have a suitcase heart

A year ago today, I did a lot of internal screaming.

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(That’s why.)

I was nearing Ireland–Ireland!!!–after a red-eye flight across the Atlantic. A few details stand out about that flight–watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for one; the mug of Earl Grey at 2 AM EST as we neared Dublin, for another; the fact that I was so cold I snuggled all the way under the complementary blanket and put the complementary socks on my hands. Hey, flying first class definitely had its perks. (If you’re reading this–thanks again for those tickets, Uncle David! You’re the absolute best!)

The day before, I had hugged my family goodbye and hopped on the plane to Dublin: my first time leaving the country, and I was headed out for a solid four months. Go big or go home, right? 

I spent the hour before I left the Philadelphia airport doodling on a new notebook, twisting words and images in my head until they unfolded in a way that matched my hopes for this first trip abroad. I outlined my design, hoping I would (for once) be consistent in journaling.

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from philly to ireland–here we go.

(I wasn’t.)

Still, there are scattered notes in there–references to “the time I (literally) set foot in the Irish Sea,” doodles of Howth, ticket stubs–metro, plane, bus–and a five cent piece, grocery lists, travel budgets, flight schedules, notes from Christian Union meetings or Sunday sermons. In any case, I was rather proud of my design: I’d seen the quote a few weeks prior while we were in Seattle, and I’d wanted it on a notebook of my own ever since. This seemed the perfect opportunity to use it.

My second weekend in Dublin ended up as a daytrip to Howth, where–between walking the piers and finding the cliffs–my new friends and I lazed around on top of the hills for a while, talking about our experience in Ireland so far, or our lives back at home, or dozing. I wrote about it the odd sense of familiarity that Ireland instilled in us the next day:

Tyler and I were talking about it yesterday, how Ireland doesn’t feel “foreign.” It feels quite normal, quite natural–quite like I’ve lived here my whole life, really.

It’s been one year since I left on this grand adventure, and I still don’t have the proper words for it. I sort of wonder if I ever will. I still talk about it all the time, even if not on purpose. I still cry over it sometimes, just a little. Coming home was lovely–I really had missed Philadelphia and all the people that go with it quite a lot, especially the last month or so–but oh, I don’t think my heart ever really left that island. We leave pieces of us in the places we live, however briefly, and there’s something so incredibly beautiful about the fact that we don’t have to have a single, solitary home; we can belong anywhere, we can belong everywhere.  A bit of my heart will always be somewhere between Dame Street and that cliff walk on Howth, and I am grateful for that.

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There’s something about travel that cuts out the unnecessary, leaves playacting and shallowness behind. The friendships I formed in Ireland are ones I fully intend to keep for the rest of my life–and not just because I plan on kidnapping Lis and using her car for road trips. These people knew me in a context completely and utterly unique, in a space that allowed us to be genuine in a way that, somehow, our regular college lives just… didn’t. They knew me as the slightly travel-crazed girl named Connor that liked hiking and reading and was always saying guys, I just really love food.

Hey. If you’d seen the sort of things I got to eat, you would’ve been excited, too.

We turned to each other frequently over the months, my American friends and I. We looked at each other with a specific sort of smile that reached our eyes long before it reached our lips as we said hey, guys–guys. We’re in IrelandThat smile meant hey, take a minute. Look at where we are. Look at what we’re doing. This small, ordinary moment is something absolutely extraordinary because of this one detail. And sometimes it wasn’t a small, ordinary moment. Sometimes it was a big thing, something you couldn’t do anywhere else. At all. Ever. No way.

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After all, the Cliffs of Moher are only in… well, County Clare. They just don’t exist anywhere else. And same goes for that cliffside hike at the Giants Causeway. There’s only one Giants Causeway, and it’s in Northern Ireland. You aren’t going to find something like it anywhere else in the world.

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I’ve been wondering lately if the reason I felt more myself in Ireland is because I truly lived in the moment. I spend so much of my energy thinking about the future–planning, worrying, imagining, dreaming–and I get wrapped up in my own head pretty quickly. Moving to Ireland for four months meant getting out of my head, going out of my way to explore a new city, a new country, and, really, a new continent.

It’s not that Philadelphia is bad at those things–it’s that the ordinary needs the extraordinary to liven it up occasionally, just as the extraordinary needs the ordinary to tone it down when things get too overwhelming. 

I still don’t know exactly what I learned from my time overseas. I don’t know exactly how I changed. I don’t know exactly what shifted internally to make me feel so full of clarity and peace. I don’t know if I’ll still be talking about my trip like it was yesterday in a year or two, or if I’ll slack off gradually until I visit Ireland again.

And I still don’t know how a country I’d never seen before managed to captivate my heart so utterly and completely within my first four hours of walking around. 

I don’t know if Ireland got to me because it is the first and last place I’ve had my passport stamped. I don’t know if it got to me because the people welcomed me in like family, or if it was because I had friends there who already were like family. I don’t know if Ireland’s stuck with me because of the sheer amount of awe it inspired, or the delicious food I consumed, or because I frequented the Dublin airport as many times in four months as I have the Philadelphia airport in the past four years.

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I don’t know if it was the friendships I sank into with such ease, or the trips we took together, or even the scattered meals we made of veggie burgers topped with goat cheese and mushrooms cooked in a balsamic reduction. I don’t know if it got to me because of the adventures, or if the adventures got to me because it was Ireland.

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added: france; italy; scotland and the uk as a whole; the netherlands; germany; ink stains from that time a pen broke inside my favorite bag; creases from carrying it with me to all of those places & then some.

The last journal entry is dated 21 December 2013, the day I flew back to Philadelphia:

How strange to think of all these pages held a mere four months ago–not words, maybe, but hopes and dreams. Possibilities. Potential. That’s what these pages held.

 

And now, on the flight headed home… well, now they hold other things. Memory. Laughter. Travel logs. Essay notes. All of that, and hopefully a bit of wisdom. Definitely  experience.

 

I wish–just a bit, not too much–that I could say I know what I learned here… I am too close to the matter, temporally speaking. Time will tell, I’m sure, and I look forward to discovering just how this semester has shaped me. I feel vaguely as if I am a truer me–more me, myself, than I ever have been before, that this trip has honed me down a bit to my true form.

I still don’t know if what got to me was the travel, the friends, the new places–the adventures, the sites, the sheer amount of fun we had or places we went. I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to get back, or the next time I’ll doodle a suitcase on my notebook or have the presence of mind to pray that I will enjoy every. single. second or appreciate every single day or remember to explore every single weekend.

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What I do know is this: it’s been eight months since I left, but I still call it home. 

there is no one alive who is youer than you

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Dear You,

It’s been that kind of a week. I know, I know: it’s only Tuesday (or probably super early on Wednesday, by the time I finish this). Still, here I am, staring at my computer from a faded blue armchair that’s older than I am. My first Christmas pictures were taken in this armchair. They’re kinda cute, I guess, but I seem to have drooled a lot during those days. To be fair, most six-month-olds seem to drool a lot. It’s probably not just me. Mom asks me occasionally if I want to get rid of it. I don’t. It’s one of the most comfortable chairs in the house, right after those beanbags that are so large we call them the planets.

Work is… well. You know how work is. It’s not that it’s dismal, or even particularly difficult. It’s that I don’t particularly like my job, and my boss can be rather… mean. Or maybe just odd. Today I asked him if I could bring in some pictures to liven up the rather dreary and derelict bulletin boards by my desk. Oh, he said. I don’t… I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy. I mean, people come through here, visitors and professionals, and it needs to look—I don’t like music. Or personal decoration. He paused. I know that makes me a bit of a fuddy-duddy, but when people come through here—

We are a rather small department (maybe ten people, max). We don’t get a whole lot of visitors. I just nodded, told him I understood, and, well, my pictures of Dublin and Edinburgh and other fun European places will just have to live at home with me for now. How a picture of a bridge seems unprofessional is beyond me, but hey. I’m certainly not going to mess around with the rules. I just thought that the five-year-old Christmas card and four-year-old postcard from the Bahamas could use a little company, that’s all. They look so old and yellow, you know?

I’ve been living at home for almost three months now. That’s three times the length of any amount of time I’ve stayed at home since starting college. It’s been… interesting. An adjustment, certainly, and probably harder on my fam than it has been for me. I’m working up towards the pinnacle of adult-kid-living-in-her-parents’-home: cooking once a week. Grandmother said she’d be my sous chef, so all that’s left is to pick a day and have at it. And while I don’t always really want to be here—who, when they start college, says to themselves Wow, I can’t wait to finish this so I can live at home again? No one, that’s who. Or at least, very few people—I am also glad to be here.

Yes, it’s an adjustment. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s weird to not have my own space that’s not just a bedroom, and yes, it’s weird that my roommates aren’t… anywhere close to here. In the four years since I started college, my room became my grandmother’s room (2012), a housemate’s room (2013), and, finally, after the “Grand Rooming Swap of 2013,” my parents’ room (2013-present). I now live in what, when I last resided here, was the study. The cumbersome brown desks are gone (and so is the rather wonky carpet). I’ve got my old bed, my old desk, and this old armchair… and two of my walls are 60% covered by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Granted, these are mostly filled with my dad’s theology books (1.5 of the shelves), but I’m starting to stake my claim (0.5 of a shelf). Still. I’ve always surrounded myself with books, but this is a whole new level. I miss the wallspace some—I mean, the bookshelves mean there’s no way I can recreate my last wall decorations. That’s okay. Staring at the map would probably just make me more antsy, more ready to bolt out of this beautiful city and straight into the horizon.

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It’s not that I’m unhappy here. I’m perfectly happy (…minus the job situation). A whole slew of my friends moved to my neighborhood recently—seriously, it’s something like eleven or twelve—and we’ve had a grand old time with movie nights, game nights, brunches, dinners. And for all its difficulties, I’ve loved moving home because it means I automatically see my family—ice cream dates with the sis, late night talks with the brother, family dinners and laughing with Grandmother.

Then there’s all the plays to see, movies in the park to watch, First Fridays to attend—Philadelphia is an amazing city. I love it here. I always say it’s the first place that ever really felt like home, and that’s true. I’ve never lived anywhere quite as long as I’ve lived here—eight years is a lot in the scheme of my short twenty-two years. So no, this mental itch that makes me want to drop everything and hop on the first plane to Europe doesn’t come from any particular unhappiness or lack of adventure.

Honestly, though, all of this just kind of feels a little loose: like I slipped into this new skin, this new space and it just doesn’t fit quite right. It’s been a while since I had this urge to get up and go—the last time was at the end of my first year of college, right before I flew off to North Carolina for the first of many (but never enough) delightful summers working at a camp in the mountains.

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I haven’t seen the mountains this summer. I haven’t even seen the ocean. I’ve been in the city all summer, so I definitely haven’t sprawled out on the ground and gazed at the stars. Those three things are typically a staple of summer for me: I usually get at least two of them out of these short months. Maybe that’s what feels so off: I can’t remember the last time I got that tiny glimpse of infinity that shifts my perspective and reminds me that I’m small.

Maybe I’ve forgotten I’m not big, not in the slightest—not even middle of the line, really. I’m a tiny speck of a human in the eye of eternity and sometimes I need to be reminded of that because otherwise my ego gets too big. I start thinking of myself too much. I make myself up into something bigger than I am: someone who should have everything sorted out because honestly, isn’t that what college was for? I forget that no one has their lives sorted out. More and more I realize that we’re all sort of faking it till we make it, and if we dwell on that for one second too long our confidence in what all we have to do might come crashing down and who knows what sort of chaos would ensue.

Of course, sometimes staring too long at the abyss—or the ocean, or whatever spot of grandeur is in front of you—can be a bit too intimidating. I remember hiking up this narrow path above the Giants Causeway with Lis and getting to the top and thinking wow, this is… this is almost too much. Too much to take in at once. Too much to see, too much to admire, too much to shake you to your very core because look at this beautiful place.

Hold on to that thought in these next few days. Maybe this week will stay one of those, but maybe it’ll move up, passing not so good and meh to arrive at an agreeable not so bad.

Did you ever read Dr. Seuss? When I was growing up, my favorite was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which probably says more than it doesn’t. Now, though, I’m more of an Oh, the Places You’ll Go! type of gal. There’s this amazing section of the poem that addresses how easy it is to maybe get a little off-track and turn around to find you’re in “a most useless place/ The Waiting Place/for people just waiting…”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live my life in that “most useless place.” I don’t want to spend my day waiting to send my last e-mail so I can go home and go back the next day to send more. I don’t want to sit around and wait for things to happen. There are some times when waiting is good—necessary, even.

Take Advent. Even without throwing my religion into the mix, Christmas wouldn’t be quite the same without the whole season, would it? Or if you don’t like Christmas, take birthdays. They’d be run of the mill if they happened every single day without those other 364 (or 365!) days between ‘em. Waiting has its place. That doesn’t mean I’m always going to like it.

And honestly, I’m slowly becoming okay with that. If I feel a little off right now, there’s probably a good reason for that. I’ll keep looking at grad programs, keep writing in my free time, and keep reading more books than seems humanly possible. I’ll write more letters, send a few care packages, and keep trying to get my Etsy shop back off the ground… if I can think of any more designs. I’ll graft these spaces of creativity back into my life, try to remember to breathe, and for pete’s sake, woman, don’t whine. Goodness. You’re twenty-two, not three.

Yes, life’s confusing and complicated and curious all at once. You knew that already—you’ve known that for years. Hang in there. Keep fighting against that urge to curl up in a ball under your favorite blanket and pretend the world disappeared. You already know that’s not going to change anything. Change isn’t passive, hon—if it’s something you want, it’s something you’ve got to instigate.

So drive to the ocean sometime soon, for me. Or the countryside. Maybe take a trip to the mountains. Stare at the stars, walk at the edge of the sea, swing your legs over the side of a cliff and watch the clouds scampering beneath your feet. Look out or at or up into those small tastes of infinity and remember that we are so, so small—dust to dust, right? But then ignore the double negative and think about this:

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We are small, yes, but not insignificant.  What you do matters. Who you are matters. How you act and react to the people and place around you matters. Do you want to be remembered as the person who ignored everyone while she tried to figure herself out, or do you want to be remembered as the person who made ridiculous mistakes but kept her chin up high while she told her latest escapades to her friends?

That’s what I thought. I know you need some alone time—isn’t that what this is? But you need people, too. We aren’t islands. We’re built for community.

So make people laugh. Compliment their hairstyles. Talk about their favorite books (not just yours). Ask about their hopes and dreams and fears and actually listen to their responses. Share yours, too: friendship is a two-way street. Say thank you more often and mean it. Be sincere. Be grateful. Be kind and helpful and for the love of all that is good, be patient. I know you love that Emily Dickinson line that says dwell in possibility, but don’t forget to keep your feet on the ground if your head’s in the clouds.

A bit of dirt won’t hurt your feet, and be honest: your pedicure was probably ruined already, anyway.

Remember that journal Miss Thomas gave you for eighth grade graduation? One of the quotes she stuck inside was from Winston Churchill, and I think it’s a good thing to remember right about now.

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That’s all I’ve got for you right now. Make some more tea and think on it for a minute, would you? Breathe a little. Be generous. Be fierce. Be true.

love,

Me

the more important things

Do you know that point at the end of the first Potter book when Hermione and Harry are stuck in a room full of riddles and potions? 

There’s this line that comes right after Hermione figures out the logic puzzle about which potion does what–wine, poison, take them forward to the philosopher’s stone, send them back towards the main part of the castle. Hermione tells Harry that he’s a great wizard, and he responds that he’s not near as good as she is–

“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things–friendship and bravery–

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling

Anyone who knows me knows how much I value books and cleverness. I mean, for pete’s sake–I’m living in my family’s old study right now. There are floor to ceiling bookshelves in here, and I had the gall to bring in a smaller one just so I could have a bedside shelf.

Books, and cleverness–easy and familiar. Read everything, memorize things, study a lot–I’ve had that down to a T for years. It’s why I decided to go to a school like Penn, why my middle school book club remains one of my favorite NYC memories, and why the library was the first places we stopped after moving to Philadelphia. I know books. I get books. Narratives, plot lines, character development–books are steady and concrete in a world that spends madly on.

Now, don’t get too worried: I do love books, of course. I want to write them one day, you know that. I like my new wall decorations, even if they are mostly filled with hundreds of my dad’s theology books (literally. There are hundreds). I love books, but Hermione was right in one when she said there are more important things–

Like friendship, and bravery.

…but especially friendship. Friendship can be easy–sunny days and coffee dates and laughter ringing loud and late night talks on the phone or over tea. Friendship can be hard–crying and yelling and, perhaps worst of all, that infuriating sense of helplessness when you’re miles away when they need you, or when you don’t know what to say, or when you can’t figure out what’s wrong and you’re just… stuck.  Continue reading “the more important things”