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I waited until André Aciman’s Find Me came out; then several days later, I placed it in my travel backpack for my trip last week. What better place to read this long-awaited sequel, I planned, than thousands of feet in the air on the way to Italy, a setting intrinsic to both books. Italy, a place that allows you to see time especially at night when the cobblestone streets and the iron window grilles are slick from rain. I wanted to see what ever came of Elio and Oliver, how Elio’s father’s voice would begin the tale, and what “an acute grammarian of desire” would weave for readers holding their breath. And then, instinctually, the book became mine, as the journey became mine; the artists’ vision became mine; and then my home, like the book in its simplest state sitting under a lamp on my bedroom console, became mine.

I suppose the trip was always about my return. My thirteenth year of teaching felt lonely.  Last year I observed myself looking like the teacher I’ve always been, making connections and working on new things, and yet I felt odd, like I was in a shadow a few steps behind my former self on some strange auto-pilot, a place where life’s dopamine is deflected. Enough was enough, so meetings and momentum later, a seed was planted. I planted a seed. I signed up to take students abroad in June 2020. To learn how to do that well and to experience the company who will be taking us, I would go to Rome with other educators I don’t know from places I don’t know to a place I don’t know, all because we were doing something similar.

That’s how I found myself on a plane to Italy in the middle of the work week some time around Zade’s soccer practice.

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Leaving home by choice is absolutely strange. Whenever I do, I ask myself, why are you leaving a place you spend most of your time committed to? Any time I do, I focus on ensuring everyone is content, that a balance is there for when I’m not there. Then, came my new focus: any experience or thought that develops when I’m not the decision-maker in my life or the mother in my family but rather the visitor, the observer.  That luxurious role of observer.

I look at my journal notes now and wonder, is travel about the place, or about you in that place? Was this trip about new trips, about Rome, or about you in Rome? But aren’t stories just words until they move us, music just there until it resonates with us?

Feeling the Sistine Chapel relies on an absorption of all your senses, which is attached to the most subjective lens of all. When our tour guide, whose voice and passion felt like more of a cultural ambassador’s than one of a man with a mic, told us stories about the Pope’s demand that Michelangelo paint the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel or when I heard the stories of St. Peter’s Basilica, I got emotional not really for the history but for the kernel: that even the most enlightened, powerful humans in history knew that art was the only way to speak grandeur into the everyday soul.

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One of my students recently debated that travel is in some forms selfish, which reminds me of one of our training sessions. We were asked to follow signs about why we encourage students to travel. Instead of picking groups like, “learn new things about a culture,” I stood firmly in, “finding out more about themselves.” Self-discovery is inherently subjective or selfish, and yet likely one of the most powerful seeds of change in one’s identity. That type of discovery is not about being disrespectful or taking relentless selfies in beautiful places, a sad truth of tourism; rather, travel can be about how you sought to let a place leave its self on you.

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My return flight got closer and closer home, and as frost grew on the windows, so did this peace about my life and where it sits now. I suppose I fear quietly that experiences I have away from my family could sweep me away, indulgent in the ways that strength shapes me anew. I flew away only to want so deeply to return to it, to find the living room just as I’d left it, to hug the children whose faces I saw in kids walking by me, and to find the husband who– in his own living room–steadily awaits as I find, and find.

My friend adventured away from her town to hear Aciman speak a few hours away while I was away.  She shared some notes with me while I, now back home but a little jet lagged, sat in the car while I waited on Layla to finish her violin lesson. Of many, one note caught her attention about Aciman’s comment regarding home: that home isn’t found in a place, it’s in a person, people. How increasingly resonant was this idea of home since I was thinking about home so much.

I listened to her while sitting in my worn leather seat facing the old music studio. Eager to talk about his work, I read to her about nuances regarding music that he explores:  “Perhaps, says the genius [Bach], music doesn’t change us that much, nor does great art change us. Instead, it reminds us of who, despite all our claims or denials, we’ve aways known we were are are destined to remain…Music is the unlived life.”

Inspired by how these characters live their lives, I re-read parts of Find Me on the way back just as I re-read this trip, both of which I’ve barely captured here. I turned over ideas and adjusted my legs; took a nap and counted my lucky stars. I’ve since relished in the nuances of both the short trip and the powerful book. Early this morning when I sat down to write on my home desk, stacked with old flyers and faded October dates, I had to be okay with falling short, incapable of capturing the total experience. I’ll have to settle with the one that is most surprising: I sense the chance that I’m catching this present better than when I was living it. This trip, at its core, was really always about coming home.

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Lost in Time

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Right before the fireworks started on the 4th of July, I fell asleep to the world. The kids were already in bed; Layla conked out before I could even put the cup of water by her bedside. I tried hard that day to stay awake long enough until a “normal” sleep time. I plopped into bed before 9 pm, sent a goodnight text to my mom so she wouldn’t worry if she called to check on us, and didn’t wake up until 4 am the next morning. And so began a few days of trying to cure some curious jet lag, which the CDC defines as something that “can be a problem for travelers who are crossing several time zones.” What can be the catalyst to a problem, crossing through time zones, was actually a glorious solution to everyday living.

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When we booked our tickets to Amman, Jordan, we deliberately booked long-enough layovers to Rome, at which we roamed in for about 17 hours. And on the way back from our 10-day trip to Jordan, we stayed in Paris for about 9 hours. These book ends of the trip were more like adjacent dinnertime dishes, offering such a connection to each city, such a taste of its promises, that we, in turn, promised to return as soon as we could. At some point, I lost any grip of time trying to figure out what time it was back home, what time it was in Jordan, what time it was where we were, and most especially, how that relates to how we should feel.

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This began the absolute perfect portal where our vacation began. I sank further into the release of time, its constraints, its productive demands, and its hold on my day. I slipped into an old world, though as modern and advanced as any. We allowed ourselves to be beguiled by the roundest corners of the old. 

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0603c9d0-3ce2-40a6-b1b9-51f5f0a8a5f0I suppose this is the effect of any relaxing vacation. Most of us don’t take those. If we go to a trip for wedding, it’s all rush-rush fun about festivities; if we go to Disney, you’re a factory of fun who needs a 3-day nap upon returning home. But when you cross over the Atlantic with clear goals to just be, spend time with family, see what the day brings, and sink into experience, something else can happen: time doesn’t really matter, so other things do. 

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Some realistic factors that play into this concept is that we stayed in my mother-in-law’s house, a home built 40 years ago. Like most homes there, it is built of limestone, sandstone, and marble; floors don’t creek and everything feels solid because it was likely meant to last life phases and lifetimes. It now sits on a manicured street in an area known for its jewelry district, but once it only had 2 other modern buildings on it that were adjacent to blank land and across from a lady who lived in a tin house and sold milk and produce. While Mama’s villa has hotel-style upgrades and all the modernity she desires, her royal, golden furniture collection and faded burgundy, linen wallpaper both beautiful and slightly furled over time, encapsulate the home with inhales of nostalgia. Around it now are sought-after residences, an established salon with neon blue lights which lured me to it often on this trip, and easy-access to basement shops, pharmacies, and grocery corners.

In fact, most places are just open. Somehow, any time we thought the day was over at 9 pm, we all went out to different towns only to be greeted by everyone else who wanted to be out. We’d order dinner–or whatever that meal that was; I’d rather call it a new name, “a justbecause“– at 11:30 pm, and after we’d finished our meal of fast-but-fresh-food like shawarma or dine-in manaeesh, someone else would sit down at the table next to us and start his or her order. Places are just awake, ready for summer visitors and for the night culture of the East, vendors selling twinkle-light balloons, saying “welcome in” when we pass their shops, offering coffee to us as if we were entering their very own living room.

The morning of our first day in Amman, my internal timing was off because we’d chopped up our sleep and spent our day in Rome, only to arrive in Jordan as a second morning.

We arrived in Amman at 3 am, ate breakfast with family at 5 am, and we all went back to sleep. In fact, we often woke up early and then fell back asleep, and didn’t start the day unless we had to before 11 am. This pattern established the decadent pattern of the summers in the middle east I’ve always heard of: we fell into patterns of sleeping late, waking up late, napping after meals—as the old persian saying goes—“bokhor and bekhab” (eat, then sleep). All the yellows of the day, from the ultrabright morning sun to the quiet, dim yellow before dusk just meant more and more beauty was ahead, for soon it would be the hills of Amman with its lights adorning houses escalating and descending upon each turn of the car that would awaken our eyes to a different way of the world.

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On one of our car rides, we drove down Kal’s memory lane, taking pictures of his old school, one in which late King Hussein attended in his youth, and Layla asked Kal why he left Jordan anyway. He said he felt there was more out there for him, a sense that he could do more, and that his brother was in the States, too. I think this can be a package phrase as to why many–who have a choice–may leave their home: promise of a life more fulfilled accompanied by the allure of a loved one already in a vivacious new place. It seemed to me in my conversation with so many who left and came back or who left and consistently bring their kids back every summer that coming to Jordan was not only a way for kids to embrace their culture and connect with their parents through it but also–and likely one I’m ascribing–a way for the kids to enjoy a different way, the way of the present.

In a loosely “orientalism” way, I observe that my regular days in America are all about herding and gathering for the future, and yet it feels for many reasons that other countries–most importantly the people within them–take each day as it comes. In fact, planning is relatively loose–something may or may not happen on this day or that day whereas dates and times are paramount back home, so much so that it breeds an anxiety and current that harms our bodies when all we truly need is a nap, a damn good nap where the world around us understands that it is just rest time. You’ll hear the infamous echoes of a prayer call 5 times a day, and whether it means you will kneel down to pray or get up to inhale the enchanting echoes of everyone hearing the same poetry in unison, they punctuate the day, each day. And then the day starts anew with the first prayer call, and then it ends with the last one, and so the week continues in a series of gradient yellows and sounds.

Like our South, old homes are born with new purpose. A home built by an old Syrian businessmen was turned into an art gallery in the new art scene in Jordan. I nearly cried when I saw the oval gallery office with its layout of art for sale and of the balcony overlooking old Amman. In fact, I felt more emotionally-gripped on this trip than I’ve felt in some time. From the art show in an old home with lemon and clementine trees around it, we walked up to a modern coffee house with its elegant new-ness, always going from a beguiling old and new, old and new.

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I’m choosing not to rehash our time in Petra on horseback or when I floated in the Dead Sea, because while they were memorable, they were not the experiences I can’t stop thinking about.

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The most decoratively beguiling image I have spent waking moments researching is the courtyards of Amman. Courtyards are one of the oldest architectural features of a home. Some argue that it was Africans who brought the concept of the porch to the front of the house; it is relatively clear, too, that both the front porch of West and the courtyard of the East can be traced back to the ancient Romans. 

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I took walks in the neighborhoods and entered homes wanting to take millions of photos of the house entrances and courtyards. But I couldn’t do so without violating the essence of a courtyard: privacy. As a result, all I have of my courtyard fancies are in my head.  Every home–or villa– seems to have one; and each one is adorned with such breathtaking air and charm that I know it will somehow affect me forever. In fact, when we were at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, I asked for a book on balconies or terraces–not knowing then that the word I was truly searching for was courtyards–and while there was one in that delicious store, they couldn’t find it.

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The courtyards of Amman, before I knew it then, were the symbol of a different time. In history, they have had their functional stages (i.e. cooking outside), and even more so, they offer a conservative culture a chance at an open space for gathering. One description says, “traditionally, the Islamic Arab world has adopted the courtyard house design because it can satisfy the privacy and social activity requirements of its residents. This spot that often leads to a welcoming, cool balcony or veranda or a magnificent foyer filled with family pictures and benches, is the visual stamp of this trip.

At this current time of reflection, now here in the States, 3-days post-jet laggish feelings, no longer filled with the spike of arabic coffee and gently easing back into our southern days here, satiated with the beauty of family moments and thoughtfulness, I have connected this trip of a welcoming and modern Jordan– where I lost track of time and lost myself in it–to three of the oldest entrances of sentiment: the fascinating courtyards and the ornamental gates that sing open; the feeling I had when I saw the art gallery center for the first time, and the sound of my elderly mother in law’s voice against the cool, immeasurable Jordanian breeze, saying that at this stage in time, at this point in her life, all she craves from people are “kind words and peace; that’s all I really want.” I can’t imagine a phrase more timeless than that. 

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Like Jungle Flowers

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My academic breaks pretty much never line up with my husband’s entrepreneur life. So over the years, typical breaks like spring break became a time I would stay home with the babies and heal them from that cough they caught at school or relieve them from the pace of a long school day. As they got older, we continued with this pattern, adding productive tasks like cleaning out closets and preparing for the next week.  They are getting older and our break-life is changing, and so am I.

On Friday of last week, I felt this crazy dread of the laundry-list of chores; I foresaw images of my productive energy feeling misspent on preparing for the next week instead of following the hum of this one. We were supposed to attend a wedding in Chicago, and when we could no longer go, my disappointment and my acknowledgement of what I did not want the week to be, caused me to make a change.

I googled “beaches in Georgia” and a few clicks and a state later, I booked a trip to Amelia Island with the kids. I’ve never been there before and never taken a long road trip with the kids by myself. The trip has felt like a momventure to me; if we got badges as humans, I’d get one in the shape of a wave for this one, and I’d try to iron it on before the iron was even hot enough. Like I imagine other peoples’ lives and wonder about their innerworkings, I know, for me, this 3-day trip equates a growth and independence that is a tendency I’ve been nurtured away from, which is why every independent gesture feels so special.

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So two days later, I bought bathing suits from Target and filled up my car with gas. Kal checked the oil and helped pack up the car. I let the kids pack whatever they wanted; the back seat was filled with throw blankets, unicorns, bears, the Switch, crackers, and books. We stopped at Publix to get subs and chips. I downloaded an 80s and 90s playlist for the occasion, and off we drove. I didn’t plan it, but “Don’t Stop Believin” started the journey.

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The Inn I booked ended up being perfect in its simplicity. Breakfast was made by a young woman who wore a bandana like Rosie the Riveter, a sign I nodded to inside my heart. The kids had some trouble getting over the cold Atlantic and the gravel sand that skinned their knees. But what we got was the blessing of the unexpected: the first night there, a folk band with an alluring fiddle player performed original music at a restaurant nearby. Both kids were enthralled, nodding their head to the music. The band was probably 20 years older than me, and they sang with that much experience. Each night the kids wanted to go back to this spot so they could see more live acts “that gave me [them] this feeling, mommy.” By the third band on our last day, they asked me to download songs like “American Pie” and “Sweet Caroline” to listen to on the way home.

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Our little suite had a balcony that was small enough to hang some wet clothes on and enough to get that ocean wind fix in the room, but it wasn’t one I wanted to write or read on, something I vaguely hoped I could do. What ended up happening at night instead is that I read The One and Only Ivan, a book Layla has been recommending to me for a year.  I read her book each night  and finished it the day we came back. I didn’t write (or grade) while they slept, but something better happened: each morning Layla woke up and likely saw her book sitting on my side of the bed. The little book about lives changing other lives, partly about a young girl’s artistic inclination and its triumph, became the literary measure of the trip. Like Ivan given new paints to reveal a message he’s trying to figure out, my heart glowed “like jungle flowers” as we experienced this little break together.

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Books, in fact, became a highlight of the trip when the kids spent hours in a book store in the historic section of the island, which got Zade tucking a book under his arm on the way to each meal. He has turned into a little worm even more these days. I also witnessed his sheer desire to do anything he could to make people around him smile–from jumping in freezing water to encourage his sister to do the same or from making up silly handshakes with kids at the park–this kid is a little extrovert with a big heart. And I got to witness it all alone, a chosen state–nourished by a husband and a home back in Georgia–without gearing my attention to making all of us content. Instead, I was able to just blend into the moment as me and a mom rather than consistently doing a litmus test of the four of us, one a mom and wife knows well. I threw in detours like a visit to a lighthouse by just checking within.

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One thing I asked of the kids was to take an early-morning walk after breakfast on the beach, an unpopulated area where empty spaces let the mind wander.  The water was freezing, the wind was freezing, so I asked the kids to just walk with me and dip their toes in if they wanted until it warmed up and we could go upstairs to change later for some water play.

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They conceded for me, and they ended up finding the “best shells” and chasing “the best waves” on our walk. I hardly got a walk in, but I didn’t care because they looked surprised they were having a good time. What a beautiful gift, seeing kids surprised at their joy. I made a point to say yes to holding their shells in one hand, hanging on my arm their clothes that were peeling off every hundred feet.

I could see Zade searching my face every time he got closer to falling into a wave. Later, when I asked them about their top moments during our short adventure, they noted that morning walk; Layla said, “I looked at you, and you were smiling at us when we were getting all wet again like you told us not to, and I knew you were happy and that it was okay. You were having fun, too.”

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Our drive home was filled with a mental gratitude list. In traffic, I played a Calm Masterclass on gratitude and let the kids take from it what they heard. I wanted the kids to come home safely, and when we hit our main road, I exhaled a prayer so thankful that we did something for me, for us, for the week, and life returned back to usual as soon as I walked up the side-door steps. If you walked into our house an hour after our arrival, you’d smell a simmering stew and hear the faint knocking of zippers going round and round in the dryer.  Kids with damp hair and fresh pajamas were in bed just in time for me to turn the page on our trip.

The eccentric greek bar owner in the second Mamma Mia gets young Donna to grab the mic and sing. She says she can’t just sing just like that. He says, “Here on the island, everything is just like that. You think too much, you get unhappy. Thinking and all this, it’s pretty much a mistake.” I know I’m a teacher who encourages analysis, and we spend most of our lives up there in our heads, but hypocrisy to the ocean wind: that line is the truth right now.

This trip marks a spontaneous and independent bookmark on overthinking a little less and re-learning a little more.  Like Tamara Levitt’s masterclass, the best type of happy isn’t a feeling of excitement or productivity; those are great and separate. It’s one of surprise and gratitude. Had I let practicality or fear take over, two usual (but aging) suspects in my way, had I let myself stay comfortable in routine, or had I overthought the details of this trip, it’s likely I’d submit to previous outcomes and miss not only a chance at proving something to myself and my family but also re-learning simple gifts about life.

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Leaf

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It’s convenient to use a fall analogy since the weather is in the 40s and the trees are slowly thinning out. I thought we would see the bud of this season when we took a family trip to NYC in September, but the weather was like Georgia’s. What wasn’t the same, however, is how we felt together afterwards.

Deciding to take the kids to New York was the beginning of a shift.  A gem came at just the right time. I had a few rough patches with kids’ stages over the summer, and that feels farther away now. I feel connected to their growth again rather than enduring a change or stage. I can see now that the change was as gradual as our 1-hour train ride from Midtown to Coney Island, starting off in a windowless packed subway with everyone heading in different directions, to slowing down and seeing the sunlight stream in near the Island, people thinning out, women talking with their moms while tending to a stroller, and space literally widening up.

I feel more confident in us now that we’ve briskly walked 18-thousand steps a day together, shared Central Park on tandem bikes together, walked through memorials at night together, run into cabs together, watched a Broadway show together, and watched the sunset over the Statue of Liberty together. These large iconic pillars marked for us the possibility of experiencing new things, leaving us with an exhaustion at the end of the day was fulfilling to all. In contrast to a trip we took last year, this one felt like we could fly to France or anywhere right then and set roots. I’ve casually referred to the shift as the post-NY afterglow as it marked my hope in the future. I can’t help but connect New York’s archetypal, everlasting promise for newness with the sense of renewed family it gave me.

I was proud to discuss NYC with my Adventure Writing class. This unique group of 12 young women is a surprise. Every day when 35 students clear out of one class and 12 students fill up just 1/3 of the desks in my room, the air changes. It’s with this class I took a walking tour of the Atlanta BeltLine a few weeks ago and ended our trip with sampling food from around the world at Ponce City Market.  They chose this day trip to represent some of the units we’ve loosely covered in class—from nature and place, to the pursuit of happiness and journeys, to travel and culinary adventures. They were thrilled to be part of a vibe they consider or taste from time to time. Just seeing them ordering coffee in Inman Park or running through the skateboard park and graffiti walls was enough for me to remember that bursting, youthful desire to be part of the city’s current.

This class got to choose any book to read in our latest unit, and after searching the Internet and listening to each other they decided:  Eat Pray Love. How interesting it has been to hear them criticize Gilbert’s thinking. Some girls quickly decided they “just don’t like her.” It was a month journey to get them to figure out why. While one student criticized Gilbert’s lens, another student confessed that she recognized she, too, thinks like Gilbert, and this quality inherently annoyed her. I related my experience watching Girls. I would grind my teeth while watching that show, and I had to take a break from it; it depicted 20s in way-too-close filters. Awhile back I had to stand up to my criticism of myself and watch the final season, an intelligent definition of being a woman and growing up and away.

Then, when we watched the film Eat Pray Love, a very different experience than reading the book, they spent more time talking about annoying camera angles and its visual portrayal of a lackluster journey than about the protagonist. The film was released when these students were 8 or 9 years old, and since then, they have been inundated with wanderlust images, signs that say “Be Happy,” and stories of people leaving everything in search of something. This audience has already heard or seen about all that. What may have felt enjoyable to the 28-year old in 2010 was irritating to the 17-year olds in 2018. One student fixated on camera angles and abrupt transitions, something I was not expecting we’d end up talking about. But I realized, too, that we are currently in a visual-stimulation carnival, which will push us to seek newer ways to depict reality.

One reality that the educational world is facing is  fostering mental health and sense of well being. One of my best friends introduced me to Social, Emotional, and Ethical Learning (SEE) Curriculum, an educational project that The Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics at Emory University is growing. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Emory University Presidential Distinguished Professor, says, With modern science’s focus on the material, little attention seems to be given to the workings of the mind. And yet, so many of the problems we face today arise because of our disturbing emotions. I believe by learning more about inner science and how to tackle our emotions, we can ensure that individuals, families, and all of humanity will be happier and more at peace.” I’ve been privileged to have the first two chapters of the new curricula, and I’ve been trying to implement mini-lessons in connection with state curriculum.

In an adapted lesson, I asked students to stand up to agree or sit down to disagree (or sit on the desk if neutral) to varying prompts like “everyone wants happiness” and “I know exactly what I need to do to make me happy,” for example. I was thrown back as a teacher at the kids’ wisdom and willingness to explore. No one stood up for these two prompts. Yet almost everyone stood up to this: “My wish for happiness motivates most of my actions.” When we debriefed, it was clear that while most of them don’t know what they need to make them happy, all of them agreed that happiness motivates them.

The biggest takeaway was the second day. After they checked in with their bodies through a series of prompts SEE provided, they wrote on a post-it note responses to these four prompts:

“When I was younger, I thought happiness was _______, but now I think happiness is____.”

“Sometimes, I ______ because I think i will make me happy. Instead, it makes me ____.”

“What truly makes me happy is ______.”

“Something I want to learn about happiness is ____.”

They stuck their notes on a quadrant on the board and walked around to read responses. Their notes were simple, direct, and honest. They reminded me of how much more in touch they are to their ideas than I was at their age. After reading the group’s ideas, they had a conversation. The debrief was the most curious; here is what they said:

“Things that make us happy are not things we experience here at school.”

“Most unhappiness is related to some type of consumption (too much food, alcohol, drugs, etc…)”

“Happiness is a contradiction, it’s simple and yet so hard to make sense of.”

“Happiness is a multifaceted idea.”

“Happiness comes from simple things.”

“Happiness is intangible.”

“There is no one definition of happiness.”

They seemed enlightened at their own ideas, and they quickly owned up to what this first draft of discovery felt like.

I did this activity alongside them, and perhaps it also connected why something like NYC was so important. My happiness is contingent upon my family’s state of being. As a mother, I think about this line I heard on NPR the other day: “A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child.” But beyond that, my exhilaration in life is contingent upon productivity, possibility, patterns, fresh experiences, and seeing how people express their lives.

And as I type these sentences, I want to add so much more about this term that we see often on coffee mugs and t-shirts; “happy,” a term that can have a stressful underbelly for some students who are trying really hard to just “be fine” for now. Yet, at the end of the day, our discussion illustrates our mythical pursuit of happiness, how critical we may be of people trying to find it, its complicated construction, and, at last, the achingly beautiful realizations derived from our common pursuit of it.

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Accepting the Magic

I haven’t wanted to write another post after Chile Part 2. The canvas of that trip has become the image I see when I close my eyes, and I can’t figure out how to create another. I recall those 4 nights in Chile when I need to remember magic. When the background noise is a jagged jutting of nonsensical You Tube kids videos and kids arguing over who gets the remote while I’m trying to pick up after everyone, I have found myself closing my eyes and channeling that magnitude.

Each night when we walked out of our hotel room, I would gasp audibly when I looked up and saw the brilliant stars existing up there. I wonder if they see us with the same awe, stars looking down on us while we look up at them, both of us angling our necks and wondering what is going on over there. Just like I haven’t been able to make a mark here on this site, having a strange fear that writing something else will erase the imprint of the trip, I haven’t been able to take but just a cursory glance at the night’s sky in Georgia since returning. My capricorn sign says I’m a loyal person, and so perhaps the loyalty has stayed firm in my commitment to the blessing of that magical trip and that Chilean sky.

It was only yesterday that I looked up at the night’s sky on my way home from dinner and thought I’d love to smoke a wayward cigarette on the porch and wonder with the sky like I did on so many cold nights last year. I figured then that I have preserved the luggage tags long enough and that it was time to return to the magic of the continent of the real world I live in.

Through magic, I’m having the novel of the owner of the Libreria translated to English so I can continue to dig my hands in the mysterious and story-filled sand. I can only grasp the literal words when I try on my own. Spanish seems to be the breeze in my life these days, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s a sign of something I need to pursue or just something I’m observing more now since my senses are heightened. For example, I went to the land of llamas, and I see them in every holiday display these days; Allende came out with her latest novel, and true to Allende’s birth country, the protagonist is from Santiago. Just seeing the city’s name on the page is like remembering a nestled romance. I just went to a show where Spanish was everywhere. Andrea and I joke that, basically, Chilean anything seems to be the new black. My gift to myself tomorrow is both to stay at home since we’ve been busy all week and to watch this incredible documentary, Nostalgia for the Light, for the second time, post-trip, since I’m still pretty nostalgic in a different way myself.

The magical doesn’t just live far away in South America though. Magical is defined as something “beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life.” Chile was removed from my everyday life and entered into a realm between spiritual and supernatural. What took me there transformed into marks like an invisible constellation tattooed across my forearm. And now that I’m back, I’m still observing inside and outside of things. I’ve had some unusual magic here in reality, too.

As a teacher, I get a week off during Thanksgiving break. I don’t ever remember this week as a truly restful break; it usually isn’t. We’ve had the sweet company of aunts and cousins, and while pictures of us all together show fun, coordinated outfits, red lipstick, and poised selfies, I have to be honest and say that I can be a total monster behind all of that. Before guests come over, for example, my pleas for help to pick up the house escalate, and I become the worst version of myself. I am disgruntled and even resentful that things aren’t the way I want them to be. I don’t need to have a neat house because it makes me look like a better human than anyone else; I need a neat house because there are so many other small messes and decisions in life that I feel the foundation has to be clean for my brain to handle the other stuff.

So on Monday, I was racing around even more than usual to clean corners. I was up until 2 am stuffing shells and rolling kofta meatballs and preparing dinner for 20 guests. I know they are the most forgiving audience, but I wanted to show them I appreciate them by making the event as elegant as I could. The whimsy of all of this is the big-bulbed, yellow lights strung up over our deck, the cousins putting on dance contests with their own bluetooth speaker—independent of the music we played inside the house—and the fun they giggled at outside. I looked outside at one point and saw kids sliding down the zip line we have up between two tall trees while other kids were eating cookie cake and joking kid jokes probably about emojis and poop, two favorite topics of discussion it seems.

Inside the house, we played old Persian music videos like Hamsafar while my cousin and I used plastic forks as microphones, reenacting the video as two young loves in front of an orange fire, Kal’s crackling masterpiece every evening. Guests cracked walnuts and devoured butter cakes and sang along. Something picturesque was stirring through it all. The preparation monster inside me subsided, and I finally had fun while they had fun. Even though my food may have been a tad under salted, it was made with desire and seemed truly appreciated. Even though I forgot to get little toy tokens for the kids; they didn’t seem to need anything else but their independence outside. And even though I drove myself nuts over details, it seemed to pay off in laughter and in family.

The biggest magic of my reality is my children’s forgiveness. They are like the beach in the morning. All the marks in the sand are erased at night and by morning, the sand is renewed. My kids didn’t even skip a beat at my own shame of being more of the kind of host I want to be rather than of the kind of mother I want to be. They may just have to accept this part of who I am, and I’m working on that acceptance myself.

The truth is, my children who may read this one day, I’m a preparer. My heart is full of desire, and I want to be all the things at once despite my humanity. I sit at Starbucks for an hour or two longer so I can write. I know you’re sad that I am not sitting next to you watching You Tube videos, and I hope you can magically forgive me for that, too.

And the final magical imprint I’d like to share with you of my continent’s reality is this picture of Layla taking polaroids during our nature hike up Kennesaw Mountain on Thanksgiving morning.

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The boys went ahead of us because what was important to Layla was to take photos and to take everything at her own pace. I resisted my urge to speed walk up the mountain.  Layla took her snack breaks. She was proud of what she’d packed for the short journey; she ate granola bars every 15 minutes, which I laughed at inside since she called it “refueling” when we’d hardly burned any fuel.  And I was patient. I gave her what she needed, and she took little rectangular photos and chatted with me about every little thing on her mind.

Both kids had their little cameras. Zade wore my scarf around his neck, looking Parisian (in a NYC hat, nonetheless) while he walked with his hands in his pockets.

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So that’s where I want to end this message, post-canvas. I began it with the memory of my faraway, special place, and I’m ending it here with the magical clearing that’s there when I am able to open my eyes and be what I need to be when I need to be it.

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Chile: Part 2

IMG_3367We’re in flight from Santiago to Atlanta. The air cabin is dark, white rims of devices and overhead lights set the tone for the overnight flight. People are watching movies or flipping through books. A woman wearing a red neck pillow is reading the Delta magazine in front of me while Andrea shares a song with me from A Ghost Story. Every time she turns around to see the changing night’s sky, like sherbet against a black slate, her bud falls out of my ear, and when I put it back in, the matching bud falls out of hers. We laugh. A few days ago, at the end of a tour, the guide said,  “You laugh a lot, you two.” While we waited to check in our flight after our Calama flight, we continued to call each other Blanche and Dorothy from The Golden Girls as we’ve done this whole trip.  He’s right—we do laugh a lot. When Mrs. Larson sat us next to each other in 7th grade, I’m sure we never imagined ourselves in another continent, exploring. Lots has changed since then. And what I can say with certainty that this trip has changed some things for me.

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I didn’t feel guilty on this trip. I thought I may be ridden with mom guilt. Before the trip, I ordered gifts for the kids, got all the groceries and made meals for when I was gone, arranged for my parents to be on grandparents’ duty, cleaned and folded all the laundry, and even made scavenger hunts for the kids so they could follow the clues to get to a prize. I wanted to distract them from missing me. I needed my experience to be easy for them. The night I left for the journey, I cried in the uber on the way to the airport. I had this moment of feeling ridiculous for leaving the comfort of my home and family, this world I spend so much energy to maintain, in order to search and support something without them. For a few hours, I felt ridiculous for spending the money, for not understanding the excitement I had hoped I’d feel when the day came.

But when I got on the plane with Andrea, small pieces started to fall into place just as I had imagined. And each day when I talked with Kal and the kids, when they showed either their support or even their distracted indifference, I felt better. They were fine. Their encouragement made it possible for me to turn off the awful, ancient ghost that stereotypes mothers.   Don’t we all need to go somewhere different, and bring back brown dust and dirt underneath our shoes?

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We sucked the marrow out of each day. Our hotel stay included 2 half-day or 1 full-day excursion each day. We took advantage of this option and tacked on a whole bunch of smaller outings on our own.

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Each time the van took off, we’d bobble back and forth on dirt roads. In the village of only 1,500 people, the municipality lives in the past in order to preserve its future, perhaps a mixture that involves not wanting to affect the tourism industry that the area has seen grow over the last 15 years. I never saw one two-story structure; a home that wasn’t in line with its regional volcanic ash rock or indigenous colors. When I tried to send pictures home, I could see how bland and brown the expanse appeared, but this was far from the truth. As I said in Chile: Part 1, pictures try to do it justice, but I can’t capture how each time I’d look down for minute or look to the side to talk with someone in the van, I’d look up to see something new.

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For some excursions, we travelled anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours outside of the hotel, sometimes elevating over 14,000 feet above sea level or more. The best description I can give the ever changing landscape is what the tour guide called “geological stairs.” These elevations would step up in front of us. I’d see dried desert sand and then as if separated by a line, I’d see patterns of saffron-colored blossoms surviving off hardly any rain or water source. I told Andrea that the San Pedro de Atacama desert and its coveted cousins—the geysers, El Salar de Atacama, the llamas, the flamingos, the cacti families, Machuca, Puntana wetlands, the San Pedro River,  Toconao, the lagoons, the valleys of the moon and mars, and the legendary night sky—have been incredibly evocative, staircasing my own emotions.

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For example,  on the road to the lagoons, we chatted and waited for elevation changes. We battled altitude sickness with our greed for even more beauty.  While we gasped for air up there and tried understand the beauty in front of us, the guide set up a private lunch buffet. Since the other tourists scheduled to come with us had cancelled after a night of partying, we got the feast to ourselves. Between the scene in front of me and the feast behind me, I was overwhelmed with emotion. We cried, and then we laughed again. I wondered why I was able to bear witness to such a miraculous trip. Too many blessings all rolled into one, I felt, as Andrea and I sat baffled at the natural beauty around us.

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The 1,500 inhabitants of San Pedro de Atacama, with their conservatism and pride, their aspiring youth, their tiny literary scene, and their overwhelming nature have made their impression. I don’t know how I will feel to be on highway 285 again, seeing billboards and traffic, people scrolling through their phones as they drive.  

I know beauty is everywhere; but the natural phenomena here is magnificent. It’s no wonder I keep questioning, How is this here? How am I seeing this? Where did that huge volcano come from? How is yellow growing from sun and dry dirt?

As if our cup wasn’t already full, we found out about a cultural center and book store off the beaten path and managed to get the driver to go off script to take us there after an excursion. After the joy of the lagoons earlier that day, I was already sentimental. The grounds of the small bookstore had me in tears again. It was one of the quaintest places I’ve ever seen.

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I felt I wanted to dig my hands into the ground and grow up like the indigenous chanah trees here, oak-colored on the outside and green, almost raw, in the center. We bought too many books and just put them on the our credit cards. Of course I had to get some compilations of famous Chilean writer, Pablo Neruda. I couldn’t bring myself to dust off the desert sand off the cover.

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William O’Daly’s introduction to Book of Questions says “Neruda is interested in inquiring about the nature of things, a process initiated by asking questions rooted in experience, offering us what he intuits are true and does not understand. Rather than remain in control, he submerges himself in not-knowing, in the unknowable questions that enter the imagination… ” Also, Neruda’s brief poems are composed “entirely of questions,” and “integrate the wonder of a child with the experience of an adult. An adult usually grapples with a child’s ‘irrational’ questions solely with the resources of the natural mind. While Neruda craves the clarity rendered from an examined life, he refuses to be corralled by his rational mind.”

O’Daly says that Neruda’s last group of poems before his passing allowed readers to use a mind “engaged in intuitive and emotional responses.” For me, this version of his book is fanciful and connected to the earth I wondered so much about in San Pedro de Atacama.

VI

Why does the night fly

with so many holes in his hat?

What does the ancient ash say

when it walks next to the fire?

Why do clouds weep so often

and yet they seem happier?

For whom do the sun’s pistols burn

under the shadow of the eclipse?

How many bees does a day have?

My brief visit to Neruda’s homeland makes me no expert on the layers of his poetry, but I notice how much of these poems unfold in the very nature that baffles me. Some of these stanzas of questions are part of the many senses I’ll remember—like the smell of the hotel lotion, which after walking in the desert, we learned was the natural scent of the healing rica rica cactus; like the sound of Los Jaivas, a famous band we heard live because we were at the right place at the right time; like the taste of coca leaves; like the appearance of people cleaning the channels as a community to ensure water; like the shrubs that blow in the wind like wheat grass but are coarse enough to roof a house.

Like the silver dots painted across the black sky, an expanse, an ancient canvas that’s both forward in time and backwards. Like the image I have of the prideful atacameño people who roamed over Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, and of the families who mine for 7-10 days and move back to their homes in other places, families dedicated to the rugged copper mines intrinsic to this land.

Four days passed, and we were in the same shuttle on the way back to the airport. This time, we expected the scenes unfolding around us and the jagged car ride. For the longest time, no one took pictures. In previous drives, guests pressed their Nikon or Sony gadgets against the glass. Shudders would take 12 pictures a second. But yesterday, we drove and looked outside quietly, satiated, eyes hot under their lids, languid legs tired from climbing. Our mind was half numbed by the bumpy ride and light brown fields on all sides, and half aware of the real life to which we return. No one asked questions. We had all the answers we needed, and we drove on to the airport with some desert yielding under the wheels of our suitcases.

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Tonight, 32,008 feet above ground, I feel like a great act of generosity has happened to me. No photo does it justice. You have to see it and feel it for yourself. It’s like motherhood, or pain, or desire, hunger, or love. Observation is removed from experience. What has changed for me is concrete knowledge that experience is worth more than anything else. That guilt is a double negative. That natural imagery is more powerful than anything I’ve ever experienced in a city. That finding Neruda’s poetry in the small book store was once again perfectly timed. That a supportive family is the best kind of family. And that doing something totally different is the most invigorating.

The last of Chilean pesos in my wallet will go up on my kids walls as reminders that your life doesn’t need to have one currency.  If a cactus in burning heat can bloom the brightest yellow flowers, then a sheltered dreamer can be impractical and track across a new continent in recognition of a true adventure, and maybe she’ll return with a yellow flower of her own.

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Chile: Part 1

The trip has only just begun, but I’ve already been overwhelmed with so much emotion both in preparation for it and in the journey to our final location that I am afraid I won’t be able to catch up to how fresh it is by the time I am back home and sit down to write at my desk. Doing that would surely offer a wider reflection that includes all parts not only behind the scenes but also ahead of them. Using the terms of the many photographers who have tried to capture the beauty of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, it would give me a better panoramic view of my experience. I’d even be able to upload larger picture files. Instead, though, I’m going to work with what I have and write what I know now.

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At some point in the early summer, Andrea and I were talking on the phone. The house was asleep. I had my laptop open while we talked, and I was looking up words like Santiago, Calama, Chile, San Pedro de Atacama, the Atacama Desert, and listening to her tell me again about how she wants to travel there to see all of its wonders and to help write her finish her novel. The primary backdrop to her novel is this astronomical and geological mystery that she knew so well intellectually but wanted to see for herself. I squeaked out that maybe I can come, too. I had some story interest in this region as well, and this was a chance to see my friend’s dream actualized. This became our little writer’s retreat. Andrea, who calls me her practical Capricorn and who has always wanted us to travel somewhere together, might have fallen out of her chair in shock when I said I may come. Getting the family approval was the first struggle, but I was going to try to make it happen. Going with her could only have been written in the stars because there were so many odds against my going to this completely random and faraway place in another continent.

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It’s usually the Geminis in my life, like Andrea, who inspire (or badger) or motivate (or ask relentlessly) me to say yes to something outlandish. Wherever that guidance has taken me is usually something difficult for me at the time, but ends up being something I never regret because it stamps something else to my character and forges something in my relationships. This capricorn who dreams while sitting steadfast in a chair gets catapulted into the adventure she seeks because of these passionate Geminis. So, I worked all day, took the kids to lessons and ice cream, sent them off to soccer practice, got in an Uber with a stranger named Andrew, sat in a flight from Atlanta to Santiago for over 9 hours, in an airport for 4 hours after that, in another plane to Calama for 2 hours, and then an 1 hour and thirty minute drive to the hotel to what has seemed to me now as this: to sit on the edge of something beautiful.

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In the plane, I got to see the path of The Andes and the lines of the desert that Andrea called sand rivers. They looked to me like an open palm, flat to be read. Like anything we see in nature, the awe we have to living art is akin to the awe we reflect in ourselves.

Boarding our flight to Calama, I noticed the plane was filled mostly with men, and the airport was the same way after we got back. It turns out that they are here for the Chuquicamata copper mine, the largest open-pit copper mine in the world. That rugged industry and local information felt incongruous to the music in the restrooms; at one point Elton John was singing “Your Song” to the backdrop of the airport, and Pretty Woman’s theme song played at the previous airport, the comical side of globalization.

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The car ride to the hotel was wondrous. The  land here is incomprehensibly fantastical. Mostly, this area is unpopulated. In the car, I learned there are about 16 million people in Chile, 8 of them in Santiago, and about 1500 of them in this small area we’re in now.

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Roads are clear, the land is an expanse of myriad things. In my mind I see a time of tribes or a time of dinosaurs.  Where there seems to be very little human life on the setting around us here, there are surprising images everywhere. I wrote on my phone on the way here that my brain doesn’t understand how snowcapped mountains are the backdrop of a dry desert. I understand roughly that it’s all a result of science from years ago, glaciers, rain, The Pacific Ocean, the Andes of the East, the Humbolt current of the west. But like I told Andrea after seeing the most magnificent, pure night sky last night, this place for me is like tasting different palette-inspiring dishes that leave you wondering about their ingredients, about the Chef’s magic.

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I saw Saturn’s rings, or moons, last night. I saw the haze of the milky way galaxy. I learned about star cemeteries and black holes. After climbing 60 stone stairs to the observatory, I reclined on a lawn chair, like the ones you’d lean on and view the ocean waves, and instead looked up at drops of blinking stars. Our ancestors saw the sky without cities, overpopulation, and pollution, and I felt that I went back in time to join them for thirty minutes when our star guide, Pablo, told us his narrative of the stars. He used words that messed with any concrete resolution I’ve had of time, of humans, of organic matter, and of history.

After eating a delicious meal—while desperately trying to stay steadfast to a diet that may prevent the heavy altitude sickness that prevails among newcomers to this part—and star gazing, we called it an early night to get ready for a day of quiet acclamation.

I’m sitting on the patio of our room with my feet burning in the sun and my hands gently cracking from the crisp, cool air. I see a person or two walking quietly among the grounds of the hotel, which looks more like a sanctuary. Every time I look up from this computer, which is stringing together dusty connection, and see it, I can’t believe it. And I know for certain, just like the pictures I saw of this country before I got here, that pictures cannot do this place justice. And by “it” I mean both the grand gasp this region gives you on the inside and the ancient beauty it displays on the outside. It’s a place of incongruity yet a place of symmetry. I hope I can search these early ideas more as I move on through the days here.

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I’ve been writing a story that involves a lavender thistle, and last week at a café on Broughton St., I sat at a table with numerous lavender thistle centerpieces.

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I wrote a story that begins with a careful observation about cemeteries, and then two weeks later, a tour guide explained to me how Abercorn St. was built over hundreds of graves, that cemeteries, like Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, shrunk under concrete.

Photo by A.I.

I’ve listened to Maroon 5 to motivate most afternoon runs the past 7 weeks, and then last Sunday their latest hit was playing as I approached the finish line of the Hot Chocolate Run in Atlanta.

These didn’t happen for me. Like Emerson says, I recognize that what dresses as happiness today can be mournful tomorrow. But I thank their coincidence. How things interact can heighten a mood or bend a thought. I’m down for that.

What’s not a coincidence is my friend asking me to do 15k with her. I stammered out a yes, willing that I’d try. It would be my first race. In the last few years, my commitment to running has been intermittent. Knowing I was going to run at a distance I’d never run and knowing I’d do it alongside a fit, competitive woman motivated me to commit to training for 7 weeks thereafter.

Every single time I went for a practice run, I’d be at heel of how incapable I was, how I’d probably end up steering to the 5k route instead. For some reason, that talk also pushed me—not in the way you see in movies. This push was thick with sometimes lead feet and down-talking nerves. But it also got me into running stores to get the right shoes or talking to runners around me for advice on shins and cadence and such. In short time, I built a small wardrobe and toolkit for how to make this work. And since I hadn’t run 7.5 miles straight, the suggested mileage to practice before a 15k, I was super nervous about dropping shy of my goal. What I didn’t suspect was that it wasn’t my ability that would bring me to the finish line; it would be my determination not to fail.


The early morning of our race, runners in their race bibs and running gear gathered at Centennial Olympic Park. The quiet energy followed us in the morning dark. We walked to our corrals and waited. We moved forward as waves of runners were released to the run. As our hoard got closer to the start line, I squealed at my running partner and pulled her close for an excited hug.


In that 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 moment, I caught my breath and recognized that when you’re an adult, it’s less common to become sharply excited about something in that way. For instance, when it snowed earlier this month, my kids screamed and charged out the door to play, carried away on that lightning expectation of fun. I think adulating can suck that out of us. Instead of high-heartbeat excitement, we may instead choose to get carried away with the opposite energy—the calm, curled up and sedentary moments of quiet where we can decompress.

But when the MC yelled, “GO!” and our time started, I felt raw, uninhibited excitement even though I knew there was only work ahead. I think it’s because I was about to figure out something about myself.

There’s something to be said about getting to mile 2 when you know there’s so much left to go, and in that instant you’re aware that there is nothing else to do but to move forward, to push beyond what your body is used to doing. The race path yields such truth about life.

What is a coincidence is what happened the day after the race.

In Farsi, when there is irreparable, grimy damage between you and someone else, you may say that there is “shisheh khoordeh,” which means broken glass. Over two years ago I got hit with a really negative situation that I won’t go into too much to respect members in my family. In short I was misunderstood and mistreated, and it has taken me [is still taking me] too long to loosen its grip. I would think about the incidents in the shower, on drives, over too many personal moments. Its memory made my hands feel numb; it created these electric shocks in my stomach. This situation affected my marriage and took a lot of self-control and friendship to endure that first year.

I still have those uncontrollable aftershocks that run through my stomach, or “del” in Farsi. The beauty of it in Farsi is that “del” is, in matters of emotions, interchangeable with heart. Breaking your heart or your stomach carry a similar weight—“delamoh sheekoondy” (you broke my heart). The phrase both represents and captures the core.

Early in the evening after race day, I was forced to face a true catalyst of that time I try so hard to let go. I hated that the old and awful shit once again infected such a triumphant day, but I felt too strong to be passive yet again. I didn’t want to feel hurt; instead, I wanted to take charge of it. In Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Manson talks about taking responsibility for anything that happens in your life—even if you’re a victim, you are responsible for the decisions you make afterward. In his own way, Manson encourages that something good can be done with those aftershocks.

The following day, with that feeling of shattered glass, I took steps to help control part of the dilemma that affects my family the most in the form of uncomfortable but open conversation. I’ve decided to move forward without the ghost of unworthy causes, without the loss of precious energy, but with, instead, the grab and plump of boundaries. And now I feel there is a chance for that.

And where we place our energy is the big life question.

My friend is gearing her year towards a specific word, one that will draw lines that will help her claim and enact her vision. To do the same task, I would say that my pinpoint word is Stronger. I feel a might inside that I want to protect. I think my biggest fear of the year, then, is anything that will make me disappointed in myself, that will diminish that strength, because I know now—for miles and miles—that it is determination matched with coincidence that helps me be more capable than I thought.

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There is a light purple rose in half bloom near an entrance to my house. It caught my eye tonight.

I had just put pajamas on Zade and tapered the bedtime routine. I opened my laptop and set my mug of hot green tea next to it. I looked out the window and saw what we’ve been waiting for today: snow. I yelled “Snow!” like a sailor at sea who just spotted land, and the house went a blur. Kids put boots and coats on faster than I’ve ever seen. Socks became mittens; pajamas became snowsuits. And off they went.

They played with Kal outside while I took the warmer approach and made hot chocolate for them. When the kids came in, they were utterly exhilarated. Layla said it was one of the best endings to a night. Zade was so excited he knocked over his drink. Frost still in their hair–with the kitchen looking like a chocolate crime scene–the kids jumped about undeterred by anything less real than the magical effects of that first lain snow.

Just minutes before, it was Zade who called to me so I could see his makeshift shovel (red solo cup) filled with snow, and that solo bloom and I stared at each other for a minute. She was handling the snow like some of those dried Georgia leaves still swinging on their trees. Maybe she opened up when I was wearing flip-flops just 3 days ago. Maybe she’s part of those hybrid minis that is ever-blooming.

Last year brought us four new seasons with different windows to look out of. This month marks the end of that one year of new.  In fact, we were snowed in last year around this time. I was in another world of excitement then. But other natural things have happened here, too.  We’ve tenderly broken in this new place. The dishwasher broke and the kids cracked the new sink in their bathroom, for example. I think I wrote less in my favorite room with the view. But I wrote more in a leather journal I keep near me instead and started taking ideas in different rooms comfortably. The house became a home, the relationship changed. My year-long date has now changed its status.

I’m trying out new relationships as well, and this includes new books that feel so right, people who I’ve spent quality time with, this first-ever Mac I’m typing on now (total self-discovery adjustment coming from PC world; even scrolling up and down is somewhat painful right now), a newly-fitted pair of running shoes to which I’ve proposed marriage, and a deeper look at Georgia’s breadth (which includes a small town and a real and true train ride that my friend made happen).

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I want to be like that free-blooming flower who figures, what the heck. I’ll give this a try because, well, it feels right to do so right now. A little more present, a little less inhibited, and with the wisdom to let it roll. I tasted this last year, and now I want more.

All commitments in life should give us the freedom to make wider and wider snow angels like the ones I’d get lost in under the gray Chicago sky spread over my backyard. I’d raise my arms up and down, up and down. The feeling alone spun outside me for a minute. I’d look to the side and exhale. I’d hear silence and feel seen. It was a purposeful magic.

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Independence

Last night we set up camping chairs on the front lawn and listened to fireworks go off all over the area. A few times, we saw some colorful crackles above the dark trees ahead. With all the trees around us, the sky never looks just black; it’s charcoal with strong, bright stars. If these stars could strut, they would do so nobly like the stroll of a pedigree in a horse show.  Seeing real fireworks had nothing on the soft breeze and the noble stars last night.

The four of us took snacks outside and sat in blue chairs on the lawn. The kids lit up sparklers with more and more confidence until they were each swirling in circles and making rings with the fire sparks. I joined them with some and whirled around; we looked like a team of amateur driveway dervishes. Afterward, Kal lit up some fireworks at our house, and both the kids and I held our breath until the last starburst. When they were done, I asked the trees, “you guys doing okay?” I wonder if they brace themselves or roll their eyes when the time comes for fireworks. It was weird to be on the side of the “crazy people that light their own fireworks;” I’ve thought that before, but here I was, reluctant yet willing to watch, kind of just wanting not to say no to Kal. He should be able to experience this season in this new space his own way, too.

When our shows were over, the kids and I blew out the giant citronella candle that we used in lieu of a campfire, and we made our way back to the house.

Maybe it was running in the heat that morning or cooking a big lunch, or maybe it was our lazy trip to Brusters or the adventurous grocery shopping we did, but by the time this joyous moment happened, I passively slid into it. I didn’t waste my energy on the reel of scary I can often do, for example, on any given Sunday night before school when I picture all the bad things that could happen. Instead, I just enjoyed and didn’t think about it until right now.

But this isn’t always the case. You know how you feel something is so right and hope so much that you don’t mess it up? That the wave you’re riding on may turn into a tide against you? My good friend reminded me of Brene Brown’s words when I shared with her I was afraid of the other shoe dropping: joy is terrifying. To let go of the refuge in safe decisions that I might make for our family is to risk that I may upset a rhythm we’ve created that brings us peace. Yes, I’ll push against complacency, but it doesn’t mean I’m not scared doing it.

I struggle with this especially as I feel more confident and more adventurous than ever.  But honestly the time when I’m the most fearful is the time when things are doing just fine. In fact, if you’ve read previous posts, you know how much moving into this new home has meant to me. I’ve seen close friends experience this high and then get kicked unexpectedly. I’m an optimistic person who has seen this happen so often to my friends and just notice it as a pattern.

My reconciliation has been that I just have to ride the wave and hope that I can handle what comes up next, knowing that hardship presents its own gifts. Brene Brown says, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” We try to dress rehearse tragedy, she says. And boy do I know this feeling well. The antidote is to practice gratitude, she proposes.  I feel I do this well enough in my way with friends, my projects at school, my love for people, my efforts with my family.

All of these actions try to bring joy, which in turn usually make me feel so grateful. But the small difference is that I have not been thinking of gratitude as a defense for the terrifying, especially in regards to my family bubble. Teachers and writers are always in tune, so it’s not for lack of not seeing, but on a personal level, I want to take it a step further and make even more of an active effort to lean on gratitude rather than to lean on fear.
Today, I am grateful for that breeze on my hair as I turned around to see Layla try to record her dad run away from the fireworks, Zade passing up the stars for a stolen game on his dad’s phone, the communal popping sounds from east to west of us, and plates of staled crackers sitting on the grass by our feet.

4th of July

I wish us all two things today: the type of joy that is born with sheer gratitude, and that passive, lazy calm that captures inconsequential beauty.