Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Flighty Gal's Guide to Flying

It just occurred to me, suddenly, that not everybody is like me.

(cue audible gasp)

Not really. What I mean to say is, not everyone has once been on 9 airplanes over the span of 6 days, and not everyone has 7 international flights coming up, and not everyone maniacally drives cross-country several times a year, and not everybody is so unstable that these things actually sound appealing.

That said, I kind of adore these things about me, and plan to exploit the instabilities until they stabilize, eventually. And while exploiting them, I might as well help some of y'all (Stephanie and Hannah) figure out this whole airplanes and airports and flying thing. Sometimes it's complicated, but it doesn't have to be.

I've compiled a list of the things I've learned while flying. Enjoy.

1. If you don't have to check a bag, don't.

Seriously, don't. Pack light, or learn to pack efficiently. There are so many neat tools to help you accomplish this (cubes, air compressors, the roll method, etc.) Often times on domestic flights, having a checked bag means pretty hefty fees, and if it's not a long trip, there's really no need to bring so many large items. You're allowed a carry-on and a personal item on the plane, and carry-ons are certainly large enough to outfit your weekend in Miami. Also, having my stuff safely shoved either above my head or in front of my feet during the flight gives me a sense of satisfaction, knowing that I don't have to guess whether my checked bag made it into the cargo holds on the right flight, or accidentally on a flight to Tokyo.

2. If you do check a bag, mark it.

Literally everybody on your flight has an Earth-toned roller bag that is exactly the same size as yours, but fear not. Bandanas (thanks, Mara), stickers, personalized tags, colorful duct tape...these are ways by which you can mark your territory (without peeing on anything) and avoid waiting for the baggage carousel to revolve several times before mistakenly picking up a bag that actually belongs to somebody else, and then probably getting tasered by TSA.

3. Check in online, and use your phone as a boarding pass.

This is an amazing time to be alive! You can check in online 24 hours in advance of your flight (most likely, your airline will send you an email) and you can even use a special bar code sent to your phone as a boarding pass. Forget standing in line to print one at the desk, or even at a kiosk. Forget trying to figure out how to scan your passport through the most awkward scanner in the world. Forget looking like a lost turtle in a sea of turtles who know what they're doing. Forget actually having to talk to people! We're independent! We've got this! Thanks, technology.

4. Keep your ID on you, and your shoes off.

Security is annoying. It's getting better and better, but post 9-11, it's still annoying. The more prepared you are, the faster it'll go. Depending on where you're traveling, you may be limited to a quart-sized bag (who even uses those) of maximum 3.4 fl oz liquid containers, so don't try to bring your industrial-sized jug of lotion, or even a water bottle. Have your ID and boarding pass ready to show TSA, have your baggie of liquid things ready, your laptop out of its case, your jacket off, and your shoes in your hands. It's ridiculous to try and hold all of these things with only two hands, but everyone is in the same situation. The comedy breeds camaraderie. Revel in it. But, if you're in front of me and wearing every piece of jewelry that you own, I hate you.

5. Learn to speed-read.

You'd think I wouldn't have to say this, but reading is important! There are signs everywhere directing you where to go, what gates are where, where the baggage carousels are, where the taxis are...so there should be no excuse to accidentally exit the terminal and then have to go through security all over again. Seriously, learn to selectively identify what it is that you're looking for, and follow that arrow. 

6. Keep your stuff with you.

Obviously. Bring it into your bathroom stall (and definitely use the bathroom before you board.) Shove it underneath your legs. Sleep on it. Just keep it with you.

7. Traveling alone is dope!

With the exception of having to keep your stuff with you at all times because there is nobody with whom you can leave it, traveling alone is top-notch. You have nobody to worry about except yourself. If you want to stop at the pub, you can stop at the pub. If you want to tune everybody out and listen to music, do that. Take care of yourself, and yourself alone. It's liberating and exciting. It forces us to be aware, to be good stewards of what we have, and to take responsibility for everything going on while everybody around us is running by on their way to somewhere. Take some time to observe. You are a participant in the great human experiment. Enjoy.

8. Pay attention to your boarding zone, seat number, and seat letter.

This is another easy one, but many people get confused. When in doubt, refer to your boarding pass.

9. Prepare for an emotional, existential crisis.

I don't know why this happens, but it almost always does. Maybe it's being in a confined space for hours on end, maybe it's being suspended between the troposphere and the stratosphere, maybe it's the change of perspective and the twisting of time zones...but I usually cry on airplanes. It's pretty awkward. But at the time, it seems founded. There are so many metaphors associated with flying, so feel free to pick yours. On long east-west flights, there are plenty of sunrises and sunsets to watch from mid-air, mountains and oceans and cities at night. Instagram if you must, but I usually just let my feelings run the show for a while. There's nothing else to do. Sorry, seat mates.

10. Bring your own headphones.

Airlines want to keep us quiet and content, so most of them have loaded tons of movies, TV shows, music albums, travel maps, and games onto our own personal screen in front of our faces. For longer flights, I recommend those super long movies that don't make sense to watch in any other setting. Out of another vein, I recommend watching sci-fi films like Gravity or Interstellar. Watching Gravity mid-air while flying from Lima to Atlanta one night was unbelievable. Choose your own adventure. Also, although bringing your laptop and "getting work done" sounds like a great idea, it isn't. Your laptop won't even fit on your drop-down tray. Your arms are not T-Rex arms, and you won't be comfortable typing with your laptop on your chest. Bring headphones, or a book, or your Kindle instead.

11. Everything is a phase change.

That is to say, the pressure and temperature up there can change at any moment; especially during takeoff and landing. For temperature changes, dress in layers. Most folks are okay during pressure changes, but if your ears are sensitive, chew some gum. Regardless, being in a pressurized, dry, air-controlled tube is only temporary. Even if your ears start to pop and you're freezing cold, you'll be okay once you land.

12. Follow the crowd.

This is one instance during which it's not a great idea to stand out as an individual. If you're closing in on an unfamiliar airport and you have no idea where customs/baggage/transportation is located, follow the crowd. You're all going to the same place, until you set foot outside of the airport. You'll all figure it out together. When in doubt (again) read signs, or ask TSA.

13. Relax!

Flying is awesome! You get to experience, first-hand, the miracle of human flight. Whether or not Wi-Fi is available, or your favorite season of The Office is loaded, or even if you don't get your coveted window seat, you're in an airplane. That's awesome. Chill out. You're in the capable hands of a professional who understands things like the Bernoulli Effect so that you don't have to, and you can travel great distances in short amounts of time. You don't have to drive. You just have to relax, and you'll be there in no time.

So, fear not. Flying is pretty incredible. Keep your important documents close, be aware of your schedule and your surroundings, and remember that getting there is part of the fun. Don't forget your toothbrush, and enjoy your flight!




Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This is Not a Brave Story

There is a quiet, patient voice inside of me, whispering.

"Write. Write. Write."

Fine.

Yeah, I feel better than I felt seven months ago. Yeah, I get out of bed and I haven't needed to take my meds in a while and I never really drank to forget. I realized that I need to travel as an incentive to stay alive, so I travel.

And people are losing their minds over it.

I get it. Traveling is awesome. It stretches every horizon and strengthens every muscular bit of one's character. It widens networks and eyes. It's adventurous and sexy and bohemian and impressive and fun to talk about. Look at this wild-haired wanderer, flying past and leaving kisses everywhere she goes! Look how free she is! If only I had the time or the resources or the people or...I'd be just like her. She's so brave.

No, I'm not.

We live in the generation of the glorified wanderer, and it's legitimate; it's what some of us are. But, it isn't always as easy or free loving as it seems. There is a niche demographic for which travel is possible, and I skirt the edge of that demographic as grace allows. I'm usually financially stable enough to fill the tank, but not always. My dependence on others tends to skyrocket during these seasons, and although it's so necessary, it always surprises me. I left to be free, but I'm bound by my first-world necessities and fear of bears and my own ignorance. I'm really just couch surfing, depending on the grace of the owners of the couches. I steal a squirt of hot sauce here and another of conditioner there, realizing that I never picked those things up at the store, and I needed my windshield replaced or a new phone, cringing and nearly self-destructing every time I burn another $100 deductible. I do my thing from my borrowed couch, which is sometimes going to work or out on an adventure, but sometimes it's just catching up on Pretty Little Liars under a blanket. I'm the same as you.

Often, I'll brag that I'm "really damn good at this," but I'm not necessarily good by my own gumption. I'm good because I have a good network, and I hope that those in the network will keep their timeshares with me. On one hand, I'm incredibly grateful and I do what I can to contribute, but on the other hand, this is starting to feel selfish and a little ridiculous. I'm probably expected to grow up a little bit, but I don't know how to do that without wandering around first. So there's nothing to do but keep going, keep searching. It's not bravery. It's not commendable. It's amazing, and it's terrifying. I'm excited, and I'm frightened. Glorification makes no sense, here. It's actually pretty confusing to hear. Call me what I am: a seeker.

Now that I have lots of time to myself on the road, I have lots of time to regress as I progress. Maybe regress is the wrong word. Maybe, hopefully, it's just remembering instead of regressing. Because I spend a lot of time worrying that I've just gotten worse, weaker. Likely untrue, but a valid concern nonetheless. Because PTSD is incurable, it pops up every so often (every day) and says hello in several different languages. It tends to get louder when everything else in my life is in limbo. And to prevent falling backwards, I tend to worry about my next generation instead. And end up falling harder.

Never mind dating in rape culture, because I don't need anyone trying to stabilize me at the moment. It's not happening. Don't waste my time, or yours. But assuming I eventually figure that out (right) and end up with a kid (okay) and a home (what does that even mean) that I don't want to leave every week (now you've lost it) then will any of this go away?

Nope. The truth of the matter is, I'm preparing myself for the day my kid gets abused. It will happen. Statistically, it will happen. And I'm telling myself that when it does happen, I can say that I'm prepared. Don't worry. I've got this. When in reality, there's no way I've got this. 

Civil war: commence.

There is one half of me who remembers what it felt like to have my needs disregarded. There is a very damaged, very wounded part of me who remembers. And she never, ever wants to see another child as petrified and lonely and frozen under covers, palms sweaty, breathing quietly, sometimes screaming, sometimes feeling the ice creep through her veins...never wanting to fall asleep but so, so tired. She needed a safe, warm body next to her. She still does. She needed advocacy. She still does.

But then again, there is another half of me who remembers what I actually told myself when I was that child. Because I was busy thinking of anything besides myself, I thought of my unborn child then, too. I decided that should I end up with a daughter in a similar situation, I would leave her alone. I'd keep watch, but from a distance. I'd let her fight her way through, by herself. I'd let her save herself. I'd let her build that character and that independence and I'd let her find her victory.

I wonder if I told this to myself out of necessity. Because now, it doesn't make me feel victorious. I know that I am strong and independent and I can survive because of this, but I remain devastated by the fact that my support system wasn't a support system. Years later, I remain devastated. Being strong enough to survive never soothed that betrayal. Now, home isn't a thing. Now, regardless of good character or how much I love them, men still aren't trustworthy. Now, people would rather point fingers than extend helping hands. Now, people would rather keep quiet than tell the truth. Now, I can't let a child grow up with those thoughts.

But, it's not really up to me. And at the moment, it doesn't have to be. As unstable as I am, I'm very pleased with the person I've turned out to be. I'll figure it out. I'll be fine. I'll have so much fun.

Some days, though, everything is too heavy and I don't want to anymore.

So I run.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Uplift

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: driving is my favorite thing in the known universe. My ability to drive is directly correlated to my ability to feel progress, and wonder, and raw, beautiful life. It's one of the reasons that I hated being on Xanax. Couldn't drive, couldn't escape.

I always need a way out.




Yesterday, I woke up in Austin with my toes underneath Jax, gave him a goodbye kiss, and pointed myself toward Colorado. I was pretty excited, but in no rush; I hadn't driven to CO by these roads before, and I didn't know what I'd see. 


I saw the city turn into suburbs, which turned into farmland, which turned into plains and prairies. Buttes and mesas randomly dotted the landscape, and I snapped pictures at 80 miles per hour. It was perfect. And I was glad that the signs reflected the things that I felt behind my eyes.



When I got to New Mexico, the clouds changed. I hadn't really been to NM before, except for Four Corners, due west of where I was driving through. I believe that I put one butt cheek on New Mexican land, and that was the extent of it. Turns out, one butt cheek was not enough. (It never is, is it?)



Upon entering New Mexico, the sign boasted a "Land of Enchantment." They weren't exaggerating. I was pretty enchanted.



I pressed on, and knew that something was about to happen. The land kept getting more and more restless, and so did I. Wide based hills, mesas, and (apparently) volcanoes (?!) popped up, and I wondered what had happened there to make it so.


Uplift is incredibly courageous. It is catastrophic and terrifying, but it's a slow blossom. I always feel so much better when I am surrounded by mountains and hills, like geological uplift is a metaphor for my life. It's what happens when things collide and everything doesn't vaporize. Some things vaporize. The things that have to vaporize will vaporize. And sometimes, that's really painful. 


It's painful, but it doesn't always have to mean that things don't work out for the better. There's beauty in uplift and erosion. There's growth that comes with change. And there's bravery that blooms, here. What's more terrifying than knocking heads with a tectonic plate? Not much, on this Earth. Fault lines prevail, and our planet will stabilize, and sometimes that stability requires us to push upward and nestle ourselves against each other until we fit together, weary heads in the crooks of comforting shoulders. We are conserved, in this equilibrium. We fit.


And then, like clockwork, I rounded the corner and there they were. An hour before sunset is exactly the time to cross from New Mexico into Colorado. It's the magic hour, when everything is on fire and shadows spike into the golden sky and snow kisses sunlight. 

There are things in this life that I cannot handle. The Rockies have always been one of them. The Rockies will never not make me want to cry unadulterated joy tears, or tug on my heart, or allow me to exercise my gift for extracting every ounce of wonder out of everything. And because of this, I don't want to handle them. They are not mine to handle; I was not raised with them, they did not rise for me. They are too big and too wide and too majestic to be held by one soul, so I share their energy and it makes me desperate.


It makes me weirdly desperate. My first reaction is denial, because there's no way that something in this world could be that beautiful. Then, deep gratitude. This is land that we've let evolve, and let alone. We're no match for it, and it towers over us like a protective father, so much like a god. Then, I kick myself for ever leaving the state of Colorado, because of the things that it does to me and the desperation it pulls from me.

It's an interesting self exploration, putting mountains in front of my face. I notice that I am the most desperate that I have ever been, in these situations. It's so strange; it almost feels as if I should be begging forgiveness for sins I have yet to commit, or clawing at the chance to stay just one moment longer, or to breathe the same air that the hills exhale...it brings me to my knees. It brings me straight to my knees. 


There I was, metaphorically on my knees as Venus herself looked gracefully down over the silhouettes, and I turned into a stuttering, blithering idiot. This is how you feel when you receive good news, or your life changes, or you see the Rockies at sunset. Add having been in the car for 13 hours by my lonesome, and I was pretty desperate to call somebody, just so somebody else knew that there is still beauty in the world. I called Amanda, my favorite person in the world, and left a lengthy, breathy, hurried, messy description of the purple clouds and the orange mesas and the fiery sky and the goldenrod on the prairie...because she needed to know. All of you need to know that there are good things in the world. Side note, you should all probably be thankful that you're not Amanda on the receiving end of my lunacy. Or, if you are Amanda, then hi, darling! I am ever, ever thankful for your heart and your grace and your willingness to do life with me, sometimes even from thousands of miles away. Also, expect more of the same in the weeks to come!

I expect to remain on my knees for the foreseeable future. Dragged through the mud and the grass and the sand and the ice, on my knees before this whole Universe and how perfect and gracious it is, in all its unlikelihood, for me to exist inside of it.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Dusk in the Sunshine State

One last glass of wine in Clearwater, and that was it. It was over. I'm done, I'm out.

I'm trying to decide what I'm feeling, and I think my body is fiercely defending itself against feeling anything at all, because I'm coming up empty. Not empty, but...mysteriously full.

Like, I was sitting on this couch in this house that became a home, and that's an absolute miracle. I don't think I've been able to properly express what a miracle this entire place has been, because there aren't words to do such a thing. A home. This is the closest to home that I think I've ever felt in my entire life.

...I feel like I should leave a pause, here. This is the closest to home that I think I've ever felt in my entire life. 

It isn't for lack of trying, or really, for lack of anything. Before, I mean. I wasn't missing anything, I've just never been...home.

A little over six months ago, I was laying in my old bed at my parents' house in Michigan, asleep. I had wanted to go up north to the cabin for a couple of wintry, frozen days to visit my aunt and uncle and regroup in the woods, but I knew I had something like a hundred dollars left in my bank account; one hundred dollars that I'd need to get to Florida, where I had jobs lined up. I knew I couldn't go anywhere. Even when I took a double dose of Xanax, I couldn't go anywhere. I couldn't get away. Nothing was taking me from where I was.

My mom snuck into my room and quietly slipped sixty dollars into my fingers. She didn't simply set the money on my bedside; she rolled it up and attached a note and wrapped the whole thing in a bow, an early Christmas gift. A trip, a full tank, the best gift anyone could give a person like me. My mom didn't have sixty dollars to give, but she gave it to me anyway.

She tried her best. She did everything she could. She told me that she knew that I wasn't feeling well, but that she hoped I'd still have a nice time at home; there was nothing that I in my overwhelming, stifling grief could ever give back. That fact broke me.

Things did not change as soon as I crossed the Mason Dixon. They did not change even as I was snuggled up close to my best friend on my way down. They did not change when I finally made it to Clearwater and my Jesse dog cried the happiest greetings, so joyful to see me again. They did not change when I landed a second job at a museum that I had desperately wanted, and loved. They almost changed when I started spending time with Maxwell again, but even then, they didn't.

New Year's Eve panicked me. I was scared, disinterested in seeing another sunrise, lamenting the fact that if I survived, I'd turn 25 this year and I'd have been nothing but a burned out shell of the woman I thought I'd be. But I did not try to hide it. Instead, I tried to get help, help that required taking time off from work and waiting for entirely too long; help that was, essentially, inaccessible to me. Help that never came.

I felt myself becoming the one who would slip through the cracks of the system. I accepted it. I didn't think that I had another choice. And like every other time, I took advantage of how easy it was to blame myself.

But then, something happened.

I began to become more financially stable. I worked every hour that I possibly could, and on my days off, I took some time for self-care. I strengthened the friendships that I had before, weaved new ones, and sank into my genome without needing or ever wanting to come up for air. I made travel itineraries. Instead of the dreaded suicide plans that my former therapist and I would discuss and try to productively counteract, I made a plan to stay alive.

It took time. It took an insane amount of grace, from everybody that surrounded me and from myself, learning to accept that grace as a gift that was for me. It took the crazy, previously unattainable idea that I belonged somewhere; a home where love permeated from wall to wall and everybody was accepted for exactly who they were. Because in houses that are homes, we are allowed to make mistakes and fall and cry and fail. There is space and grace for those things; we always wake up with a thousand new mercies in the morning and a brand new sunrise. And today, although I miss my Sunshine State and all of the memories it holds, it's time to move on to new spaces and graces.

I am not a finished product, but I'm still alive. I'm calling it a victory.