should have given up by now (beer on Thursday and sleeping in are no-no’s).

There are also the articles about all the things you should do before you become 30. Because as these young writers know, after the golden twenties, none of us want to DO things or express ourselves.  I’m pretty sure I read one article that actually called 30 the beginning of the end… 30?! Seriously, I had no idea.  For some reason, I thought humans were starting to live into their 100’s, but it’s hard to keep track with all this online information. You know, probably because I’m aging or whatever.

Speaking of which, how the heck did we keep track of what was age appropriate before the internet? Gosh, with so many articles, how will you, the newly old, keep track of the many new age based rules governing appropriate behavior? So overwhelming!

Fortunately, there is a way to cut through all the confusion! These articles all have one thing in common; the word should. As in you should stop wearing anything fun; only wear tops that can be considered blouses and pants you can call slacks.  Anything that gives you a rush, you shouldn’t do that, but you should revel in the excitement of trips to Bed Bath and Beyond, because at this age, you should only be excited by nonstick cookware and thread count. Your weekend hobbies should be having one drink at a chain-owned restaurant in an outdoor shopping mall and making sure your home is as meticulously organized and color coded as an IKEA display. Mostly, after 30, you should stop having so much damn fun.

Seriously, fuck those articles. 

Ooops. The article about the things women shouldn’t say after 30 would probably advise I clean up my vocabulary, especially in my very public blog, because anything else would be inappropriate. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of social constructs or rules dictated by poorly written click-bait articles, and I’ve never been good at appropriate. But seriously, have I learned nothing from my 20’s?

Don’t you worry.  I’ve done some reflecting, and made my own list of things you should NEVER do after 30.

You shouldn’t (unless you want to, because I don’t make the rules either)

  1. Conform to social mandates that require you to show up as anyone but yourself, no matter what age you are. Because hopefully at this point, you’ve been around long enough to figure out that you have free will, and that showing up as you feels a lot better than fitting a mold.
  2. Judge others by what they wear, own, how they choose to express themselves, or what they do for a living. Do what makes you comfortable, let others do the same. If you don’t like wearing zebra print leggings because you don’t feel it’s age appropriate, cool. But leave the person who wants to rock them alone. You aren’t a teen on the movie Mean Girls, you are an adult.  You have no excuse not to support and encourage free expression.
  3. Hold back who you really are. So, you aren’t 20 anymore. Thank god, because hopefully you’ve used those years of wisdom to learn to love yourself enough to do what makes you happy, not to gain the approval of others, because you know maturity has less to with what you wear, say, or own, and more to do with confidence and showing up authentically.

Really these apply to any age.  And even if age is just a number, there is something to be said for more years of experience.  Being 20 was great, mostly I didn’t have these weird wrinkles in the corners of my eyes, but boy was I clueless. With years, come wisdom.  And, hopefully instead of using those years to begin accumulating knowledge of age appropriate fashion, what constitutes a stylish home and brag-worthy career, we can use that time to begin to acknowledge that life is finite.

As in…You won’t look back from your deathbed and wish you’d been more socially appropriate, but you might  regret the way you inhibited yourself and the opportunities for joy you turned down, because you actually paid attention to some silly fabricated social rules.

The point being, the real thing you should do is whatever makes YOU feel alive.  

Sidenote: If you are one of the people who has written an article about what people should or shouldn’t do, no offense intended, but maybe just maybe you should commit more energy to loving everyone for their outrageous and timeless wonderfulness (including yourself 🙂

purpose, passion, and why we are all activists

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I’ve met a lot of people who called themselves activists, people who are championing every cause from protecting the environment to education reform.   I find myself asking the question,  “ What does it mean to be an activist?”

 “That which we are, we shall teach,

not voluntarily, but involuntarily.

…Character teachers over our head…”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Over-Soul

 

How exactly does one define what it means to be an activist? An activist is someone who takes action, usually with a message or cause in mind.   But, if Emerson is right, that we teach by who we are, then aren’t we all activists?   In other words, if in each moment, we have even the slightest amount of free will to choose our actions,  we subconsciously share an unspoken message of what we think is important.

Each morning you wake up with a series of choices; you are a bundle of potential energy and you are free. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of the fortunate who choose how you will spend your day, whether you will go to work, what you will eat, how you will interact with others, who you will be.  You choose your actions according to what you value, and in turn your choices, each moment and each day, are your message to the world.

We often hear the phrase about being mindful consumers, “You vote with your dollar”.   True- we vote on what we value by how we spend our money… if we are again child labor for example, we choose not to spend money at stores or on products that support child labor.   If we are against GMO’s, we don’t buy those either.

However, expressing our values extends a lot further than how we spend our money, we vote each day by how we spend our time.    We choose in each moment what we believe and what we stand for by how we direct our energy.   The way we live our lives is how we shout out to the world, “Here is what I think it’s all about!”  In the words of musician Dan Wilson, what are you going to spend your free life on?  (Dan Wilson- Free Life With Lyrics)

I often forget to ask myself that question, but I’ve had a pretty amazing source of inspiration lately; my uncle.  I was honored that he chose to share his mission statement with me recently;  “ to change the world, one radical at a time”.  He told me he’d like to become a full time activist when my cousin graduates high school.  Become an activist?  If anyone already is an activist, it’s him.  His words and way of being inspire those around him… in fact, they inspired today’s blog.    His action?  Living honestly and courageously sharing his ideas of positive societal change with others with the hope of creating change. If that isn’t activism, I don’t know what is.

So, as you choose the actions that fill your day, your week, and your years, you too are an activist; deciding what you do and who you choose to be.   All of you are wise and wonderful accidental activists…. and I challenge you to ask yourself, and ask often:

If my life is my message, what am I choosing to say?…What am I going to spend my free life on?

Karmic Community.

I’m sitting in front of my computer screen for the first time in days, feeling torn between the need to put my epic experience of the Lost Coast into words and the desire to spend as little time indoors as possible in the few short weeks I’m in this amazing place.   This trip, initially planned as an attempt to slow myself down and unwind in the weeks before leaving the U.S. to teach overseas, has itself become an extremely valuable experience- a curious blend of synchronicity, adventure, and unintended transformation.

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My trip to visit family has brought me to Petrolia, a hidden town of less than 300 people, nestled in a river valley that cuts through the Kings Range Mountains.  I’m about five miles inland from California’s longest stretch of wilderness coastline.  It’s surreal, a town that exists in the past and the future at once, it’s citizens paying homage to tradition while remaining refreshingly open to new ideas.  The town itself consists of the intersection of several treacherous mountain roads, steep inclines created by the intersection of three fault lines, a lush river, ranches where cows graze alongside the ocean, a general store and post office.  Aware of the negative potential tourism could inflict on the almost untouched region, people here are justifiably wary of outsiders.  Luckily, I have an “in”;  my uncle, who might be the one person in my family who outdoes me in his adventurousness and love for the outdoors, landed a gig helping to restore a five bedroom cabin in town, moving  to Petrolia a year ago so my sixteen year old cousin could benefit from the unique structure of the incredibly small local school.

petrolia

Maybe upon first impression this is just another country town in the woods, but stay here for more than a few days and you’ll realize something special is going on.  I’m convinced there is something in the water, and whatever it is, it’s rocket fuel for the divine imagination.  People in this town have an unspoken commitment to sacred community, kindness, and shared plenitude.   The more I witness it first hand, the more convinced I am that I’ve found a place where intention becomes reality seemingly within moments, and where the rich connectedness of people creates effortless prosperity.  It’s as if the wind blowing through the Eucalyptus trees,  the Mattole river rushing, and the not-so-distant crash of salty seawater into jagged cliffs combine to create a symphony… and  the universe has been delighted into a graceful dance of “ask and you shall receive” magic. 

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A morning in Petrolia

I wake up wrapped in quilts in a lofted bedroom, shaking off the urge to hide from the crisp morning air.  I open my eyes and remember that this is the view out my bedroom window, and that my family has stumbled upon one of the most magnificent locations in the U.S.

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I sip on coffee that was prepared and packaged here in town, then throw on sandals and head next door to the town’s one room community center, where a handful of local women are discussing the new energy that last night’s rainstorm seems to have brought.  From just a few moments of conversation, I decide they are a treasure trove of knowledge on all things nature, spirit, and history.  I’d love the chance to learn more from them, but it will have to wait. The morning’s Qi Gong class is starting, taught by the local acupuncturist and town’s only doctor.

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I’m not just enthralled because I am getting my “Asia fix” before I even leave the U.S., but also because there is something magically synchronous about Qigong discovering me while I have time off.   Two years ago, during the most intense portion of my Master’s program, my aikido teacher suggested that I try the practice, as I was having a bit of trouble staying grounded in the midst of one of the busiest, most chaotic periods of my life.   She advised that it might help me cultivate a deeper meditation practice- having the discipline to sit still has always been a challenge for me.  However, somewhat ironically, the same busy chaos qigong might have helped me regulate was the same reason I’ve made excuses not to seek it out.  It seems absolutely perfect that when I finally allowed myself some downtime, Qigong is not only available, but literally happening in my front yard.  How could I not go?  Thank you universe!

I struggled in my first class, probably for the same reason Aikido was a challenge; because Qigong requires getting out of your head.  Maybe that’s exactly why I need this whole trip; to step out of my constant stream of internal babble and get back in the flow of my physical energy.   Besides the benefits of the practice itself, discovering Qigong at the community center opened up another perfect opportunity;  while waiting for my second class to start, I strike up a conversation, and am thrilled to discover that one of the women in class with me is the school principal.  While normally this would just be only mildly interesting,  I’d been chomping at the bit to talk to someone about the local school, because it fascinates me- it’s a public school, yet  because of the size of the area, has only 36 students including the preschool and high school, and about a 1 to 4 teacher to student ratio.  Students here go on frequent field trips to coastal conservation areas, and high school age students spend their last month of every school year doing a career internship of their choice.  My inner education enthusiast was jumping for joy when offered the opportunity to pick someone’s brain about the benefits of a school like this, especially when part of the reason I’m leaving next month to teach abroad is to expand my culturally based perspective on education.

Qigong ended at 11am, and by lunchtime, tickled at the opportunity to learn from the unique perspective of these teachers, I had followed the principal back to the school, met half the staff and became a volunteer.  I had no idea how my day was going to go when I woke up, but I definitely hadn’t expected to find myself sitting in the sunshine reading Dr. Suess with a little boy from Nicaragua, as he  told me all about using papaya on a sunburn. This day was fantastic!  I learn that the K-3 students share a classroom, which creates a unique opportunity for collaborative learning.  At recess I decide I adore their teacher (although I admit I may be biased because she got her undergrad in art).  We talk about how she incorporates creativity in her lessons, using visual art, theatrics, and song to teach science, math, and social studies.

Since I arrived, every person I meet is a vast source of diverse knowledge, and it’s blowing my mind… it seems my journey off the beaten path on my way to starting teaching job has once again made me a student, each day meeting more people I’m supposed to be learning from.

Just when I think things can’t get better, I find out Petrolia also has weekly aikido and yoga classes, and a farmer’s market selling everything from homemade beauty products to locally made granola bars called “Honeydew Hummers”.  Plus, I can’t forget to describe the sheer joy induced by being surrounded by this much natural beauty.  It seems to be perpetually sunny with a calm breeze, and if I walk more than half a mile in any direction, I am surrounded by ancient wilderness.  I think I might actually be in a postcard.  I’ve been hiking river beds, deserted beaches and peaks overlooking miles of wild coastline, and when I get tired from all that exploring, I can relax, drink wine from the vineyard around the corner, and play ping pong at the weekly BYOB tournament  at the community center. I even meet some fellow Americorp alum who educate local youth on conservation.   It’s official, this place has it all.

The coastal view from “Windy Point”…

windy point

Maybe the secret power of Petrolia lies in how it was founded.   White settlers originally named it New Jerusalem, changing the name when it became home to the first oil well in California.  The oil dried up shortly after, leaving behind a small community of ranchers with an innate knowledge that treasure often lies hidden beneath the visible surface.   It seems fitting that while I’ve been here, I’ve tapped into a part of myself that has been buried under layers of sediment; this place has been a tonic for my soul.  Thanks to this tiny coastal town, I am recharged, fueled by a sublime combination of nature, new ideas, and karmic community.

 oil

The Greater Yet To Be

weirs

The greater yet to be…

As I write this, I’m sitting at a place called Weirs Rapids, a spot alongside the Maumee River where, when the water is at the perfect level, it creates a series of gentle water falls, and a magical mist that creates a series of faint rainbows on the surface of the water.  On this particular day, it strikes me that this place and I have a rich history together.  We first found each other eight years ago, when I was feeling overwhelmed, and took a random drive, searching for answers to questions I didn’t yet have the courage to ask.

I’d thought I’d taken a country drive simply to clear my mind, yet as I drove, I found myself desperate to find something. As I took turn after turn, it felt like I was trying to get lost, losing all sense of where I’d started, seeking any point of interest I could find in what had become a monotonous Midwestern landscape.  I had a sense of anxious yearning, thinking, there has to be more than this.

As much as I was looking to find something new outside myself, I later realized I was also seeking an internal change; at the time my life felt as flat and ordinary as the farm fields stretching in every direction.  Nothing lit me up anymore, I was tired and uninspired.   Maybe because I expected to find very little on this drive, I let go of all sense of logic and let my intuition take over, sometimes seeking points on the horizon that felt right, other times letting myself be pulled by the way it felt when I read the name of a road. Eventually, I turned down a tiny road that led to the rapids, and the small spot on the bank where I’ve come time and time again.  Driving without a destination led me to find this incredible hidden place, so when I come here, I am always reminded of the beauty that I find when I feel free enough to let myself wander.

Sometimes years have passed before I return, sometimes only months, and this time I am returning for the second time in a week, needing a moment of centering in the midst of necessary chaos before I pack my life into a small suitcase and begin a nine month adventure.  Surprisingly, though I was here only three days ago, today the spot where I laid a blanket out and enjoyed a sunny, warm spring day is underwater and the river, lazy only days before, is a powerful force, tugging at tree roots, debris rushing by as rainwater angrily tears away anything in its path .

Maybe that’s another reason why this place holds meaning to me; no matter how short the period of time between visits, the river always changes.  Sometimes I find a muddy bank covered in skeletal winter trees, struggling not to be pulled downstream, and other times a dry sandy shore, an entire river bed exposed and a perfect path of stones laid out encouraging a lazy stroll from one bank to the other.  Likewise, there are never the same sounds; some days I’ve been enveloped in a howl of cold wind and other warm days the rumble of motorcycles has faded into the distance revealing the noisy proclamations of flying geese returning for Ohio summer.  Some days I’ve been here alone, and other days the rapids were full of fisherman, laughing and shouting to each other, standing knee deep in the flow.

The philosopher Heraclitus once said, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”  I love this, and it’s so true- the natural world brilliantly and repeatedly reminds us of the inevitability of change.   Sometimes it’s through the gentle change of seasons, change barely discernible in each moment but constantly occurring nonetheless.   Other times we are violently shaken awake to the force of change as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes sweep away humanity’s invented sense of security.   Whether quiet and gradual or loud and abrupt, nature never fails to open my eyes to something I’ve easily forget, that I live in a dynamic universe.  Sometimes I try to hide from this truth, and other times I think I’ve often tried to create change in my life in an attempt to beat nature to the punch; irrationally hoping that if I seek out change it won’t be able to catch me by surprise, that I’ll somehow be in complete control.  Yet here I sit, feeling incredibly aware of how little I can know about what lays ahead, a blend of fear and excitement rumbling in my stomach. It’s paradoxical, because while I don’t want to say goodbye until I know what it is I’m saying hello to, it’s also the mystery and the intoxicating unknown that have always moved me forward, and allowed me to embrace new experience.

I found this written in the back of an old notebook today; Half of the human life is saying goodbye- don’t be at war with half your life.  I don’t know where I heard it, but the reminder was welcomed.  What a battle I’ve often waged trying to prevent my life from shifting, to escape the inevitability of and perhaps ignoring the blessings that are inherent in change.   I don’t think I’m alone in this, we all have this tendency to cling to our favorite moments, wanting them to last forever, yet on some level recognizing their impermanence is what makes them magic.

The happiest moments are of course the hardest to let go of when they end.  Sometimes we stick around too long, hoping for a repeat.  I’ve often found myself clinging to relationships, jobs, and situations that have reached their expiration date, only to realize that whatever magic I was seeking has already passed, feeling sad that I didn’t recognize the meaning of those moments while they were happening.  In the midst of a period of great change, I’m trying to embrace the knowledge that any seemingly inconsequential thing that is happening right now might be the memory I cherish in a year, and to appreciate each accordingly.   I’m embracing change by breathing deeply into each moment and staying open to the possibility of more magic moments that are just around the corner.  I think Heraclitus is right, we can’t step into the same river twice… but we can choose to step willingly into the ever flowing river of change, allowing it to carry us the greater yet to be.