20. A take off point for flying to new experiences, to new people, and to new insights.

Sign before dating

Before starting to date, documentation should be involved.  I hereby acknowledge the risks, benefits, and liability involved in the dating process.  Emotional damage may occur. Mixed feelings are standard.  Frustration, sadness, and anger can be side effects of the process but should not be long-term side effects.  Benefits of dating can include, but are not limited to, increased happiness and companionship.

I wish waivers would be signed.  Both parties could clearly agree that the dating process, like a medical procedure, is not a guarantee.  That like a medical procedure, things can go wrong.  People can be harmed in the process.  But, if all does go well, the benefits of dating well out-weigh the risks.  That’s why again and again I find myself seeing someone new in spite of all the risks and the liability and the mixed emotions that so far have resulted from my involvement in “the dating process.”

I recently turned 23.  Dating someone five years older than myself, I felt happy to be one year closer to his age.  Things are coming to a close for us, however I’ve definitely learned a few things in the process:

1) I want to date someone in order to share my life with them; not just one day per week but the in’s and out’s of everyday life.

2) I require someone who is  verbally expressive.  If you are madly in love with me but never tell me this, I won’t know.  I am not a mind-reader.

In this next year, I want to focus on planning my own adventures. I’m often attracted to people who go on epic trips or have fast-paced, challenging careers.  Spending time with them, I realize that it’s great that I admire them and want to be with them but I also have the power to do these things on my own.

Do I admire myself?  I value myself.  I know I am a wonderful and very giving and loving person.  I know I make a lot of other people happy and am intelligent.  Have I made a mark on this Earth?  You bet.  Each and every person I meet impacts me and vice versa.  As I set out on this 23rd year, I vow to realize in myself what I admire about others while affirming and encouraging their strengths in this process.  In my 23rd year I vow to find a companion who I am crazy about and who is crazy about me.  I vow to travel more than I have before, work hard, play harder, and take lots of pictures.  

Floundering after Florida

I just came back from visiting my grandparents in Florida.  My grandpa with all his wisdom, explained to me over a cup of tea one morning:  

You know when I first started out after coming back from the service, I started selling water filters.  I followed the hot shot with the business degree to see how it was done, and realized right then and there that I could do much better.  

He explained how he improved and suceeded in that capacity before being invited to sell life insurance.  Not long after that, he saw that he needed to be working two jobs to support his growing family and that my grandmother would need to pitch in a day or two as well.

This was all back around the ’50s  and yet at the same time, I can see some parallels for all of us gen xers starting our careers.  Early on, there’s always going to be those less-than-ideal entry level positions.  Low pay, high stress, long hours.  Starting into a new sphere requires some getting used to.  Exchanging text books for a cash register machine or an overhead projector or injections or laboratory materials—whatever it may be, takes getting used to.  The beauty in the challenge of this transition is that it’s temporary.  

As my two wiser friends pointed out to me: “You think when you graduate college and are around 22 or 23, you’re an adult and you’ll have your life figured out and things will snap into place.  Then those years roll around and realize you’re still not certain (for most people at least) exactly what direction you’re headed towards or whether you’ll ever make it there.”  

A few years after college, my friends said, “You’re still floundering.  And the trick is to be okay with that.”

As I come up just a few months shy of working at my current job for one year, I’m starting to think about what other opportunities lie waiting.  Am I doing what I love?  Is there more I could be creating or cultivating with my time that may be more meaningful to myself and my community?  Or is the path I’m on, the right path for my current time and place?

Amidst all these questions and this uncertainty, I’m so happy to hear from both the oldest generation that I know and the generation just above me that in your 20s - things are still rocky.  You’re still going to be floundering, and that’s okay.  As Nemo would say: “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.  Just keep swimming.”

(Belated) Somewhat Thankful Thanksgiving

(Forgot to post this on Thanksgiving. Enjoy!)

Last I wrote, I realized that what I wanted to do post-graduation was to climb.  Not to go back to school.  Not even necessarily to land a full time job.  

I felt conviction only about wanting to take time, to take an essential slice of life and devote it to enjoying the Rocky Mountains.  This summer every other weekend or so, I did just that.

My friend Mali and I climbed several fourteeners together.  Other amazing friends that went up with me included my good friends Jennifer, Willy, and Neil.  Mt. Sherman, Mt. Democrat, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Evans, Bierstadt, Longs’ Peak; several amazing days starting before sunrise and ending as the afternoon thunderclouds were overhead.

Luckily, with all of the treks, my buddies and I evaded treacherous thunderstorms and made it home before dark.  A fun summer came to a close and quickly transitioned into Fall.

Now that I’ve taken some time away from school, now that I have spent a season climbing, on Thanksgiving I still feel an intense restlessness pushing me forward.

Holidays, while filled with family, bring into sharp relief the fact that I am currently a solitary lobster.  I am currently, the ying without the yang. The peanut butter without the jelly.  Call it what you want too, but being single during the holidays feels acutely painful.

Usually I am alright with being alone.  I’m the independent girl who has so many hobbies that it usually doesn’t matter that I spend one or two nights a week reading the Oprah magazine and watching Downtown Abbey by myself.  BUT, during what is suppose to be an oh-so-joyous occasion, I feel an intense pang somewhere deep in my gut and it’s not because I ate too much turkey.  

You might think or even argue that with all the people, all the family and friends around during the holidays, that it would be easier to be single.  Somehow, the few couples I am around during the holidays, the one or two families I see with the traditional players on the team: Mom, Dad, children— always make me feel as if I am a lost puzzle piece.

So while everyone else spouts what they’re thankful for on Thanksgiving, I find it to be one of the most difficult days to feel gratitude despite the many blessings in my life.  Luckily, the inverse is true, on non-Thanksigiving days I am very grateful.

At this moment on Thanksgiving, despite the fact that I am feeling lame and alone at the ripe old age 22, I am going to list off the many things in life I am grateful for.  So many times in life, there are things we may not feel like doing, but that we know we should do, I guess like practicing gratitude.  Here goes…. :O)

I am so thankful for my home.  I really appreciate my housemates who are hilarious and make delicious food that I may or may not eat all the time.  

I am so thankful for my job.  I really like my co-workers and enjoy working on a team in a capacity that directly helps people.

I am so thankful for my independence.  I feel so lucky to live in the United States where I can be a single, happy, and adventurous person without a male escort.

I am so thankful for the delicious food today given to me by my awesome “Colorado family.”  It’s wonderful to have your friend’s family open up their heart and home, I am so grateful!

I am very grateful for the fact that a goofy, food-loving dog lives in my home, named Lily.  She makes my housemates and I smile and laugh everyday.

I am very grateful for the fact that I’m still able to run, play soccer, and go bouldering.  It is truly a privilege to be active and do what I love on a regular basis.

I am very, very, very, very, very, (very to infinity) thankful for my family and friends.  I have a really loving, fun, and laid back bunch that is gathering back in Oregon as I write this message and have a loving, fun, and laid back group of friends here who embrace me as the random puzzle piece that I am.  

I am so thankful for my education and for my ability to write.  If I could not write either through putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, I think I’d be even more lost than I already am.

Well, after that, I feel a bit more thankful about life, even if it is Thanksgiving.

Photo courtesy of Anna Stanislav

Field Station Trade-Offs

Back in elementary school and high school, on the occasional Friday night when I had nothing to do and no one was home, I would snuggle up on my family’s comfy blue recliner and watch shows on Animal Planet about sharks or sea creatures.  I imagined how amazing it would be to actually do research on these types of creatures and boat and swim everyday, looking for them, studying them.  

It’s amazing to be finishing up my time here where I have gotten to experience actually swimming with gorgeous hawksbill sea turtles and elegant eagle rays, the occasional shark too. Swimming everyday in the warm and crystal clear Western Atlantic is quite the dream come true.  

What’s surprised me about this experience is that even amongst the most majestic ocean mammals, I still miss all my friends and family back home.  Like every experience and opportunity in life, this one comes with trade-offs.  You sacrifice the norms of living in your home community with people you’ve known for years but you gain new friends, new knowledge, and a new appreciation for a whole different biosphere.  You sacrifice the norm of wearing clean clothes and  sleeping in soft sheets and warm blankets but you gain the pure joy that comes with feeling the ocean breeze on your face.  You sacrifice the thrills of city life with its concerts, bars, restaurants, and the feeling of progress but you gain a new perspective on a different kind of life, one that revolves around fishing and church every Sunday and the simple joy of an old uncle’s birthday party.

I am 21 years old, I have been blessed with years of wonderful education, wonderful family, and amazing and eye-opening experiences.  This experience has taught me that I love and appreciate my friends and family back at home more than I realized and that animals like the glorious eagle rays and sea turtles know far more than we do about the importance of life.  There’s this gleam in their eyes when you see them gracefully flying in the water and you know they know everything we often forget.

What’s next?

An interesting part of studying abroad during the Fall of my senior year in college is that I find myself pondering what I am going to do after college, even as I am swimming amongst the fishes.

In high school, I was dead set on becoming a writer.  My plan was to go to college, major in English, graduate, live in a box.  My friend Bridget said she would share the box with me, she also liked English.  

In college, I was undecided for awhile and then enjoyed a rhetoric class and decided to go for it.  I found the two hour literature classes tedious and also found that sitting in the library typing up papers was not my cup of tea.  To fulfill a science requirement, I took the Concepts in Biology sequence and absolutely loved it.

Now I am majoring in Biology and have contemplated becoming a high school biology teacher, an editor for scientific publications, writing for National Geographic, writing for the Oprah magazine, becoming a doctor, a nurse, a physical therapist, a nutritionist, a physical trainer, a yoga instructor, a marine biologist.  Conducting field research this summer and conducting marine research this fall has made me realize that at this moment in my life, I would prefer to work more with people and less with data.  Cross one potential profession off the list!  

My very wise friend here at the field station, Karissa gave me this advice: Just do what you want to do next.  This makes so much more sense to me than trying to answer the question, what do you want to do for rest of your life?

Right now, I want to enjoy time with friends in Denver for as long as I can after graduation.  I want to climb as many 14ers as I can this upcoming summer.  I don’t know how I am going to do this, but it is my hope that I will be able to.  I also know that I want to spend more time with my friends and family back in Portland.  

So, for all the people who ask me, “What do you want to do after college?”  

Now I can confidently say, “I want to climb.”

(Cue Miley Cyrus song)