Pura Vida: A Journey Through Costa Rica and Into Myself

Travel. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the many trips on which I’ve been and those I hope to take. Many factors have contributed to my thoughts. Facebook reminds me daily of where I was on this day in history. This time last year, I was watching the sun set in Oia. I’m still trying to catch my breath.

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I’m also currently in the midst of a summer full of domestic and international travel. From California to India, and many places in between, I’m racking up the frequent flyer miles in 2016. My current passport expires late next year and I’m determined to hit Australia and South America before I begin a brand new ten year journey around the world. Ten years, six continents. I’m not sure that’s the title of a travel writing bestseller, but I do like the way it sounds.

Some folks find fulfillment in quilting, playing sports, expensive possessions, and many other things. Me, I need to slide my feet into my Birks, throw on my backpack (or in the case of a three months long trip, drag my gargantuan suitcase), and hit the open road. Travel fuels me. Anticipating it is one of the things that gives me the energy to push through difficult times. Today might be rough, but soon I’ll be hiking through a rainforest, standing in awe of an artistic masterpiece, or exploring a historical site. Or perhaps I’ll be feeding my soul while meditating in my ancestral home.

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The act of traveling is indeed invigorating! The older I get, however, the more I realize that it is the inner journey, that both leads me to travel and is a direct result of my travels, that empowers me most. I don’t travel solely to be a tourist who sees and does really neat things, though that’s a part of it. But I travel more so because I have chosen to be a citizen of the world. I travel to discover the breadth and depth of nature and humanity. Consequently, on these journeys I learn a whole lot about Aeriale such as:

  1. I am both fortunate and unfortunate because, as an American, I have infinitely more than I need. This should influence my everyday life more than it does.
  2. My identity – every nuance of it – matters. I should spend more time thinking about what every aspect of my identity means to me and how they collectively and individually shape how I exist in the world. I do know that I have more power over my own life than most people throughout the world who look like me. This should compel me to take more action to empower them and on their behalf.
  3. Speaking of identity, I am SUCH A TEACHER. No matter how hard I try, I cannot turn it off. I trip over a branch in a rainforest and I instantly take a photograph because I see a math lesson in the patterns of its leaves. And why shouldn’t being a teacher influence my travels and vice versa?
  4. I am kind. . .and strong. Contrary to popular belief, these characteristics are not mutually exclusive. I need to continue to work on achieving just the right balance in my daily life.
  5. I am a much better version of myself when I spend an adequate amount of time in communion with the natural world. I love nature. I love how it compels me to engage all of my senses to truly experience it. I love how nature calls me to stillness, which forces me to think deeply.
  6. I hope that I will one day have someone special with whom I can share some of my travels. I am not lonely. I love to travel alone for many reasons. However, since being a world traveler and global citizen is one of my defining characteristics, I need to learn to share this part of myself with that one guy. . . Does anyone know who/where he is?

This is not an exhaustive list (I don’t need to tell y’all everything), but it covers a lot of what I’ve been pondering while I’ve been in Costa Rica. #costarica2016 has been an incredible journey. I am thankful for experiences like having to run away from a monkey who was throwing things at me from the top of a tree. I am also thankful for the brilliant conversation about cross-cultural relationships I had with a Costa Rican last night. Most of all, though, I am thankful for how every part of being here caused me to get a little closer to myself and discover the capacities of my heart, mind and. . .sometimes. . .my asthmatic lungs!

Pura vida, indeed.

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Killing Me Softlier

Nearly eleven years ago, I was purging, selling, and packing up my life in Florida to begin anew in America’s Last Frontier. That single decision has changed my life’s trajectory and me in ways I couldn’t have visualized then. I had a little background knowledge and even fewer experiences. I moved above the Arctic Circle and I had never even seen snow! This is the kind of thing I do. It’s my shtick. I like to call it pulling an Aeriale. I discover something that piques my interest and chase after it with all my might without considering the potentially negative consequences until I’ve crossed the finish line, after I’ve already said yes.

I’ve pulled many Aeriales over the past decade and every single time, I recycle the same emotions, though with a bit more maturity each time. I wrote the blog post below on July 29, 2005. As I revisited it tonight, I thought, “yep. That’s it right there! Not quite as intense, but that IS it.”

As I prepare to embark on the last leg of my journey as a TGC Fellow and my newest adventure as a Heinemann Fellow this summer, I can’t help but be uncomfortable with leaving my comfort zone. Today I read an article about India’s current extreme temperatures and imagined my Alaskan body sprawled out on the ground, half dead, while the brilliant folks in my cohort shook their heads. I’ve pored over my Heinemann Fellow application ad naseum since I got the invitation call wondering why they selected me, asking myself if I’m worthy. I agonize over these thoughts until my body is in distress and I become. . .sad.

At this stage in life, I know it’s just fear manifesting itself as anxiety and depression. As a vagabond, it is my plight. Perpetual movement and constant growth require that you bulldoze yourself sometimes in order to expand. I also know, without doubt, this too shall pass. My life is about to change for the better, in ways I am presently unable to visualize. I’m going to have to tear some old things down in order to give rise to the new. And I will because I want it. Whatever it is. . .

Eleven years from now, I hope I’ve pulled many Aeriales and that doing so continues to kill me a little “softlier” each time.

(I hope you can endure my e.e. cummings phase below. . .)

killing me softly

july 29, 2005

overwhelmed. yes, boys and girls, that is the word of the day, the week, no actually, the month. my equilibrium is off. i am suffering from emotional vertigo. save some sort of divine intervention, i am undoubtedly about to tumble gracefully into the doldrums. it is not so much the leaving, for that was my choice, but the stress of the process of changing that has catapulted me into an abyss of sadness.

as an experienced special educator with undergraduate and graduate level training, i am privy to the symptoms of a myriad of disorders. such knowledge makes one a clinician who is apt to diagnose both others and self. i’ve labeled myself with just plain crazy disorder. it’s a combination of adhd, acute anxiety, and a heart that’s empathic to a fault. generally, people with such issues need to have structure in their lives. though this is mostly true for me, in an apparent attempt to make reparations for inflicting me with emotional disturbances, the cosmos gave me a brain that i love, the kind that requires continuous stimulation. hence i am in a perpetual predicament: in order to prevent enduring the misery of intellectual ennui, i must suffer the ephemeral pain of demolishing and rebuilding my life’s structure. me, myself and i are currently in the demolition phase. and it’s killing me softly.

in a nutshell, it is not the change itself that vexes. it is the process of disconnecting, trading old for new, familiarity for the unknown, stagnancy for kinesis (and jon stewart for going away gatherings) that is so painful.

Do Better, Teaching Vagabond

After a twenty-four hour journey home to Alaska from DC, I should be beyond exhausted. Instead, I am energized. From my fantastic TGC Symposium roommate to the amazing IREX staff, from the motley crew with whom I’ll be traveling to India to my dear friend, the New York Times, my weekend was filled with overwhelming brilliance. The fellowship went from being a distant abstraction to an intellectual, spiritual and physical adventure in the making. This was my first lesson. . .

I’m a wannabe yogi. I’m a student of the history of colonization throughout the world. I thought I saw India. After this weekend, however, I realize that I was just another person who’d victimized her through cultural appropriation and patronizing sympathy. I’m ashamed of myself. I know better. I have traipsed so many paths as a woman, teacher of indigenous children, and an African American who has taken the long journey home to Africa, back through the “door of no return”that should have prevented this. But knowing something intellectually and doing it deliberately are, indeed, two different things. After this weekend, I am cognizant of my need to spend more time with India. I need to get to know her by transferring all of the skills I’ve used in other contexts to our budding friendship. I need to listen to all of her stories, not just the ones that interest me.

Thank goodness I got a wake-up call. I’m thankful the TCG Symposium sessions provided me with the opportunity to self-reflect and self-correct. In the short time since I departed DC, I have already closely read several articles I would have skimmed before. I am about to lay out my plan for more reading, viewing films, and exploring music and food prior to our July departure. Maya Angelou advised, “when you know better, you do better.” Do better I shall. . .