Tag Archives: life

Reflections of a Global Nomad: A Decade, From the Beginning Til Now

I intended to give myself a break from work today. No writing, no researching acting gigs, no scouring the Internet for animal opportunities. But I’m not very good at doing nothing. So I started cleaning.

While sweeping, the broom brushed out a rolled up scratch off map my sister and brother-in-law had given me for Christmas. I’d been putting off hanging the map on my wall because I wanted to be reflective during the time I spent scratching off the countries I’ve visited, the cultures I’ve experienced.

Today, I made time for that. And then, naturally, it inspired me to write so here I am at 9 AM on a rare day off that turned into not a day off because, well, I’m writing.

Writing is like an extension of my being. It’s hard-wired into my soul. I was born a writer; I can’t not write.

And just like writing, I’m a born traveler. The world is literally my stage (and I am literally a vagabond actress gallivanting across it, collecting parasites and scars and countless memories).

My first taste of international travel slammed into my heart 10 years ago when, college freshman year, I went with my roommate and a handful of girls from our floor to her home country in the Dominican Republic.

That original passport has since expired, but I was quick to renew it six months prior to the expiration date. I had no set travel plans, but when you’re a nomad at heart–well, you never know.

Today, I continued researching flights for my next international excursion, and I couldn’t help looking at Panama on my map anticipating using a penny to scratch it off. One of my flight options routes me through a layover in El Salvador, and I thought, okay, so I stay a little longer and see El Salvador.

But I don’t want to just see a country. I don’t want to just visit. I want to immerse myself. I want to jump head first into the unknown. I want to get lost and trust my gut and the kindness of strangers to help me find my way. I want to eat foreign foods and struggle to explain veganism to a waiter that can’t fathom it. I want to sleep on lumpy beds fending off cockroaches and humidity that make me toss and turn. I want to hitch hike and swim in new waters. I want to hear laughter and see smiles in a land that is so different from my own, full of people that are simultaneously unique and just the same as me.

As the years have passed and turning 30 looms closer, I had this little checklist in my brain, pushing me to hit 30 countries before I’m 30, so that I could feel like I knew a good chunk of this world. But I’ve stopped counting countries.

When I look at a map and see the big countries I’ve embraced, like Brazil, and then itty bitty ants of a country, like Luxembourg, they are of equal significance to me.

When I scratched off Brazil on my map, I remembered my first trip to the Amazon, something I’d dreamed of since childhood. I could see the faces of the children who helped me build their school. I pictured Bruno’s smile as he stole my bright green hat and taught me “Happy Birthday” in Portuguese, which I still sing a decade later. I felt how sore my muscles got mixing cement by hand in 100+ degree heat.

When I scratched off Luxembourg on my map, I remembered getting caught in a rainstorm and taking refuge in an old museum with a new friend I’d made from Australia. I could see the blood moon hovering over the capital city, brighter than I’ve ever seen it before. I remembered turning down an alley and running into a Serbian I’d met in Germany.

As I scratched off each country, my brain was flooded with memories–the good outweighing the bad, and the bad being mere life experiences that I learned from and laughed at–getting robbed in Ecuador, getting stalked in Canada, getting locked out on a third story terrace in Peru. (Oops, didn’t tell my dad about all of those…)

Scratching off my vagabond adventures, my gypsy life, my nomadic wanderings, I reflected on how many lifelong friends I’ve made all across the globe.

I notice the scars on my legs. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach with my inaugural adventure alone in a foreign land. I taste the salty tears dripping into my mouth the first time I set off with a beginning and end but no middle. I see the teenager I was and the woman I’ve become.

And I’m so damn proud of that woman.

She is the woman I’ve always wanted to be but needed to find the courage to become. She is someone who knows herself better than she ever thought she could, who believes in herself, who will try and fail and consider that succeeding. She is someone who knows how to plan and how to be spontaneous, who never stops dreaming and doing and dreaming and doing. She is the type of person who values face to face conversations and snail mail and nostalgia and blasts from the past and out of the blue honesty. She is the woman who loves humanity and this earth and will always do her best to spread love and happiness and the greater good.

Travel made me that woman, the woman I am today.

Looking up at my scratch off map now hanging above my bed, I am humbled. I’ve worked hard to experience so much of this world, yet this map reminds that I’ve still so much to experience. I’ve still so much to do, to learn, to see, to live.

So I’ve stopped counting countries, because I’m the kind of woman who chases meaningful experiences over fleeting moments, who values time over money, and who knows that no matter how small this world sometimes seems, it really is a great big world out there.

On Unrequited Love: The Art of Break-Ups From the Mouth of a Dumpee

When I commit–to anything–I give it my everything. I will nurture a relationship even as it is being dragged under, spluttering, drowning. I will throw it a life raft time and again, resuscitating it even when I can feel, deep down, that the river is going to win.

When I fall, I fall hard. My heart is an urn, filling with memories. And when it’s knocked down, each beat shatters the ceramic further, fissures growing into chasms until my storage of recollections explodes painfully before me.

I consider myself a strong, confident and independent woman. And while I’m proud to maintain my independence in a relationship, I still crumble in love. But when you give of yourself entirely to something, someone…how can you not?

I am two for three when it comes to unrequited love. I have an excellent track record of being the one who gets dumped in a relationship. And it has been over a decade since a man told me he loved me.

For so long, this had me questioning: Am I unlovable?

One of my first relationships saw an incredibly painful break-up. A few months after we started dating, I told him I loved him. But, notorious for my bad timing, I sobbed it to him to clarify a misunderstanding–that misunderstanding being why I was acting so weird.

I shouted, truthfully: “It’s because I’m in love with you!”

I wasn’t even in love with me at that moment, but I didn’t anticipate having to spend the next year holding back my feelings.

In whispers, I repeated my profession of love to him only three more times in our relationship. “You know I love you, right?” I once said. “I know,” he responded.

He knew.

And I knew.

You can’t force love.

And you can’t wait forever.

When I called him over one evening to talk, seeing our relationship disintegrate before my eyes, fearing its demise, the night ended with me punching my concrete wall repeatedly. I wanted to break something to counter my breaking heart. But the wall wouldn’t break.

We were both crying, but he was the only one who could see any practicality at that point, that our tears were only sucking us dry. He said I was amazing and beautiful, but we were just too different.

“Tell me it will be okay,” I pleaded.

And he did. He grabbed my shoulders and told me I would get through this, that I would be okay. And then he stood to leave.

But it was past midnight. I wasn’t ready to be alone with myself in a cramped apartment with a wall that wouldn’t break. I wasn’t ready to be alone with the memories of us and the hurt of that night that overshadowed any promise of tomorrow. So I ran.

I sprinted barefoot in forty degree weather down the street in my sketchy neighborhood. I ran from my pain and the puddles of my tears. I ran from the truth and I ran from him.

But he followed me. Goddammit, he wouldn’t let me run.

He walked me back to my apartment and made me promise to stay inside. And because I could see I was hurting him, I promised. I don’t break my promises.

I am an emotional, sensitive and empathetic person, but my pain blinded me to his.

I fight endlessly for my relationships because I believe so strongly in change, compromise, communication and second chances. But I’ve realized another reason I hang on so tightly.

I know heartbreak. I have felt it so deeply that it creates a hole in my chest. It has consumed me so much that I forget to take care of myself. Break-ups are a part of life. And though I always come out stronger, I would never wish heartache upon anyone.

Because of this, I would rather have my heart broken than break someone else’s.

But pain can make us selfish. Yes, the experience of heartbreak is unique for everyone but it is not unique to everyone.

I assumed that when I closed my door and he got in his car for the long drive home, his tears had stopped coming. I assumed that while I was wailing, he was watching the stars through his window, relieved. I assumed that when I dialed my friend to tell her I needed her, he was thinking of what time he had to get up in the morning for work.

Because he never loved me. So how could he be hurting just the same?

While I never fully knew the journey he went through to heal, or how long it took him to get over me, I do know his tears didn’t stop just then.

We didn’t talk much after that night. I try to be friends with my exes; it doesn’t always work out. But he did send a message a few days later to make sure I was okay, in the same breath admitting that he was still crying.

He’ll never know how that one message helped me, not just then, but in future relationships. I’ve never understood why a man doesn’t see that I’m worth fighting for, but at least I know that I am not unlovable. He didn’t love me in the same way I loved him, but he sure as hell cared about me.

Wherever he is, I hope he has found someone worth fighting for.

And one day, I’ll find someone who wants to fight for me.

**Please Note: Some changes have been made in courtesy of anonymity.

I Like My Men Emotional

My dad was the first man I ever saw cry. The second was my grandpa.

I was in fourth grade when the priest at our church passed away. That was the first time I experienced death, and the first time I saw tears slip down my father’s cheeks. In future years, I would see him cry at funerals, when we buried our guinea pigs in the backyard, and when we held our dog as he slipped over the Rainbow Bridge. Later, I would see him cry out of pride–when he walked my sister down the aisle on her wedding day, when he told his three daughters how proud he was of our independence.

father daughter

I was in eighth grade when I saw my grandpa cry for the first and only time in my life. My grandma had just passed away. Grandpa and I were standing on his porch, looking out at the street. We were both quiet, processing the hard truth of saying goodbye. Then out of nowhere he started bawling.

At thirteen years old, I was somewhat taken aback. Women, I was used to seeing cry like this. But what do you do when you are the sole witness to the painful tears of someone who society paints as a pillar of protection and strength? What do you do when you’re young and naive and still not quite sure about this thing they call life?

My grandpa opened up to me in that moment more than he would ever open up to me in the sixteen years that I knew him. “I don’t know what to do,” he told me. “I just loved her so much.”

father daughter

With those two sentences, he unlocked the door to his heart, sharing with me his deepest fear. He made himself vulnerable. And it made me love him more than I thought I could.

A girl standing next to a grown man sobbing, I didn’t know if there was a right or wrong thing to do, so I just hugged him and cried, too.

We live in a world of stereotypes. Men are supposed to be stoic; women are supposed to be emotional. Men are the strong ones; women are the weak ones.

At least that’s what we’ve always been told.

But females are paving a way for ourselves. We are shattering glass ceilings, we are dissolving stereotypes, we are striving for equality. And many men are right there with us in solidarity. Yet much of our fighting is to have the same rights as men.

What about the men in the world? Who is fighting for them to have the same rights as women?

I like my men emotional.

It has taken me 28 years to truly accept that my emotions are not a curse. Twenty-eight years, and I, a woman, finally see that emotions take off my blinders to the world, that they give me empathy and compassion.

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 7.54.04 PM

When I am sitting on my friend’s couch sobbing because my heart is broken into a thousand pieces, when I am screaming into my best friend’s pillow because I can’t process today let alone tomorrow, when I am a blubbery mess relaying my insecurities over a phone line, when I am blotchy and tear-stained and at my absolute ugliest… I am at my most vulnerable.

Allowing myself to be this way, to ask for help and let others see me in pain, is one of the strongest things I will ever do.

And when a man cries on my shoulder, be it out of joy or anguish, whether friend, family or partner, he is, in that moment, the most beautiful man I know. He is honest, unadulterated and incredibly human. He carries the strength of a hundred men.

I have listened to the sobs of my friend’s brother as he eulogized his father. I have mingled my tears with my best friend’s as we held each other and processed a suicide. I have watched a man swipe a finger under his eye as he married the woman of his dreams, and then later when he held their child in his arms. I have seen tears glisten in the sun as men relayed their survival stories following Hurricane Joaquin. I have shaken strangers’ hands after they told me that my performance on-stage made them well up. I have hugged crying men as I packed up my bags and moved on to my next adventure and others who have cried upon my surprise return. I have heard the wails of dozens of males as they watched their beloved pet take one last breath. I have held an ex’s hand with one of my own and collected his tears with my other as he cried and broke my heart.

And I know that if these are the faces of the next generation of patriarchs, then the future is bright.

Why I Stopped Eating Animals

The first eighteen years of my life, I was not a rebellious child. I had no curfew because I couldn’t stay up past 9:30 PM. I was allowed to be unsupervised with friends because my father had witnessed the tween drama that ensued when I accidentally sipped Mike’s Hard Lemonade and subsequently thought I was dying. I was permitted to hang out one-on-one with males because my best friend growing up was a boy and, when I had my first kiss as a senior in high school, I told my parents about it.

kids and toilet paper
Here I am in the height of my rebellion as a child.

I was the spitting image of a good Catholic school girl, except that I went to public school in my later years and also made far worse fashion choices.

But I rebelled when I went to college. I cut loose from the throngs of societal propaganda. I started making my own decisions. I still went to church. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I never pulled an all-nighter.

I rebelled in a weird and unorthodox way: I stopped eating meat.

Growing up, I gravitated toward animals, forever knowing that my career path would revolve around them. I pet stray cats and lured lost dogs onto our doorstep so we could find the owner. I threw back any fish I caught in the summer, smiling as it swam away. I saved earthworms from the sidewalk on rainy days while I waited at the bus stop. I cried when we boiled crabs on family vacation because I thought the bubbling was them screaming.

kid and pony
Though these photos suggest I was an accomplished cowgirl from a young age… they lie.

But like most children, it took me all of my childhood to understand the association between the meat on my plate and my barnyard friends.

It was my dad who inadvertently gave me an inkling that hamburgers were once a living being. He always checked to make sure his burger wasn’t pink or bloody. He wanted it well done.

Blood? I thought. Why would a hamburger be bloody?

highland cows
I wouldn’t leave Scotland until I tracked down Highland cows.

When I first began connecting the dots and voicing my disgust at the meat casserole on the dinner table, I was informed that I needed protein, and that my only option was to make my own non-meat protein-filled dinner.

I was a busy child, spending my evenings and weekends in sports, after-school clubs or piano lessons. I grew up when the Internet was coming into its own, before Google was the go-to encyclopedia. I didn’t have time to make my own meal (still not sure how Mom managed it in her schedule). I didn’t yet understand that every opinion should be warranted, educated and informed.

baby goat
This is Dash. I nursed him from a baby and watched him learn to walk and then run and head butt. He made me fall in love with goats.

While I have since debunked the meat industry myth that a big fat steak is required for proper nourishment, I probably would have stuck to tater tots and ice cream if I had to make my own dinner growing up. So instead I hid pieces of hamburger pie in my napkin and naively continued eating chicken without batting an eyelash because birds are not mammals so surely there is something different going on there. Surely.

Red meat was easy to cut out because I related it so easily to animals. I became nauseous when bacon fumes wafted under my nose as I couldn’t help picturing a pig’s face. (Pigs are some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.) Soon I began to recognize that chickens have feelings, too.

Then I read Temple Grandin’s Animal Behavior by candlelight lying in a monkey-poo-stained hammock in a bamboo hut while saving animals in the Amazon. And I knew I had to do this commitment thing for real.

amazon bird
I spent a summer living and working in primitive conditions at a wildlife rescue center in Ecuador.

Initially, I was a pescatarian, informed only about the inhumane treatment of the meat industry. I committed to eating meat only if I killed the animal myself. I couldn’t. I can’t. So I don’t.

When I took a marine biology class and learned that overfishing is the number one problem plaguing the oceans, I stopped consuming commercial seafood cold turkey. I said I would only eat marine life if I sustainably caught and cleaned the fish myself.

And then I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t look a fish in the eye and say, “I need to eat you. I need you to survive.”

deer fawns
I also spent 6 months in the Texas Hill Country working in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, aka being a deer mommy and revisiting the wannabe-cowgirl phase of my youth.

I do realize that, yes, it is a privilege to be able to choose not to eat animals. And I do realize that, yes, some animals are overpopulated or invasive, and hunting them is considered a part of population control.

But until I am put in a situation in which my survival depends upon eating another living, breathing being, I am dedicated to this decision, my conscientious choice, to not eat animals.

So when you poke fun at me for not eating meat, when you wave a burger in my face and say it tastes sooo goooood, please know that I’m crying inside and secretly thanking that cow without a name who died for the pleasure of your taste buds.

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Later, I cut dairy out of my diet originally to lessen the pain of post-Lyme disease that manifests itself as arthritis in my joints. Now, that decision also roots itself in morality and environmental reasonings. To read more about how changing my diet has helped me fight my battle with Lyme disease, click here.

Follow my blog to catch tomorrow’s sassy post on veganism that is sure to elicit oodles of controversy. Yay.

I Don’t Want to Live Forever, But I Want to Leave Behind Something That Does

An ex-boyfriend once asked me what I want to get out of life. My reply came so quickly you’d think I’d been mulling over the perfect response for a week.

But in truth, I think I’ve just always lived my life this way. I’m pretty sure the response was actually hard-wired into my developing brain before I even came out of the womb.

I told him:

“I want to be happy… I want to have beautiful, true relationships with people… And I don’t want to live forever, but I want to leave behind something that does.”

Some people will mention success, but I believe happiness precedes success, and that success is subjective.

Many people will rattle off a long list of milestones and accomplishments.

I could have said I want to see the world, to have grand adventures, to tell my story and learn the stories of others. I could have said I want to write and act and save animals and get married and raise children. But those are all just forks on a path leading to the same destination.

I could have said I want to change the world.

Because I did, I do. And in my own way, I believe I am.

At the heart of it all, I want to be remembered when I leave this earth. Not by name, not by face, but by what I do with my passions.

I want to be significant.

I want my life to have significance.

I want to create significance.

As both an artist and a scientist, I am making my mark on the world.

Humans are often depicted as either left-brained or right-brained, but I constantly find myself smack dab in the middle. I am equally as analytical as I am creative. I used to think it was such a strange combination, opposing forces rolling around my synapses.

But I can’t think of any two fields of study that are more actively engaged, that are more actively leaving something behind on this planet.

Scientists are working so that future generations can exist. Centuries ago, they made discoveries that we are still appreciating today.

Artists are writing stories, shooting films, choreographing dances, playing music, painting pictures, taking photos. Millenia after it was created, we are still appreciating art.

I want my great-great-great-great grandchildren to spot sea turtles in the ocean because I helped save them from extinction. I want my children’s children’s children to know empathy because they felt it in the movies I made.

I want the future generations to chase their dreams because I wrote about chasing mine.

 

50 Things I’ve Learned Since 2015

My life has been a series of catapulting adventures and misadventures since I left the Florida Keys in February 2015. But I’ve never felt more alive.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some things I learned in the past two years:

  1. Some people will be there for you; some will not. Always be the one who is, not the one who isn’t.
  2. Dogs cure everything.
  3. Date yourself at least once in this lifetime.
  4. Be real on social media.
  5. Being a member of a community is vital to your own humanity.
  6. Almond butter > peanut butter.
  7. Everyone has a voice, but some voices are stifled. Be a voice for those who want to be heard but aren’t.
  8. It’s okay to be emotional.
  9. Never stop asking questions; it’s how you learn.
  10. Second chances keep you from second guessing.
  11. Not everyone will “get” you. Embrace those who try, forget about those who don’t try.
  12. Laugh at yourself often, a minimum of once a day.
  13. Friendships are just as valuable as blood and boys.
  14. Stopping to smell the flowers is a legitimate excuse for being late.
  15. Modern luxuries numb perspective and gratitude.
  16. More often than not, strangers are beautiful humans trying to get by just like you.
  17. Individual independence is a state too few obtain in life. Seek it.
  18. Change precedes growth precedes fulfillment.
  19. The city can eat you alive, but it also teaches things you can’t learn anywhere else.
  20. Most opportunities you have to make for yourself.
  21. Never take an unhitched breath and a normal heart rate for granted.
  22. No dream is ever too big. Dream and then do and then repeat.
  23. Always flip head over heels for the little things in life.
  24. The harder you work for something, the better it tastes.
  25. Find the equilibrium between listener and advisor.
  26. Self-awareness is a necessary state of living.
  27. Forgiveness is an incredible gift. Give of it freely, and accept of it graciously.
  28. Know when and how to stand up for yourself.
  29. Failure is inevitable. Learn from it.
  30. If you sacrifice until your sacrifice is no longer a sacrifice, you’ll be an expert on compromise.
  31. Happiness is subjective.
  32. Success is subjective.
  33. Beauty is subjective.
  34. Hate begets hate begets hate.
  35. Be funny.
  36. Push yourself, but don’t be hard on yourself.
  37. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if others don’t understand them.
  38. Don’t forget the power of face-to-face conversations.
  39. Trust your gut.
  40. Be an expert problem solver.
  41. Never go anywhere without nail clippers. Hangnails are the devil.
  42. If you’re going to lose yourself in something, Nature is a good option.
  43. Balance the good with the bad and the old with the new.
  44. Believe in something. Be grounded and steadfast in that belief.
  45. Not having a car is one of the quickest ways to learn patience.
  46. You can be informed about lots of things but you don’t need to know about everything.
  47. Cooking over a fire is not the same as cooking over a stove.
  48. Fearing for your life is something you never really get over.
  49. Some people are toxic, and you have to let them go.
  50. Empathy can feel like a curse. See it as an incredible gift.

We only have one life to live. Let’s give it all we’ve got.

Sometimes Travel Is About Who You Visit, Not Where You Go

I used my Travel Rewards points to book a flight. It isn’t to somewhere exotic; in fact, it’s to a place I’ve already been twice before. Yet with my current excitement level, you’d think I’m finally setting off on that backpacking trip through Southeast Asia.

In the past decade with so many months spent on the road, I’ve embraced solo travel—and it’s taught me more than I could ever learn at any job. But I have also worked hard at nurturing the relationships, near and far, that mean the most to me.

Sometimes travel is about going home for the holidays. Sometimes travel is about celebrating your friend’s marriage or newborn baby. Sometimes travel is about cherishing those last few breaths with a loved one.

And sometimes it’s about making the most of a quick trip simply to dance like a fool with your bestest friend.