This Is What Happens When You Choose You

If you’ve ever felt like your life’s on autopilot or you can’t remember the last time you asked yourself what you want, this one’s for you.

Life moves fast. We get on the train and go from one stop to the next. We rarely ever stop to ask ourselves where we’re going or if our choices are actually our own.

I can pinpoint the moment this began in my own life to junior year when the pressure to pick the right college and a career path started piling on. Can anyone actually believe they expected 17- and 18-year-olds to know jack shit about their futures? Regardless, you follow the rules. You pick a major, a college and ride the wave. Eventually, it’s your senior year and now it’s time to find that dream job. Maybe you’re about 21 and you find the perfect fit right out of college. Maybe like the vast majority of us, your degree and university don’t help you find a job when you need it most. Meanwhile, your student debt looms over every passing day. By the time you do find a job, you’ve already given up on trying to reach for something that makes you happy or that at the very least challenges you intellectually and creatively — you’re desperate. You take what you can get. This is when you give up.

In my own experience, I bounced from one unfulfilling position to the next. It’s hard to believe you have any other choice as adult expenses and responsibilities accumulate. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the cycle even after you read all of the self-help blogs about traveling abroad and following your passions. Not all of us make enough money to eat, pray, love. Not everyone has the support to make their dreams come true at that time, and it starts to feel like the system is rigged against you.

Eventually, you reach a point where maybe you’re in your mid-twenties and you’re burned out and deeply unfulfilled. You don’t have any real reason for it because, hey, you have a job! You did everything right. You can afford all of the basic comforts of an “easy” life and you’re given the weekends to invest in your hobbies and the things you love. Why are you so depressed?

Let’s consider “The Great Resignation,” a name used to describe the millions of workers quitting their jobs after the COVID pandemic. Think about why this cultural shift is happening now. During the pandemic, all of us were affected differently. What we had in common was a collective introspection that forced us to rethink what actually mattered. When the stakes are this high, people remember what they want to live for. Turns out 40- to 60-hour weeks in an office doing something you’re not passionate about and having two days for yourself didn’t make the cut. It’s no wonder people started craving more.

The good news is that millions of people are using this shift as an opportunity to prioritize themselves for the first time in their lives. Whether it has to do with their relationships, work environment or location, people are shedding what no longer serves them and taking a leap of faith to find what does. For me, this meant saving enough money until I felt like I could take a break. I needed time to reassess what I actually wanted, time I didn’t have before. I asked myself questions I hadn’t been asked since I was a kid. What do I love to do? How do I want to spend my days? What actually matters to me?

It’s not easy to make this jump, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t work my fair share of unfulfilling jobs. While I no longer lean on my family for financial support, I do have a wonderful partner who’s been looking out for me during this shift as well. I fully recognize my privilege and the ways that I’m also putting myself at risk. Now that I’m taking this “work break,” my money is slowly draining. I can’t lie, though, I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. With this new freedom, I started meditating again, working out, reading, writing for myself and prioritizing my artwork. I’ve started selling my paintings again and developed a new business plan for my Etsy shop. I’m working every day, but I’m doing it for myself and for the things I love. I forgot what that felt like. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced that feeling in my adult life so far. I’m not sure many of us ever do.

Choosing you in whatever way that manifests in your own life is scary, but it’s incredible too. I wish I could give every single person the same opportunity to stop the clock and make their own choices again, find ways to make that possible because I know how impossible it can feel. If you’re reading this, I hope you’re able to start making a plan that works for you. I hope you’re doing it in small ways every day, and I hope the tugging in your heart that craves more never fades away.

My Big Fat Hollywood Move: Baby Got Back Problems

A 24-year-old’s last-ditch effort at “following her dreams” with her boyfriend and moving across the country to see it through

When I posted the first installment of my LA blog series, I had been on a writing high all day – something I hadn’t felt in months. I can’t tell you how long I sat down to write that particular post, but I can tell you that when things like this happen I’ll sometimes forget to eat or piss. It’s like the idea might fade so I have to race to get it down before I can return to being a person.

Unloading all of that “I’m like totally chasing my dreams” euphoria onto a document and sharing it had me feeling pretty on top of the world. It might be silly but, to me, I had committed to something and allowed myself to be vulnerable. I hit that “Publish” button and got up ready to take on the next challenge. I was invincible. The last thing I thought was going to happen was almost instantaneously falling to the ground in scorching pain. I think that’s fair.

What had happened (and this is where the universe’s dark sense of humor comes in) was that while I had recovered from a muscle tear/strain in my lower back before moving to LA, the pretzel position I sat in all day to write about the move reignited the injury with a vengeance. And it really got me good this time around. A stark contrast to how indestructible I had been feeling just moments before. Of course, still riding the excitement of posting something I was proud of, I ignored it. I stood up even though my back could barely hold up the weight of my upper body. I didn’t allow myself to accept that this was happening. So, I convinced and dragged Rich (the boyfriend) out to celebrate the blog post and indulge in some beer and wings instead. Why not?

On our way to Buffalo Wild Wings, people driving beside us must’ve assumed I was in labor. I had my legs pushed into my chest cannonball-style and was taking the deepest breaths of my life, trying to force the pain away with each exhale. It wasn’t working, and we frantically drove around for twenty minutes just looking for a parking spot. There were none. There never are. We kept getting stuck at the same lights and driving around in the same circle before committing to yet another absurdly priced parking lot. This is driving in LA by the way. Parking is impossible, traffic is endless, and nothing is free or cheap. Eventually, we commit to a parking lot. When I get out of the car I’m waddling in slow motion like a duck and crying. Rich is in a panic, urging us to go home. To anyone watching I imagine it looked like a scene from Days of Our Lives. Regardless, I wiped away the tears, told the pain to fuck off, and set forth toward the wings. This would be a night of FUN!

Sitting while the fire in my back bubbled with buffalo sauce on my lips and a cold Blue Moon in my right hand, I realized I had unintentionally embodied the content of my very own words. What was it I said in the last blog post? Oh yes, that in a moment of pure bliss at the Santa Monica pier I had felt “fear because these moments of inner peace rarely last”. How fitting that I had just finished typing those words only to have thrown out my back seconds later. Yin and yang, my friends.

When I got up from that bar table, I had to muster a force from the gods not to crawl on all fours to the nearest bathroom. Somehow, I made it to the door and placed myself in line. For that two-minute wait I started to think the sweet release of death might be better than moving another inch. I only really caved when the room started spinning, which is when I realized the pain had won. I assumed my duck position once more and waddled all the way back to the car. Peeing or any other bodily function would have to wait.

It took everything in my power not to feel sorry for myself as we drove home, but all I could think about was how I had wished for inner peace to last and found myself here instead. How I had signed up for dance classes that I may not be in the condition to attend for a while. How I had written about fighting to be more present. And I had. So, what the hell?

It’s been a little over a week since all of this went down and I’m happy to say I can see from outside the melodrama and self-pity now. I can see that recurring problems can’t be ignored, and that unfortunately being present or grateful won’t make them disappear either. Unwelcome stressors will always come up, much like my student loans. While they can be avoided in some ways (in my case: not sitting in a terrible position for hours like I had been advised not to, yoga, core-strengthening), the true test is how well you can improvise and apply what you’ve learned from previous setbacks. Of course, that’s assuming you have the means necessary to do so. Not everyone has the proper resources to overcome the negative hurdles or injustices that plague them. I wish there were more ways around this.

I don’t have a recipe for avoiding the hiccups that pop up however big or small in each of our lives, but I do think that Imogen Heap was right in writing that “there is beauty in the breakdown”. With the extra recovery leisure time, I succeeded in applying for my own health insurance (I’m a grown-ass woman) and gingerly introduced walking back into my routine. This time, absorbing a totally new environment and spending some quiet time with myself. I have more to look forward to now and a heightened awareness of how important prioritizing health is, whether it’s physical, psychological or a mix of both.

I started this blog wanting to draw attention to the elastic band nature of our lives, the extreme highs and lows. I thought I could tell the truth – dive into the sticky vulnerable muck and prove that it’s just as therapeutic to write as it is to see yourself in the raw experiences of others. It’s a reminder that we’re a collective of both good and bad experiences. So, while I had plans to fill this second installment with all of the incredible things I’ve done and seen since I moved to LA, I didn’t want to gloss over the not-so-Instagram-worthy bits. Not only are they pretty hilarious to look back on sometimes, but they’re also a reminder that life is just one long improv exercise. You participate, laugh, and keep moving.

A Guy and a Gal in Galway (Part 2)

A vibrant tale about a couples’ first adventure abroad in a city where the Guinness flows like water and the locals are as friendly as the sheep

IMG_1785

The second leg of our journey begins in the heart of Galway’s city center (or centre) with freshly poured beers in hand, watching from the patio of a popular bar as men of different origins, muscle masses, and ABV contents compete for the eternal glory of hanging on a metal bar for the longest amount of time. This may sound trivial, but I assure you, it was treated like a world-class prize.

To make things more clear, a Galway local had the ingenious idea of setting up a tall pull-up bar in the middle of the city, luring people in with the promise that they’d win momentary glory for being the One who can hang on the longest. Completely enthralled by this epic display of drunk competitiveness, Rich and I watched the game ensue. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to watch the hero with the longest time display his hanging talent, but we did watch the others try in vain to surpass his feat – which, if I remember correctly, was a whopping 1 minute and 40 seconds. We spent the majority of that night laughing, completely in awe of this seemingly primitive sport. We toasted to the brave players’ valiant efforts and their many embarrassing failures. We watched as the night and the drunkenness progressed. Eventually, the game lured a large crowd of onlookers.

The longer we cheered the event on, the more we noticed that guys were merely stumbling out of bars and feeling inclined to show themselves off. Young jacked bachelors stepped up to the podium feeling all too good about themselves. Their group of friends would crowd around them to cheer them on, often one of them would be inches away from the hanging man, getting him going like a coach during a heated boxing match. We filmed some of these encounters, only because they were too priceless not to – heavy breathing, intense hand motions, lingering eye contact, and all. It was almost sensual.

IMG_1715.JPG

Though Rich and I found ourselves in countless bars, one in particular left a mark. From the moment we landed in Galway, we searched for the places that were recommended and frequented by locals, The Crane Bar being the most suggested of the bunch. After a long day of exploring, we made our way over, pushing the red door to find ourselves in a modest, dimly lit, and unembellished bar. There were less than a dozen other people inside. We sat at the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness. Hold on, let me rephrase, the best Guinness my lips have ever touched. If only it tasted this much like velvet sunshine back home.

We sat and smiled at the people sitting next to us, cozied up to one another and truly indulged in that all over body high specific to a quality vacation. Across from us a traditional Irish band set up their instruments. We heard the Bodhran first, an Irish handheld drum, whose soft beat cued the fiddle in. Then came the voice, the ethereal voice of a woman who projected loss, love, and centuries of history so tenderly it brought tears to my eyes. I looked over at Rich who shared my reaction. The bar fell silent apart from the echoing melodies of their music and the voices of those around us who sang along. We had been transported in time, taken into a world we were strangers to – soaking in the poetry bred into the very core of these humble and fierce people. It was so moving we didn’t have words to say when it was over. I left feeling full and deeply in tune, as though we were at the right place at the right time.

IMG_1850.jpg

At the risk of dragging this post on for too long, I want to conclude our Galway tale with the image of Rich and I hightailing down the steep hills of Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, on bikes we had rented for two hours. Picture the abundant green pastures of Hobbiton. Throw in some cows, horses, seals, farm houses, countless walls of stone, and you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what we were in for. In other words, biking through the island trails was like stepping into a lush and fantastical Choose Your Own Adventure book.

Instead of following a particular path, we kept finding our own way. Speeding down a hill overlooking the ocean, we stopped to take a photo of a family who returned the favor for us as well. Across from us, behind a stone wall and white rusted fence, lived a couple of wild horses who seemed to beckon us over. We made our way to say ‘hello’, tentatively, attempting to be gracious visitors in their sacred land. Within minutes, the horses had stuck their heads out over the fence to greet us. One of them flirted with Rich so clearly that the other grew jealous and turned away. Eventually he returned and I caressed his head gently in understanding. We had both been temporarily replaced.

As I attempt to conclude this piece, endless moments flood my mind begging to be documented too, like racing through the streets at midnight with new friends, shedding tears over a play about gay marriage being legalized in Ireland, raging to 80s music in an underground club, standing over the edge at the Cliffs of Moher, and the list goes on…

Looking back, I can say we made the best of a week spent in green paradise and there isn’t a moment I would change – except maybe forgetting my wallet on the way to the airport, but that’s neither here nor there. Most importantly however, I’ll cherish the wonder of exploring with my best friend and how fiercely bonded I felt to Rich when it was time to go, suffering from the post-traveling melancholia together.

It’s during these moments of beholding new sights, shaking hands with strangers, and feeling utterly minuscule within your surroundings, that life feels wonderful again – full of promise like it did when you’re a child and the world is infinite. I vow to never stop chasing this feeling in my lifetime.

IMG_1900.JPG

*Ireland’s eighth amendment was repealed! Did you hear that? Repealed! If you’re interested in learning more, check out the link below and watch the video capturing the moment thousands of Irish women discovered they regained ownership of their bodies. It’s breathtaking.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/ireland-abortion-referendum-live-updates-repeal-eighth-amendment-vote-latest-poll-a8366691.html

 

 

A Guy and a Gal in Galway (Part 1)

A vibrant tale about a couples’ first adventure abroad in a city where the Guinness flows like water and the locals are as friendly as the sheep

IMG_1785.jpg

On May 2nd 2018, my boyfriend, Richard, and I embarked on our first adventure abroad together to Galway, Ireland. Where my anxious brain might’ve expected drunken arguments in unfamiliar streets, battles over what to do, various fits of rage and hair-pulling, I was gifted instead the insurmountable joy of splitting a once in a lifetime adventure with my best friend who not only supported me through a new experience, but made it explode with beauty.

Galway is colorful, hip, teaming with music around every nook and cranny (there are infinite nooks), and rich with traces of medieval architecture that blend seamlessly with the various modern additions to the city. It’s a successful combo of old and new, just as enjoyable for the longtime locals as it is for the overwhelming college population who are lucky enough to frequent some of the most beautiful pubs, cafes, and restaurants I’ve ever seen.

Seven days is nowhere near long enough to take in an entire city, but dammit, we tried! From taking a ferry to the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór, and racing through the winding streets surrounded by walls of stone and infinite green pastures to sharing pints with new local friends at a hole-in-the-wall craft beer pub called The Salt House – we wanted to make our experience as diverse as possible.

From day one, Rich and I were blown away by the kindness of the locals. With luggage in-hand, we got lost on our way to the Airbnb. Though it wasn’t funny to us then, we were able to laugh later about the fact that our airbnb host said the place would be about a twenty-minute walking distance from the center of town. Nope. It was closer to an hour. As such, we ended up in a suburban street behind one of the shopping centers in the city when, in full-blown desperation, we realized our phones were dead so we couldn’t even call a taxi. Eventually we were able to ask a woman leaving her apartment across the street if she could point us in the right direction. In a thick accent that made us more excited that it should have, she not only pointed us to the street we were looking for but offered to hail us cab as well. This was the general behavior of everyone in town who was willing to answer our questions. During another mishap, a lovely couple offered us a ride after we missed our bus, treating us as if we were longtime friends. They called the bus company for us and, sure enough, it came back. Not only were they incredibly accommodating, they were pretty badass too. Only a little younger than my grandparents, we had caught them in the middle of heading back to a nearby pub to retrieve their car.

“Sounds like you had yourselves a good night,” I joked.

“That’s every night,” they responded.

Flash forward to Rich and I exclaiming the Gaelic version of “cheers”, “Sláinte!” (pronounced slawn-cha) while clinking pint glasses with new friends from Galway at The Salt House, a craft beer dive bar we kept returning to after this night in particular. The couple who left their car at a pub came to mind as Rich and I too found ourselves fully immersed in the Galway daze, losing track of time and space in good company. Hours flew by discussing everything from whether or not we were watching the same TV shows on Netflix to the current political climate in both countries. Though we couldn’t miss the hundreds of “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” signs all over the city, we had not been informed about the historic referendum on abortion that had all of Ireland in a tizzy. Locals were and still are nervously anticipating a drastic change in their constitution, allowing women to have safe abortions in Ireland, if the majority of the votes turn out in favor of repealing the current law. Tucked away in our American bubble, we were shocked to discover this and it was a topic of conversation that came up more than once throughout our trip. It’s crazy to think, if the law is indeed repealed, that Rich and I were there before history had been made. It’s amazing how easy it is to be removed from the rest of the world, but it’s even more amazing how quickly we empathize when the issue is suddenly in front of us.

I don’t remember how long we stayed to chat with our new friends or how many rounds of beer were ordered, but I do remember Rich doing an Irish accent upon request and getting a round of applause. Point is, we were in the thick of it, just like we wanted. When it was time to go, we all exchanged Facebook info and planned to meet again. They invited us to a referendum repeal party on a boat.

Rich and I looked at each other, both with smiles that were waiting to burst all over our faces, looking like we were holding in a secret. We were thrilled but didn’t want to seem too uncool, too eager. We waited until we were alone outside to kiss and explode with excitement at how intoxicating the entire night had been, that we had found ourselves in this new place and formed real connections, that we were experiencing this adventure together. Running on a mutual high from the bar was one of the highlights of the trip for me, feeling deeply connected to him and to the moment – and the best part is, it was only the beginning.

To read the final installment of my Galway adventure, click here!

Don’t forget to check out The Irish Times for additional information on the abortion referendum too.