Last summer was a down period for this blog. It was a weird time wherein I had too many feelings to know how to wrap my arms around them and unload them into this space designed, primarily, as a receptacle for my abundant feelings.
In October, I started to make my way back here in part because the absence thing created a feeling that entire months of my life were erased or empty. There was a void. Things were incomplete.
Here I sit, a year later, feeling infinitely more whole and complete as a human being and determined to make sure I make some notation of that. Here is the record. Here is the acknowledgment that things are wonderful, for however long this lasts.
If the silence and isolation taught me anything it was how incredibly valuable this moment is. I’m not one for trying to draw comparisons between emotional experiences – I hate the idea that one terrible thing should somehow render you immune to any number of “merely bad” experiences. Sometimes things just suck, for whatever reason, and you’re allowed to be upset about that, no matter what other varieties of suck you have known in your life.
Still, the radical shift from epic suck to I love my life right now from one year to the next is kind of incredible. This comparison is inherently different, of course, because I’m using the emotional comparisons to intensify and further validate a feeling, rather than invalidate a feeling, as if feelings are driven by some cohesive logic, an absurd concept if ever there was one.
I’m remembering where and how I was a year ago and acknowledging that everything has changed, entirely for the better.
That’s all there really is to say. I’m sitting in a lovely apartment in Paris on a Sunday afternoon, with one of my best friends. Let the record show that things are good. Things are really, really good.
It has now been 24 days since I woke up at 6am to leave my house and set off on a trip spanning 5 countries, 11 boats, and 10 beds. Or approximations of beds. 11, actually, if we’re vaguing up the terminology to “approximations of beds” because I napped a bit while sitting upright on my 10pm – 6am train from Torino to Rome.
After that gloriously restful night sleep, I got to Paris in the morning and had a whole day to occupy before I could get to the next bed on the list. (It’s not entirely relevant to this post, but food was a key part of how I occupied myself because I make the best choices.) I put my monstrous suitcase in a locker at the station, but I still had my backpack. After my night on the ass-bed I was already approaching a special level of human grime. Wearing the heavy backpack around in the heat didn’t help matters much.
Six years ago, though, this is how we traveled. Backpacking with my little brother was one of my favorite trips, but countless times on this current outing I have marveled at the difference that six years has made.
Namely, that I have become too old for that shit.
It’s not just about creature comforts. Following the week in Amalfi, I spent a week on a cruise ship. The ship was fantastic and the port cities were incredible, but I found myself generally distressed by how little time we had to see these places. How do you explore a city in half a day? HOW?
Not that we didn’t also occasionally find this unpleasant even then. I remember the end of our very long first day in Paris. We’d saved the Louvre for the end of the day because it was cheaper if we went in after 6pm, plus SEE ALL THE THINGS! and we were still beginners at this trip maximizing game. This was the day of breaking in those traveling shoes. We went down an escalator and immediately sat down near the bottom of it. I looked at Derrik and asked if he was ready to call it – knowing the answer already. Clearly we were both ready to call it.
We ran ourselves into the ground in the second city on our trip. Then we repeated the process for five more weeks.
Then, of course, there was the “no more old churches” compact. I don’t actually recall if this was a real conversation we had. I assume it was – a trip like this is kind of intense because you end up speaking almost exclusively to one person for six weeks, because of the language barriers and the fact that you don’t stick around your hostels long enough to have multiple conversations with the other people staying there. Regardless, we were relying quite heavily on Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring to tell us what to do and where to go. (Alternatively, Derrik would run in the mornings and come back and say, “I passed X, Y, and Z neat things. Let’s go see what they are!) Essentially every city in Europe’s top 3 MUST SEE items includes at least one magnificent church that’s significantly older than our home country. Many cities have several of these MUST SEE churches. They’re gorgeous and impressive, but there’s a point at which you run out of fucks to give for all the opulent old churches of yore.
In that respect, I guess at 26 I might be able to stretch that time a little longer than I could at 20 and traveling with a 16-year-old. I might have fucks to give for an additional 1-2 old churches.
Probably not, because the bigger issue – the real thing I’d like to never replicate – is the aggressive pace at which we moved. Especially carrying all of our stuff. (Which, though challenging, remains better than being without your stuff.) Of course, the shit we were hauling around was a lot less than everything I brought on this six week trip. As I have mentioned a time or two before, we weren’t traveling with those monstrous backpacking backpacks – these were proper books-and-lunch-bags backpacks.
My brother brought two pairs of socks with him. The smell of his feet on that trip will probably haunt me in my nightmares long after many of my other memories fade. Regardless, it’s a potent (and pungent…) example of the kinds of “creature comforts” which were once unnecessary luxuries. (I have not asked, but I have faith that this sock thing is a life choice that my brother would not replicate at 22.)
All of this is to say that I am glad that while a handful of those 10-11 beds are one-night-only deals, most are much longer than 2-3 nights. I’m glad that I had that trip with my brother when I had it – I loved 93% of every minute of it. I’m also grateful to be traveling this way, now.
I learned a lot about myself and a fair number of problem solving skills. It was one of those rare moments where you’re experiencing a significant transition while fully aware that that’s what’s happening. It’s a little surreal to be reminiscing about all of that now, because six years feels like several lifetimes. It feels like I’m not just comparing two very different trips, but trips being experienced by two very different people.
The 2014 one owes the 2008 one a whole lot. Past!me’s adventures were grand and I’m lucky to have gotten to live them. Some of my favorite stories and mental pictures were collected on that trip. The view from here is pretty damn great too, though.
It has been an insane few weeks. Since I last posted: I landed in Paris, slept on the couch of a (very kind) stranger, signed some school paperwork (so everything is also super officially official now!), took a train to Torino and then Rome, spent a week in Italy with 40-some-odd wonderful people, headed to Bari with 10 of those people for a week-long Mediterranean cruise, and then returned to Rome just before saying goodbye to my mother this morning.
Early tomorrow morning my grandparents will also return to the US. After a little over two weeks with many, many travel companions, I’ll be entirely on my own. For a few days, at least. (Six, in fact. Not that anyone is counting.)
But first, I made a video about all the fun things that happened in Italy. Or some of the fun things. A sampling of the fun things.
My best intentions to be on top of this were thwarted by the fact that cruise ships are not actually ideal for activities which require internet connectivity. GO FIGURE.
A week later than planned, though, here’s a thing that now exists:
Music: “Master of the Feast” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
A brief update on my life, brought to you from an immensely noisy airport. Normally I try to contextualize videos when I post them to the blog, but there’s that whole time and never having enough of it thing to contend with.
A couple things, though:
(1) I AM SO SORRY FOR THIS NOISE. 100 points for your house if you suffer through the whole thing.
(2) I used a lot of todays and tomorrows without dates. This video was recorded late night on Wednesday, July 2nd, New York time. It is being uploaded on the morning of Friday, July 4th, Paris time, courtesy of my school’s wifi, which I am thankfully still allowed to sign onto. HUZZAH.
That information isn’t actually important except that I said something about when I’d be able to edit/upload and it’s cool to do a check-in on predictions like that. For me, at least. Maybe nobody else cares. So it goes.
There are a lot of things that people around me want that I’m not entirely sure I’m interested in. I don’t want a lot of things that I think my people in life want for me. I’m probably doing a fair bit of projecting in that last statement because the best people in my life all pretty much just want me to do whatever the hell it is that makes me happy.
And that is all peachy and sunshine and glitter confetti magic.
But it’s sometimes a challenge to remember this important truth. Some days it’s all too easy to get caught up in the reality that the surest way to win modern society’s highest form of social approval – ALL THE LIKES! – is to get married or have a baby.
I haven’t posted anything on Facebook about belatedly finishing my degree because of all the corresponding shame tied up in how long it took, but it’s easy to guess how that would compare to those all-important markers of individual human achievement. (Or, more accurately, paired human achievement.) I’m not too concerned with this.
The thing is, even if I did get wrapped up in my own petulant self-pity, I sincerely hope that the thought would not ever occur to me that I should be any less happy for the people in my life doing things that make their lives more fulfilling.
And yet. I know this is a thing that happens.
There’s something particularly unsavory about seeing someone from “your side” say and do awful shit. Seeing the worst of a mindset to which you ostensibly belong placed front and center is frustrating, to say the least.
Such is the feeling that I got recently upon seeing someone bemoan the self-indulgent horror of mommy blogs. Mommy blogs, you see, are basically feminism’s public enemy #1. Or something like that.
For reference, the thing that’s got me twitchy:
I did (and will continue to) spasm whenever I encounter a “mommy blog.” So self-absorbed, smug, and stupid. I’m glad she fulfilled her dream of doing something her body (and every other woman’s body) is innately designed to do, but some of us have less predictable, more independent goals to pursue and brag about. (x)
What makes me anxious about this comment is that I can feel some of where it’s coming from. I love stuff like STFU Parents. I will be the first to raise a glass in agreement that it’s a pure douche canoe move for people who marry and/or procreate to usurp the spotlight from other people trying to share their unrelated excitement.
That said, the opposite is also true.
I think my friend’s doctoral graduation picture is every bit as much of a big deal as the wedding photos. Based strictly on relevance to my own life, I read more blogs from grad students than parents. That doesn’t mean the latter is somehow any less valid or worthwhile.
Being happy for other people and celebrating their accomplishments isn’t some sort of zero sum game.
Unless my big dream is to become a serial killer who moonlights in arson, it’s not really anyone else’s place to tell me whether my big dreams are worthy of discussion or sharing or attempts to find connection with other people who share those dreams and values.
Of course, you’re also not obligated to validate them. This is a companion topic for another day. (A topic I’ve been meaning to take up for some time.) Still, who the fuck are you to say that motherhood is somehow an invalid priority?
(And this is to say nothing of the insulting treatment of what motherhood actually consists of. Given how hard I typically find it to take care of my one 26 year old self, I am terrified of the prospect of being in charge of the life of a small helpless human. Crazier still – MANY SMALL HELPLESS HUMANS. I mentioned that I don’t read a lot of mommy blogs, but I assume the entire point of the genre is that there’s actually a whole lot of shit that comes after the basic biology “innately designed” portion. That biology doesn’t do a damn thing to make you a good parent.)
It is, admittedly, harder when it seems like the choices you value are consistently undervalued. I just don’t understand why, if you’re acquainted with that feeling, you would want to inflict it upon others. (Strangers, no less!)
To all of my friends doing cool stuff that makes you feel happy and fulfilled: A TOAST. CONGRATULATIONS! I HOPE YOU CONTINUE TO DO THINGS THAT MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPY AND FULFILLED.*
*So long as those things are not murder/arson/being-a-terrible-person/etc.
I have been to a lot of weddings in the last year or so. Weddings on weddings on weddings. For a person who is single, my Instagram is overflowing with photos of floral arrangements, bridesmaid dresses, and bachelorette party hashtags.
(They’re all nice fun dresses – many thanks to the lovely brides for picking such nice, fun dresses – but the reality is that other weddings are basically the only occasions to wear such things.)
Having purchased a few now, I can also spot them a mile off. “I see you, girl, I see you re-wearing that bridesmaid dress. I see you and I respect it.”
A toast to getting some mileage out of bridesmaid dresses.
On the morning of the ceremony, I sat around with my dear friend and two of her other bridesmaids discussing her Hogwarts sorting, as is standard practice before grownup activities like weddings. The other two ladies in question were her younger sister and childhood best friend. Our bride-to-be said that as an adult she has come to accept that she is a Hufflepuff, a sentiment I fully agreed with. The people who have known her forever, however, vehemently disagreed – she’s all Ravenclaw. (Given that they knew her at the age when she would have been sorted, their votes had automatic priority over mine.)
It made me think about the way that friends tend to become somewhat frozen in time in our understanding of them. My college friends are so tied to particular moments in my own life and understanding of myself that when I’m around them I forget that it has been four years since graduation. An entire class of students has entered college and then graduated in the time since we’ve left.
To me, she’s still the first person I met in college. The girl who poked her sleepy head around through the bathroom door after my army of child laborers woke her up at 7am because we drove all night to get there and be the first ones in the building. (Gotta claim the best bed!) I picture her in multicolored scarves and gold cowboy boots with fringe.
She’s also that mythical unicorn of twenty-somethings: a person who has her shit together. She always was – really. Her college self was only frazzled because balancing your love of bright colors and tassels with your need to have Senate internships and shit is exhausting.
And sure enough, even at her own wedding, she was still more concerned with making sure everything went smoothly and that everyone else was happy than with basic self-care tasks like eating. Watching our other roommate haggle with her about squeezing bites of a sandwich roll between all the primping and photographing brought on a giant wave of nostalgia-packed feels. It felt like college and that little piece of home that these people represent to me.
Except this wasn’t college. It was a wedding day. It was watching someone who was so essential to starting a new chapter in my life start a new one in her own.
I love weddings. I have all sorts of squicky feelings about marriage and weddings when I try to imagine those things for myself, but holy shit do I love other people’s weddings. I love how excited and happy everyone is and I love that for all the ways the whole game is formulaic, people make all these choices that leave guests with the feeling of, “Aah, yes, that’s all very them.”
Because even in this big something new, there are always all these little hints of the things that stay the same.
My big brother has been kind of a moving target in my life – the embodiment of goals and ideals that, by design, I can never reach. He’s four years older and that has meant that for the last decade he has been setting a standard of achievement. Future achievement. Stuff to worry about later. There’s something of my own Peter Pan complex in that, I suppose.
He graduated from high school and joined the military partially because it was 2002 and that patriotic fervor was strong but also because he knew he wasn’t ready for college. He spent his summers working for a moving company, and he knew he didn’t want to keep doing that, but wasn’t sure what to do instead. He didn’t want to amble through college and waste money trying to figure out what he wanted.
(I wish I had managed to internalize that important life lesson…)
At the end of his four years, he had grown tired of the bureaucratic structures of the Air Force. He came home for a few months – the only time where he truly lived in our Missouri house, having enlisted about four months before we moved. He hopped on his motorcycle and drove across the country, coming to see me and sleeping on a couch in the basement of my freshman dorm building. Eventually he headed back west to California.
There’s a warped irony in that. He was the one who was always so eager to leave LA. In high school he attributed a great many problems to life in LA. He was deeply convinced that everything would be better if we had never left Chicago. I don’t share it, but I also can’t fault him for that conviction. There was a very brief spell in which I shared that belief but I went on to mirror it for my three years of high school in Missouri. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this place and see it for what the people who love it see.
I haven’t asked Josh if he’s come to terms with LA. I suppose he was never forced to by circumstance in the same way that I have been. (It was fine enough to be a bitter teenager – emo kids were so IN in 2004! – but as a twenty-something eating that humble pie, that bitterness would be decidedly not cute.)
After living with my parents, he got a job in San Diego and lived with my aunt and uncle for a few months. He basically lived in a hallway. I think it’s sort of a hallmark of your twenties, really, to have at least one insane living setup. (More on mine another day.)
Almost immediately after starting work he started school for aerospace engineering. He’d completed a few classes during his military time and had years of very practical real-world experience with that, both in the Air Force and now in the actual workforce. The thing about 40 hour work weeks, though, is that they are somewhat prohibitive to juggling class schedules, particularly in the sciences, where course sequencing is essential. (Thank you, sociology, for giving me a list of course options about double the number required, which could be taken in almost any order and combination!)
In 2012, while I was sending off foreign grad school applications, as if my lack of answers came only from insufficient schooling, he was preparing to defer his own education by a whopping three semesters because work was sending him to Afghanistan for a year to test a helicopter he’d been working on. (There’s presumably a massive team of people involved in this project, but in my head it’s just him, sitting there all, “Hey guys, I just designed this unmanned helicopter. NBD.” Whenever he talks about his work I feel like I’m listening to something out of a scifi novel because obviously books are the only way I can make SCIENCE! make sense in my head.) In the fall of 2012, the five Sweeney kids were on four continents. (Put in that way, our odds of having our family create an international incident were much higher, yeah? Yeah. Sure.)
My brother graduated high school in 2002 and now, in 2014, he has his bachelor’s degree. I point it out in those terms because he fretted over those numbers a lot. The well-payed tour was a hard pill to swallow not just because it meant a year (back) in a war zone, but because it was more lost time on this all-important goal.
It was always so perplexing to me, though, that he could think of himself in those terms. When we were younger he was alternately my hero and tormentor, as is the way with siblings, but from about the time he decided to join the military, he’s been one of the most responsible people I know. He has no debt and basically got paid to go to school between the GI bill and his work incentives. He has a well-paying job, owns a gorgeous condo in San Diego, and has an awesome girlfriend.
He’s basically a portrait of late 20′s (VERY SOON TO BE 30!) achievement. That someone who I’ve regarded as bearer of unattainable ideals could ever have felt inadequate is mind-boggling to me.
That’s life, though, isn’t it? We all have those little insecurities. Even knowing, as I do, that my brother views himself through a lens that is almost contradictory to the way that I see him, I can’t properly internalize that and apply it to my understanding of myself.
But I do know what I see when I see him. I see one of the wittiest people I have ever met. If you spend time with my family, you’ll quickly see that we value laughter. You have to be thick-skinned to be around us, but if you have that, you’ll have fun. (The inverse is probably true too, though.) That’s owed principally to my brother. I suspect that the oldest child has a critical role in establishing the tone of sibling relationships. He made us a rowdy, playful, and fiercely loyal bunch.
Speaking of, he’s also the most loyal person I know. His loyalty isn’t freely given (except if you’re lucky like me and win it by the pure accident of birth) but is a sure thing once earned. When my little brother was detained in Cairo, we made plans to buy plane tickets for both of us to go down there. His detainment just narrowly missed that one-week mark at which my older brother would have skipped out on work to go be there for his baby brother. We had no idea what we would even do, to be honest, but my brother knew in his gut that we needed to be there – that he wouldn’t feel right otherwise.
Even not knowing what, exactly, we would do, I never doubted that we’d find something productive to do, because my brother is also fiercely determined. Setting aside the fact that his studies are completely over my head with their reliance on math and science (I proofread a couple of his papers and I was proud of myself the time I understood a full 65% of what I read) I also can’t fathom doing what he’s done. As any student knows, school has this way of being all-consuming. There is no such thing as “downtime” because every moment is colored by this awareness that you SHOULD be working on something for school. There is always something to be done for school. Doing that and also putting in 40+ hour work weeks? That’s fucking insane. That’s insane and anyone who isn’t impressed by what he’s accomplished is probably an asshole with unreasonable standards, or, like, an asshole who just doesn’t like to be happy for other people. Either way, an asshole.
I am pretty much always proud of my older brother. His accomplishments obviously have nothing to do with me but I like to brag about him being MY brother all the same. In that sense, it was a true pleasure to get to be there and be part of his kickass cheering section when he got that hard-earned degree last month. He was always one of my heroes so it was awesome to hear a stranger call his name out and acknowledge just one of the many kickass things he’s done.
I love you Joshy.
It has been a busy few weeks. Sometimes in my quest to record everything I get so overwhelmed by creating a proper narrative for each event that I record nothing. I’d hate to let that happen now, on the heels of a couple very busy weeks.
I’m bundled up in my over-air conditioned basement after two weeks of truly lovely weather, first in San Diego and then in Washington D.C. On my way home I had a layover in Detroit and at some point while I had my head buried in my phone, the sky exploded with some pretty intense rain. (This also happened in while I was in D.C., attempting to walk to meet friends, so I’d be lying if I said it was the first non-sunshine turn in the weather during my two weeks of travel.) I didn’t even notice until I was next in line to hurry past the rainy gap between the jet bridge and the plane.
Once I was sitting on the plane, waiting for everyone to finish boarding, the rain felt like a comforting end to the fun-but-also-kind-of-draining two weeks I’d had. The rain said, “Now it’s time to go home and hang out in sweats for a little bit and have some alone time.” Something about the fact that I had been too preoccupied with thoughts of all the work that awaited me at home to even notice it made me appreciate it all the more once I did. I took a picture of this oh-so-symbolic moment. (Or, rather, this moment in which I saw what I sought; were I of a less contended mind about it all I’m sure I would have drawn a different conclusion from the rain.)
My snarky flight-neighbor mocked me, saying that I, “must not get out much.” The aggressiveness of her tone (a weird level of rudeness to a stranger she was about to be in a confined space with for the next hour and a hafl) only made it funnier. This was the final stretch of my weeks of bouncing across the country. If ever there was a time I could least be accused of not getting out much, this was it. We all do that, though – make quick shorthand of the countless stories happening around us. I don’t know what hers is and that’s not really what this is about. This is, as always, mine. Or a piece of it, anyway.
I try to record as much as I can and yet so much life accumulates and somehow it stops feeling possible to give all these things the space that they deserve. My brother graduated from college. My own college roommate is now married. I’m heading up to Wisconsin today to watch my niece graduate. There are a thousand things that I want to say to all of these people I love so much about how happy I am for them right now. I also cleared a bit of a personal hurdle of my own, finally submitting, defending, and passing my thesis after far too many extensions.
Big things are happening. That’s life. A year ago today I was in a not-so-good place, so I appreciate the absurdity of this blogger problem I am currently experiencing. I appreciate how fully not a problem it is that I find myself overwhelmed by having too much life to capture it all.
Still, it would feel incomplete if I didn’t also take the time to stop, breathe, and acknowledge it. There are some time management lessons here, some ways that I can be better about reflecting as I go.
There’s also just something to be said for taking a second to look outside the window at a rainy airport and marveling at the state of things. Five years from now I might not end up with all those lengthy posts to look back on like I’d prefer, but at least I have evidence that I understood the goodness of this moment while I was in it.
p.s. This other fun thing happened: the lovely lesliefoundhergrail invited me to participate in her One Time project. To say I am flattered to be in such great company would be a colossal understatement. My reaction was a bit more flaily. I’m sure you can picture it.
This post is sponsored by Airheads Candy. I received compensation for creating videos and blog posts. As always, all thoughts, feelings, and general absurdity are entirely my own.
Last week was just part one of two in this “LOLZ I’m an airhead” series. I could really make this go on and on forever, but we’re just going to leave it at two. I’ve got to convince my family that I am at least vaguely aware of what being a real person looks like. Maybe.
It just so happens that talking about and embracing all the ridiculous is a significant part of how I understand this whole being a “real person” works. The first go round was easy. I have actual footage of the time I broke my arm. At 24. At a skateless skate park for children. It was a no-brainer. It’s hard to top a slapstick moment like that.
But sometimes the airheaded moments are just life moments. They’re the blunders that we make that have the potential to be epic and major – or at least to feel that way. As with everything in life, the real trick is in how you handle it.
Confession: I’ve told this story before, but it was almost four years ago (!!) and approximately eight people read the blog back then, so I’m just doubling down on this admission of my struggles.