It’s been over a month since I’ve last written and I just want to thank you all for giving me that time! My last post went up three days before I started my new job and then it was a whirlwind of travel and learning and bonding and total, absolute exhaustion. But I am happy to report I feel like I am settling in nicely and I am so excited to be challenging myself in new and interesting ways.
A younger version of me would have pushed myself to maintain the blog, the poetry, the novel, the social media presence all at once, even while trying to learn a new job. This time around I said no to overwhelming myself. I said no to setting unrealistic expectations for myself. I said no to torturing myself about “not being enough”. I wrote when I could, I slept when I needed to, and I took a break from obsessing about every little thing. I focused on my new work, I got to know my team instead of hiding away in my room to write (they made that easy) and I am so happy I did.
Maybe it’s because I am older and I’m finally learning a thing or two about life, or maybe I’ve changed for another reason, but I can tell you this: allowing myself to be simple kept me happy, healthy and sane these past six weeks.
I’ve never wanted to be simple. Simple was a sin in my book. If I wasn’t multi-talented, multi-tasking, multi-stressed out, then I was failing. A typical day would have been an intense weight workout, a full day of work, writing all night, responding to piled up texts, walking the dog, cleaning the apartment and then passing out totally exhausted. I got sick a lot. I wasn’t productive. My writing was… well… shitty.
Simple felt wrong, simple felt too easy, simple felt like I wasn’t doing my best.
What I’ve found is that SIMPLE allows me to excel. What I’ve come to realize is that my other talents, my other interests, and loves? They’ll still be there. This blog is still here. My poetry is still waiting for me to edit it and share it with the world. I’ve found other simpler workouts that don’t require me to travel to the gym every day. It’s all there and I will get to it. (When I can!) When I focus my attention to one or two things, I kill it. I sleep. I am not sick all the time. When I am simple I am a better, calmer, version of myself. It took a million and one tries, but I finally saw the pattern.
Now that the travel is done for a bit, now that I am finding my rhythm at work… now is when I can pick up the pen again. Write this blog post for you. Take some new photos for the IG. Make special plans with my friends. And when I do all of these things I will be more engaged because I won’t be tired, or worried, or thinking about the next task. I can simply be present.
I know there will be days when I want to go back to the way I was. When I want to pressure myself and push myself and overwhelm myself. And maybe I’ll need the extra encouragement. But knowing that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe is going to make all the difference. I mean, how often do you let yourself be simple?
I have to keep saying it out loud. I have to keep writing it down. Because the memories are already fleeting. Because it all happened so fast.
I want to keep these updates brief, honest, and from the heart. Travel blogs tend to offer either just great photos or weird sales pitches. And I’d like to keep this much closer to me, to my true experience, to the fact that I am a writer.
I am not going to recommend you quit your day job and travel the world on borrowed money. Or share with you (after charging you a couple bucks) the secrets of getting by on a shoestring budget.
I’m just here to remind you of the magic of travel, how it changes you, and how this trip to Japan in particular inspired me to be brave and kind in my daily life.
I want to mention that I went on this trip as part of a campaign (more to come later!) called #GoTohoku. After a video submission and an interview process I was selected to go. (I pretty much still don’t know why but I guess I must come off as charming.) So the fact that I went with strangers and that I found out a month before that I was going, colors some of this, but not all.
I was totally calm about the trip until the day before I left. Then I got nervous. I was totally nervous the morning of the trip. Then I lost it. I tend to keep my feelings inside but I actually started crying before I left. I was overwhelmed. Was I really going to go to the other side of the earth? Was I really doing this? The answer was yes– of course I was doing this. Earlier in the month me wanted this, so I sucked it up for her, got in the car and headed to JFK to meet the strangers I’d be hanging out with for a week.
Everyone seemed normal, on their best behavior, and then we flew.
The flight to Tokyo is 14 hours. And from there we flew to Aomori in the Tohoku region. In all, I traveled for about 24 hours and didn’t sleep. This is what adrenaline feels like. I couldn’t turn my brain off from the moment at hand. So, aside from not sleeping the flight was pleasant and the attendants on our Japan Air flight started giving me a taste of the hospitality I would encounter in Japan. I watched movies and ate snacks and listened to “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. Oddly, I listened to this song specifically 10 times a day on this trip. I wish I could tell you why. I was alert, but not panicky. I had calmed myself enough to make it across the globe.
Here’s my point: Just leaving for this trip made me braver, even before anything else happened. I believe that, like grit, bravery is something that gets stronger the more you use it. It was one thing to be brave when agreeing to the trip “Strangers? Sure! Last minute trip across the planet? Sure!” But when it came to actually leaving my house, and getting to the airport alone. That took real bravery. And yes I cried at first, but by the time I made it to the airport I had shifted gears, became the “Amanda” I pretend to be 80% of the time. I was brave. I had ACTUALLY faked it until I made it, and it worked. (Really.) If I had let my fear take hold, if I let that weird voice that was like “Hey, you should cry over this,” take control I would have never left my house. I would have froze.
I know you’re thinking, “You would have never left those people from the campaign hanging.” But I remember when I was younger, when I wasn’t brave, when I hadn’t developed any grit and I know (I KNOW) I absolutely could have done that. And I know people that would have. It can seem easy– beautiful photos and a good attitude can make an trip seem idyllic, but we have to remember that pushing ourselves to see the world, and to risk the comfort of routine, is brave. And often, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
So did I totally throw you earlier when I mentioned Tohoku? Were you like, “What is she talking about?” Let me clarify: This trip was not about Tokyo. Or Okinawa. Or Kyoto. It was about Tohoku. A little known and little visited region of Japan. Sadly, it is typically recognized as the area that was hit by a tsunami in 2011. Tohoku is a diverse area, from shrines to mountains, to perfect foliage to elegant boat tours. And I’ll get into all of it later. (Don’t act so surprised, I told you this wasn’t a normal travel blog, duh!)
Tohoku reminded me in some ways of being in the Midwest. Of course it has nothing to do with cuisine, I ate fish for just about every meal while I was there, but in the manner of the people there. Being outside of the major metropolitan cities, like Tokyo, the people of Tohoku are slower paced, kind, and thoughtful. They want to know about you when you buy candy from them, they want to make sure you are comfortable when you dine with them, and they acknowledge you.
I remember the first time I went to Iowa, I was freaked out by a cashier who wanted to know all about Massachusetts. I felt similarly in Tohoku. Even though not many of the people there spoke English confidently, they still engaged, asking the questions they could. Imagine being so engaged with others that you don’t let a language barrier stop you from reaching out to another person? I mean, damn!
On our first full day, I went out to explore a nearby shrine with some of my new friends– I’ll explain them later. When we arrived, in light rain without umbrellas, we came across a mother and son feeding the giant Koi in the pond. They gave us their remaining bag of fish food to toss in. When I took a few out of the bag and tried to return it to them, they declined. “For you,” the mother told me. It was the smallest gesture but encompasses the kindness I felt the entire time I was in Japan.
It’s these things I remember the most, the things I try to apply to my daily life in, the often lonely and discouraging, New York City. Kindness changes people and it goes a long way.
Ok now that I feel I sufficiently painted a picture of HOW this trip made me feel, I’ll follow it up with a slightly more traditional post about some of my favorite spots to visit.
I’ve been spending a lot of my time thinking about women. More specifically, what it means to be a woman and how I interact with other women. I think about the single moms that I know, the athletes that I know, the single women, the coupled women, the women I work with, the women I pay to paint my nails. I’ve been thinking about them all and I’ve been thinking about myself and I came to the realization that…. I’ve been unkind to my own.
Out of all the mistakes I’ve made, this is the one of which I am most ashamed. (So naturally of course I am sharing it on my blog.) But honesty is the best policy, I am told.
I was the girl in high school who hated team sports and exercise because I resented the girls who loved their bodies, who were more competitive, and who took the time to cultivate friendships with one another.
I was the young woman in college with “more guy friends than girls”, who would laugh at girls stumbling home alone in their high heels instead of offering them a safe walk home.
I was the woman who adopted the beliefs of many men as her own, because it was easier to see what they saw than to fight it.
All of these errors come from the same place. I am often threatened by other women. I get to say “often” because I am sort of capable of making new female friends, and I have many older women I look up to and admire, and I take their advice very seriously. I do not walk around looking to spite all women, but I’ve done my fair share of distancing myself from womanhood.
Up until this point it has been as if I could remove many of my own personal weaknesses by saying, “That’s what THEY do, this is what I do.” It’s so easy to create a “they”, isn’t it? “They” can give all sorts of matters an air of legitimacy, and it is so much easier to blame “they” than to blame ourselves.
I avoid groups of women at parties because I do not want to be grouped, by men of course, as one of them. “I am not gossipy, I do not care about their work, I do not care about their relationships.” I judge women like men do. The saddest thing is that I am certain that 98% of the conversations I did not engage in were smart and intelligent and wonderful and I missed out, because I was either avoiding them or seeking out attention from men.
The good news is that, even after spending so much of my time cultivating friendships with men, I have a small pack of women who know me as I truly am. And I’m finally learning to love the woman I can be too. Why the hell have I been so afraid of being a woman?
There is nothing wrong with how women handle the world. In fact, it’s probably better in many ways but we’ve been conditioned to think that the feminine way is the wrong way, the weak way. To be feminine is to be lesser. To watch television shows about female relationships is ridiculous. To love deeply and without question and to crave that in return is foolish. To want to study and learn about interpersonal relationships is silly.
(I realize that a lot of time needs to be spent discussing gender norms, identity choices, and how we perform our roles. That’s another conversation that deserves far more time and energy. For my purposes here I am speaking of traditionally feminine traits and our society’s fear to embrace them as legitimate. Caring, nurturing, empathetic, and affectionate.)
I’ve been hiding from what it means to be a woman for quite some time. And I have a lot of questions to ask myself and work to do, but for now… I need to apologize for being half in and half out of womanhood.
I am vocal about reproductive rights. I am vocal about rape culture. I am vocal about being a feminist. One foot in. But I am afraid to admit that I like to nurture the people I love. I want to pretend I am not tender or patient, when really I am. I judge women based on single mistakes. One foot out.
I’d like to stop thinking of women as how they are depicted in television and movies and books. I am a complicated human being. I am not a trope by any means. Neither are my close friends, my mother. Why, oh why, I thought that other women were just movie tropes, I’ll never know for sure. But for now I can focus on seeing all women for what they truly are and not what I choose, or what men choose, to judge them to be.
I’m sorry I’ve turned my back so many times on so many women. I’m here now. I’m warming up…
Next up on my road to mindfulness… Working through (and embracing) bad thoughts. Something that has always stuck with me from my therapy days was the notion of ACCEPTING my feelings, worries, and fears. A lot of my stress and anxiety came from the fact that I was upset with myself for being upset. I thought I should be stronger than emotions. Sounds silly but it’s true. Break the worry cycle using some of my favorite tactics below. (Remember you can right-click to save anything on my site!)