I was tagged by Kirsti to answer a bunch of questions about one of my favorite holidays and it’s possible that I maybe went a tiny bit overboard in accepting this task. It’s possible. Investigation pending.


Links and things!

Tagged by

The full list of questions:

music: Kevin MacLeod – “Bump in the Night”

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Recently, YouCoalition launched a campaign called The Safer Community Pledge. This topic is of considerable importance to me – I’ve been blogging about rape culture both here and on Snark Squad for a couple years now – and I think this pledge is an valuable contribution to the discourse. I wanted to practice what I preach by taking the pledge.

This video was inspired by some very YouTube specific events. Often, when I know a video is only relevant to my YouTuber friends, I won’t bother with cross-posting. In this case, however, I tried to keep the wording as broad as possible, because this campaign is relevant to everyone, regardless of whether you’re familiar of the specific context from which it was created.

It’s up to all of us to make a commitment to demonstrating the kind of behavior that we will accept, condone, and support in our communities. When we are vocal about that, we disenfranchise those that would seek to harm our communities while empowering all of its members, especially those most vulnerable (and by extension, most in need of our support.)

Important links:

Title/end music: “Montmartre” – Jahzzar

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Girls Who Write Their Feelings

There are a lot of ways to move forward, but I feel both a strong urge and a sense of responsibility to move forward by talking about how I moved forward. That’s how I roll.

An alarming percentage of this blog’s content is meta discussion of how I use this blog. (LIKE SO!) As such, it’s not news that much of the utility of this blog is in keeping myself honest. The times where I find it most fulfilling are those times when I use it to acknowledge uncomfortable truths, which has the almost opposing but somehow complementary functions of holding me accountable while also freeing me from certain things.

That said, this blog is the public exercise. It’s the part where I say, “This is how much I will share.” It’s also, more often than not, the part where I say, “These are the fun anecdotes worth sharing – the stuff that might be interesting.” These considerations sway back and forth in ways largely dependent on how I’m feeling – when there’s something to withhold, the first point becomes the key issue. When things are good, it’s easier to concentrate on the second category of stories.

I am almost always writing out both versions. I write out the big and the small. Most of it is pure word vomit, but I write it anyway. I’m a devout journaler. I am firm believer in the benefits of that kind of expression.

Almost always. I am almost always writing and there is a strong correlation between the times that I am not consistently writing and the low periods in my life. (I just went through my archives and noticed that I have a post here at least once a month since I started the blog, save for several blank months last year.)

Growing up, I was all about handwritten journals. I kept them in stops and starts. I wasn’t especially organized so there are only a couple that were kept consistently. Otherwise I have stacks and stacks of notebooks with the pages half filled.

These days I have gone digital. I still hand write occasionally. I have an all-purpose notebook that I use for everything from to-do lists and meeting notes to doodles of tattoo ideas and journal entries. I label these notebooks and save them chronologically, because that makes sense to my brain. “I worked on that project last fall,” I might think, and I’ll know roughly where to find it.

But my daily journal writing takes place over at 750words.com, because that’s the way I have found most effective to keep myself doing it consistently. I have found that the simple act of carving out 20-30 minutes a day to sit and write does wonders for my overall mental and emotional well being. Once a day, I have to sit and check in and assess where I’m at.

In case you haven’t heard about 750words, it’s an amazing daily writing tool and the way it is structured works incredibly well for me. It’s got a super stripped down interface so all you see is a big wall of white with a word count at the bottom. Once you sign in, you can’t save your entry until you hit 750 words – so you’re committing to some minimum time and effort. The site awards you points for each day that you write, with significantly more points earned for building up a streak – writing for consecutive days. It also keeps track of your on-site activity to note if you were inactive (i.e., you clicked away to Facebook stalk that girl you sat next to in third grade). Like any good gamified website, there are all sorts of badges for different milestones (100 day streak! Typing very quickly! No distractions! Early bird writing! etc., etc.)

It also analyzes your writing and produces a lot of really interesting data. In addition to tracking the sheer fact of your writing (word counts, speed, distractions) it also produces fun charts of your tone, subject matter, tense usage, and sentence subjects (it makes me painfully aware of how self-centered I am). There are even word clouds! Who doesn’t love a good word cloud? It’s the best kind of self-indulgent data porn and even though I’ve been using it for years, I’m still obsessed with it.


Here’s what this post looks like, graphed as a 750words entry.

The gamified nature of the site helps make me do it. I have to get points! And I can’t stop writing during the time I set aside because it will flag that as a DISTRACTION, and that will affect my perfect 0 Distractions record! (This machine is quite possibly the only thing in my life that will congratulate me for my focusing ability.)

Granted, the pitfall of this system is that a lot of my entries are pure bullshit. I have typed, “I don’t know what to say right now,” more times than I’d like to admit. On anxious days I find myself writing to-do lists and then elaborate explanations of what will go into the completion of these to-do lists.

My point here is that there’s a reason I’m writing 1500+ words a day (the arbitrary number I have given myself, in the inevitable escalation in a journal exercise so wholly reliant on gamification) about my life/thoughts/feels and only post here a few times a month. Nobody needs to see my to-do list.

But even when I’m writing that, I find that there are few things more useful than taking the time to say, “Hey, this is how I feel, and this is what’s going on,” even it’s deeply uninteresting content.

While I’m talking about this: I mentioned back in January that I was given free access to Cake for Breakfast in exchange for a review. Having these prompts has been enormously useful on those, “I don’t know what to say,” days. The prompts have been even better at combating the myopic view-from-my-desk stuff that tends to come out. At least once a week I take the time to ask myself bigger questions about where I’m at and what I want.

There have been a thousand little things that brought me to the much better place I’m in now than I was a year ago, and this was definitely one of those thousand little things. I only had to write about Cake for Breakfast once as part of the terms of that sponsored post, so this is something I am writing now, of my own free just-because-I-think-it’s-great will.

Ashley’s offering Cake for Breakfast at a discounted $52 (it’s normally $97) for this week only and I highly recommend you check it out. Last winter when I was grasping desperately at anything the internet could shove at me, I spent money I didn’t have on a variety of different things like this and I can’t stress enough that $52 for a year’s worth of this stuff is a great deal. There’s a little bit of advice and, “Here’s why I’m asking you this question,” intro to the prompts, but at the end of the day, she’s asking you to take stock of your life. It’s a fantastic set-up.

There’s one final thing I wanted to mention on this list of Ways I Wrote Myself Out Of A Pit (and OH MY GOD am I embarrassed by the frequency with which this “in a pit” metaphor appeared in my journal entries. A lot, you guys. A whole hell of a lot. I have a whole expanded universe surrounding my metaphorical pit, complete with sand dunes and desert crossings. I was not fucking around with my metaphorical pit.) FutureMe.org is also amazing. Somewhere around the time I began to develop a better concept of Future Me’s probable existence, I also came across this site for the first time. I’ve used it to send myself stupid, “Hey have you done [INSERT GOAL] yet?” emails but it’s also good for the feelsy stuff.

This is another thing I used to do in the pen & paper world. I started writing myself letters in middle school. I collected them all in a shoebox so that I could read them when I graduated from high school, because there was a time in my life when 18 seemed like an age at which I should be old and accomplished. Fortunately, I learned at the young (!) age of 18 to keep that shit in perspective, so I don’t make quite the same grand proclamations. (WHY DIDN’T YOU BECOME AN 18 YEAR OLD MILLIONAIRE, GIRL?) Still, it’s a great exercise in the present and future. You get to imagine both versions of yourself, when writing and reading, which is itself an important lesson in perspective.

I know 750words used to be free, but I have this vague feeling that I read somewhere that new accounts are no longer free. If you’re serious about writing daily but have found it hard to make yourself stick to it, I’d recommend forking over whatever few dollars a month they’re asking of you. Same goes with Cake for Breakfast, of course. And if you’re really cheap and skeptical of everything I’m saying, at least head over to Future Me and write yourself an email.

Dear Future Me,

Today I listened to Sweeney. I hope you’ve gotten over that phase of your life and learned to take the recommendations of wiser people. People who don’t openly tell you that they suck at advice-giving before giving you advice.

Past Me.

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Last summer I very seriously planned to kill myself. I spent nearly all of 2013 and the early months of 2014 struggling with depression, but last summer was the worst of it. It feels like I’ve been holding my breath, and when I hit “publish” I will finally start breathing normally again.

Over the last 14 or so months I have trashed countless dozens of drafts on this. For most of that time, I trashed those drafts because I wasn’t ready to talk about it while I was living it. I didn’t want anyone to stop what they were doing to pay attention to it.

I can now comfortably say that I am not still living it, but the fact that I still haven’t found a way to give it voice makes it impossible for me to give proper voice to anything else I want to say. This has its feet firmly planted in front of anything else, mercilessly knocking over any other thoughts and ideas.

I can’t seem to write this thing without spinning it into some out-of-control 5,000 word beast of a post. It hit me last night that I’ve been missing the point. I have been trying to tell a story, when that’s not what this is. I keep concentrating on a narrative, a sequence of events that has key moments that I can single out as turning points, but they all obscure the larger point that I spent a little over a year struggling to connect my thoughts and feelings with reality.

So this isn’t about a sequence of events. There is no plot. Only a string of crippling emotions I could not entirely understand.

I spent a staggering portion of last summer on the floor in the fetal position trying to will myself out of existence. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die as that I wanted to not exist. This distinction somehow mattered for a little while. And then it didn’t, resigned as I was to the impossibility of my wish.

I resolved to kill myself, choosing a date based primarily on when I felt it might go least noticed and be least disruptive to the people in my life, as if such a date could exist.

On top of everything, it was frustrating to be acutely aware that my thinking was broken. In better moments I spent a lot of time telling myself, “Just go do a thing! That’s all you have to do. Get up. Do it. One foot in front of the other,” but nothing I could say to myself made it any more possible for me. I felt helpless and it only made things worse.

When I tried to write out a sequence of events, I kept coming back to shame. I think shame was the cart I rolled into this pit on. I think it was also the thing that kept me down there, because I didn’t know how to ask for help even when I knew I needed it. Knowing that I couldn’t put any of it into words that made sense made it impossible for me to speak up. I couldn’t stand the thought of hearing those same frustrated voices echoed by people that I loved.

For a time, the moments where I was able to pull myself together and feign functionality were largely propelled by the vaguely comforting knowledge of having given myself an expiration date. When it became clear, around the end of the summer, that I would not do it – partially because of my sister but also because I simply could not – some things got worse before they got better. When I was walking around waiting to die, I felt a little lighter for it – a little anesthetized to life. When I knew that I was going to have to find a way to live, things hurt in a fresh new way. For a short time, there was a new sense of hopelessness.

But slowly, things got better. There are a lot of people to whom I owe a great deal for that. Friends, who were patient with me when I was truly the worst as friends go. Family, who had been down a similar road with me before and held my hand even though I refused to admit to needing it. Even my thesis adviser, whose job turned into babysitting via email and Skype, micromanaging me far more than his job called for. I needed a whole lot of help that I didn’t know how to seek out. Even without me finding the words to ask, people in my life offered it. I will be forever grateful for that.

My epic story versions of this post have mostly served as personal attempts to make it make more sense. To say, “This is where it started,” and, far more importantly, “This is how it ended.” I want to be able to put it into words so that I can know, “This is the solution,” because some part of me is in perpetual fear of going back to that place. I want to be able to tuck a note in my pocket with the answer. (Bread crumbs, I said last year, when I thought I might have one possible answer to the problem I refused to name.)

There was no singular catalyst for falling and neither was there any single thing that got me out. The closest thing I can come up with, though, is all that freely offered help. It’s not much in the way of a magic incantation to leave myself with, but if I can identify one primary answer, it was the collection of truly lovely people I have been fortunate enough to know.

And so maybe the magic word is still just, “Please.” “Please, help me. I am not OK and I need you to help me.

That, like the story-versions, feels a little too tidy, though. It was never that simple. Part of my problem was that I was frustrated with my own inability to help myself. Another part of my problem was my fear of burdening others with problems they could not fix. I was afraid that my inability to just be better would, if expressed to someone else, mean I was letting them down.

After months of struggling I did attempt to get professional help and that was an absolute fucking disaster. I spent an hour talking to a man who, in the end, told me to find Jesus and throw myself into my most co-dependent tendencies. It was an early morning appointment, too. Not exactly the best way to start my day.

In retrospect, I wish I would have tried therapy sooner and I wish I would have tried again after that first effort was such a failure, but I didn’t. Mostly, I wish that I would have found people to talk to during the worst of it. When I did finally start clawing my way out last fall, it was partially by dropping the occasional verbal bomb on people I could trust to not pick it up or touch it until I was ready. “How have you been I love that dress your new job sounds great I’ve been contemplating suicide for months what do you think of House of Cards?” Each time I said the words, I felt a little stronger and freer for it.

And that I suppose is the reason I need to do this, so that if I do find myself down there again, maybe it’ll be easier to talk about it. And, furthermore, if you are in that place: (a) Know that you are not alone and that no matter how happy and functional everyone around you seems, some of them are faking it and they probably think they are every bit as bad at faking it as you feel. -and- (b) I am always here to listen. I don’t think I’m a particularly good dispenser of advice, but I can be counted on to listen

Speaking purely for myself – because that’s what this is about – it is both terrifying and an enormous relief to feel like I have now said it to everyone. The way with the blog, of course, is that I’m saying it to everyone and no one, but the second I hit publish on something, regardless of who reads, it’s no longer a secret. Secrets, I have found, are suffocating, and I’m done. (With this one, at least.)

I have said it and hopefully set myself free in the process. I can stop holding my breath, finally.

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I was either going to title my last post “Achievement Unlocked” or “Successful Completion.” I went with the latter because I had the sneaking suspicion I had already used the former title, but was too lazy to verify. (I had not used already used it.)

In any event, about an hour after I hit publish, the doorbell rang because I had a fancy signature-required piece of mail: my MA diploma.

Successful completion. Achievement unlocked.

Finality is strange. Right now, I am definitively “not a student.” It took a lot longer than it should have, but it’s done. In addition to throwing pointless extra money out the window in extension fees, the hyper delayed completion of my thesis also had the consequence of extending my student status. I wasn’t necessarily doing student-things for much of the extension time, but I was enrolled a little longer. I was officially a graduate student for three years.

After I finished undergrad, there was a period of about five months between graduation and my decision to go take the GRE and start applying for graduate schools. I enrolled in Media Bistro’s copy editing certificate program even before I made that decision. I’d estimate that my time off amounted to “the summer” before I found my way back to school.

I have been an officially recognized, enrolled student my entire life and it is surreal to realize that I am not one now. Something that has always been part of my identity suddenly isn’t.

Somewhere in the confused haze of the year between finishing undergrad and starting graduate school, I spent some time as a substitute teacher. (I also started this blog.) I was so awkward and uncomfortable as I walked through the halls of my high school with my teacher badge. On more than one occasion, I was chastised by faculty for being in the halls during my off period because they mistook me for a student. I had a hard time not carrying myself like one.

But now I’m not. I have always wanted to go all the way through and get my PhD, but everything about last year has me questioning that resolve. I was a student on paper for all of 2013, but I accomplished nothing. I think about the desperate crawl to the finish line and I’m not sure I’m capable of continuing.

That thought kills me. If I could say that after all of this I just changed my mind and realized it’s not what I wanted, it would be different. I’m a firm believer in giving yourself the freedom to change your mind. I’m sometimes reticent to share big plans because it feels too much like firm commitment to something that I can’t be sure my future self is still going to want. You don’t always know what future!you is going to want and that’s OK. Stuff changes – that’s life.

But to find myself unable to continue not because I’ve changed my mind, but because I no longer feel capable? That cuts deep. That invites some big, “Who the fuck am I, then?” questions.

Right now I don’t really have answers. Not yet, at least.

What I do know, right now, is that there are a lot of other good things happening. I know that right now I am confused and uncertain about my future. I know that not having answers to big questions about what I want to “do” with my life is a source of genuine anxiety for me. I also know, though, that what I’m doing right now is just fine right now. I’m happy right now.

And for right now I have to learn to let that be enough.

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Successful Completion

There are probably better things that you could do with 50 minutes of your life, but that’s how long YouTube says it will take to watch all 31 of the videos that I uploaded during VEDA.

It’s that time of year again: time to sit around and think about this massive time suck project that I did, which will inevitably be forgotten shortly.

I uploaded one four minute video, but set a two minute limit which I stuck to for the other 30 videos – and that’s including the 7 or 8 seconds of outro. This isn’t the first time that I’ve successfully uploaded a video every day for a month, but it is the first time that I did that without relying on cell phone/tablet/laptop/direct uploads. Meaning: I managed to record and edit 31 videos. Some were better edited than others, of course, but the end result is that I’m actually pleased with most of these videos – which hasn’t always been the case in years past.

And that’s the big takeaway, I suppose, from a month of making videos; time and effort generally pays off. Go figure. I’m also going to recycle that two minute rule in the future. It was incredibly rare that I struggled to keep the videos under that line and even on those days I had to admit that the video was, in the end, better for the cutting.

I am a rambler. I have a recurring problem of talking too long, saying too much, and not knowing when to cut myself off. This becomes incredibly obvious in video form, especially while editing. I assume everyone who vlogs has run into this moment where you want to punch yourself in your own stupid face. Maybe it’s just me. But listening to yourself stumble over the same phrases and choose words poorly is a very instructive experience.

As, of course, is starting a thing and finishing a thing. Starting a thing just because it’ll be fun, for you, and seeing that thing through to the end.

And so, for posterity’s sake – of if you really do have an hour to kill – here are my 31 videos:

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Wine, Pinocchio, and Bonus Content

It’s likely that I will keep talking about my summer overseas at length in the coming months, because that’s a good deal more glamorous than the view from the desk where I’m currently sitting. (A view that includes a stack of thesis books, some encyclopedias nobody has opened in a decade because Google, and a globe. The high life, my friends.)

Lorraine and I went to a wine tasting class that wasn’t so much about learning things as drinking while a funny French guy talked about wine. Still, we came home and recorded all the important things we learned.

This video has been sitting in my queue for a month now, waiting for VEDA to end. I had almost forgotten about it until YouTube was all, “Hey, girl, you uploaded a thing!”

Here is that thing.

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Obsessions & Goodbyes

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On Record

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.


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the view from here

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.

The shittiest of the 10 beds (because if we’re counting that last one, it’s the obvious winner – mostly because the other occupants of my cabin were having an argument in Italian for at least 3 of those hours) was probably the bed in my proper night train from Milan to Paris. Those beds are tiny to begin with but the bottom one is tiniest of all because the armrests from the seat take up at least a third of the bed and you get the singular joy of knowing you’re sleeping where people’s sweaty asses have been all day.

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?

But, of course, I did that – or nearly that – six years ago. We usually had 2-3 days in each city, but those 2-3 days had day-long train travel as bookends. Those bookends were filled with hauling around everything we thought to bring with us for six weeks. This past week I was back in Rome – one of the cities our ambitious backpacker selves did in about a day (we arrived very late on Saturday and left very early on Monday) – and I couldn’t fathom mirroring what our past selves did. The prospect of seeing all the things we saw in just one day now sounds daunting and, quite frankly, unpleasant.


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 list 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, though, 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.

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