Friday, January 27, 2012

Please Please Please

Okay, on my last blog post I wrote about how much I love Seattle and know that I want to stay here for awhile.

Unfortunately, that realization doesn't necessarily mean that all the "moving to Seattle" puzzle pieces just fell into place immediately. Sometimes there's some lag time between deciding that you want something and it actually happening.

My first order of business was finding a job. I had been landscaping part-time but was looking for more hours. I found an ad for a full-time position that I was really excited about, and put my whole heart into the application process. And it was a loooonng application. I could probably have applied to grad school in less time. Then I sat back to wait. I paced. I checked my inbox. I decided the only reasonable thing left to do was to learn "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" by the Smiths on my baritone ukulele. (Here's a uke version on You Tube) It was like my prayer. I really wanted that job and I deserved it. A couple hours after learning the chords and singing it forlornly to myself, I got an email: they wanted me to come in for an interview the following week.

It worked! My musical prayer was heard. I did the interview, which went great.

Later that day I was talking to my mom about the job interview and an interview for a house that sounded awesome. "When you are working at that place..." she started saying. "I'm not counting any chickens before they're hatched!" I replied. "But if you move into that house..."
"Ahhh, no counting chickens, no counting chickens!" I shouted.

Later I was talking to a good friend who lives in DC. We were discussing bicycle shopping and dating and looking for places to live, not quite knowing what was going to happen with any of those things. "There are so many balls in the air, it can be a little tiring," she said. "I know! I'm so tired of the balls too!" I said.

So it became my strange mantra for the day, "Tired of the balls, no counting chickens!" It's a difficult place to be in, to have so much uncertainty that you are trying to peg down, but not able to get too set on any one thing happening.

To make a long story short, I didn't get that job. January had started out hard and didn't seem to show signs of getting better. First of all, there was the nausea. Now, anyone who knows me knows I have a stomach of steel. I've eaten street food all over the world with negligible consequences. I can eat on a bus winding through the Andes while reading a book. I can cook and eat meals on sailboats lurching and heeling way over. I never get any kind of motion sickness, nausea, or loss of appetite. But for some reason still unknown to me, I have had a low-grade, constant nausea for weeks. It's hard to get anything done when you feel sick all the time.

Then there is the black hole that appears when you have too much free time. If you work full-time, you are probably reading this and groaning, thinking what a luxury that would be, what you wouldn't give for a day off- all the things you could get done with so much extra free time. The problem is, you really don't use the time the way you think you would.

On a related side note: I took this awesome Modern Lit class in college with a great, if very eccentric professor. He seemed to be stuck in a 19th century British persona- affected way of speaking (read: fake accent), top hat, wool and tweed suits, fitted overcoats, vintage spectacles, perfectly trimmed pencil mustache. (He was very reserved and proper, except for the day we started reading The Metamorphosis by Kafka. The first line of the book is "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." I will never forget that line because this professor repeated it while lying on his back on a table, writhing as if an insect in bed.)

Anyway, we were reading something, maybe Madame Bovary, and this prof said how no matter what the tragedy in the novel is, the character will be consumed by it. Basically, your emotions will expand to fill the vacuum. Then he mused, "Maybe time is that way too. Have you ever noticed that if you have a weekend to do homework, it will still take you all weekend to finish whether you have one assignment or five assignments? Time expands to fill the vacuum."

And I think that's true to some extent. We get done what we need to get done for our lifestyle, and the reality is that when you are underemployed, you're too depressed to do all the fun projects you initially think you'll do. I've had a lot of days where I go for a run, drink some coffee, do the dishes, drive my brother to an appointment, send off a resume, revise a cover letter, and then it's fucking six pm! Later some one asks, "What did you do today?" and you just stare at them, bewildered at how to go about an answer.

I know I want to stay in Seattle but I definitely questioned that at times when things kept not panning out. The good news is, I think things are on the upswing. I'm working more. Transport-stiffling Snowmageddon has passed. I have a renewed faith in the house search. Mostly, I feel so grateful to have such caring, supportive friends who were there for me when I was in dire straights. I want to give a big, huge thanks to Elizabeth, Lindsey, Tegan, and Annie K especially, for always being there to talk, share a meal, have a drink, or go out to see live music, and listen to me and remind me of all the good in life. Those ladies can officially cry on my shoulder until the end of eternity.

My mom said to me recently, "Things don't happen quickly for you." I don't think that's necessarily accurate, as it sort of depends on what I'm doing. This is also the woman who told me, "If you ever find yourself pregnant or just want to have a baby but don't want to get married or have a partner- that's fine! We'll all help you raise the baby." (This comment had nothing to do with the nausea. She actually said it awhile back- I just still think it's hilarious and mildly ridiculous) Did I mention my mom is a conservative Christian? Apparently her grandma biological clock is ticking louder than her sense of propriety.

Point is, I really respect her, but I have to take some things she says with a grain of salt. I don't know if things happen slowly or quickly for me, but they just happen when they happen. These last few months I've had to find a balance of being proactive and making things happen, and accepting that I don't have control over things. And that the recession and high unemployment rate are real things that affect our daily lives, not just numbers that happen to some one else.

Apparently I can't write a blog post these days without a quote from Anne Lammot's Bird By Bird.

"It helps to resign as the controller of your fate. All that energy we expend to keep things running right is not what's keeping things running right. We're bugs struggling in the river, brightly visible to the trout below. With that fact in mind, people like me make up all these rules to give us the illusion that we are in charge. I need to say to myself, they're not needed, hon. Just take in the buggy pleasures. Be kind to the others, grab the fleck of riverweed, notice how beautifully your bug legs scull."

I'm happy to let this month trickle into February. Meanwhile, I'm watching my bug legs, not counting my chickens, and offering up unconventional prayers for what the rest of 2012 may hold.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tired Paws

The name of this blog, which I've been writing for over four years, means "Amber on the go" in Spanish. I've rarely lived in one place for more than 6 months in the past decade. I spent years in Bellingham but was in and out traveling and studying in Latin America. When I did live in one place for a whole year, it wasn't even in America, but in South Korea.

In Mexico in 2005, my Mexican boyfriend Josafat immediately pegged me as a "pata de perro". This literally means "dog's paw", but translates more as backpacker, wanderer, or globetrotter. I also very specifically remember him saying, "Te enamoras con tu entorno" meaning You fall in love with your surroundings (or wherever you are in that moment)". How could I not? There are so many amazing places in the world to see, and a little bit of your heart can fall in love over and over. Yes, I've been a Pata de Perro for a long time and am incredibly grateful for the life that I've led. Last year alone, I went to 10 countries on 4 continents and took at total of 17 different flights.

I never thought I'd say this, but my little dog paws are tired. I don't want to be on the go anymore right now. I had a great experience living in South Korea for a year, but if anything it made me appreciate and LOVE the Northwest more than ever. After being in Korea, going to SE Asia, Australia, then to Europe in the summer, a little voice in my head was screaming at me to stay in Seattle. It wasn't even a conscious, logical decision, weighing pros and cons of career and romance and social networks or whatever makes some one move somewhere. It was just what my heart said and I had to listen.

I would run into friends or family and they'd ask, "So when's your next trip?" Nope, not going anywhere, I told them. I don't want to get on another airplane for a long time, and if I go anywhere I have about a 3-hour land-or-sea travel radius. That means my cardinal boundaries are essentially Vancouver BC, the Cascades, Portland, and the San Juans. That's as far as I have any interest in going. "Hah, we'll see how long that lasts!" they scoff. "You'll get bored in a few months and be off again!"

But I don't think I'll get bored at all. See, I used to be drawn to the dynamic feeling of always being on the move. There were so many places to go, cultures to get acquainted with, histories to study, languages to practice, new systems and concepts to wade through, interesting people to meet, foreign boys to kiss. I felt like I was always challenged and growing by traveling, pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

All those wonderful things definitely happen when you are on the go. But the same little voice was also telling me, Those things can happen when you stay put too. Being in one place definitely doesn't mean being stagnant. In fact, just the opposite; there are ways we can grow and develop ourselves in a stable home setting that are almost impossible while traveling. For instance, I have worked on farms and gardens from Bellingham to Italy, from Orcas Island to Korea to Mexico. I want to be somewhere for more than one year if only to see a garden in its second season. If only to eat the canned goods that I worked so hard to preserve. If only to make sure my little niece remembers my name.

And so, I'm digging my heels in and giving my paws a rest, at least for awhile. And I'm embracing the fact that life is as meaningful, beautiful, rich, and adventurous as we make it, whether we travel the world or live for 90 years in one small town. It's all a matter of finding what's new for you, in your own community, in your own way. And for me, the conventionality of a 9-5 job in the English-speaking city where I grew up feels brand new and exciting.

I can't sign off without an ending thought from Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird:

"All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning. All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Eastside Cabin Weekend

This past week my dear friend and fellow blogger Elizabeth turned 30. We celebrated in the city on her actual birthday, but the weekend was a chance to get out of town. On Friday, the birthday girl plus 4 of us headed over Highway 2 to Plain, Washington, somewhere between Lake Wenatchee and Leavenworth. We stayed in one of her friend's cabins- though it was more of a house with 3 bedrooms, a loft turret, tall ceilings, and hot tub. It was a clear day with about a foot of snow in the yard. First things first: we unpacked the car, with every one bringing various food and drinks to pitch in for weekend provisions. D had recently hosted a dinner party and had a lot of leftover cheese, so he brought in a gigantic armload of tupperware full of cheese, imploring us, "We HAVE to eat all this cheese." It was that moment that I knew we were destined to be friends.
While the rest of the crew jumped in the hot tub, Eli and I wanted to play in the snow. We had a blast sledding down the tiny hills in the yard, since after all, beggars cannot be choosers. We wanted to build a snowman, but the snow was too hard and didn't pack well. Then I had the idea to build a cooler for our drinks that didn't fit in the fridge. We were keeping drinks cold by just keeping them outside, but I thought they needed their own area and envisioned a sort of open-walled pedestal. After a few planning meetings, Elizabeth and I came up with this lovely and functional cooler.
R was in charge of dinner, and she made her mom's famous tomato beef soup, complete with homemade pasta noodles and organic canned Amish-raised beef that her mom sends her from the midwest. The soup was soooo good.
On Saturday morning we had a really relaxing time just hanging out- coffee, breakfast, reading on the couch, and funny David Sedaris stories on This American Life. In the late morning, the rest of the guests who couldn't leave town on Friday arrived in 2 carloads. We made lunch and then a group of us headed to Lake Wenatchee state park to go cross country skiing. I have downhill skied and snowshoed, but somehow in my life never have been cross country skiing. It was fun gliding through the woods with awesome ladies and getting used to this new movement. We got out of the trees and were rewarded with a stunning view of the lake.
We also did some real sledding, not the tiny hills of the previous day. I marveled at how the simple, simple act of going down a slippery hill can be fun for humans of all ages.
That night I was on a team dinner duty. K had made pulled pork for tacos and an AMAZING, mostly homemade dark mole. We had all the taco fixings, plus her pickled red onions and my home-canned green tomato salsa.
Then another friend busted out a homemade birthday cake for dessert- tres leches! I know I had tres leches cake in Mexico, but usually from bakeries, and have never had it homemade here in the States. It was innccredddibble. (I got the recipe and am looking for an excuse to make it, so if you want to be my excuse, just let me know!)
So yes, the trip was mostly about eating and playing in the snow, just as an eastern Washington winter cabin weekend should be. Elizabeth and I have known each other since we were 12, but have almost never lived in the same place as adults. I'm so happy I could celebrate 30 with her- Happy Happy Birthday Eli!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year

So far 2012 has been treating me well. New Years Day started with a polar bear plunge into the Puget Sound at Golden Gardens. After the cold, refreshing dip, new and old friends gathered around the fire to chat, drink coffee, yerba mate, cook eggs over the flames and eat homemade bread. Costumes, acrobalance, burning Christmas trees, and a crisp view of the Olympic mountains added to the festive atmosphere on the beach.
Day two of the new year I traded cold water for hot water and went snowshoeing to a hot spring near Steven's Pass. It was my first time this year in snow! I marveled at the beauty of the mountains and the falling snow while soaking in the tub, grateful to spend the whole day outside in the winter.
So today is my first day to really assess what 2012 means to me. There is still a lot of unknown, but no matter what I end up doing, I want to do it well, and with intention. Here is a passage I loved from the book Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. She is talking about writing, which I want to do more of this year, but it can apply to anything.

"You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you. You can either set bricks as a laborer or as an artist. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time. You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself."

Happy New Year- here's to losing and finding ourselves in everyday, unexpected ways.