Flailing in Public, Necessary Messes, and Other “Bad” Things that Are Good

Up until yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t been out of the country in almost three months. More notably, I hadn’t had a reason to speak Spanish with another human being since leaving Peru  this spring. When I left I was just beginning to be able to form a sentence that slightly resembled a coherent thought in a language that seems to sound beautiful from every mouth but mine.

Today I’m in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I arrived a day ago, and am taking a writing break on this balcony:

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 This is a rooftop where one simply cannot sit without composing something, effortless in a way where I wonder if  words are instead composing me. In the same way the ivy has snuck up the bricks, syllables weave themselves into sentences and I am just here to admire whatever story is growing.

As I skim over a few articles I need to finish writing as well as a couple poems I’ve been meaning to submit the person I’m here visiting is taking a Spanish lesson upstairs. I told him I didn’t want to join because, “My Spanish is too terrible.” Which of course is exactly why I should take a Spanish lesson, but oh NOOO… I don’t want to stumble over my words in front of humans! That would be awful.

Hmmm… so either the Spanish learning I was cramming into every moment before I left was some special kind of Spanish that one only speaks to themselves, or I’m doing a silly thing where I base my actions on avoiding embarrassment. This is fairly illogical, because if barely speaking Spanish is embarrassing, it would follow that I might be equally embarrassed at the fact that I become nearly mute when in Spanish speaking countries, and don’t even say the words I do know for fear I’m pronouncing them all wrong and will sound like one of those asshole Americans who listened to one lesson of Rosetta Stone and now thinks I speak the whole language. Instead, at present I’m someone who doesn’t speak at all or lets someone speak for me, which it turns out is far more uncomfortable than the alternative of stumbling through my handful of Spanish words in public.

Maybe I would just let it go if it was just speaking Spanish that I was pulling this crazy illogical behavior with. However, it strikes me in this moment that there are a lot of things I don’t do because I’m either bad at them or haven’t perfected them, and that the reason I haven’t improved has a lot to do with… the fact that I’m not doing them. The logic is incredibly flawed, it’s the equivalent of trying to learn how to swim without going into the water, and the result of my fear of looking or acting foolishly is that I limit myself. Cringe.

The true weight of this behavior is that I realize I’ve at times applied this backward logic to sharing my passions including writing. The first few items I published this year were in my mind mediocre, things that came from a heart space, but I hadn’t put a lot of time into polishing, and had hit the send button with a trigger happy impulsiveness. There was lot going on in my life, so maybe mind was too preoccupied to worry about run-on sentences or sentence rhythm, or maybe my words were so crammed full of all that I’d been holding back that they simply exploded into existence. And while I submitted some work that upon reflection could have been improved on, the beneficial result of my lack of perfectionism was that I was writing daily, and I was sharing it, no matter how imperfect it felt.

Maybe because there was so much of me contained in those spontaneous explosions of sentences and phrases I’d put in a public space, I had what can only be described as an exposure hangover. I pulled back with the same force I had revealed myself.  Suddenly as much as I’d needed to put my words out there, I needed them back. I needed that raw pile of words I’d felt so compelled to publish to not be out in the open.

In fact it felt so itchy having my messes out there floating around that at one point I almost asked an editor to pull a poem I’d submitted. I decided it would hinder my chances at being published on that particular site in the future, so I refrained… and I’m glad that despite my resistance, I left this piece where it was, in all its messy-human-still-learning-to-write gloriousness. Getting comfortable with sharing the messy stuff is so necessary, because writing is never perfect, nor is anything we aspire to do well but are growing into.

No matter how long I spend editing it, there will always be something that could have been worded more gracefully, something I could have rearranged. I will make mistakes, and I will make lots of them.   Really, if any of us wish to share what we create with the world, at some point we have to pick a point where we are willing to let go and just say, “Okay, it’s good enough. Here it is.”

So today as I pull up the article I’m working on, I realize the folder of unsubmitted articles and unpublished blog posts I’ve felt unwilling to share have a lot in common with my Spanish language skills. They are rough, some of the word choices are not ideal, and a year or so from now I will laugh at the roughness of my attempt to communicate. And while I’m always going to be growing into a better version of a writer looking back at my writing from two years ago, I already feel the same way. But I wrote anyway, and I shared. Because this is how one stops sucking… they do the thing, flail, stumble, and in the case of writing suck out loud for others to witness. And it’s not only okay, it’s necessary. In fact the whole process has a name… learning.

The way I see it, with almost everything in our lives, we can choose perfectionism or we can choose growth. We can’t have both, because whether it be writing, learning a new language, playing an instrument, or shifting into a new way of being, growing is messy stuff. It sometimes even requires being willing to be terrible at things, knowing we may look like a fool, and acting anyway.

Fortunately my life seems to offer an almost infinite amount of opportunity to step into itchy imperfection… I’m off to go flail, stumble, and be a mess in public, just for fun. Maybe I’ll accidentally learn a little too 😉

All love, Jen

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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)

Arrival, The Sacred Valley

A bit of an update is required. I’ve been in Peru for a week and every day has been a swirl of confusion, laughter, frustration, and heart.  The last week seems to have lasted for months, not for lack of joy, but for the sheer amount of moments that have brought me back to myself.  It ended up taking me four extra days to arrive in Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Incan valley, after flying into LIma, due to all sorts of travel hiccups, but even those moments of delay and unexpected chaos have been perfect and what my soul needed.  I’ve experience more kindness in this country than I can put words to, and met new friends around every corner.  There is also an energy in this valley I can’t describe, but my notebook is running out of pages after three days, and I feel light.

As if reaffirming that this trip is what I needed,  yesterday I got fired from one of my online English teaching jobs because my internet wouldn’t work, and what at home would have been a crisis I realized must be what was supposed to happen, and today I just settled into it.  There will be more jobs, more work days, but this I will only get to experience once, and I let it go.  It’s weird, maybe because I have been flailing and challenged since I arrived, even the defeat of getting fired for the first time in my life seems okay in this moment.  

This place itself is somehow swirling chaos and calm at the same time, narrow cobblestone streets jammed with tourist buses and taxis, women in bright Quechua clothing not seeming to notice the honking and police whistles as they float down the sidewalk radiating something inexplicably mythic. I feel like I’ve stepped into one of my dad’s old National Geographic magazines I flipped through when I was eight, deciding when I grew up, I didn’t care what I did for a job, as long as it looked something like these pages.  The photo captions were the first words I fell in love with, because they were so alive. 

Today it’s raining, and I’ve caught a cold, so instead of climbing the ruins or sightseeing, I’m wrapped in a alpaca wool blanket drinking hot tea under an awning. My nose is running, I’m shivering, my back aches, and I’ve still never felt more at peace.  I wrote this poem my first night in the valley. 

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I have not yet been to Machu Picchu,

Or the crumbling ruins on top of that mountain.

But I have chose.

Chose a destination and

Llegué.

Arrived.

The air smells of flowers and wild onion

I wander the market

Fruit, coca,

Alpaca sweaters.

I cannot choose what to buy

Anymore than I can choose

What I will carry home

In this heart-

Corazon. Heart.

That’s a word I have always remembered.

The rest of my Spanish comes & goes.

No entiendo. I don’t understand.

These two words my saving grace.

I say them so often,

I begin to believe I will never understand

The vendor who speaks to fast.

The sweet man who wants to chat on the bus,

But I was too tired to translate my thoughts.

The woman selling paintings of condors,

That I ask her about,

And smile, because she lights up as she tells me

But in so many words I don’t know.

No entiendo.

These words become so comfortable on my tongue.

That I no longer need

To understand anything.

One night I look at the stars,

The darkness behind them is a heavy wool blanket.

I calmly let the truth of the words I’ve been saying over and over

Wrap themselves around my heart.

As I whisper to the Incan Apus,

The mountain gods, Pachamama, whoever is listening,

Two words that set my soul free-

“No entiendo.”

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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

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.

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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”…

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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.

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Embracing My Inner Dumbass.

Travel Lesson #1: Embrace Your Inner Dumbass

 Before I head off to Thailand, I’m spending a few weeks off the grid, on the Lost Coast of NorCal.  This place is wild and free, and I certainly will be blogging about my experience here.   However, the experiences I had just trying to get here proved to serve as an important travel lesson…that I have a big fat ego, and if I am going to navigate SE Asia solo, I better let go of my need to know anything, get comfortable with admitting cluelessness, and most importantly… start embracing my inner dumbass.

So I have a confession:  blogging, updating Facebook with pictures, and sharing all my adventures with friends have sent me on a bit of an ego trip lately.   I definitely don’t think bragging rights are the purpose of travel, or writing about it- my blog, as well as my upcoming trip, are supposed to be outlets to reveal my authentic experience and  let go of the need for approval in the process…  turns out that is easier said than done.  It’s kind of a ‘one step forward, two steps back process’.    I start out revealing a part of who I am, get just a tiny amount of applause, or start to feel like I know what I’m doing, and my mouthy ego pops back up and says, “Duuuuude, this is awesome!!!! Do more things to earn praise, I love this shit!!!”

Sheeeesh… silly ego.

Fortunately, whenever I start letting my ego do the talking… the universe has a lovely way of serving me up a lesson in humility.  Two days ago, I was all set to take an Amtrak train to Martinez, California, then hop a bus to Eureka, where I had a ride waiting to drive me down the long winding mountain drive to my uncle’s cabin in Petrolia.  Then came the ‘fun’ part…where I got to the station, remembered I’m from Ohio, and have never taken an Amtrak.  I didn’t know the first thing about navigating a large Amtrak station.  However, I like to think of myself as a saavy traveler, so I thought, “ I got this”, and began wandering.  What I did not do was admit to one person how incredibly confused I was- because I figured that would make me look like an ass.  Twenty minutes later,  I finally found my track.  Feeling a sense of confident satisfaction,  I showed the attendant my ticket.

….and was told that my train had left a minute before.

I felt defeated; if I failed at something as simple as catching an Amtrak, how on earth would I navigate the confusion of a new culture in where I don’t speak the language?!   I began to go into panic mode, sure that I would screw up every single part of my upcoming trip to Thailand, positive that this was a sign that I couldn’t handle solo international travel. Sometimes I overreact…

The next train to Martinez didn’t come for five hours, so I had a lot of time to figure out the San Jose Amtrak station/ calm down.  So while I munched on overpriced train station snacks, it hit me… not knowing how to find my track wasn’t an issue, mistakes happen and I was going to make it to Eureka the same day.

However, I did notice my big fat ego and stubborn avoidance of looking like a fool  kept me from admitting that I had no idea what I was doing and asking for help.   Had I asked a bunch of silly questions, I might have looked like a clueless idiot…but  I also might have been an idiot who was riding her train, instead an idiot watching one take off without her.

So… pretending to be in the know for pride’s sake… not working for me this particular day.  It also struck me how  absolutely ridiculous it can be to pretend to know what I’m doing when I was in Palo Alto eating Pho (Vietnamese soup) with my classmates.  So, for whatever reason, I can barely eat sushi with chopsticks.    As the bowl of noodle soup was placed in front of me, my stomach grumbled, and for a split second I thought, “I should probably ask how on earth one eats soup with chopsticks”.  But as I watched everyone chow down,  my loud mouth ego jumped in,  “Don’t be the dumb Midwesterner who has never attempted to eat noodles with chopsticks!”  All the while,  my physical body was saying, “Screw you ego, I don’t care if you grab those noodles with your hands, I’m starving!”

My ego won.

So, I  pridefully asked no questions, picked up the dreaded chopsticks and immediately slopped a pile of noodles all down the front of myself.  For the rest of my meal, the table, my lap, and the floor got covered in Pho.  I pretended not to notice, and  thanks to my pesky ego, I spent half an hour being frustrated as I tried desperately to land one full bite of food in my mouth without anyone noticing me flailing.   Later, when I realized in class I had noodles down my shirt and in my scarf, I realized I  probably need to have it out with my ego, because being prideful is starting to get messy.

So pesky ego, here’s the first blow.  II’m admitting publicly that there are more times lately than not when I’m completely clueless.  Despite my big fat ego, who would have everyone think I have it together, I’m admitting I’m a big dork, and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing.  A lot of times when people think I’m quietly contemplating some deep thought in class, I’m trying to suppress a giggle because I just mentally thought “that’s what she said” about something my professor said.   I act fearless about my upcoming trip, when I tell everyone how awesome it will be, but in reality, I am full of insecurity and doubts.  I often worry that I’ll get there and find out I made the wrong decision, or be lonely, or accidentally end up in Laos because I couldn’t understand Thai and jumped the wrong bus.

I guess when it comes down to it, kicking my pride in it’s arrogant ass is probably the best reason to travel.   In the next month, I’ll be living somewhere where I’m so clueless that I can’t help but be humble… the place where I don’t speak the language, I look and dress strange, and I don’t know how to order food…  a Buddhist country where my ego can’t say “ohhh, look how spiritual I am” because I sure as hell don’t know more about mindfulness than the Thai people… a place where in order to survive, I have to check my ego at the gate, as I’m mispronouncing the three Thai phrases I’ve learned, “Hello”, “Thank You” and “ I’m lost”.

It’s been awhile since I took the travel plunge, and something has changed… I go into this trip knowing how to laugh at myself, knowing that travel, especially solo travel,  is another awesome opportunity let go of  pride and to stop taking myself so seriously.   Screw my ego.  I have no idea what I’m doing, but I have a plan-  I’m going to ask every question and unabashedly look like a clueless idiot.  And when I screw it all up… I’m going to laugh. A lot. Travel lesson numero uno- Embrace my inner dumbass.

impossibility, terror, and taking flight.

I was having coffee with a friend last weekend, talking about the future, careers, and the often terrifying prospect of following our big dreams. You know the ones; the dreams that we decide not to follow because they are so huge and so scary that our rational brain tells us they are impractical… or my least favorite word of all… impossible

As we were discussing this idea of dreams vs. practicality, he reminded me of a personal truth that I try to live by. He reminded me that it ALL has a purpose, even what seems like confusion or misfortune in the present will make sense when we look at it down the road.  The truth he reminded me of was that even when it’s not clear, everything that happens fits together perfectly, that it’s all part of a path we are meant to be walking.

Someone once explained this much more gracefully… “it’s the path off the path that leads us to God.”  The idea that there is no such thing as a misfortune or mistake is a truth that is easier said than lived, especially when we are in the middle of tragedy or personal crisis, or really even when we just have a bad day.   It’s like we get so focused on what we want to happen, some goal we want to achieve, or some dream we can’t wait to be living, that in the moment we forget that it’s those twists and turns that are the real journey.

As a self-acknowledged accomplishment junkie, I am often guilty of  being so focused on my long term goals, the cause I want to champion, or my next big dream  that I get tunnel vision that prevents  me from seeing the beauty and divinity of the now. This is especially true right at the moment, as in a couple weeks I fly into California for grad school and visiting family and friends, and then fly from there to teach in Thailand for nine months.   Having a one way ticket to SE Asia has made living in the present more of a challenge than ever, my brain is a mess of future and past.  When I’m not distracted by  a mental  list of trip preparations, I find myself reflecting on the past, and the winding, unexpected paths that have led me here.

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So, I’ll indulge myself by lingering in the past for a moment, because as I look back over the last three years, all the pieces seem divinely orchestrated.  There were things that had to fall apart and come together, lessons I was meant to learn, friends I needed to meet, and places I needed to be in order to take this journey.   I feel like the last six months tested me in a necessary way.  Did I really want this?  Could I let go of the life I was used to in order to embrace a new adventure and perspective?   Most importantly, my gut has been telling me that going to Thailand is what I should be doing, but I’m not really sure why…so could I follow my heart when I didn’t know what it was leading me to?  When I answered those questions with commitment, and put my faith in the same higher power that continued to point me in this direction, I began witnessing each obstacle falling away.   I stalled on this dream for two years, avoided the signs, pushed forward on the practical career path I had chosen … until now. And now is perfect timing; had I not faced some of the challenges I did, I might not feel as strong, inspired or supported as I do.  I might not have the faith in my dream that I do now.

My experiences in the past couple years have granted me the ability to travel without seeking something out there, but rather stepping out of the known to see ordinary things with new eyes.  In this way, while I have no idea what the next step will be, I  know that coming home next spring will be just as valuable an experience as leaving.

Taking this trip represents only a first step; in doing the thing that no one thought I could or should do, I’m achieving my own impossibility.  Which is both exhilarating and terrifying, because suddenly I realize that the only thing that has ever limited me was the scope of what I believed I could be.  The way I see the world will change, because the things I ‘can’t do’ will suddenly be the things I choose not to do, and perhaps I’ll see doors where before there were none.   While this seems like a small step, I realize I am taking one more step towards letting go of fear and living the life I am meant to, whatever that ends up looking like.  So, thank you to all of the people who remind me to live fully and burn brightly, especially those who have loved me enough to let me take flight.

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