Every Encounter

Camino de Santiago Donkey

Just one of the many animal friends I met along the Camino de Santiago. He was so soft!

Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to share a quote that we return to again and again. Mine is “Every encounter is an encounter with yourself.” To me, that means that every creature you meet in life is a reflection of you. How you see them is a direct result of how you see yourself, and how you treat them says a lot about you.

I left to walk the Camino last October right after I’d been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I’d known for some time that things weren’t “right” with me, but I’d had trouble expressing it to others. I was locked inside myself in a way that I’d never been before. Walking in Spain was not a luxury – it was a necessity. I needed those long days in nature to help untangle my thoughts, and to start finding a way to love myself again. I needed the exercise to learn how strong I could be, and had always been. I needed the people that I met to learn how small the world really is, and how much love is available if we just open our hearts and minds to it.

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I met this sweet dog after a particularly sad encounter earlier that morning with a litter of sick kittens. We hung out for about a half an hour, and he kissed me the entire time. Definitely made my day better.

But I didn’t figure this out while I was walking. In fact, my mind was strangely blank for most of 30+ days I spent hoofing it through Spain. At times I despaired, in fear that I wasn’t “figuring IT out” – whatever IT was supposed to be. No matter what, though, every day on the trail I met at least one animal (sometimes more), and every time that happened I felt compelled to slow down, take a break, and shower that cat, dog, horse, etc. with love. I was lucky to be walking with people who understood that I needed this, and that they shouldn’t try to hurry me along when my animal encounter of the day happened along. It was moments like this that I most felt in tune with my favorite saint, St. Francis of Assisi. It started to dawn on me that his deep love for all creatures wasn’t just a symbol of his faith, but of mental health, and an understanding of our interconnectedness with all beings.

Camino Dog

There were so many starving and abused animals on the Camino, and it broke my heart. I saw this sweet lady looking in the window of a cafe, so my friend Jakob and I stopped to feed her our lunch rations. She was scared of Jakob, so we surmised she’d not been treated kindly by men. However, she let me pet her after a bit, and I made sure she ate until she was full. I worry about her still.

It was only after I’d gotten to Santiago de Compostela that I read the quote “Every encounter is an encounter with yourself” and it suddenly hit me that I’d been showering animals with the love I needed to feel. I needed that kind of unconditional caring, and I’d shown myself that I was capable of giving it to to my fellow creatures – so what was stopping me from doing the same for myself? It was a huge moment in my life, for many reasons. I suddenly felt such deep respect and love for my walking buddies who had intuitively known that I was in deep need of these love lessons, and helping me nurture that time each day. I felt an even greater love for the animals that I met along The Way, and for the lessons in acceptance that they’d taught me. Most of all, I could finally connect my ability to love others with what it should feel like to love myself. It’s a really big life lesson, and I’ll be working on it for the rest of my time here on the planet, but I’m so happy that it finally got through.

My current endeavor, The Hobbit Walk, is an extension of the lessons I learned on the Camino. Click through to find out how you can help.

Camino Cat

Pablo was one of the last Camino cats I met. He ran right up to us on the trail, so I sat down and cuddled him for awhile.

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These Choices

Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to consider what we would do if we knew we couldn’t fail. It’s an appropriate question for this day, and is closely aligned with something my therapist asked me a couple of days ago and that I’ve been mulling over ever since. After listening to several days of stress-filled rants regarding my career (aspirations vs. actuality), the therapist remarked that I didn’t sound like I liked what I did very much. Would I consider changing careers?

I have this little nagging suspicion that after I return from Spain in November, I might be forced into this choice. Of course, I can hope that both of my jobs decide not to can me for leaving them high and dry for 45 days, but let’s face it – America does not believe in taking a break. Vacation days are for wusses. If we’re lucky, we get two weeks of paid vacation, but even then, we’re subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) made to feel guilty for desiring to use all of them. And that’s why people like me are slowly losing their minds. We need a break, and what’s more, we need a long one.

Working in America vs. Working in Other Countries. Click the image to read more.

Working in America vs. Working in Other Countries. Click the image to read more.

So I made this decision to love myself enough to give myself the break I so desire and deserve, even if it means that my employers can’t get along without me. I’d rather have to find new jobs than continue to put off this pilgrimage for another year. When I’m old and gray and too old to travel outside of my retirement home, I don’t want to have any regrets about missed opportunities to explore the world. I’ve told my New Orleans job that I plan to leave, and to be quite fair, my officemates are really supportive of my choice, even if they’re apprehensive at where this will leave them when I’m gone. I haven’t told the Chicago job yet, because I think it will lodge in my boss’s mind like a piece of grit in an oyster, slowly turning and growing into a giant pearl of contention. It’s not worth it right now to upset her. Maybe in a few months.

The other part of the equation is this sneaking suspicion that nothing I do really matters. I look around me, at my job, at my friends’, and it seems that we waste our lives sitting in cubicles, performing mundane tasks that ultimately don’t matter. I really enjoy marketing, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not helping the world in any way. And it’s no question that the continued exposure to technology is destroying my brain. I’m frequently too sad to leave the house, and have the attention span of an ADHD goldfish. My memory is measurably worse. It’s no real stretch to imagine dementia setting in sooner rather than later, and that’s terrifying to me.

Is this who I want to be? From a physical and spiritual standpoint, how can I afford to continue this trajectory? But from a financial standpoint, how can I not? It’s a conundrum. I wish that I could tell my 18-year-old self not to lose that full scholarship, or my 23-year-old self not to go to school for historic preservation. But killing those butterflies would destroy this world as I know it, and I’ll take the crushing student loan debt in exchange for the handsome writer who makes me coffee and laughs at my stupid jokes, thanks. I still have hope that some small changes will help me keep my sanity and figure out how to live a fulfilling life within the boundaries I’ve created for myself.

Still, what would I do if I knew I couldn’t lose? If I knew I could keep him AND achieve success in a fulfilling career? I don’t even know how to turn the hopeful part of my brain back on to contemplate that question at full capacity. Maybe when my feet meet the Camino, those gears will start to turn. Maybe I’ll be able to figure it out. I guess I’d cast my net wide. I’d look to new cities for opportunities. I’d look to new countries, even. I’d try to get into the film industry. I’d take this idea of writing a book and make it central to the way I live my life. I’d fold so many origami flowers that my apartment would be the envy of gardeners everywhere. I’d find a museum that wanted a ragtag history like mine, and would take a chance on me as a curator. I’d sing, sing, sing every day.

Sometimes I hate being both a dreamer and a realist. I hate how I crush my own spirit so much more efficiently than anyone else could. These choices seem so simple when I see them in writing. Why are they monumental in my imagination? Please, Santiago, help me walk back to my life, the real one, the one without fear.

A Constant Reader

B-81-363-34 Sitting at Desk with hands coming towards the camera

When addressing his audience, Stephen King often writes to his “Constant Reader”. Instead of saying “Hey crowd of millions, here are a few of my thoughts” he crafts notes that appeal to each individual reader in a way that creates immediate intimacy. This suggestion of closeness is woven through the rest of his writing, as well. Sometimes, I’ll finish up a King book and feel like it’s something that was written just for me. The stories often feel like campfire tales – while I’m reading, I’m safe inside the circle of firelight, but as soon as I put the book down, I feel ill at ease. Anything could get me. Closet doors should stay shut, and under-the-bed should always have plenty of boxes to discourage monsters from camping out. It creates an urgency to read the book faster and close the circle, lest the monsters get out of the story and into my apartment. I especially love that I can feel deeply connected to his writing, like I’m the only one reading, yet have gotten into deep conversations about King’s work with perfect strangers on airplanes and in line at the grocery store. It’s rare to meet a real fan – a Constant Reader – of King who doesn’t feel in some way personally connected to the man.

I realize that there are a lot of folks out there who believe King’s work isn’t worthy of as much respect as they’d give to less prolific, more “serious” authors. Every now and then I run into a person who hates his books, not because they’re not a fan of horror, or because they don’t like his style, but simply because he’s constantly churning out new books and always at the top of the bestseller list. It comes off as pettiness, but because book snobs often regard this kind of bigotry as an attempt to somehow preserve literary culture, the viewpoint is widely accepted, and fans get relegated to the geek corner. If being a geek means I get to read great books without wondering if I’m going to lose the respect of someone I didn’t really care about anyway, that’s fine by me.

Non-King fans also tend to dismiss King’s writing style as being a factor in his fans’ enjoyment, and place a lot of the weight of his success on his subject matter. For me, this isn’t the case, and I’m relatively sure that there are a lot of folks in my camp on this one. I’m not the biggest fan of horror lit (ghost stories are my favorite, but I tend to dislike reading about aliens and monsters, which make up a sizeable chunk of King’s subject matter), but King’s approachable writing style never fails to drag me in, despite whatever topic misgivings I might have. He tells stories of real people, having real crises of faith in extraordinary circumstances. It’s supremely easy to identify with his characters, and in doing so, I’ve found I’m able to open up my imagination a bit more with each read.

My first Stephen King book was The Regulators, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. I read it as a teenager, and haven’t stopped collecting new King tales since. Just saying “the regulators” in my mind as I type this fills me with a delicious dread. If you haven’t read it, I think it’s an excellent starting place. There’s a matching book called Desperation, involving all of the same character names, but in an alternate universe where their lives have been subtly (and not so subtly) different. That concept blew my mind back then, and it’s a testament to King’s creativity that it still kind of does. My latest King read was Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining, and as a work, it perfectly fits the point I’m trying to make here. You find out that Danny’s family history has had a profound effect on his life, and that it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses over the last few decades as he’s grappled with his psychic abilities and addiction. It’s a fantastic read. I also adore On Writing, which is half memoir, half guidebook to becoming a writer. I’m probably blowing half of the rules out of the water with this post, though. Oh, and will someone (hint, hint boyfriend) please buy me Joyland for Christmas?

There are a few other authors on my “favorites” list – folks whose books I will always pick up, even if I don’t know a thing about the story. Neil Gaiman is at the top with King, of course. Tom Holt, Bernard Cornwell, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams & Ariana Franklin/Diana Norman (RIP) are up there, as well.

Anyone sensing a pattern or two?

Besides the obvious – all but King are from the UK – they’re all also fiction novelists. Gaiman, Pratchett, Adams and Holt are all authors of fantasy fiction (and tend towards humor). Gaiman, Cornwell, King and Franklin/Norman’s works are often heavy on detail. I began reading Gaiman after seeing a review blurb by King, in fact. I trusted my favorite author, and the trust was paid back in full with an excellent recommendation that has changed my life in many ways. Gaiman helps me believe in magic the same way that King helps me believe in goodness – but aren’t they kind of the same thing?

(Which reminds me, on the off chance that you’re reading this, Neil, please do come and sign books at Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans. It’s a brand new shop that fills a long-void niche for our community, and the owners could really use the business that your appearance would bring in. Not to mention that I’m quite selfishly hoping to have you sign a poster I picked up after seeing you a few years back in Chicago.)

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Cornwell is especially adept at creating realistic battle scenes – I’ve squelched through fields of blood, mud and piss with him quite a few times over my reading career, and never would have had a proper understanding of strength it takes to be a longbowman without his careful examination of the profession. Also, you’ll probably notice that Franklin, Cornwell and Pratchett all have medieval themes in their works, and while Holt and Gaiman tend to place their stories in modern settings, there are definitely elements that a medieval history enthusiast can get behind. If you count Adam’s work in Monty Python, and King’s Dark Tower series as an homage to medieval themes, we’re all in. Also, all of the writers tend to talk about spiritual matters, including religious history, reincarnation, afterlife/ghosts, gods/goddesses, universal connectedness, 42, etc.

Above all, my favorite storytellers have the gift of making me feel like the story isn’t something they’re telling me, but rather something I’m experiencing firsthand. This can either be through letting me identify with/as the protagonist, or in the case of writers like Holt and Adams, encouraging me to laugh my way through the book. The best authors craft passages that create a visceral reaction for their readers. From what I’ve experienced in talking with die-hard Chuck Palahniuk fans, his works really resonate on a gut level with readers. Unfortunately, the three books that I’ve read by him came off as highly revolting on a gut level, so it’s obvious he’s doing it right, even if it’s not my cuppa. The point being that I’ll just assume that some of you who’re reading this will consider one or many of the authors I adore to be not so great, as well. It’s all personal opinion – isn’t that the fabulous thing about being a Constant Reader, no matter whose?

The Sound Of Rebellion

People always remember Chicago as a 1980's soundtrack band, but there's more to the story.

People I meet always seem to think of Chicago as a 1980’s soundtrack band, but there’s more to the story.

Dear Chicago,

I still remember the first time I heard you guys play. I was 15, and my father and I were on a mission to avoid my grandmother for as long as possible. When I was growing up, on the day after Christmas, the whole family – Mum and Daddy and I – would drive the two and a half hours from Belhaven to Newport to visit with Mum’s parents. They didn’t like my father, and at the time they didn’t seem to be that keen on me, either, so generally Daddy and I would leave at some point in the visit to go make our rounds of the local thrift stores and pawn shops. We’ve always bonded over bargain shopping opportunities.

At the first pawn shop, I bought two CDs – two compilations of 60’s & 70’s pop hits that get light radio play. We hopped back into Daddy’s truck to drive to the next shop, and I gleefully examined the CDs, imagining what the songs would sound like. I still have both compilations today – songs include Green Tambourine (The Lemon Pipers), Laugh Laugh (The Beau Brummels), Hello Hello (Sopwith Camel), Stoned Soul Picnic (The Fifth Dimension), Do You Believe in Magic (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Brandy (Looking Glass), Mama Told Me Not to Come (Three Dog Night), and a lot more. It was a great day for me, musically.

As I gloated over my excellent purchases, my father popped a cassette into the truck’s tape deck. The first notes hit. I was confused. I’d never heard anything like it before. Rich background vocals, soulful lyrics, great horn section, and a tune that I wanted to immediately sing along to. We stopped in at a few more pawn shops that afternoon, but between each, the tape continued. By the time we got back to my grandparents’ house, I was hooked. My dad never got to keep that tape – I took it home to my stereo, and played it on repeat until I found the vinyl version.

That cassette was Chicago 19, and it opened up a new world to me. Sure, it’s a world that no one my age seems to understand. Yes, I tend to get confused stares when I tell people I really like Chicago, and go on to explain that it’s not an ironic infatuation. I genuinely like music that features a big brass section (even though 19 is notorious for having a much lighter horn section than their other albums), and I love a lot of your lyrics. Most people only know the overplayed radio greats, but there are other great tunes that never get radio play. My favorite off of Chicago 19 is Victorious, and I’ve never heard it on FM. It’s one of my favorite romantic songs; for a long time, I had this silly thought that I’d know my future husband because he’d play me Victorious without ever knowing I liked it. I guess maybe my level of optimism is just about perfect to be a diehard Chicago fan in today’s cynical age.

Not long after discovering the band, I raided my dad’s record collection and found out that he had a few earlier records from the late 60s and early 70s. That’s how I found out that most of your albums are branded, almost like magazine covers. Not that you need to see it, but Album Cover Gallery has a great post that compares images of all of the albums. For instance, Chicago II, which is my favorite (and the first created after you changed your name from Chicago Transit Authority to Chicago), looks like brushed sheet metal, maybe meant to be the close up of a high hat cymbal, I’ve never been completely sure. Other album covers are wood grain, or an unwrapped bar of chocolate. I fell in love with the branding, and started to collect them for the covers, as well.

chicagoII

Chicago II was one of my teenage rebellion albums. When I’d get supremely pissed at my parents, I’d run to my room, throw the record on, and blast it. My parents never told me to turn my music down, but it’s probably because from the other end of the house, they were probably enjoying listening to the same tunes. I wasn’t very good at being rebellious, I guess, but to this day, the album helps me blow off steam when I’m angry. I used to sing along to the horn parts, which in retrospect was probably great preparation for singing a cappella in college.

Anyway, Chicago, I know I’m probably boring you, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re important to me. I’m keeping the love alive. I’ve always wanted to see you in concert, and hopefully one day I’ll get the opportunity. Back in college, you once played in New Orleans on my birthday. It would have been the perfect time to go, but I didn’t have money for the ticket. Last year, you played Gretna Fest, a music festival just 20 minutes down the road, and I didn’t find out that you were in town until the day after the event; I was heartbroken. But one day I’ll be in the crowd, singing along (even when there aren’t lyrics). In the mean time, thanks for nurturing my inner sap, and for rocking the hell out of those horns all these years.

Yours truly,

Anna

The Oldest Cousin

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When people find out that I’m an only child, they’ll often make some kind of comment about how lucky I was to not have to share my belongings, or to have my parents “all to myself.” Logically, I can see how this might look like it’s the case, but it’s not exactly true. I grew up in a house in the middle of the woods, about a mile outside of town. Most of the time, there were no other kids around to play with. My parents didn’t have a lot of friends, so we didn’t have company often. My mom was/is a stay-at-home mom, so I had her, but my dad was always working, often not making it home until after I’d already gone to bed in the evening. I was lonely. I was also introverted, which back then just came across as shy and weird, so I didn’t make friends easily. Mostly, I just sat in my hammock out in the yard and read a lot.

My father is the oldest of three boys, and though both of my uncles also had children, their oldest kids are seven years younger than I am. Now that I’m in my 30’s, having cousins in their mid-20’s doesn’t seem like such a huge age gap. When you’re 15 and your closest relation is 8, it’s a little difficult to relate. Also, my mother’s only sibling, a sister, decided not to have children, so I’m the only kid on that side. Summer vacations at my maternal grandmother’s house felt lonely because I was drastically younger than everyone else, while trips to my paternal grandmother’s house felt lonely because I was drastically older than everyone else. On top of all that, from kindergarten through sixth grade I was sent to a private Christian school, and I was the poorest kid in class. My bookish behavior, worn-out Kmart clothes, and complete lack of understanding of pop culture did not earn me friends, let’s just put it that way.

So childhood was uncomfortable. As I got older, I started to focus more and more on just getting the hell out of dodge, and starting over again. The focus for my family was always that I get a great education, so I excelled in high school and applied to good colleges. I was excited to get into Tulane for undergrad, and once I moved away things got a lot better. Though I didn’t become a new person, I did find different ways to express myself. I pushed myself to be more outgoing. I found friends, and eventually those friendships built a family structure. Now, my friend family feels more real to me than my actual family.

It doesn’t help my relationships with folks back home that as I grew and explored, my life experiences began to shape my understanding of the world. My life in a small town in the country paled in comparison to my new experiences in New Orleans, Chicago, and across the world as I traveled and met people from all walks of life. My education level began to set me apart from my family, as well. I have a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, while most of my family members went to work right after high school, or else got bachelor’s degrees from smaller local colleges and then jumped into the workforce. It doesn’t matter much to me, but at home, people tend to mention my school career to me in a condescending way pretty often, like getting an education is a negative trait. I’ve given up trying to figure out what that means.

Also, I found that as I got more and more into modern tech and gadgetry, both for work and for kicks, I started finding that I had even less to talk to my mother and father about. Eventually, there couldn’t help but be this huge divide between us. All of the things that I take for granted about the way the world works are just not part of the world that they see every day. Their views are also often shuttered and prejudiced, so I find myself having to ignore a lot of things, while picking and choosing what “battles” to undertake, what ideas to gently attempt to instill to try to negate the prejudice (and sometimes, complete ignorance). It’s not easy. It’s not fun. I hate it. Luckily, both of my parents love me very much, and try their hardest to relate to me. It’s obvious when we’re talking to each other that we’re all doing our best to figure out how to talk to each other and keep the bond strong; it’s just nothing like what I know/see/experience happening with my friends and their families, so sometimes it gets me down.

The one bright spot in my family is my cousin Crystal, who’s my oldest female cousin. She’s almost eight years younger than me, but we’ve always been close-ish. When she was a tiny, chubby thing with a huge smile, she’d always follow me around everywhere, and as she got older we bonded over being the outsiders in the family. We’re the only members of the family to move away from North Carolina, and with me being pagan and her being an atheist, we’re both damned for all eternity as far as our family is concerned. So there’s that to bond over, lol! Plus, we’re both pretty geeky, which doesn’t hurt. But there’s still enough of a gap in our ages that we aren’t buddy-buddy or anything. It’s just nice to know I have one family member that gets me, and I think she feels the same way. We talk on Facebook every couple of weeks, so that’s nice.

Either way, here I am – the black sheep of the family, even though I’ve done everything “right”. An adult who hasn’t seen her parents in three years, and tries never to go home to North Carolina if she can avoid it. Someone who wants desperately to connect with her family, but mostly feels like she has nothing at all in common with them. Someone who convinces herself that feeling like an outsider is just in her imagination, only to have it proven over and over again that she has never fit in, and never will. If I felt like I didn’t belong there as a child, it’s definite that I actually don’t belong there now, as a grown woman. I don’t feel like I have an extended family, most of the time. I love my parents, but I’m often exasperated with them, and they with me. All I want is a big family that laughs together and could be counted on in a pinch. It makes me sad that I might never have that. But I guess that’s just what happens to some of us.

Stop Wasting Your Time

Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to discuss the concept that “good things come to those that wait.” As I start to cobble together my thoughts on this subject, I can say for sure that the first thing happening in my mind is a general feeling of disgust and irritation. It’s not that I don’t like to wait, or that I don’t see the benefits of taking your time and thinking through your choices. I’ve been known to let people cut in front of me in traffic without batting an eyelash, and I often read hundreds of reviews before pulling the trigger on making an important purchase. OK, “often” is an understatement – I feel a compulsion to read all of the reviews I can get my hands on, to have a handle on positive and negative potential outcomes – but that’s not what we’re talking about.

Overall, I am completely certain that in the past, one of my largest and most outstanding personality flaws has been my weird mix of patience, cowardice, and stoicism when confronting personal changes. It’s a deadly cocktail that’s kept me in place for far too long, waiting for just the right conditions to strike so I can finally make my moves. While the last bout of waiting hasn’t caused my life irreparable damage (at least that I can see right now – who knows what cracks are hiding under the slightly-banged-up surface?), it hasn’t done me any favors, either.

Throughout my life, all of the best things that have ever happened to me did so when I just went with my gut and took that leap of faith.

People with kids often say that that if you’re waiting to have a baby until the time is “right,” you’ll keep waiting forever. There’s never a right time. I think that’s something that those of us who’re more cautious, planning types should keep in mind. There will never be a perfect time to end a long term relationship, or move to a new city, or blow all of your money on that vacation you’ve always wanted to go on. But you’ll know when the time is decent enough. Take that chance. You might never have it again. In fact, you won’t ever have that particular chance again. Sure, there might be another opening that’s just as good, but really, you should be utilizing them all. Why have just one adventure? Why do just one thing that excites you, and expands your horizons? Why not aim for them all (or as many as you can, anyway)?

I just spent almost a quarter of my life waiting for life to begin. I let someone else tell me what I should be planning for, and what dreams I should just tuck back into my imagination and let wither and die. I should be saving all of my money for a house and children. I should be working a regular 9 to 5 job, to have time to spend with my family after work. I should learn how to cook because it’s something that everyone loves. Trips to Europe without money for nice hotels every night of the stay were a ridiculous expenditure for only half of a vacation. Trips anywhere at all were a ridiculous expenditure when I should be concentrating on saving for weddings and kids and mortgages. Spending money on nice meals in restaurants was utter stupidity when the same money would cook a week’s worth of food. Going to the movies was a waste of time and money when a DVD was the price of one ticket. Working for a non-profit wouldn’t make enough money to pay for a house, so helping people was probably out of the question. Why stop at being a marketing coordinator when I could run a department one day and be respected and make money to pay for a house? A house. Kids. A mortgage. A car. All things that I could want one day, but didn’t want then and don’t really care about now. (Although I’m getting tired of walking everywhere, so maybe a car might be cool sometime soon, I don’t know yet.)

Bottom line: I like to travel. I like living light. I don’t really care about money. I like having it, but I only like having it because it’s fun to spend. Sure, paying off bills and saving for retirement is smart, but putting a hold on your travel plans for the next 30 YEARS because it’s expensive to have children????? I’d rather go to London every year and just not have babies, thanks.

Good things can come to those who wait, yeah. But it’s a big fucking chance you’re taking at sitting back and hoping for the best, while ignoring all of the beauty and opportunity laid out before you. TAKE A CHANCE! LIVE! STOP WAITING FOR THINGS TO GET BETTER AND GO MAKE THEM BETTER NOW.

Stop wasting your time. It’s finite, you know. We’re all dying. We’re in a race to the end, but the end point is invisible. Live a little before you hit the finish line.

It’s Not At All What You’d Hoped

Anna at 23. A selfie taken back with the hashtag was just a pound sign. Vienna, November 2004.

Anna at 23. A selfie taken back when the hashtag was just a pound sign. I’m wearing my favorite hat (lost during Katrina), and my favorite earrings. If you’ve seen my tattoo before, you might recognize the design. Vienna, November 2004.

Hello me. We probably shouldn’t be meeting like this, if certain 1980’s time travel movies are to be believed. Given that I’ll always take Spock’s explanations over Doc Brown’s, though, I guess we’ll be fine. Of course, you’ll have no clue what I’m talking about. It will be another five years before the new movie comes out, and at the moment (provided I remember you correctly) you’re still trying to pretend that you aren’t as excited about Federation matters as you obviously are. Yeah, you still admit your love of Star Wars if asked, since no one seems to look down on it as much as they do Star Trek, but seriously lady, come out of the geek closet already. It’s going to be OK. No one is going to shun you for getting a little googly-eyed over the cool costumes and the concept of an entire planet full of people working towards peace. No one that matters, anyway.

I’d offer you some coffee, but you don’t like it. Oh, you will, though. But listen up – don’t go down that dark path towards over-caffeination. It’s pretty much the devil. I’m just now weaning myself off of the stuff after a good five-year dependency. It’s really not worth the effort. Plus, there are even some studies now that say too much coffee can make you gain weight – and yeah, you notice than I’m about forty pounds heavier than you are at 23. So maybe just don’t get into a steady relationship with the java anytime soon, OK? And stop with the diet pills. Just stop.

So about this summer. The decision you made was a tough one, and yeah, you’re going to be replaying it for the rest of your life. It’s always going to be about the math, really. You’ll think “what if” forever. Every year you’ll invent a new scenario to adjust for the time that’s passed. But it’s OK. You had it easier than a lot of people, and I know that you are about 95% fine with how everything went down. Believe me when I say that you’ll continue to be OK with it. From where I’m sitting, 10 years later, I’m nearing the 100% point. There are some very tiny regrets, but not about the way it happened. It was the right choice.

You know why? Because that trip you’re currently on in Vienna, to visit Katie and celebrate your birthday – that’s going to be one of the happiest memories of your life. At your darkest points, you’ll remember the Riesenrad, and missing that stupid flight to Berlin. You’ll be simultaneously horrified and highly amused that you hallucinated Snow White’s evil stepmother. And you’ll be grateful for every second spent in the presence of your beloved friend. Even more important, you’ll come to realize that the moment you decided to book that trip was the moment you chose to pick yourself up and put yourself back together, and to live every single day to the fullest. And the effects of that decision have continued to ripple through your life, making you such a full and interesting person. No, you’ll still never be able to admit that to yourself without feeling guilty and stupid, but as Jean LeLoup says, “…et j’ai des grands instants de lucididité”.

You’re so resilient, Anna. I know it feels right now like he just spent the last year and a half slowly tearing your heart out, and that this summer was the culmination of some horror show that you, the master masochist, willingly signed up for. I know you’re blaming yourself. But believe me – in 10 years time, you will have traveled the world. You will be getting ready for the biggest adventure of your life, finally, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. And he’ll be balding, and spouting worn out platitudes via social media (don’t worry, you’ll find out more about that later), and generally annoying you every time he happens to cross your mind. The love stays. But reality breaks in, and it brings a hell of a lot of peace with it.

I suppose I should give you some hints about what’s coming up for you. This next year is going to be great, until it isn’t. You’re going to have a lot of fun hanging out with your new friends, and working at K-Paul’s. And you’re going to get into grad school, and go back to Vienna and Paris and London again this summer. It’s going to be an amazing dream of a year, the best you’ve ever had, and the best you’ll have for some time to come. Once you come home, though, there’s going to be a hurricane. You’ll lose everything you own, be disowned by your family, and will have to move across the country to start over again from scratch. But you’ll meet a ton of new friends, and that new strength, the strength that you found on your trip to Vienna, that’s going to get you through it all. You will rise to the occasion, and it will mold you into something different. The phoenix. Me.

I wish I could tell you now that you shouldn’t go back to New Orleans when your heart starts yearning for home that winter, but then you wouldn’t meet your next serious boyfriend. And you’ll want to meet him. It will be an interesting time. He’ll teach you a lot about yourself. But he’ll make you forget a lot about yourself, too. Make your decisions carefully, my love. I wish I could give you some guidance, but you already know that your major problem is always going to be your self esteem, paired with a near pathological need to be of service to those you love. The challenge is going to be figuring out when to jump ship. If I were you, I’d talk to that guy at the end of the bar on our 30th birthday. Yeah, I know that’s seven years from now in your world, but keep it in mind. You’ll know who I’m talking about when you get there.

Oh 23-year old Anna, I love you. More importantly, other people do, too. I wish that 33-year old Anna could keep that in focus more often. Am I rambling? Is anything I’m saying even making sense to you? I guess more than anything, all I want to say is to pay attention, enjoy the little things, stop placing so much weight on other people’s needs, and place a little more on your own. Just follow your intuition. Take the lesson you learned from that one leap of faith and multiply it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how things turn out – how YOU turn out. It’s not at all what you’d hoped.

It’s much better.