Crying Over Spilt Milk

Every time I pour a glass of chocolate milk, I spill some of it over the side.

It doesn’t make a huge mess and ultimately, more milk goes in the glass than on the counter. I just have to wipe up the small puddle of brown liquid and move on with my day. No harm done.

But I keep doing it, every single time I pour a glass of chocolate milk. Without fail, it happens, especially when I’m focusing on the fact that I always spill chocolate milk every time I pour a glass of it.

This reminds me of my writing. (Stay with me here.) Like everyone else who’s tried to construct one choppy sentence from a string of coherent thoughts, I have ticks and bad patterns that creep into my writing when I’m not thinking about them—but even more so when I’m explicitly trying to avoid using them.

I keep writing because I usually like doing it and I’ve learned from experience and proverbs that practice makes perfect (or at least improvement). Sometimes I wonder, though, if like the glass of chocolate milk I sloppily pour nearly every night, I’m just doing it out of habit. Or maybe I do it because I think I’m supposed to, like drinking chocolate milk because it’s a good source of protein. (Okay, yes, now I may be stretching the metaphor.)

Either way, I’m becoming impatient with myself and the words I’m producing. Why can’t I pour the damn glass of milk right? Even more, I’m frustrated with the words I’m not producing, since I barely have time to write a blog a week with all the menial tasks that take up most of my days. I feel trapped in a cycle of mediocrity, when all I want is a sense of self-worth and purpose.

Gag, I know. This is every 20-something’s trite song and probably every journalist’s burden, no matter their age. Even when Rory was still on The CW, she dealt with it.

Rory

At least I’m in good company.

And really, there are many processes that need changing more than my writing does. Fossil fuel consumption, say, or mass incarceration—maybe the way the milk containers are fucking designed—and other pressing matters.

So I’ll stop moaning about how life is so hard at 23. The sentences are only going to get more complicated from here on out. You might as well keep trying to pour the milk.

Why I Don’t Regret Retweeting The Academy’s Genie Post

Two days ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sent out a tweet with an iconic image of Aladdin hugging the genie. Its caption: “Genie, you’re free.”

It was blatantly related to the tragic suicide of Robin Williams, who voiced the quirky genie more than 10 years ago.

The post has since been retweeted 330,000 times and favorited 230,000 times. This was no Ellen Oscar selfie, which received more than 2 million retweets according to The Verge, but it certainly ranks in the most well-known tweets category (if there is such a thing).

Yet after a few hundred thousand retweets, the devil’s advocates showed up. This tweet makes suicide look like an acceptable way to handle problems, they said. You are not “free” when you kill yourself. This is no way to talk to people who have or have had mental illness.

Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps it was penned thoughtlessly, without any consideration of the consequences that might follow or the multiple meanings it could hold. Perhaps the Academy is unaware of the concept of suicide contagion, that when others who have struggled with similar doubts and fears see one of their role models go down a path they’ve been treading slowly, they quicken their pace.

Yet none of these ideas entered my mind when I instantly retweeted that post.

Though I am by no means brilliant, I’m also not ignorant of the challenges that face those who suffer through mental illness. I wrestled with episodes of moderate depression for six months last year. I went to a psychiatrist who recommended an antidepressant. Days on days passed when I would head home from class and sob, or spend hours talking on the phone with my mother about mundane things. Though I’d dealt with difficult situations before, I had never felt so unbelievably sad.

I shed aspects of my personality like scales until I realized that I couldn’t live like that. But I couldn’t die like that either.

I was incredibly lucky that certain components of my life changed, and I was able to somewhat recover from the experience. But I understand what it is like to be buried under layers of doubt and self-pity. You cannot blame my retweet on inexperience.

I’ve also read up on suicide contagion. While studying international relations in college, I took a class on the politics of terrorism and wrote a paper on why increased media coverage of terrorist attacks might lead to more terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. While politically-motivated suicides are a bit different from this case, they follow the same core concept. If an act of desperation has worked for someone else, why not try it yourself? (Note: I beg of you, do not try it yourself.)

And I’ve seen this same kind of viral phenomenon rear its head and then pull back when the naysayers appear. The genie tweet reminds me of Dr. V’s Magical Putter, published on Grantland.com in January. For the first 48 hours after it appeared online, readers commented about the quality of the story and its interesting facts. Eventually, someone pointed out that the subject of the story (spoiler alert), a transgender woman, had killed herself in the course of the author’s reporting and hey, wasn’t this a problem? Whether her death was directly or indirectly related to the author’s actions has been hotly debated, but regardless, it sparked a conversation about how to handle transgender issues in a journalistic context.

This genie tweet, too, has sparked a conversation, with many pointing fingers at the Academy and those who have retweeted the post. Though I see their point, I think they’re adding a layer of meaning that might never have been intended.

To me, this tweet is more of an apology. In Aladdin, the genie was trapped inside his lamp, forced to do the bidding of the less creative people around him. Though it was Robin Williams’ choice to perform comedy and seek out work as an actor, he, too, was trapped in a world where his mind moved much more quickly than those of the people around him. He probably understood the darkest corners of the universe better than most. It’s likely that he used parody to position himself in a false mode of existence, as a person with a face that changed for every film he shot. Separated from the truths he never wanted to confront.

(On a side note, several celebrities whom I consider inspirations have committed suicide, namely David Foster Wallace and Sylvia Plath. I think there must be a correlation between genius and death, as none of these people were able to cope with the sheer hopelessness of the world.)

So what if we, the lesser ones, are Aladdin in this sad story. It is not our fault that Robin Williams was imprisoned in his own mind, and it is too late for us to try to fix it. Our efforts probably would have been futile anyway.

But we can at least apologize to him. Robin, we are sorry that you, who graced our screens with your cackling laugh and kind face, were burdened by so many problems. We regret that we couldn’t improve your world, though you touched so many of ours. We recognize that depression is a heavy weight, and neither a quick tongue nor a sharp wit can truly make that lighter. Though your issues were not our responsibility, we care that you were hurting. We wish we could have freed you yet still kept you alive.

Maybe this was the only way for you to feel free. That doesn’t make it the right way to solve any problem, and that will never make it OK. But I don’t have any preconceptions that killing yourself means you won’t go to heaven. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re waxing eloquent with David and Sylvia right now. And, ever unselfish, you have reminded an entire world of fans to appreciate their own lives and loved ones, at least for a little while.

Thank you for all you have done to make us feel liberated. Now it’s your turn.

Genie, you’re free.

Day 2: The anniversary of America’s first elevated railroad

I spend most of my days sitting.

Whether it’s in a desk chair at work, a straight-backed dining room chair provided by my overpriced apartment complex or a puce-colored leather seat on the metro, it doesn’t matter. I would rather be running.

But on the metro, at least I’m going somewhere. At least I’m moving…toward more sedentary living.

We can thank Charles Harvey and his West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway Company, which built the first elevated railway back on July 2, 1867 along New York City’s Greenwich Street and Ninth Avenue. Now we have at least 15 subway systems in the U.S., and, to be fair, they’re relatively convenient.

When I first moved to the DC area, I was awed by the metro. You didn’t have to drive it, and it could take you nearly anywhere you wanted to go in the city? Sign me up.

In my home state of Michigan, where it takes nearly six hours to drive from the southern border to the upper point at the top of the mitten, public transportation isn’t a concept we residents understand. The closest thing we have to a subway is the “People Mover,” billed as “the best way to discover downtown Detroit.”

In actuality, the best way to discover Detroit would be to declare bankruptcy and start from scratch. Check.

But here in Washington, the economy’s flourishing (unemployment rate of 5.4 percent for the DC metro region) in comparison to Detroit (a whopping 16% were unemployed as of April). People actually want to go out at night. They want to avoid the horrendous Beltway traffic. Companies often provide metro stipends that are comparable to parking prices. The metro makes sense, and those who use it generally give it a favorable rating.

Now. I’ve been riding the metro consistently for a good three years now. I’ve waited 20 minutes for a red line train only to wait another 20 minutes for a green line train because the schedules are horribly aligned. I’ve shaken my head in amazement after hearing that the College Park metro station would be completely closed down on the weekend of graduation. I’ve contemplated walking rather than waiting close to 40 minutes for an orange line train out of downtown because the metro was single tracking ON THE DAY OF THE NIKE WOMEN’S HALF MARATHON. It didn’t matter that 15,000 participants plus their families would be clogging the streets, let alone the subway tunnels. No sirree, track work had to be done that day.

Basically, I’ve reached that ripe old age where I want some more control in my life. I no longer have any desire to sit there and listen to the metro conductor tell me that the train will be holding because of scheduled maintenance. Instead, I want to sit in my red Honda Civic — with the digital speedometer that is so much easier to see than the standard one; the piles of old Michigan maps stuffed into the seat pocket that date back to family road trips; the chipped paint on the front bumper from the time I hit the back of a van trying to pull into a tiny parking space a week after I’d gotten my license; the jagged chunk missing from the back bumper where my mom backed into our own trash can; the mix CD Daniel Gallen gave me as a secret santa gift last year that remains the only CD I actually listen to anymore.

I’m done with red line, blue line, green line generalizations. I want my colorful, personal identity back.

Day 1: Princess Diana’s Birthday

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” –Carl Jung

Today, we are at the halfway point.

We have reached July 1 — the median of the calendar year, the forgotten middle child, that place in the center of your back with the persistent itch you can’t ever reach, reminding you that there are some things you will never be able to achieve.

Six months have gone by since I popped champagne bottles and threw confetti above my head and watched the sparkling ball drop in Times Square from a small Chicago apartment that I’d never seen before. In my idealized pseudo-memory, this is what we did. In actuality, I don’t even remember the moment the grandfather clock of time switched over from 2012 to 2013. It wasn’t because I was tipsy. We had simply forgotten that we were celebrating something. We had moved on to eating and joking and laughing because this is what you did at midnight on a day when you could do anything.

I do remember Princess Diana dying or, at least, hearing about her death and the many controversies that surrounded it. It’s a strange event to remember — of all the moments that have happened in my life, why this seemingly meaningless one? It certainly wasn’t formative, but it did happen the year I turned five — the time when I was one of the most naive, innocent, enthusiastic, passionate people to have lived in Milford, Michigan.

It was around this time that I came home from kindergarten after maybe a month in school and told my mom, “I don’t have time to do what I want to do.” We’d attended an assembly on fire safety that day. I’d been teased as usual on the bus ride home by Tess (a more loathsome name never existed), who could not understand why I would rather read than…than what? I have no idea what she did with her spare time, but it was not what I did.

Or maybe it was. As much time as I spent reading Little Women and the Little House series, I probably spent playing with Barbies. Barbies were magical creatures. Not because of their proportions or their hair (though there was one fairly awesome one who had blue-, pink- and purple-striped hair down past her waist), but because of their potential. They had 10,000 different outfits and therefore, 10,000 different possible adventures to embark on. One day, I could be Esmeralda, living in a tent made of foreign silks and whirling around the fire with the other gypsies, while the next I could spend the day playing ’50s mom and baking cookies. Everything was fun. Everything was shiny. And anything could happen.

Princess Diana was a real-life Barbie. She had wealth beyond imagination, fame without effort and the opportunity to do anything she wanted regardless of time or place. The world watched her get married, have children and become involved with at least 100 charities as the smiling, gracious face of Wales. She literally had the world at her feet. And then she didn’t.

Her death was tragic, partly because of her age (36), partly because of her role as a public figure, partly because of the circumstances and partly because death is inherently tragic. The gossip mills churned quickly this morning as speculation swirled about whether the pregnant Kate Middleton, Diana’s would-be daughter-in-law, would give birth today, which would have given the newest member of the royal family a strange bond with his/her grandmother.

Yet Diana wasn’t Barbie. She had plenty of flaws, and conspiracy theories — about both her divorce and her death — have drifted in and out of conversation for years. She wasn’t even that inspiring; outside of her ventures into philanthropy, she was simply a woman with lucky genetics. Or maybe not so lucky, as it turns out.

Diana would have turned 52 today were she still alive. This day should have been around the halfway point in her life; instead all her possibilities were cut short. Does it matter? Yes. Does it matter in the grand scheme of things? Probably not, especially because of the legacy she left behind. For example, a British newspaper called The Independent led with this graf in Diana’s obituary:

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 11.32.56 PM

And, from Arianna Huffington on Twitter:

 

Diana was a figurehead without substance. She was the person the public loved but didn’t know. She was sunny but humid. She was July 1.

It was a day

, a day of doubts and yawns and things put into slots of time from 8:45 a.m. to 11:20 p.m. It was a long day, and I’m blinking too much now, and my bangs are stuck together, and that aching feeling of weariness is hanging behind my eyes. I had a midterm and three classes and three hours of work and two hours of sorting through scholarships and deciding who deserved to get $500 or $100 or none at all when all of them deserved something for just making it here. I made mistakes and remembered that I’d forgotten to do stupid little things that normally come as easily as putting on my rings in the morning–the one with a blue and a green Swarovski crystal I bought for 5 euros from an old man selling them on a table in the street in Rome, the one with an orange stone that I place on top of the first one to make a triangle of crystals, the silver one that looks like a wedding band but twists at the back and says, “Nothing is impossible.” I can’t not wear them, just like I can’t not call to confirm prices of a theater show since the figures I found aren’t from the official website. It would be stupid to assume they’re right without verifying. But I was stupid. In other news, the prices were also right. 

But I digress. All of these, these stupid, ridiculous minor details that made me angry at myself and tired of this long, long day, went away when I did three hours of interviews with two different groups. I have my doubts about being a journalist all the time, and I’m sure I’ll have those same doubts when I go to write these two pieces, especially since I always feel pressure to live up to the calibre of the people I’m writing about. But for now, I’m content. There are people who find ways to have fun and be weird and strange and unpredictable in completely different ways. But the fact that they’re out there doing it makes me happy. Is it odd that it makes me happy even when I’m not involved? Especially because I crave — more than anything in the world — some group of people who make me feel safe and comfortable and loved? It should make me jealous. I’m not jealous. I’m incredulous — at the talent that is out there, at the love between people and between them and their craft, at the things that happen every day that go unnoticed to so many people. That’s why I write — to try and express some semblance of the life that pulses around us. I have said and wrote that many times and still, it boggles my mind that there is so much out there. Because in the end, it was just a day. There will be another one and another one and another one. All different, but all days.

The Post-Europe Jetlag

So I didn’t lose my bags. I didn’t get lost (okay, so I guess you can qualify wandering through the streets of Venice not knowing how to get back to your hotel lost, but I got there eventually). My four bottles of wine, balsamic vinegar and olive oil made it back to the States intact. I climbed Mount Vesuvius. I walked the halls of the Vatican, gazing at frescoes by Raphael and the Michelangelo’s gargantuan figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I tried wild boar, hare and chicken liver as part of a “Renaissance feast” (I’m an adventurous eater, and I still get nauseous thinking about that dinner). I ate 10 servings of gelato, all delicious. I wore fleece-lined leggings under my jeans, two heavy coats and three pairs of socks in Venice during some of the coldest days I have ever experienced. I visited five different sites of ruins, marveling at the leftover mosaic floors and elaborate painted walls of the Greeks and Romans. I threw a coin into the Trevi fountain, hoping against all odds that I would return someday and bring family and friends with me. I spent hours in a little Florentine bookstore because I’m the type of person who needs the printed word nearby, even on another continent. I climbed St. Peter’s and the Duomo and looked out over the two most beautiful cities I have ever seen. I took showers in bathrooms where there were simply hot and cold knobs on the wall next to the toilet (needless to say, the floor was soaked). I bought scarves in an outdoor market. I bought cheese and wine for a third of the cost that it would be at home. I ate the best pizza in possibly the entire world, or at least in Naples (mushrooms, basil, oregano, garlic and the most delicious tomato sauce). I gazed at the tombs of saints and popes and the holy door and the original doors of the Roman Forum and the only statue Michelangelo ever signed and an alleged piece of Noah’s ark. I walked through palatial gardens and admired 18th-century dresses and watched three men mold a scorpion out of glass at the famous Murano glass factory. I took pictures. Too many pictures. I ate loaves of bread for lunch and five-course meals in the late hours of the night. I grew skinnier and more muscular. I grew accustomed to a watch instead of a cell phone. I grew more cultured and worldly along the way. It was wonderful, and I miss it more than I thought I would. Four days after coming home, I’m still waking up hours before I normally would. I can’t seem to get my mind to accept that I’m back here with my best friends instead of the 19 other students who became my European family. I can’t seem to go back to a schedule where gelato isn’t a daily break and laptops are the norm. I still feel like an alien in my dorm room, in my boyfriend’s apartment, in the places I always thought I would recognize as home. There’s something missing here. Maybe it’s the nutella-filled croissants. More likely, it’s the mountains that draped themselves against the sky or the marble remains that were haphazardly scattered all over Rome. Whatever it is, I hope I forget about it. That’s the only way to re-enter this American world, where productivity reigns king and concrete serves as the backdrop instead of mountains. Sigh. Even though Italy is in even more of a precarious situation financially than we are, I think we could learn something from it. As to what that is exactly, I don’t quite know. Maybe a lifestyle. Maybe a state of mind. Maybe just an essence that is indescribable. Whatever it is, I hope I forget about it.

Rome: A gelato a day means the doctor will stay

Ah, Roma. I’m in love with this city. Minus the incessant street carts of identical souvenirs, men shoving roses in your face to try to get you to buy them, Roman soldiers offering pictures for a price, etc. (In summary, much more tourist-y than I thought it’d be). Aside from that, Rome wins hands down. Every street is old and beautiful, with either a courtyard containing an elaborate fountain or a church on the corner of the street, guaranteed. Ancient ruins and monuments are built into the modern city, and life goes on around them like they’re not a big deal. Even the Vatican isn’t spatially removed from the rest of Rome. I wonder if Italians realize the history that floats through the air around them every day. America has absolutely nothing in comparison.

We’ve been almost everywhere so far, except the Colosseum – strange because our hotel is a block from it. We’ve walked past it, but we haven’t gone through the short guided tour by one of the students in our group (everyone is assigned a monument and has to tell the rest of the group about it). We have, however, gone to the Pantheon, St. Peter’s (all the way to the balcony outside the top of the dome), the Trevy Fountain (picture of me and a few other girls flipping coins into it to follow, of course), the Spanish Steps, the Vatican (including the Sistine Chapel, also a given), tens of ornately beautiful churches and much more. Tomorrow, we head to the UN to discuss global agriculture, and an Italian journalist is coming to talk about her job! I’m so excited, especially since I get to give my presentation on the history of the Italian press before she arrives, which will be far less nerve-racking.

Today was also the first day we could do whatever we wanted for dinner instead of going out with the group. Eight of us went with our professor and TA to a nearby restaurant. I split a bottle of red wine with three people, an avocado, mango, corn and lettuce salad with one other person and savored a gnocchi/tomato/mozzarella casserole myself. Soooooo delicious. This is why I came to Italy. That and all the other things I’ve mentioned. I did realize I’ve been spending money like it’s simply paper, though. Wine, souvenirs, laundry, gelato (one per day in Rome and one each in the other places we’ve been), it adds up. I’m going to try to save my pennies from now on. Wish me luck.

Stabia: The Land of Vino and Walking. Lots of Walking

Buonasera from Stabia, a suburb of Naples or Napoli as they call it here in Italia. We’ve since trekked up the coast from Ascea, leaving our small-town exploits and beloved Anapaola and Gino (the owners of the hotel) behind. Now that we’re here, we recognize how wonderful our stay in Ascea really was — three-course meals, big rooms, decent showers. Here in Stabia, our lunches consist mostly of sandwiches with inedible meat and peach juiceboxes (always a peach juicebox, strange accessory to have in a lunch), our rooms are tiny and our showers are even tinier. Literally a square box maybe a foot on each side. The WiFi is incredibly slow and only available in the lobby area, and the hallways and rooms are kept at a chilly 30 degrees. I’m exaggerating, but it certainly feels like that. I curled up pressed against the heater in the hallway last night when I needed to do some reading, and my roommate was sleeping. I sound so spoiled, but I have been; I didn’t appreciate the treatment we got at the small hotel in Ascea and regret it profusely.

Stabia itself is grimy and supposedly crime-infested. Our hotel sits on top of a hill with hairpin turns where the cars literally have to back up in order to get around them. Yet the winding cobblestoned alleys have a peculiar charm to them; despite the cigarettes squished into the cracks between the rocks, the people walking the streets have character. Every corner seems to be a prime picture and every sound ripe for an audio clip (yes, my journalist sense is still coming out, even here). I wish I could record smells because there would be plenty enough for a whole scrapbook, too.

The surrounding areas boast plenty of well-preserved ruins, and we’ve visited three sites in the past two days. One was a beautiful villa, the second a fairly well-preserved town smothered by Vesuvius and the third, the famous Pompeii. My favorite parts were the floors, made up of colorful tiled patterns and then the walls, also brightly colored and elaborate. It’s incredible that so much was kept intact after the horrific explosion. It was obviously easiest to picture Pompeii as a functional town because less is left to the imagination, but I was not as impressed by the city as I thought I’d be. Granted, it had been the third similar-looking town I’d seen within a week so I feel like the allure of the past is starting to fade from the sites, at least from my perspective. There were parts of it that were fascinating, like the bakery and laundry facilities we found, and the fact that we got to explore a bunch of sites that were closed off to the rest of the public, because our professor has connections. But Pompeii was also massive. We spent five hours walking around, and some sites we did in a hurry. There are only so many Roman houses you can see before you can identify every characteristic by name, especially since almost all of them have the same elements — an impluvium (which catches rainwater and pipes it outside), a peristyle (courtyard), an atrium, a vestibule, cubicula (one-bed bedrooms), at least one tablinum (a room where an owner would conduct business) and triclinia (dining rooms). Cool, but it just gets old after a while.

Tonight, a few of us went exploring and found some decently priced wine. We drank a few glasses (small and plastic, the opposite of wine glasses) and played this game we’re now calling telephone pictionary. Each person gets a pile of paper and writes a sentence on the first sheet. They then pass it to the next person and look at the pile that has just been passed to them where they have to read this new sentence, pass the paper to the back of the pile and draw whatever the sentence said. You then pass it on, look at the picture that has just been passed it to you, place that paper in the back of the pile and then write a sentence describing whatever picture you just saw. And on and on until you end up with your own sentence. Then you share your progression of events with the rest of the group. It’s addictively fun, even for me, and I hate pictionary normally. In this game, the point is kind of to see how ridiculous the sentence ends up though, so accuracy isn’t as prized. It was so nice to just chill out and laugh after a long day of walking. More walking tomorrow, but on flatter ground at the archaeological museum of Naples. Tired but happy.

Ascea: Buon Anno! (banana)

We’ve been in the beautiful coastal town of Ascea for two days now. Been too tired or too busy to post before now. We got a late start once we landed in Rome since one of the planes taking half the group had realized autopilot wasn’t working, turned around, landed, fixed it and then flew to Rome…four hours later than the scheduled time. That meant the rest of us had to sit there and wait for them in the airport on 0-2 hours of sleep. Figures that although my luggage and I arrived safely and promptly (my main concern), major problems still got in the way. Oh, well.

Ascea looks like a movie set, like someone created it specifically to fit stereotypical perceptions. Three-story houses line the street, with laundry strung across the porches to dry in the wind. Light-up holiday decorations hang from a wire between houses at every cross street. If you turn right down an alley off the main road and walk about two minutes, you run into beach, cobbled with wave-washed rocks. At the end jagged cliffs and rocks are too tempting not to climb. Mountains tower up into the sky, their subtle shades like painted brush strokes against a clear sky. It’s paradise.

It’s the offseason so there’s not very many people, but the ones who are here stare at us like we’ve trespassed on their property. Granted, we are the epitome of annoying American tourists, walking around in a huge group speaking horrible Italian and taking pictures of everything we see, twice. I never wanted to be that kind of traveler, but there’s not much we can do to avoid it.

We’re not in town much anyway. Yesterday, we took a 10-mile hike up the mountains and then explored the beachfront cliffs. Years ago, residents built two tunnels through the mountains for the railroad, but they were too unstable and parts kept collapsing. Now, they just lead to rock-strewn grottoes made up of treacherous rocks stacked uneasily on top of each other. When I walked through the tunnels, they were so dark I couldn’t see the people next to me. Yet I realized why the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” is so accurate, as the sunlight streaming into the end was always the relieving force that brought us out into the open again.

We celebrated New Year’s at a bar owned by the same adorable family that runs our hotel. There were drinks (drinking age is 16 here), food and music, and we all loosened up and had a good time. Fireworks erupted over our heads, and firecrackers deafened our hearing, continuing long into the early hours of the morning. Despite the fact that I’m missing a friend’s annual party, it was one of the best celebrations I’ve had.

Today, we visited the ancient city of Velia, originally founded by the Greeks and then settled by the Romans. The foundations of buildings and even the tile floors of the baths still stand along with impressive arches, a castle and a 12th century church. The ancient roads, made up of uneven stones and sloping up at ridiculous angles, aren’t in the best condition, but nobody injured themselves despite some close falls. The trip back got even more exciting, when our professor decided to literally take the path less traveled and attempt to go down the other side of the mountain we’d hiked up. We eventually found our way with side effects of scratches due to thorns and aching joints.

Although we were only there for the morning, we’re all incredibly sore, probably from yesterday’s trek compounded with today’s hilly terrain. The mile count is at 19 now, and it’s only day 2. Hopefully, my muscles stop yelling at me soon. Off to read a guide book in preparation for a visit to another archaeological site. Before that though is our trip to a farm, where we can milk cows, eat sustainable food and cuddle with puppies (hopefully; they were there last year apparently). For now, I say Buon Anno! (New Year) even though we all think it sounds more like “banana” than good tidings.

Travel Blog Post #1 – The Agony and the Ecstasy

Tomorrow, I fly to Italy. In a way, I still can’t believe I’m typing those words. Each of them holds so much significance in their own way, a tiny molecule that contains both fear and desire in a few lines of font.

Tomorrow, for instance. As in barely any time left to finish all my required reading, prepare my presentation(s, gulp) for the honors seminar I take as part of the trip, pack clothes that will be appropriate for 30 degree and 50 degree weather, apply for internships and scholarships that are due in the month while I’m gone, etc., etc. Luckily, I don’t have the time to freak out or else that would be the main item on the agenda. Traveling to Europe for three and a half weeks takes more effort and time to prepare for than I ever would have thought.

Yet, at the same time, I can’t wait for tomorrow. I’ve wanted to go to Europe since I was five, when my mom decided to homeschool me because I said (and I quote since the story’s been told a thousand times) I didn’t “have time to do what I wanted to do.” She let me choose what I wanted to learn about, and European geography and culture were first on the list. I read everything I could find about this place that seemed so far away and so much more sophisticated than America. And now, I get to find out whether all I thought was true, or if every new thing you encounter really is better when you’re five.

I. That’s a big one. I’ve had friends who have traveled to Italy, but mostly with their families and the guise of tourists to shield them from having to actually learn Italian and interact with the locals. Not only do I not have the wisdom of my parents to guide me, but I also know none of the other students on this trip. Apparently, it’s common to plan to study abroad with your friends. Really? What’s the fun in that? Okay, I take that back. Obviously, taking your best friend with you to Italy for a month would be the epitome of awesome. But it also doesn’t take you out of your comfort zone. You’re stuck to that person. I want to choose to follow my nose to the best smells, stalls, monuments, streets, islands that I can find, even if they may be the opposite of mainstream. I want to experience Italia, not just Italy.

Fly. That shouldn’t be that significant. For the past year and a half, I’ve spent more time in airports than watching TV, as my permanent address is 10 hours by car from the University of Maryland. I can probably recite the flight attendants’ speeches by now. And I like planes. They get you where you want to go relatively quickly, and they introduce you to all sorts of people that you might never have met otherwise. But flying to Europe is a whole different story. It requires passport numbers and way-too-early arrival at the airport and flight changes that could mean losing my luggage or getting lost on a different continent if I happen to miss my connection. Though my profesor has given directions to get to our first destination if we’re delayed, I would much rather sleep on a bus than have to navigate my way to an obscure island via train. If I had one wish, it would be that all goes well in that department. Please, God.

To. As in the opposite of from. I’m going to have fun. I’m going to explore. I’m going to make the most out of everything that happens. All this potential is just sitting there, waiting for time to pass so I can experience all of it.  It’s very easy to say and think all of that right now, before I discover what Italy and my fellow students and trying to get by with the 20 words of Italian I remember right now, is truly like. I can be optimistic now, but if I end up missing my flight or losing luggage or pick pocketed or all the thousands of things that could go wrong, my mood will be falling quickly from excited to LIAM-NEESON-GET-ME-OUT-OF-THIS-BROTHEL (See Taken if you haven’t, brilliant action movie).

And finally, Italy. Although I always thought I would go to France first since I’m minoring in it, Italy was probably second on the list. After all, it’s the land that brought pizza, pasta and gelato to this world, which are really the only food groups necessary. It’s the land of the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel, these works of art that are held up as achievements beyond all other and tokens of the extensive history that still floats in the alleys of Rome. It’s the land of Venetian glass and the gondolas that can take you on the ultimate romantic voyage, gliding down the canals of the “Floating City” with no idea where you’ll end up. I’m fairly certain Italy cannot get old (because it already is, hehe).

Yet it can be inconvenient. The converters for electronics, the euros that are worth more than the dollar, the six-hour time difference, the insane costs of communicating internationally by phone and of course, the language barrier, have so much potential to cause problems. I will try to look at these drawbacks in a positive way: The experience won’t be as fulfilling and incredibly awe-inspiring without the extra work needed to circumvent these issues. Right? Right. Right…

Together, the words, Tomorow-I-fly-to-Italy, make up the web of emotions building up in my brain at the moment. After 4 p.m., some of my fears might be alleviated, or they might be realized. I’ll have to wait longer to discover if the desire to witness the architecture, economics, geography and more of proud Italia continues to glow brightly. But maybe waiting is exactly what I need.