The Adventure Continues

Hello, fellow enthusiasts! There have been some interesting developments of late which can be summed up in two points:
  1. I got into grad school, and
  2. I’m moving to DC!
After three years in beautiful North Carolina, it’s time to pack up my things and move on to a new adventure. This fall, I’ll be joining the Comparative and Regional Studies MA program at American University’s School of International Service, and it’s a step I’m really excited about. I always knew I wanted to go back for a Master’s degree after my BA, but I also knew that going straightaway was NOT the right choice for me. Part of that was the burnout: I’d been in school for seventeen years at that point and I was EXHAUSTED. More school was not exactly what I needed (yes, I did do coursework as part of my Fulbright, but it was more of a time of travel and self-discovery than anything else).

Cake is an important part of self-discovery. (by: Traumrune, Wikipedia Commons)


Secondly, I needed to prove to myself that I could be good at something other than school. I’ve always been something of a Hermione Granger type: I LOVED lessons, and books, and learning, and doing really well on assignments. The structure and the feedback and routinely clearing expectations can be thrilling…it can also be scary. At some point, you just know, you are going to be in a completely different world with its own set of rules and expectations, and you worry: is this going to be the moment when the bottom falls out? Fifteen pages on neo-Ottomanism in Turkish foreign policy isn’t a problem, but can you handle having to plan your first business trip? Doing your taxes? Checking that ominous-looking light on your car’s dashboard? It was important to me that I know I could handle it, so I took these past three years to work on those skills. I’ve still got a ways to go–I can absolutely handle a weeknight dinner, but I didn’t own jumper cables until my car’s battery died on a trip to the movies to see Magic Mike: XXL.
Nick Offerman

And neither would you, if you had been there.

But now, I’ve done what I set out to do, and now I get to head back inside the classroom. I’m looking forward to new books, new classmates, buying a backpack (just like Kimmy Schmidt!) I’m not looking forward to trying to find a DC apartment, but that’s not something I’m thinking about right now. For now, I’ve got a week before I need to be in DC for my fellowship orientation, so the priorities are packing, packing, and eating everything in my fridge.

You Can Go Home Again…Sort Of

This past week, I had the chance to go back to my hometown.
I lived in the same house for almost the entirety of my childhood. One of my earliest memories is of visiting the house before we moved in, walking through its empty rooms at night, while my parents (who were still married at this point) talked about how my sister and I would get the large bedroom facing the front of the house. We cheered. It is the house where I learned about my parents’ divorce, the house where I begrudgingly practiced my ballet in the kitchen, the house where I read books in my closet–it was a walk-in, and had a perfectly-sloping section of floor where I could curl up with Little Women or a Fear Street book, complete with my stash of packets of Equal (because when your mother doesn’t keep candy in the house, things can get desperate for a fourth-grader with a sweet tooth).
It is also a house I had not been in since I was seventeen and my family moved to Utah nine weeks into my senior year. After my mother and stepdad had driven off in the moving truck, I stayed with a neighbor for a week, finishing up the quarter; I would fly out to join them after they arrived in Provo with all of our possessions. On my last day, before I flew out, I used my key to let myself into the house one last time. I walked around, saying goodbye to every room: the living room where we watched The Ten Commandments on Sundays (one of a few permitted Sabbath films), the dining room where we had Sunday brunch throughout my childhood, the bedroom my sister and I had shared (and where I honed–if not perfected–a knack for stealing her much cuter clothes). It was, I knew, the end of an era with this house, and I felt a need to give that its due before I left. When I locked the door behind me that October day, I honestly did not think I would ever come back.
Until I did. I returned to the area (technically, to a much bigger city nearby, but close enough) for a business trip; after my first big event of the day, I went, as business travelers are wont to do, in search of a Panera near my hotel. The rental car GPS needed me to make a U-turn, and as I prepared to do so, I was suddenly hit with a sudden, powerful sense of realization: I knew this place. I remembered hot summer days when my sister and I, bored and looking for entertainment, would walk to the nearest grocery store and buy potato chips and sour cream dip, spending out our meager babysitting funds for the sake of junk food to accompany the old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls we had taped on blank VHS cassettes. Without even pausing, I turned onto the side street, and within minutes I had navigated myself back home.
It was exactly as I remembered it: the bleached-blue, cloudless sky; slightly battered siding; and bright collections of recycling bins on every curb. Here was the neighbor’s shed I had been convinced as a child was a secret lair; here, where the neighborhood kids had played Revolutionary War (there was a boy who had a tricorner hat and a wooden musket); here, the drainage path that was the perfect size to serve as a riverbank for fairies.
As I looked closer, though, I recognized changes. The azalea bushes I remembered from our front garden had been ripped out, replaced by nothing in particular. The house looked scragglier, more faded than I remembered. There was a Halloween banner on the front door. I stood there, taking it all in, until I realized a woman was staring at me. I smiled, embarrassed.
“I used to live here,” I told her, pointing at the house. “This is where I grew up, and I just came back to see the house.” She shrugged.
“Okay,” she responded. “I just thought you might have hit something with your car, is all.” She went back to taking groceries out of her car, and bringing them into the house. MY house. Now, though, it was hers. Someone else lived in that house, and in the house next door; someone had cut down the towering pines in the backyard (which is totally fair; I’m amazed they had never yet crashed into someone’s roof). Another neighbor saw me walking around out back, and asked if I was looking for someone; he too thought my presence strange, though he decided on a simple grunt before going back into his house (one thing that hasn’t changed: no one on that street was ever fond of newcomers).
At this point, the knowledge that some things change has decomposed into a cliche. Still, though, there is something odd about the feeling of seeing your old home belong to strangers–to strangers, no less, who think your desire to revisit that place is at best an odd affectation. It’s amazing to realize what you remember about your own past that you thought you had forgotten: secret haunts, offhand memories, the powerfully tugging emotion of a particular time and place. For that, if nothing else, I am so glad I went; it was a chance to remember how it felt to be a much-younger version of myself, who worried a lot and never did her homework, who did ballet and read in the closet, and who played in storm drains, looking for fairies.

A Post From the Airport

Hello, fellow enthusiasts! Today’s post is coming to you from my phone, as I stand in a line for KLM, trying to get rebooked on a flight home. It has been a tough morning.
My original flight was due to depart at 7 am local time, and I got up at about 4 to get ready. It was not until we were due to start boarding that we found out our flight had been delayed by four (yes, FOUR) hours.
It’s a recipe for disaster: tired, hungry people–loads of us–all impatient and desperate for answers, waiting. And yet, it seems to be working. People are waiting for their turn, chatting quietly with each other. No one is yelling at the flight attendants. Somehow, we’re making the best of it.
What makes that happen? Part of it, I’m sure, is simple resignation: there is nothing we can do about the fog in Amsterdam, and we adjust out of necessity. But that is not all. I’m sure some of you have heard David Foster Wallace’s 2005 address to Kenyon college, where he talks about the importance of choosing to move beyond our default setting selfishness. It is an idea that ties into one of my goals for this month. The theme I have chosen is “diligence” and it includes a goal to “choose the clean slate”–to decide that right now is a really good time for a fresh start. It is a reminder not to bring my own biases to the fore in my interactions with other people. The airline employee who is at the head of the line is not out to get me; instead, I can see how hard she is working to get us all new flights, how she has been unfailingly polite to everyone she has helped. The other people in this line are not obstacles to getting my own problems sorted; they are going on vacations to cities they have never seen before, they are going to funerals and hospitals to see new babies and weddings of old friends. This acknowledgment, however small, of that shared humanity, is what has the potential to make even these exhausting, disappointing, soul-crushing frustrations into an opportunity for for something more: for unexpected new friends, for a chance to write a blog post, possibly even for a bit of grace.
And in the meantime, there’s always the duty-free.
Updated to add: After I wrote this, we discovered our flight was only delayed by two hours, instead of the expected four. Nevertheless, I did end up spending three-and-a-half hours waiting in the Sky Priority line at Amsterdam to get a new flight (I knew that loyalty program would come in handy–the regular line was MASSIVE). Ultimately, I made it onto a new flight, and I’m posting from Atlanta. Barring further catastrophes, I should be home by about 1 AM on Saturday, at which point I will have been awake for 22 hours. 

Theme For the Year: Onward!

As I mentioned last week, I’m working on a Happiness Project. Part of my project–a big, overarching part–is having a theme for the year. This is a useful strategy for me because of how it allows me to connect a bunch of disparate-seeming goals and ideas together. Instead of saying “This year, I’m going to exercise more AND apply to grad school AND volunteer AND clear out my closet AND….”, I can remind myself of what the big idea is. For someone who too readily gets caught up in the pettifogging minutiae of everyday life, it’s an important opportunity to remind myself that there is a forest here, not just trees.
Because let's be honest, sometimes I can't even see the bark for the moss.

Because let’s be honest, sometimes I can’t even see the bark for the moss.

For me, the theme for the year is…ONWARD!
Onward encapsulates a lot of what I’m hoping to achieve this year. As some of you know, I turned 25 recently, and apart from getting a discount on my car insurance premiums (yes!), this prompted a certain amount of angsty reflection about where I am in my life and what I’m doing. What I realized was that I felt stuck. Stuck at work, stuck in my city, stuck in habits that were sort of pleasant, but didn’t really feel good. I needed to get out of my rut, and head towards new experiences and bigger goals. I needed to get my ambition back.
Hopefully, I'm not the guy on the left.

Hopefully, I’m not the guy on the left.

It’s also a word that has a lot of emotional resonance for me. My favorite podcast (Happier with Gretchen Rubin) always ends with the phrase “Onward and upward!” Those are also some of the final lines in CS Lewis’ The Last Battle, part of one of my favorite children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Growing up in the LDS church, one of my favorite hymns–a good, stout marching number entitled “Called to Serve“–repeated the lines “Onward, ever onward”.
For me, it’s a call to action: to get unstuck, to think big, to get outside of myself.
Now, a yearly theme is all very well and good, but it can be easy to lose perspective. That is why each month, I’ll be choosing a mini-theme that has several resolutions attached to it. For that month, I’ll try to focus on those resolutions, all of which will tie back to this main idea. Whether it’s working on my applications for grad school, or pondering needful things, or even reading about disasters, the idea is to keep working away at the big picture…and hopefully taking time to enjoy the view along the way.

The ‘Baum is BACK, y’all!

Hello, fellow enthusiasts! Clearly, it’s been a while (I’m sure a few of you have forgotten you even SUBSCRIBED to this thing, hadn’t you? No judgments; it took me a good quarter of an hour to figure out my WordPress login information).
It’s been a couple of years (YIKES!) since I last posted, because honestly, I thought I had run out of things worth talking about since I came back from my Fulbright. It’s easier to blog when you’re writing about having (comparatively) glamorous student adventures in a sparkling European capital–rather less so when it’s about living daily life as a grown up in western North Carolina.
Old Salem
Still. I’ve missed this, and have been hoping to get my spark back, and all in all it just feels like TIME, you know? And so I’m back, with a bit of a twist. The last time I blogged regularly, it was as part of a finite project: my Fulbright. Now, I’m starting a new project–a happiness project.
The idea of a happiness project goes back to one of my favorite nonfiction writers and podcasters, Gretchen Rubin. She’s written several books (all of which I’ve LOVED) about happiness, habits, and human nature. I’ve decided to model my own project on the nine-month structure she used in her second book, Happier at Home. After all, starting in September feels far more natural than January; years of schooling have me convinced that this is the real start of the year, and that “That laborious affair in January was nothing but a name” (as it says in one of my favorite books–Mrs. Miniver).
NOT this Mrs. Miniver, though. Lovely as Greer Garson is, even she couldn't save that maudlin muckheap of a film.

NOT this Mrs. Miniver, though. Lovely as Greer Garson is, even she couldn’t save that maudlin muckheap of a film.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be blogging about things like my theme for the year, my monthly theme, and my attempts (successful and otherwise) at meeting my resolutions–plus, whatever else comes across my desk, because sometimes we could all use a bit of a break from talking about good habits to dish over the most recent season of Poldark, couldn’t we? (Yes. Yes, we could.)
Don't pretend he isn't gorgeous. Don't even.

Don’t pretend he isn’t gorgeous. Don’t even.

So, welcome back, grab a seat, and make yourself comfortable. We’ve got to get started!

One Year Ago

Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the New Year according to the Jewish calendar. Personally, this has always been my personal new year as well; much like Mrs. Miniver, “[this] was always the first, the real New Year. That laborious affair in January was nothing but a name.” And of course, as with January, I have to consider the past year. One year ago today, I got on a plane at Salt Lake City International Airport. I said goodbye to my mom, and, summoning up my best jaunty wave and smile, went through security. Then, I sniffled just a little, bought some fries, and started my adventure.

This. Basically my backyard.

This. Basically my backyard.

A year feels like such a long time. Those 52 weeks, 365 days, 525,600 minutes are an almost unfathomable distance, and yet it feels like it ought to be nearer. Tesseract-like, the time loops back around, and you think: this was not so long ago. You should be able to just reach out, and grab the threads of the past that’s just around the corner (gleich um die Ecke). It was only yesterday, in fact, that I moved into my dorm room, and cried with homesickness, and relearned the simplest tasks. Going to the grocery store, say, or opening a bank account.

Or living off Ramen, because the bank account is empty.

Or living off Ramen, because the bank account is empty.

In a lot of ways, it feels like I’m in the same place I was a year ago.  I’ve moved across an ocean (again), having to adjust to a new life and make new friends. It’s been tough, not least because—much like in Vienna—I think that having lived someplace before means I know it, means I know what I’m doing, means there won’t be any struggle. And yet, every time, I get surprised by the moment where I fall on my face. Every time, I have to relearn the old lesson: there is no shortcut. Moving, and new jobs, and new homes: these things are always difficult, and will always take time. I’ll have to learn where the grocery store is, and figure out how much everything costs here, and figure out what paperwork I’m supposed to bring to which impersonal government office. I’ll have to figure out who my people are—doubly so now, when I’m not a student, and if only out of necessity must start looking outside of my own demographic for the people who are truly like me. I’ll have to figure out when to buckle down and cook and my own meals and when it’s okay to just fold and order a pizza*.

Because sometimes you just can't, and that's okay.

Because sometimes you just can’t, and that’s okay.

At this point, two months into one place and one year gone from another, I’m starting to find my stride. I wake up on time for work in the mornings. I have my own little routine—green smoothies and NPR and biking to the office. I talk to a lot of teenagers at work, and have to remind myself that seventeen-year-old me wasn’t always the Rory Gilmore of my imaginings. I go out less, and read more, and it all feels pretty much okay. Not perfect, but okay.

There are still times when I wish that I, like Charlie and Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, could gather up the fabric of space and time, and just step across to where I was a year ago. There are times when I think I see a friend, and remember that the person I’m thinking of lives in Vienna, and I feel foolish, or when I catch up on my friends’ news from Vienna, and I feel like everyone really is hanging out without me. Then I have to remind myself of another lesson that keeps looping around, over and over: I have what I want, but it doesn’t look the way I expected. I have a job, and my own place, and my own furniture—just in a different place than I had thought. As for next year, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m sure the changes won’t be quite so severe: less of a pendulum and more of a gentle swaying, like linens hung up to dry on a summer day.

*[As a bit of an aside, pizza toppings are one of those small, surprisingly meaningful ways in which I mark place. In Vienna, a place with some—ahem—unconventional pizza toppings, I always went with a Contadina, which is Schmeck/Canadian bacon + spicy peppers +egg. Trust me; it’s better than it sounds. Here in the States, it’s sausage + bacon + jalepenos + banana peppers + green peppers. I call it The Only Child, because that’s not the sort of pizza you share).

Adulthood Diaries, Week 1

I recently finished up my first week of work at my first real job. I’m working in university admissions, which is…pretty different from everything I trained to do, but the university environment is definitely one I’m used to, so it’s less of a stretch.

What is a stretch? Getting out of bed, definitely. I stuck to a pretty decent sleep schedule in Vienna, but I was definitely going to bed later and getting up later than I am here, which has been an adjustment. I’ll think “I can definitely stay up to watch one more episode of Luther; it’s only ten o’clock!” And then I remember that I have to go to bed at 10:45 if I’m going to get up at 6:45, so it’s actually time to jump in the shower and power down all the electronics.

Sad puppy is sad.

Sad puppy is sad.

I don’t have a car yet, so right now I’m biking to work, which is pretty cool. I have not traditionally been confident on bicycles (or skates, or skis, or anything that went between my feet and the ground), so getting the hang of that has been really great. After all, the expression is “just like riding a bike” for a reason, right? So I put on my workout gear, through my nice clothes in my bike basket and peddle off, the theme to Call the Midwife playing in my head.

Like me, she is good at many things--just not riding bicycles.

Like me, she is good at many things–just not riding bicycles.

I’ve been surprised by the way that time feels different now. As a student, eight hours was a long time: I was in class from 9 until about 2 or 3, with a break for to grab lunch, and then it was time to play pool, chat with my friends, and read the paper (assuming no one had moved the bar’s copy of The Economist). Now, I finally understand all those planners that divvy your time out by the hour; that’s totally how my schedule works. I have this meeting to attend, and then these interviews to do, and then I’ll squeeze in some writing time before preparing for this other presentation. It flies by, and then the six hours or so I have in the evenings is filled up with making dinner, folding the laundry I did the day before, and maybe watching something on Netflix (I’d like to take this time to recommend Orange is the New Black, because it is incredibly funny).

Also, I finally understand what adults meant when they said they “had no time to read”. When most of your time outside of work is spent getting ready for work, travelling to and from work, and then taking care of things around the house, your actual leisure time is surprisingly small. I’m going to have to be really deliberate about making sure I do read, because even though I make it sound like a chore, I love it, and I need to make sure I don’t just let it slip through the cracks.

What do you guys do to make sure there’s time for the things you love? Any Netflix recommendations?