As some of you already know, I’m heading out in a few hours to go on a road trip to Florida to explore Orlando, Kissimmee, Cape Canaveral, and Palm Beach. My dad, mom, brother, and I are all stuffed into a forty-foot RV that we call the Big Rolling Turd. Oh, and my cat comes with us because she loves the open road as much as we do. (Think Flat Stanley, but with a housecat.)
Recently I was with my mom when we ran into one of her friends who asked me, “Isn’t it ‘uncool’ to be going on vacation with your parents?” My answer was a blunt and very important, “No way.” It’s not uncool at all. In fact, I think it’s one of the best parts about our family.
But, it wasn’t always cool.
Now, please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. We are like any other family. We fight. We annoy. We argue. We frustrate. We apologize. We forgive. We yell. We cry. We laugh. We love.
As many of you know, I can be very, very stubborn. But you haven’t met Stubborn until you’ve met my dad. He wears a scowl that intimidates anyone, but he’s one of the gentlest giants. And though my mom’s natural resting-bitch-face sometimes makes her look unpleasant, she’s the kindest person most people could ever know. There’s my brother, who is categorically a typical twenty-one year old male. And then there’s me. Put us all in a 480-square foot tin box for the next ten days and we’re bound to crash into one another’s final nerves.
Life is crazy and stressful. My family, despite how insane they drive me, keep me grounded.
When I was younger, my parents used to make it a point to make sure we were all at the dinner table together. Although this wasn’t always easy to do, we made it work. When I was young, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like having to wait to go over to a friend’s house until after dinner was over. I wanted to be out hang out and do my own thing.
…So I did the most natural thing I could think of when I was twenty-two and presented with the opportunity to flee. I fled. Two thousand miles across the United States, I landed in a small town in the middle of the desert. And looking back on it… I had to move across the country only to discover I wanted to be back home. No place would be home without my family.
And now, our home is in this camper and we have two thousand miles and ten days to go.
To the person who asked me if it was “uncool” for me to hang out with my parents, let me answer it the same simple way I did before: No, it’s not uncool. In fact, I consider myself to be pretty damn lucky to have such supportive, awesome, and incredible parents. If you have kids of your own, or when you do, may you be so fortunate to raise them well enough for them to want to spend their time with you.
Anxiety. The fog that creeps into your mind and spreads itself across your thoughts. Seemingly impossible to permeate. It'll pass, you remind yourself.
For about as long as I can remember, I've been an anxious person. I used to think it was nothing, something simple like being disappointed in myself if I didn't show up to an event at the same time as everyone else. As I've grown, I've begun to realize it's much bigger than that. The past few years of my life I've begun to see my anxiety for what it really is. It's something I can't particularly control, although there are things I can avoid to keep it from growing. However, sometimes it's strong enough to push its way past the walls I've built to keep it out. When that happens, there's not much I can do, so I have to remind myself: it'll pass.
The anxiety rises, but comes first as my heart begins to race a little. Then even faster. My breath gets caught, like I suddenly can't get enough oxygen into my lungs. My brain panics with a thousand other thoughts. And then there it is: I can feel, I mean actually feel, every cell soaring through my open blood vessels, flooding my body with fear, worry, doubt, anxiety.
To be honest, the majority of my anxieties are very simple, and I know this. But yet I can't control them, despite how many people try to tell me to "just get over it." Recently, I've begun to realize that it's actually okay to talk about my anxiety with people; something I once was very afraid of. And when I began to share with a few of you, you made me think of my anxiety like the weather. It may be foggy and overcast today, but the sun can soon shine again. Now, it's a little less scary to talk about it, though the thought of putting this all out here in the open for you is making me quite apprehensive. But the research supports it: I am not alone.
To be painfully honest (with myself and with you), my anxiety keeps me from doing lots of things. It's easier, and safer for me, to cancel plans with you because I get too anxious thinking about all of the possibilities of things that could or might go wrong. I'm worrying that you dislike me, that I'm bothering you, that I'm a burden in your life. Because of my anxiety, I live in a lot of fear. Fear of the great unknown. Trust me, I so badly wish I could turn off my brain long enough to get into a plane, and then jump out of it.
Talking about it helps. When I began sharing with some of you, you started to truly see me and actually understand me better. Those of you that have spent time with me have learned to understand my "quirks." Some of you know that sometimes I need to be pushed to be better, and other times, I just need to know I'm not alone. For your understanding, I'm more appreciative than I could ever express.
I don't want to let my anxiety hold me back. I wish my anxiety would cease long enough for me to be brave. I don't want my anxiety to push people away. When I told you my anxieties, you didn't try to hurry it away or ignore it. You hunkered down with me until the fog dissipated. You waited with me while it passed.
Ten years ago I embarked on a 3,500 mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean. I lived twenty-one days in four different countries. To say this experience was life-changing is an understatement. Little did I know, this was only the start of my wandering feet.
When you visit a foreign country, learn another language, or dedicate yourself to understanding a culture different than your own, you change. You grow. You evolve. Your perspective shifts. You suddenly become aware of how massive the scale of life is and how minor you, one person, are on that scale. But then you meet people, many, many people, who aren't so different from you at all. "Foreign" fades and "familiarity" rises. You sit around a table swapping stories of good times and offering advice for hardships. You become friends.
That's when you realize, this world isn't nearly as big as it appears to be.
About this time last year, I had a wild idea strike me. I had been reflecting on the travels I had done back when I was in high school and thinking about how vastly different my life could have been without those adventures. I wouldn't be who I am, with the perspectives I have, without the experiences I've been through. The idea that struck me was: I want to be able to help someone have the opportunity to travel, to learn, to live. The answer I found was to host an exchange student.
And now, in exactly one month, my new Swedish friend will be coming in August to live with me through the next school year. She's seventeen years old and will be a senior at the local high school. I get nervous walking into school on the first day and I've done it for how many years? I can't imagine her apprehension. She's braver than I perhaps have ever been.
Over the past few weeks as I've shared my excitement with people, their reaction is always the same, "That's so perfect for you!" as if in some way, I've always been destined to offer up my home to a stranger. But when I actually think about it, it's because they see me as someone who's been changed. Someone who knows that while the earth may be 24,902 miles around, all it takes to make a friend are open eyes and an open heart.
First of all, it's not our ocean. I'm pretty certain that the oceans belong to the 700,000-1,000,000 species (thanks Discovery Channel) that reside there. But we humans have an awful sense of entitlement, huh?
Secondly, let's think this out. You decide to go for a swim in the ocean. You're entering the home of many of the planet's top predators. If a predator enters your home, what would you do about it? Well, you'd probably kill him, or at least harm him, but a stupid shark is going to swim up and test to see if your seal-like body tastes anything like the seals he's used to chomping down on.
For months this has sat unattended (I warned you of this happening), and probably fading away into the abyss of cyberspace. Don't fret. I'm alive and well, while the blog may not be, with no good excuse for why I'm not writing here. I guess the good news is that I've been writing a lot in my notebook, and despite how much I've been writing, I have yet to fill up this whole damned thing. I'm actually convinced it might be growing more pages in the back. It's almost blissful writing here again; the words flooding so quickly from my head to my fingertips. Paper and pen is beautifully meaningful, but this is surely efficient.
For those of your devoted fans and followers, you saw me in my fledgling days. My days as a novice blogger telling the ridiculous truths about student teaching. (Let's not talk about how long ago that was because I'm still in denial.) I'd like to think I've grown up a little since then, but when did I become such a pompous ass to think I didn't need to write this down and admit my quirks aloud to you, strangers of the internet? Okay, so most of you aren't actually strangers and some of you are even my best friends, in which then you'd know how badly I sometimes need to write. It aches actually; an idea brewing so deeply inside of me that I need to write it down. If I don't write, I'll go mad.
I tell my quick stories to most of you through Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram, but none of it is like writing here. Here I'm not confined to 140 characters which cause me to use improper grammar to get my point across. Here, the world is literally at my fingertips.
So here's the announcement: The blog is back. I don't know for how long (though I have lofty aspirations) and I can't promise I'll have something worthy to say, but I'll talk if you're willing to listen.
"I have no special talent.